Of all websites, e-commerce stores have arguably the hardest time attracting links. The typical etailer’s site lacks substantitive content, and as a result draws few natural links. To make things worse, link requests are often ignored due to the purely commercial nature of an e-store. Link building for e-commerce takes extra patience and creativity. Below are 25 tips I’ve found helpful while building links for online retailers.
7 Tactics for Creating Link-Worthy Content
The reason etailers have such a hard time attracting links is that they make so little effort to create content worthy of them. If you have a blog, you understand this well. Your blog naturally receives links in response to posting valuable content. Bloggers rarely go around begging for webmasters to link to them. Links just come naturally. With this in mind, let me throw out some ideas for creating trully link-worthy ecommerce content.
#1 – Create a Coupon Code Page: This tip can be gold. People naturally share and link to deals, especially when they think they’ve found something exclusive. Consider creating a page that features all your current coupons and deals. (another benefit of this strategy is that customers will find this page higher on the search results when they search for [your brand]+coupon instead of unapproved coupons on deal-type sites.)
#2 – Stand Alone Review Pages: If you’re like most online retailers, you probably feature customer reviews on your product pages. Usually these reviews are placed below the fold of the page or underneath a tab. There’s nothing wrong with this placement, but it isn’t optimal for targeting search traffic. What if you created a stand-alone review listing page, that featured all the customer reviews for a given product, and a link back to the product page? A page like this is very linkable, since it features only unbiased customer generated content, which is something people frequently search for.
#3 – Exclusive Content on the Product Page: Every retailer dreams of deep links into their product detail pages. Unfortunately, this rarely happens without some creative tactics. What if you offered exclusive content related to your products that are only available on your product pages? Some ideas might be ebooks, how-to guides, demo videos, or user manuals. We offer free PC and cellphone wallpapers based on the artwork of our t-shirts, and make this content downloadable directly on the product page.
#4 – Contests & Giveaways: Hosting a contest or giveaway is sure-fire way to generate links. However, many brands make a mistake with their strategy. Rather than creating a temporary contest page that only lives for a short time while the contest is running, consider embedding the contest entry form into existing key pages such as product pages or your homepage. This way, links will directly benefit your “money” pages without having to pass through outdated contest landing pages.
#5 – Linkable Wish-lists & Gift Registry Pages: While most e-commerce sites offer a wishlist type page, many don’t make the page itself a static, sharable page. Often, these pages require login to view. By making your wish list pages shareable, and prominently displaying the link customer can share, you’ll encourage customers to share these pages on their personal social networks or blogs.
#6 – Compare Pages: Many advanced retailers offer a compare feature that lets you easily review products side by side. However, not all sites allow these pages to be indexed or linked to. But if you think about it, customers often start their comparision right on Google, rather than a merchant’s site. What if your site dynamically created “compare listing” pages for your top products, targeting searches for “product A vs. product B”. Pages such as this are clearly linkable because they feature unbiased, highly sought-after content.
#7 – Seasonal Gift Guides: The possibilities here are endless. You can create gift guides listing your top products for Christmas, birthdays, Valentine’s day, anniversaries, and so on. Here’s a tip the tip: don’t reinvent the wheel by making a new page for each year. Re-use the same URL and just change the title (e.g. Top 10 Christmas Gifts for 2011).
13 Link Acquisition Tips
Creating link-worthy content will only get you so far. Eventually you have to go on the offense. Below are some ideas for reaching out and acquiring links for your e-store.
#8 – Approach bloggers for reviews: Bloggers love to be recognized as an authority in their niche, and they’re always looking for new content to write about. For this reason, I’ve found that approaching bloggers with an offer of free product in exchange for a review is the absolute easiest way to generate links to an e-commerce site. Here’s the key, don’t shoot off a generic email asking for a link with anchor text “blah blah blah” in exchange for a review. This just screams SPAM. Instead, approach bloggers with sites that actually drive traffic and ask for a review without mentioning anything about links. Once they agree, you can drop a hint for a link to a specific page or with certain anchor text.
#9 – Supplier’s “Find a Store” pages: Take a moment and visit your product supplier’s websites. Odds are they have a “Find a Store” page. Are you listed there? If not, kindly “suggest” they fix that before you pay your next invoice. 🙂
#10 – Technology Provider’s Testimonial Pages: How many technology providers does your site use? Which ecommerce platform do you run? What about analytics or live chat? Contact your vendors and offer to write an testimonial in exchange for a link on their testimonial page.
#11 – Press Releases: Press releases can still work if used properly. While the links generated from sites like PRWeb aren’t as valuable as they used to be, the buzz created from a genuinely news-worthy release can create it’s own gravity of incoming links from other valuable sources.
#12 – Badges & Award Widgets: People love to be recognized. We created exclusive badges for our Street Team, and allowed members to embed their widget on their own sites. Each badge contains a small graphic recognizing their contribution to the community and strategic backlink to a key page. If you don’t have an online community, you can still make widgets work. Consider creating ones for your top product reviewers or VIP customers.
#13 – Blog Comments: I can feel you cringe when you read this. If you own a wordpress blog like me, you’re probably barraged with more SPAM comments than legit ones. However, I’m not suggesting you use automated commenting software that produces crap links. I’m referring to genuine, well written comments linking to relevant content. Pick the top 3 blogs that are relevant in your industry, and begin commenting without backlinks. Overtime, you’ll gain trust from the blogger and his readers. Eventually, a well placed and relevant link back your site will be well received. The frequent interaction will also keep your brand top of mind for the blogger, and you just mind generate a do-follow link in a post someday.
#14 – Guest-Posting: Most people think of guest posting as a way to promote a blog. But why wouldn’t it work also for e-commerce? It goes without saying you can’t write a post directly promoting your products and expect a legit blogger to post it. Instead approach the task from this angle: what topic can I write about for an audience that would also buy my product? If you don’t know any bloggers accepting guest posts, try a service such as MyBlogGuest.
#15 – Sponsor NPO’s: Of course the motivation for sponsoring a non-profit organization shouldn’t be link acquisition. But the odds are, your organization has already sponsored many non-profits in the past who have highly authoritative websites. If so, drop them an email and ask if they’d consider linking back to you.
#16 – Industry Directories: One-size-fits-all directories once provided value, but those days mostly gone. However, industry specific directories still provide actual traffic and a relevant backlinks. If you’re not aware of any industry directories, run a Google search for “[your industry] directory” and see what comes up. If the site has authority, it’s probably worth the price to get listed.
#17 – On-Site Affiliate Program: Most affiliate networks, such as Commission Junction or Share-a-Sale, use redirect links that do little to help your link building. If you run a successful affiliate program with loyal affiliates, consider switching to on-site software that uses SEO friendly url’s. It’s likely that your affiliate’s have high PR sites, so this can provide a quick pickup of high quality links.
#18 – Competitive Analysis: Creativity in link building is sometimes overrated. After all, the moment you acquire that elusive, little known link, your competitors will know. For this reason, using a tool like Open Site Explorer, do a competitive analysis of your competitor’s link profile. Evaluate which links are influencing their ranking most, and go after them with a vengeance.
#19 – Niche Forums: Where do your prospective customers hangout online? Get involved wherever they do. Many forums allow do-follow links once you’ve met the minimum number of valuable contributions.
#20 – Just ask: If there’s one thing I learned from 5 years in person-to-person sales it’s this: If you want the sale, you have to ask for it. People don’t just volunteer to help you out. What relationships do you have that might result in a link? Just ask for it! If you’ve given your customers great service, they’re actually itching to pay you back somehow. There’s a ton of places to ask for a link. You can ask for links on your thank you/receipt page, your follow-up product review email, your product page, or the footer of your site. I’m constantly amazed when people email me and ask if they have permission to link to one of my sites. Heck yes you do, thank you very much!
5 Ideas for Crafting Internal Links
No discussion about link building would be complete without mentioning internal methods, which are often the lowest hanging fruit.
#21 – Share the Love: Using Google Webmaster Central, figure out what pages Google considers the most important in terms of inbound links. (under “Your site on the web > Links to your site”). Compare that to the pages you consider the most important. Odds are, they are very different. That’s why it’s crucial to pass the link love from Google’s important pages on to the pages that bring you conversions.
#22 – Redirect Links to OOS Products: How many out-of-stock products are in your catalogue? Are those now defunct product pages doing you any good? By redirecting old product pages to appropriate new ones, you not only recycle the link juice, but also increase the likelihood of a conversion.
#23 – Contextual Links within Product Descriptions: Product descriptions are prime real-estate for internal linking magic. Here’s the strategy I use. On your top products, have a good copy-writer drop a well-placed link somewhere into the body of the description pointing back to an important and relevant category page or landing page. (I’d refrain from linking product pages directly to other product pages. It’s simply too hard to maintain static links when products go in and out of stock.) With this tactic, you have 100% control of the anchor text and a virtual unlimited number of product pages to work with.
#24 – Merchandise Top Sellers First: This is just basic merchandising 101. The default sorting option for your product listings pages should always show top sellers first. In addition to the obvious conversion benefits, this will pass the optimal amount of PageRank to the product pages that deserve it most.
#25 – Use Consistent Category and Product Page URLs: Depending on your e-commerce platform, your category and product page links may change at times when the need to pass a new query parameter arises. Be sure your developers know the importance of maintaining consistent, SEO friendly URL’s. There’s nothing worse than link building to several permutations of URL’s that are constantly changing.
You’ll notice that if you eliminate the SEO motive on these ideas, there’s still tremendous value. And that’s how it should be, value drives links, which drives rankings, which drives traffic, which drives conversions. What other tips can you add to this list? What’s working or not working for you?