Posted by : EC Milo Tuesday, 24 September 2013
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Can you imagine waking up one day seeing your product pages ranking high up in the search results for their respective keywords? All e-commerce store owners want that but not many know the right steps to get there.
Search engine optimization efforts can be broadly categorized into on-page optimization and off-page optimization, which is essentially link building. The latter is what we are going to look at today.
A Quick Word on SEO Shortcuts
Store owners who used to thrive on nasty search engine optimization "tricks" were hit hard by Google's recent Panda and Penguin updates and are now reconsidering SEO.
The ideas suggested below may seem costly and tedious to implement. However, the fact that many SEO shortcuts that aims to manipulate search engines became outdated and caused costly penalties for website owners makes a good case for not cutting corners.
Think about it. Would you pop into a meetup shouting your store name (forum or comment spam)? Will pasting your store URL all over the streets get you sales (directory spam)? Will you find a conversation to be interesting if somebody keeps repeating about his products and store (keyword stuffing)?
When you are building links, think strategically along the lines of how you can add value to potential customers who are looking for your products online. And again, there is NO SHORTCUT to this.
Now, let's move on to the link building ideas.
Network As Much As You Can
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In the offline world, networking uncovers business development opportunities. The same applies for online marketing. It is more likely for your store to get links when you enjoy a wide network of connections.
Ask for an introduction if you have a friend who is connected to a blogger or a journalist. Attend industry-related events and reach out to individuals with a website relevant to your store.
If you already have many strong business relationships with relevant parties, executing on the ideas explained below will be so much faster and easier too.
Create Educational Content
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Despite the low barrier to publish an article, an infographic or a video online, the Internet still don't have enough educational and how-to content. In this region, there is definitely a lack of localized educational content.
Look at the the products listed in your store. What are the questions that customers usually ask? What problems do they face using your products? Do you have more tips to solve their problem which brought them to your product in the first place?
If they are asking the questions above, there might be many others who are searching for the answers online and the goal is to get them to land on your website. If these content are useful enough, these new visitors will even be more than willing to share them on their blog or social media profile, building more links and bringing more customers to your store.
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Regular participation in Facebook Groups, Google+ Communities, local forums and meetups are effective in both expanding your network of connections and to get in front of potential customers in these communities.
You don't have to insert a link in every post of yours. Overdoing it makes the effort salesy and spammy. Try to be as helpful and as engaging as you can. If you have been creating high quality educational content for commonly asked questions, direct community members to them if your content is capable of answering their questions.
Most communities do not accept the practice of "setting up" or fabricating a post or thread, which you then use to direct members to a website you own. Instead of doing this, try allocating some time to browse around a community that you are part of to discover topics or discussions that you can be a part of.
On top of all these, always use tools like Google Alerts or TalkWalker Alerts to help monitor the web for fresh content or discussions related to your products.
Interview Influential Individuals
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People love to read and share interviews, especially if the interviewee is someone that they look up to. Apart from that, the interviewees themselves, who almost always have a website or a big social media following, are more than willing to share an interview they did.
An interview I did with Adrian Oh, one of the guys behind ecommerce.milo, on the topic of e-commerce trends in Malaysia placed me on the radar of many up-and-coming e-commerce store owners.
Start building a list of respectable individuals including bloggers, brand owners, social media influencers and authors in your industry and try to arrange an interview with them. It doesn't have to be a face-to-face interview. With today's technology, an interview can be conducted easily over Skype, Google+ Hangouts or even email.
Sponsor Products for Reviews
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Buying and exchanging links can get a website into deep trouble with Google. Instead of paying bloggers for a review, reach out to bloggers who are interested in reviewing your products for free.
For the bloggers, this arrangement means more than just free products for themselves. Product reviews are usually great traffic magnets for hobbyist blogs focused on just one specific topic.
Limit your outreach efforts to blogs with your target audience only because search engines do consider the relevance of a link as a ranking signal.
Host a Contest
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Contests are very effective in generating buzz for any website. If executed properly, they can even become an inbound links generator. The following are two contest ideas to get you started.
Host a wish list contest one month before Christmas. Reach out to bloggers to compile their own Christmas wish list. At the end of the contest, the lucky winners will get either one or a number of items from their wish list free of charge! The catch? Items that they wish to win has to be from your store and linked to your store's individual product pages from their wish list.
Here's another idea. Bloggers love to see their blog posts go viral. Work with a prominent blogger to come up with a contest that requires his or her readers to blog about the contest or to share it on social media before leaving a comment with links to their respective blog post or social media updates in order to qualify.
Where do you come in? Well, you will be the sponsor of the prizes. Although the majority of the links will be going to the contest page and not your website, you will enjoy part of the link juice as long as the contest page has a link to your homepage.
Host or Sponsor an Event
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Hosting your own events allows your business to place listings on event directories and local guides such as Meetup.com, Time Out and many others, which can then have a link back to your store.
On the other hand, sponsoring an event will get your store listed as a partner on the event website and in most cases, you will be rewarded with an inbound link.
Don't have the budget to do the above? Volunteer to help out at major events! This will improve your chances of getting the link and the opportunity to mingle with other attendees. Being an event helper (a.k.a. insider) always gives you extra topics to get a conversation rolling.
Ask Happy Customers for Links
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The best time to ask a customer for favors is when they are happy.
Shortlist a number of loyal customers who blogs or maintains a website. More often than not, bloggers and website owners use unique email addresses rather than the generic @gmail.com or @yahoo.com email addresses.
Once the list is finalized, introduce a mechanism to reward these customers for writing about their positive online shopping experience. It could be something along the lines of "Share Your Wonderful Shopping Experience with X and Get a $20 Voucher for Your Next Purchase".
All e-commerce stores work with suppliers. Some of them, especially if they are well known brands, maintain a highly authoritative website.
If they recognize you as a partner, request for a placement in their "Where to Buy?" or "Store Directory" page. This is often a quick win that e-commerce stores, especially those who hold the sole distributorship for a certain brand in this region, miss out.
Ask Your Team for Help
If you are lucky enough to have bloggers working for you, try asking them for a favor to update their blog's about page with employment details that link back to your website. What about social media enthusiasts without a website? They can always fill up that empty website URL column with your store URL. In return for a free lunch perhaps?
You can take things even further. Encourage the bloggers on your team to write about the experience working with the company or about a recent company outing (if it is epic enough). Apart from getting a link from his or her blog post, you are actually fostering better understanding among your team members.
Reverse Engineer Competitor Links
Use an SEO tool called Open Site Explorer to find out where did your competitors get their links.
The idea is that it is always easier convincing a website owner who has previous experience of linking out to another website to link to you as compared to a blogger who has no record of linking out to e-commerce stores.
To illustrate this, I used to work with a major online retailer in Malaysia and we were looking to build links from .edu and .gov websites, which are seen as trusted sources for links by major search engines.
We put our competitors into Open Site Explorer and found out that a government agency with a .gov domain name is linking out to popular online bookstores in Malaysia. We immediately wrote an email in a formal tone to the respective officer in-charge (the e-mail address is usually listed in the "Staff Directory" section) and we got our link after two weeks.
Feel Free to Ask Questions!
For newbies, I hope the ideas are helpful enough to get you started in building a healthy set of links for your e-commerce store. For those who already knew the basics of SEO, the ideas above should give you a refreshed perspective on link building methods that have worked for many online stores and still work today.
If you have any questions relating to SEO in general or the ideas explained above, feel free to ask them in the comment section. I am more than happy to answer them.
This article is written by Wayne Liew, an online marketer with experience in helping SMEs and e-commerce stores with conversion rate optimization, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising campaigns. Wayne now runs SproutGeek.com, a resource website that provides in-depth small business tips and guides for small business owners.
11 practical link building ideas for e-commerce stores