All link building is not created equal.
Let’s face it: link building is easier for some companies than others. Link building is also easier for some industries than others. But most of all, link building is easier for some business models than others.
It’s objectively easier to gain links for a news site, since people cite and share articles on a constant basis. It’s also easier to gain links for social media websites, tech startups and widgets for the same basic reason: they routinely provide something new, interesting or helpful. eCommerce companies, however, can rarely lay claim to any such attribute.
eCommerce, by definition, exists for commercial purposes. They are there to provide a product or service for a price. And most likely, they are not providing anything unique. With that in mind, why would anyone link to them?
Building links to an eCommerce site is difficult. SEO consultants who work with eCommerce clients are all too familiar with the struggle of pitching journalists, submitting to directories and reaching out to bloggers, only to face a string of rejection afterward. No one wants to link to an online store; especially when there’s monopolies like Amazon and eBay that provide a better experience than any independent online store ever could.
Since most SEOs shy away from purchasing backlinks, building private blog networks or redirecting expired domains, there are few options left for a viable link strategy. Consultants need to get creative if they want their clients to stand out from the pack and dominate the SERPS.
Rather than competing with content farms or acquiring competitors, SEOs need to slightly adjust their sails and ask themselves the question: what do journalists, bloggers and others want to link to? Once we obtain this knowledge, it becomes clear what needs to be done.
As mentioned earlier, some site models see less friction when seeking to obtain backlinks. And while eCommerce companies can’t spin off a news organization, social channel or tech startup for the purpose of acquiring links, they can produce widgets.
If people link to certain widgets such as calculators, converters, generators and quizzes, why do we not create those assets as an extension of the eCommerce brand? It sounds simple enough, although it may still receive resistance if it is seen as a ploy to obtain links to a commercial site. As a result, all we would need to do is have it live on a separate domain, seemingly unrelated to our online store.
In other words, we don’t want our widget to be hosted on:
Instead, it should be found on a domain like:
If executed correctly, it would result in a free, helpful resource in the form of an online tool, accessible to all and with zero ties to any commercial involvement. Backlinks will naturally follow, especially when certain marketing channels are utilized well.
1. Tech Directories
A number of niche directories have popped up in the recent years, specifically focusing on the tech space which includes a wide array of products such as software, tools, products and service. Most, if not all, have a unique combination of technology and innovation to have produced something new and linkworthy.
These kinds of directories are slightly different to the traditional, generic directory we would see with sites like Best of the Web, DirJournal or Starting Point. Due to their limited criteria, these types of directories feature less resources, thus increasing the value of each inclusion and encouraging visitors to take a closer look at each listing. Other webmasters also look at such directories for inspiration and ideas for what they should discuss on their blogs, forums and publications. They would look like:
While a large portion of these links will not carry much weight due to their nofollow attributes, some of them will. Regardless whether they do or not, the more places we can promote the widget, the more people will see it, and either link to it from their own sites or recommend it to someone they know (if it’s of value, of course).
2. PR Outreach
We have talked at length about the benefits of PR and what it can do for link building in a previous post, but to summarize — journalists need stories. SEOs need links. PR brings these two aspirations together to form an interdependent relationship with mutual benefits. Now more than ever, as cold outreach becomes less complicated and services like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and Press Hunt have emerged, SEOs can readily pitch journalists newsworthy material on a regular basis, which will not only make the job of a journalist less stressful, but also aid the search consultant with publicity opportunities for their client.
Journalists get pitched hundreds of times a day, however. As a result, outreach takes a wild combination of research, etiquette and timing for a campaign to pick up some traction. Having said that, it only takes one semi-established outlet to pick up a story. Like removing the first olive from a jar, there’s much less friction from then on. Confirmation that a competing publisher has picked you up will pressure others to do so as well. It can also be referenced to when doing follow-up or extended outreach, almost taking on a ripple effect — authority and opportunity snowballing with each new inquiry.
In addition, with the reach PR has, each placement brings a flood of visitors along with it, inevitably leading to additional links as more people are being exposed to the content in discussion. It’s clear to see why PR is such an impressive mode of marketing and link building for those who engage in it – which we can now do thanks to our widget strategy.
Honorable Mention: Affiliate Programs
Affiliate marketing is nothing more than the act of promoting someone else’s products or services in exchange for a predetermined commission, if and only when a sale is made directly due to the affiliate in question. The way affiliate sales are generated, of course, is through links.
If you haven’t already guessed — we as publishers can leverage an affiliate program to build a large profile of backlinks from a variety of relevant sources for free (or near-free, at least). All we would need to do is install the affiliate software in question, promote it to our audience and any affiliate program directory, then begin to review affiliate applications as they come in.
While not every affiliate marketing software has the ability to generate SEO-friendly links for affiliates, a few do including the likes of GrowSurf and OSI Affiliate, which use static URLs and will count as a direct backlink from any website it is placed on.
eCommerce is ripe for affiliate marketing. By only ceding a 5-20% commission on each sale, we can build an army of backlinks that will remain, whether or not the affiliates themselves make a sale from it or not. They are operating on the HOPE of creating an income stream from the sales they bring in, whereas our link from their website is GUARANTEED. Along with the fact that cookies can expire anywhere from 15-90 days after the affiliate has introduced their users to our site, this strategy can compound in value over time to a point where no other channel or investment is needed. It will snowball on its own.
While not a walk in the park, and while not an exhaustive list, link building for eCommerce CAN be done at scale with the aforementioned strategies. Apart from any shady tactics or building endless guest posts, there isn’t much else we can do that will ensure a steady flow of new links or mentions to our site. Rest assured, with some perseverance and creativity, it is entirely possible to build an eCommerce company from the ground up and surpass established competitors in a relatively short period of time.
Get on it!