Link building is hard.
That statement is simple, but the truth behind it is complicated. You know you need to get links from other websites – high-authority, relevant websites, no less – for your website to do well enough in the search engines for your customers to find you.
But how do you convince the strangers running other sites that your eCommerce website is worth linking to? It’s not their job to help you out.
Asking someone else to give you a link is asking for a favor – which is awkward and very likely to get met with a “no” if you don’t have some kind of prior relationship with the person you’re asking.
The best strategies for link building are about finding ways to make the relationship more reciprocal. You want other websites to want to link to you because there’s something in it for them or their readers.
Here are a few strategies eCommerce sites can try in order to do that.
1. Guest Post on Relevant Websites.
This is a tried and true tactic, if you do it well. When you write a really good guest post for a website, you’re providing them something of value. Most websites that accept guest posts therefore expect and are okay with letting you include a relevant link or two back to your website in the posts you submit (but don’t overdo it, just stick with one or two).
In addition to earning you links, this tactic gives you a chance to reach a new audience that may not be familiar with your website or brand yet, potentially bringing you new traffic and followers.
For guest posting to work, you have to be strategic about it and do some real work. You should be careful to find blogs that are targeting the same audience that you want to reach and that are relevant to your industry or products. A guest post on a completely unrelated blog isn’t worth your time. Also look for blogs that have readers and authority. A guest post on a blog that no one visits that doesn’t have any real SEO authority isn’t worth your time either.
Once you’ve identified blogs that are worthwhile targets for guest posts, take some time to research the topics they cover, the style they write in, and who’s reading them. Any topic you pitch needs to be valuable to their audience for them to accept it.
And while it does require a lot of work, make sure the post you write for them is top-notch content. At worst, lazy content won’t get published and you won’t earn links after all. But even if it does get published, it won’t convince anyone in their audience to come check you out.
2. Create Content Partnerships with Relevant Sites.
There are brands out there that provide something similar or complementary to what you sell, without being direct competitors. These are good brands to consider for content partnerships.
You can work out a deal to create content for them (with links back to your website), while they make content for you (with links back to theirs). On both sides, you have to make sure that the content created makes sense for the other brand’s audience and is relevant and fits in with their overall content strategy.
Or you can think of ways to create content together, like joint webinars or working together on a research study. By working together, you can tap into the talent and resources that you both have to offer and expand your audiences by reaching all of the people both of you have attracted. And you’ll both get some new external links in the process.
3. Partner with Local Businesses.
When you’re an eCommerce business, “local” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as it does when you have a business with a storefront. Even so, your business is based somewhere. There’s a local community you can get involved with to create new connections and opportunities. Get out to local networking events and get to know some of the businesses in the area.
The connections you make in your own business community can turn into mutually beneficial partnerships, including in the form of more links to your website. If you join local professional or industry organizations, you can get links in their directories or by participating in their events or marketing.
A local business owner selling complementary or related products to yours can become a promotion partner. If you sell dog collars, the local business owner that sells homemade dog treats could promote your collars in a blog post, while you promote her treats in a giveaway that raises her profile while benefiting your customers as well.
Turning local relationships into partnerships that benefit you both (and earn you links) can require some creativity, but it can be a useful way to increase awareness of your brand and earn some valuable links at the same time.
4. Look for Sponsorship Opportunities.
Look for events and organizations in your industry that seek sponsorships. Becoming a sponsor will cost you money, but the money pays off both in good will from the community that appreciates those events or organizations, along with links back to your website and mentions of your eCommerce brand in any materials associated with the event or organization.
This is a good way to earn karma and good PR along with links.
5. Offer Free Products for Review.
Look for affiliate websites and influencers who write product reviews for items similar to what you sell and reach out with an offer to provide them with a free product in exchange for a review.
Obviously, this idea only works if you’re confident in your products (which you should be!). You can’t demand good reviews, you can merely hope for them. But if you make the offer specifically to website owners you’re confident are a good fit for your product, getting reviews raises (hopefully positive) awareness of your product and will usually earn you a link back to your website as well.
6. Host PR-Worthy Events.
Branded events can take a lot of different forms. You could host an awards dinner for your industry, put on a concert, or create a workshop. As we wait out the pandemic, many of these can even be converted into virtual events. And once in-person gatherings are safe again, people will be that much more eager to attend.
Whatever event you come up with, if it’s interesting, exciting, or helpful, then it’s PR-worthy. You can promote it to relevant publications and writers to drum up interest and get coverage of it around the web. With that coverage will inevitably come links.
Be aware that putting on an event is costly. It will probably be more worth the cost if you have goals for it that go beyond earning links – such as larger media attention, new customers, or some other benefit. But it’s definitely a good way to earn links for your eCommerce website as well.
7. Start Charity Projects.
There are a lot of websites that are happy to amplify any charitable projects. It’s an easy way for them to feel like they’re helping out. If you set up a charity drive through your eCommerce business, start a scholarship, or choose a week to donate a percentage of your profits to a notable cause – those are all things that other websites are likely to cover or promote to their own readers.
Again, this is a strategy that will have a cost for you and is best to do for reasons other than just getting links (like in this case, helping other people), but it can be a good way to earn links as well.
8. Do Original Research.
Buzzsumo’s research into what types of content most consistently earn links found that original research is one of the most reliable ways to build links to your website. If you wonder why that might be, just look back at the beginning of this paragraph. Whenever someone cites a statistic or finding that comes from your research, they’ll link back to you.
Creating original research isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s very effective and can be worth the resources you put into it.
Consider questions that your readers and other businesses in your industry have that you could help answer with a survey or analysis. If you see an opportunity for statistics or research that hasn’t been done (or that you can do better), take it!
9. Look for Brand Mentions Around the Web.
Anytime someone mentions your brand around the web, it’s an opportunity for a link back to your website.
First you want to find websites that have mentioned your brand. You can use Google for this, but can probably find more websites faster with a paid tool like Moz. You should also set up a Google Alert for your brand name so you’ll get an email every time a website mentions your brand anew moving forward.
Then, try to identify information on who’s running that website so you can contact them to ask them to add a link to your eCommerce website where they mention your brand. For this tactic, take time to visit the webpage before you contact anybody to make sure that:
- The website is actually mentioning your brand and didn’t just happen to use a phrase that included your brand name (this is especially important if you have a brand name that includes words people regularly use); and
- The mention of your brand name is positive. Chances are, a website owner that doesn’t like your brand or product isn’t going to help you out with a link.
You’re still asking a stranger to do you a favor here, so there’s a good chance a lot of people you contact will ignore you or refuse to make the change. But since you know these are websites where you’re on their radar and they’ve already mentioned your brand, they’re more likely to add your link than someone with no connection to your eCommerce brand at all.
10. Create Skyscraper Content.
The skyscraper technique is a link building strategy that takes a strategic approach to the competitive side of SEO. In order to claim one of the top spots for a target keyword in Google, you gotta knock someone else out of the rankings. That means you don’t just need to create great content, you specifically need to create content that’s better than what’s currently ranking now.
This technique includes three main steps:
- Analyze what’s ranking now for the keywords you want to target, and particularly try to identify low-hanging fruit cases where the ranking content is outdated or low quality.
- Create a piece of content that goes above and beyond what’s already out there. That could mean making it more thorough, adding additional types of media to better illustrate what you’re saying (e.g. throwing in some short tutorial videos throughout a how-to post), or creating up-to-date content where competitors’ are lagging behind. Even better, it could mean doing all of the above. For this technique to work though, your content needs to be good enough that other people will agree it’s the best option on the topic out there.
- Find the websites linking to your competitors now, and reach out to tell them about your new, better content. Make a pitch for why it’s better than the page they’re linking to now, so they’ll consider switching their link over to your page.
Be warned: this technique is hard to pull off! Being the best at anything takes work. And doing link outreach to strangers is always an uphill battle. But if you get a few high-quality links out of this process, that work will start to pay off quick.
11. Create Comprehensive Buyer’s Guides.
Over half of consumers say they always do research before making a purchase. People want to make informed decisions with their money. If you can create content that helps them make more informed choices, then you can potentially both earn links and earn visitors that are near the point of purchase in the process.
Try to think of every question and consideration a customer considering your products might have. Then get to work answering those questions in a helpful, comprehensive buyer’s guide.
When creating your guides, be careful not to make them too promotional. If it seems like a guide to buying your product specifically, a lot of visitors will lose trust. If instead you’re providing general knowledge about choosing the best product for each reader’s need, they’ll be more likely to trust you as a reliable source. And offering unbiased content that’s genuinely helpful is much more likely to earn you links around the web from other sites that know their audience is looking for that kind of information.
12. Create FAQ content.
Your business likely fields a lot of the same questions from customers over and over again. Your company’s frequently asked questions (FAQs) are a content and link building opportunity. If there’s something specific your customers are wondering about, other people likely are too. If you can create the go-to answer to that question, other sites will link back to you, and you can gain a ranking spot on Google when consumers go looking for that information.
If you already have an FAQ page on your website, you can start by using the information contained there, but expanding each question into its own piece of content. If you don’t know which questions your customers have the most often, try talking to your customer service and sales departments. They probably have a list of the questions and concerns they hear repeatedly. And as an extra bonus, the content you create can make their jobs easier as well. Read our guide to adding FAQ to your website.
13. Look for Relevant Broken Links Around the Web.
Broken link building has become a pretty big subset of link building in recent years. The idea is that if you can find examples on another website of a link that no longer works that previously went to content similar to something you’ve created, you can contact the website owner to recommend they change the link to your resource.
You’re doing something helpful for them by finding a broken link they don’t know is there yet and suggesting an easy replacement, which means they’re that much more likely to take your suggestion and add your link to their website.
Finding relevant broken links can be time consuming, but there are SEO tools that can help make it a little easier and faster. You can start with this tactic by looking for examples of broken links likely to match content you already have, but you can also expand this strategy to begin creating high-value content that would make a good replacement for broken links you find.
14. Contact Discount Sites and Listings.
Do you offer any special discounts for certain categories of people? Many eCommerce sites provide discounts for students, veterans, teachers, or essential workers. And many websites put together listings of discounts people in each category can take advantage of. Do some research to find sites that point their visitors toward stores where they can enjoy discounts. Then get in touch to let them know they can add one more.
Obviously this one only works if you’re willing to honor all discounts you claim to offer. But discounts can be a way to encourage more sales as well as earn links, so this is another smart link building strategy that offers additional business benefits as well.
15. Feature Influencers.
People tend to link to websites they know, and they’re that much more likely to link to a website that mentions them in a positive light.
Identify some of the most important influencers in your industry and consider if there are some good ways to collaborate with them. You could ask them to provide a quote for a blog post you’re working on or if they’ll be the featured guest in a webinar you’re setting up. If you can offer them something that serves to help them promote their brand, they’ll be more likely to participate and to promote the content you’ve featured them in.
This can be tricky to do well because the more well known an influencer is, the more often they’ll be getting requests like this from other people. You don’t want to be one more annoyance in their inbox, but you do want to start a mutually beneficial relationship with them.
Make sure you really think about what you can offer them here and consider reaching out to people and brands that aren’t super well known just yet. That person in your industry with 1,000 followers is going to be quicker to help you out then the guy with 1 million, but still provides an opportunity to expand your reach.
16. Feature Customer Stories.
This is good marketing advice in general. When your potential customers can see positive stories from your current customers, it makes them more likely to convert. But it can also be helpful for link building.
A good customer story can serve as a case study to demonstrate principles someone might point to evidence of in a blog post. For example, that writer claiming that a good pair of running shoes really does make a difference could link to your customer story about someone who increased their running time after buying your shoes.
If you’re able to capture a particularly moving story, it could inspire people to share it due to the emotion it evokes. The couple that found each other through their shared love of your products and got married in spite of great odds could leave people feeling inspired and wanting to share the tale.
People relate to people, so creating content that features the people your brand exists for and because of can give other people something to connect with. It’s those connections that often lead to shares and links.
Good Links are Good for Business
The most valuable links aren’t just good for SEO, they’re the ones most likely to send relevant traffic to your website as well.
A smart eCommerce link building strategy won’t just treat this as a numbers game of trying to get as many links as possible. Focus on which ones make strategic sense for your business. Will potential customers be likely to encounter and follow that link back? Does it help you build up your brand awareness and reputation? When you can answer yes, those are the links worth focusing your time and effort to build.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.