Based on about 1,000+ meetings with e-commerce sites (about one per week for 19 years), I can confidently make a few observations about e-commerce site link building.
Here, I will examine some of the most common link building tactics employed by e-commerce sites — including common problems with tactics and creative ideas for making them work to the fullest.
1. Adding A Blog In Hopes Of Attracting Links
While it is theoretically possible to garner links by adding a blog to your e-commerce site, there are a number of challenges that come along with this approach.
The objection I hear most often is that sites that sell products directly don’t really want to be content publishers, often due to a lack of resources or a lack of interest. Adding a blog is often done reluctantly.
I think back to the scuba site I once worked with, where the owner said, “I want to be in the water all day, not typing.” He had no interest in blogging himself, and he had no interest in hiring a writer because that person would not have his diving expertise.
There’s also the lesser-discussed issue of blog promotion. Your new blog is invisible unless you publicize it, which small businesses rarely understand.
Adding to the blog-as-link-magnet challenge is the fact that many e-commerce blogs write posts that end up being nothing more than extended product reviews for their own products. Do I really need to read a 300-word blog post about the baseball I’m buying for my kid? It’s a baseball. You throw it. Done.
What Might Work: Quit making the blog about you-you-you. Make it about them. Who is “them”? Interesting people, places, events, happenings, experts and other businesses. Yes, I’m suggesting you use your blog to write about other businesses, not your own. Why? Give and you shall receive.
Side Note: What Red Bull has done with RedBull.tv is a great example of a product/brand-turned-content-publisher, though they aren’t the classic e-commerce site I’m referring to with 500 products and a shopping cart.
2. Creating A Facebook Page, Then Telling Every Passing Car To Like You On Facebook
Everyone from the dry cleaners to the smoothie shop to the bakery is asking us to like them on Facebook. I’m immune to it at this point. I cannot think of a single time I liked a business’s Facebook page as a result of being told to do so on a sign.
What Might Work: Don’t tell me to like your Facebook page; instead, tell me how to enter your new contest and win something awesome on your Facebook page.
3. Creating High-Quality Website Content
While most pure-play e-commerce sites don’t want to get into the deep content creation game, they still want to rank highly. They just don’t know how. And we all know where that’s gotten us: over a million infographics about car care (I wish I were kidding).
We are in the middle stages of a content creation bubble that is only going to get bigger. Imagine how many thousands of dentists with websites are being told by content strategists right now to add content related to preventative tooth care. That sounds like a great idea. Then again, do we need 3.8 million articles about how to floss your teeth? Or 2 million videos?
I had no idea flossing was such a challenge.
And since this is column about links, who exactly is going to link to those 6 million pieces of content about flossing? (I know dentists aren’t technically e-commerce sites, but the flossing example is too good to pass up).
What Might Work: For less than $500, you can buy 500 mint-flavored floss packs. Host “The Great Floss Toss,” where people drive up to your office, and you toss them a free pack of dental floss. Let the right folks in the local media know about Floss Toss. Invite a few TV stations to cover it.
Offer the news director a free teeth bleaching if he covers it. Film it yourself, and write about it on your site and your Facebook page afterwards, including pictures of all those happy kids and parents — all of whom might mention it on their own Facebook pages later. Too much effort? Then you are missing the point.
4. Algorithm-Based Backlink Seeking
If you do a bit of backlink auditing for e-commerce sites, you notice some common patterns — most of which are going to stop working sooner or later. Here are some example link types you’ll undoubtedly spot when you study e-commerce backlink profiles.
- Sponsorship Links. These are certainly viable and can be executed strategically and in a perfectly white hat manner. Unfortunately, they often are not. When a Nebraska trucking company is sponsoring the Mt. Airy North Carolina Quilter’s Guild, something is amiss.
What Might Work: Sponsorships for events like this one from companies that have a logical reason to do so.
- .edu Infiltration. There are many ways an e-commerce site can infiltrate an .edu domain. Offering student discounts might get you a link on the student/faculty/staff discount page. Offering internships might get you on the university’s career services pages. Study abroad grants? Grad Student scholarships? Both good. There are many others, and I have to save my best ones for — well, you know. But here’s the problem: when you see a specific store on 70 different .edu discount pages and the remainder of their link profile is rubbish, then the intent was not to help kids save money; it was to manipulate rank. And that’s pretty easy to spot.
What Might Work: On the other hand, when Ford sponsors The University of Michigan’s Solar Car Team, all I can say is this: Nicely played, Ford.
- BBB Membership. This one is always acceptable and a good business practice, anyway. But once every business has a BBB link, what advantage does it provide? None.
- Chamber of Commerce Membership. Again, always acceptable and a good business practice.
- Clubs, Societies, Associations, Guilds, Federations, Leagues or Lodges. Any website, no matter what its subject matter or content, has the right to be a member of whatever club, society, association, guild, federation, league or lodge it wishes. But again, check the backlink profiles for a few hundred product-only e-commerce sites, and you notice just how many are utilizing this same approach. That doesn’t render the approach useless. Again, it’s in the selectivity of where you choose to participate.
What Might Work: Have you ever heard of the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers? Of course not. But check out this page Were those paid for? Yes. And every one of them is as white hat as can be.
Clint Eastwood once said, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” Likewise, a website has got to know its limitations — it must stop trying to be that which it is not, and reach out for links from those who know and respect that which it is. I know, another bit of Linkmoses Zen, but there it is.
E-Commerce Linking Guides
Lastly, below is a curated collection of 15 e-commerce linking and SEO guides that can help you along the way to building links for e-commerce sites. I may not agree with every suggestion, but taken as a whole, these are all worthy reads.
- 17 SEO Best Practices That Could Double Your E-Commerce Sales (SEL)
- Ecommerce SEO Case Study: White Hat Link Building (backlinko)
- Creative Link Building for Ecommerce Sites (MOZ)
- 50 Actionable Ways To Build Links To Your Ecommerce Store (BootstrappingEcom)
- E-commerce Link Building Strategies – Linkarati (linkarati)
- How to Build Links to Your Ecommerce Site (QuickSprout)
- Overlooked Link Building Opportunities for Ecommerce (PointBlank SEO)
- Untapped Link Building Techniques for Ecommerce Sites (Ecommerce rules)
- 6 Cool Link Building Tips for E-Commerce Site (Optimize)
- Ecommerce Link Building (Buzzstream)
- Linkbuilding: how to create links for your e-commerce (Screenpages)
- 7 Unusual Link Building Tactics for Ecommerce Sites (SEJ)
- 5 Top Link Building Strategies for Ecommerce Websites (Volusion)
- Easy Link Building for E-Commerce (SEER Interactive)
- Link Building & SEO strategies for e-commerce (State of Digital)
As always, link, share and mention wisely.