Link acquisition is not easy work. It’s a sexy topic in SEO circles because it’s a facet of optimization that most of us can influence but cannot directly control. Even as we enter the age of semantic search and brand-biased search engines, we still pursue links voraciously because their power to influence rankings is undeniable.
And while it’s challenging enough to run an ethical and consistent link building campaign for a regular site, things can get even tougher when you’re doing it for an ecommerce site. Let’s face it: most people don’t find linking to ecommerce home and category pages very compelling. And unless you’re selling Nike or Apple gear, you’ll probably find it tough to attract links to your product pages, too.
Here at GDI, about half the sites we serve are ecommerce and most of them have pretty hefty link building needs. Over the past 24 months, we’ve refined our process enough to trim out the tactics that don’t work while investing heavily on the ones that offer the best results. Going into 2016, here’s the ecommerce link building strategies that we’ll be using heavily:
Go for Quick Wins
A great way to get started with ecommerce link building is by racking up some quick but impactful wins in the first couple of months. Turn your attention first towards sites that are owned by entities that have direct business and personal relationships with you. Getting inclusion in “Related Links,” “Partners,” or “Authorized Dealers” and similar pages can give you a nice boost right away. The great thing about this is that you don’t need fancy tools and tactics to get links – just a list of target sites and a few email send-outs.
- Manufacturers – Even manufacturers that don’t do direct selling have websites and those usually carry nice domain authorities. As long as they have a page where they link to accredited retailers and partners, you have a chance of acquiring a link. Contact their admin or better yet, peak to a contact within the company who can help you get some fast action going.
When entering a new deal to carry products in your online sore, make it part of the negotiating process to ask for a link from the manufacturer’s site. A lot of sales people will be ready to pull some strings to give you what you want and close a deal.
- Dealers – If you’re doing SEO for a manufacturer that also runs its own ecommerce store – but allows other online vendors to sell its products – you can also leverage that to acquire quick links. Getting into “Partners” pages is good. If you have an authorized dealer-type of program where you provide badges with linkbacks to you, offer them to your sellers. Most of them will be happy to embed the images to their pages to make themselves look more legit.
- Suppliers and Service Providers – In B2B sites, most companies love to mention which businesses they’ve served over the years to boost their profile. If you have good relationships with credible vendors, consider asking for inclusions. Most of your suppliers and service providers would love to have your logo or URL displayed in their client portfolio pages. Just make sure to ask for a link back to your home page whenever applicable.
- Parent Companies – If the ecommerce site is owned by a larger holdings entity (a parent company), by all means speak with the site admin and get a link back to the ecommerce site’s home page. Most parent companies already do this, but there are cases when it’s neglected. Use Ahrefs’ site explorer tool and see if your parent company is already doing this
- Industry Friends’ Sites – If your company has been in business for a while, its ownership and management is bound to have a solid network of friends in the industry. Make a list of these friends and the kind of websites they run. Check each one for “Related Links” pages and see if your site is a good fit. Get in touch with your friend, maybe buy him a drink and ask for the favor. Most people will readily say yes.
- Other sites you own – Other sites you own also make sense to get links from, especially if they’re in the same or in closely related niches.
Scout Competitor Links
Another easy way to find link acquisition opportunities is to spy on the link profiles of leading competitors. Doing this allows you to easily find directories, blogs, news sites and forums where you’re likely to acquire links.
Personally, I prefer the Ahrefs site explorer tool to do this. It may be a paid service, but its ability to track links to your site and the frequency of its updates is unmatched. Tools like Moz’s Open Site Explorer and Majestic are great too – I just happen to think Ahrefs is the best of the three.
Finding suitable link prospects with Ahrefs is pretty easy. Just log in, enter the URL of the competitor’s site and set the tool to Live.
You’ll see all sorts of useful info about your competitor’s link profile, but for now just focus on the dofollow ones. Look for that under the Link Types section and click on the number.
You should see the following report. Export it as a CSV file that you can manage on Excel.
Open the CSV file in Excel. Sort the referring pages according to Domain Rating from highest to lowest so you can prioritize the ones that will give you the biggest boost. Just make sure to examine each one closely to avoid spammy and irrelevant sites.
3. Hunt and Convert Linkless Brand Mentions
If your ecommerce site has been active for some time, there’s a good chance that it has already generated a significant amount of mentions in other sites. Far too often, authors mention brands without actually linking back to them. As a link builder, it’s your job to track down mentions of the site’s brand and persuade webmasters o place a live link back to your site.
You can follow this simple process to track brand mentions and get links back to your ecommerce site:
- Sign in to your Google account and go Search Settings.
- Disable Google Instant and set Results Per Page to 100. Basically, this allows you to go from the default 10 results per page on Google to the maximum of 100.
- Search for your brand name on Google with the search operator “intext:[your brand name]”. This tells Google to display only results that point to webpages with mentions of your brand name in the text of the page. The only caveat is if you have an exact match URL and your brnd name isn’t too unique – this tactic may be more work than it’s worth.
- Scroll down and copy the URL list under Plain Listing. These are the URLs of all 100 listings displayed in the SERPs.
- Copy the URLs and paste them to an Excel sheet. Remove all URLs with your root domain. Similarly, filter out results from social networking and social bookmarking sites that use links with the nofollow attribute.
- Download and install the desktop application NetPeak. It’s free – just enter your name and email address. They’ll send you a verification code that you can use to activate the app.
- Start the app and you should see this:
- Check only the boxes of the domain stats you want to see. At GDI, we only really look at Moz Domain Authority, Ahrefs Domain Rating and Alexa.
- Click Load and you’ll see a box where you can paste the URLs you want to check. Paste them and hit Save.
- Click Start Check. You’ll see the stats start to come in.
- Click on Export to save the data to a CSV file that can be opened and managed in Excel.
- Repeat this for the next few pages of Google search results and merge all the sheets generated.
- Review each page that mentions your brand name without a link and see where it’s applicable to ask for a link from the site owners. Generally, you can go after sites that mentioned your brand in a positive or neutral way. Bloggers and review sites make excellent targets.
- Collect the contact information of all the pages that satisfy the aforementioned qualifiers.
- When emailing webmasters, thank them for the mention and politely inquire if it wouldn’t be much trouble if they link the brand mention to your home page. You can sweeten the deal by offering them samples of your products and other tokens.
4. Guest Blogging
I’ll preface this by saying that I still wouldn’t use guest blogging as my main link acquisition method. However, I’ll admit that it can still deliver a lot of valuable links to a site when done correctly. Going after sites that have legitimate followings, good domain authority and recognizable brands is a start.
When looking for guest blogging opportunities, we like building our prospect list by:
- Manually listing down influential logs and authors in the given industry. If you’re an SEO service provider, ask the ecommerce site’s owner who the influential people are in his niche and check whether they have blogs or not. If they do, put them on your list and get their blog’s domain authority and Alexa ranking.
- Checking competitor link profiles. As mentioned earlier, checking competitor link profiles allows you to get some quick wins. Look for linking pages where they guest blogged. These are sites where you can also get links from as long as there’s no shady business that was done to acquire the posting opportunity. Using Ahrefs, Moz or Majestic saves you time by showing you blogs that have had a history of allowing guest posts for ecommerce sites like yours.
- Use Google Search operators and NetPea Follow the process described in the previous chapter, but instead of the “intext:” search operator, use the following search operators:
- Intitle:[keyword] “guest blog”
- Intitle:[keyword] “guest post”
- Intitle:[keyword] “write for us”
- Inurl:[keyword] “guest blog”
- Inurl:[keyword] “guest post”
- Inurl:[keyword] “write for us”
- “keyword” “guest blog”
- “keyword” “write for us”
- “keyword” “guest post”
- Most of the pages you’ll get from these advanced queries will contain blog pages related to your target keywords. They will also be from websites that are likely to allow guest posting.
- When guest posting, don’t point all the links to your site’s pages. One link to your home page or category pages will suffice. Consider linking to other pages that are already linking to your site to give them link equity boosts. This allows those pages to pass even more potent link equity to your ranking pages.
5. Do a Competitive Study You Know You’ll Win
As an ecommerce site, part of your marketing strategy should be to excel in areas such as product quality, service delivery, value for money, customer care, etc. If you’re confident that your online store consistently outperforms its competitors in one or more of these areas, you can commission a study to legitimize your convictions and leverage it for PR mileage and link acquisition. Here’s how:
- List down the areas where you have the edge over your competitors.
- Consider whether your advantages are clear and significant enough for consumers to care when they’re informed about it.
- Identify analyst firms who may be able to conduct market research for you. Analysts are independent bodies who conduct studies about significant topics within an industry. Forrester and Gartner are prime examples.
- Though you can’t pay them to proclaim your site as the best at what it does, you can inquire if you can commission a study on who’s the best at the areas that you know your site stands out in.
- If all goes well, a study will be conducted and analysts will affirm that your ecommerce site is a market leader in the areas that the study focused on.
- Write a press release about the results and angle it in a way that favors your business. Submit the release to PR distribution sites such as PRWeb.
If successful, online news publications will carry the news story and provide you with good press, brand mentions and natural backlinks. Some industries also have award events. If you win something, leverage it by writing a press release which you can submit to news wires.
6. Participate in Trade Shows
While link building happens in the Internet, what you do offline can influence it heavily. Having a presence in industry conferences, trade shows and networking events can make link acquisition that much easier.
People are far more likely to trust people that they’ve met in person over those who merely contacted them via email. By being in real-world events, you’ll get the chance to meet bloggers, media personalities, competitors and potential customers.
Take advantage of speaking opportunities. Some conferences either invite subject matter experts (your site is bound to have one) or they’ll be open to volunteer speakers. This is a great chance to share some knowledge and establish yourself and your brand as thought leaders in your industry. If you can’t get a speaking gig, explore opportunities to become a sponsor.
If neither is possible, just be very friendly in networking events. Bring a ton of business cards and list down people who can potentially become sources of quality links. Engage them on social media regularly, but not intrusively, to solidify the relationship. Explore an opportunity for collaboration to create content and act on it decisively. Interviews, guest posts and joint content asset creation are just some ways to get natural links back from industry acquaintances.
As always, link building is an important part of SEO but it’s not all there is to it. Ecommerce SEO is also largely dependent on site structure, content strategy and overall brand equity.