Creative Link Building for Ecommerce Sites

Posted by Stephanie Chang

Some of the greatest challenges my previous ecommerce clients have faced have revolved around developing a cohesive and long-term content/link building strategy. They’ve done all the changes they can on the technical backend of the site, incorporated keywords on the site, created a crawlable internal linking structure, and have paid for PR releases, submitted directory submissions, and written the occasional blog post. Now they ask, what’s next?

The latest Census Report indicates that ecommerce retail revenues are still rising quarter after quarter, meaning there is still boundless potential for the future of ecommerce. In addition, it’s also an exciting time to be involved in SEO as we've begun to realize that now is the time to focus on content marketing, as this is what will distinguish your site from others in the long-term. 
 
Census Graph
 
The purpose of this post is to outline content and link building ideas, provide information on how your site could go about developing this type of strategy, and real-life examples of ecommerce brands that have implemented these tactics.
 

Creative Category Pages

Category pages are the money pages for ecommerce sites. Getting links to these pages is a major win because these are the pages that will be ranking for key head and mid-tail terms. Furthermore, even as products are rotated or as the site undergoes a redesign, the category pages will still remain a part of the site architecture and are the pages least likely to be impacted. However, it’s also a major challenge to garner links to these pages. Who wants to link to a page full of products? 

Start thinking about how you can redesign your category pages to make them more than just another page. For instance, Hema’s category page was designed to become a wacky Rube Goldberg device. This page has gotten 20,826 links from 2,686 linking root domains.

Hema Category Pages

Using Products as Linkbait

Often times, it can be challenging to revamp or redesign category pages, so that valuable, unique content can be added. If that’s the case, selling interesting products on your site can become an effective form of linkbait

Threadless sells creative t-shirts. After the homepage, their second most linked to page is this product page. This product page received 5,065 links from 686 linking root domains, 3,068 Facebook Shares, and 1,167 Facebook Likes. It has received links from high authority sites, such as Wired and Boing Boing. 

Threadless Spoiler Shirt
 
Other examples include:
  • A robot tea infuser from ModCloth. The page received 789 total links from 201 linking root domains from sites, such as Uncrate and The Next Web. 
  • Tactical duty kilt from 5.11. Although this product started off as an April Fool’s Joke, 5.11 ended up making them because of the demand, while also receiving links from sites, such as Alltop.

Leveraging Sales/Deals Pages

Another linkbuilding tactic is to build and maintain a deals/sales page on the site that fulfills SEO requirements, such as having crawlable, indexable content, static URL, incorporating targeted keywords on the page etc... Then keep the same URL and revamp it every time you have a new deal or sale. 

For example, let’s say that your site is giving away really amazing Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals. Target mommy bloggers and coupon deal sites and let them know about it. When bloggers report this sale to their readers, they inevitably have to link back to that page. Once the sale is over, keep the page and revamp it whenever new sales/deals come up. Overtime, the link equity on that page can become significant as it garners more and more links. 
 
Sephora has a weekly specials page (that could use a bit more SEO). However, if you take a look at its backlink profile using Open Site Explorer, you’ll notice that the page has received backlinks from different mommy blogger channels.   
 
Sephora Deals Page Backlink Profile
 

Personalized Product Giveaways

Think about what makes people feel special. Everyone appreciates personalized gifts. With Mother's Day just around the corner, why not create a care package to the top 50 most passionate moms within your community with a personalized thank you from you and your team? It doesn't have to be expensive to show that you care. Now take the surprise of the care package, combine this with people's insatiable desire to share via Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, and they've just published and pinned beautiful photos of this sincere gift to their network for the world to see.

 
Kotex Pinned Gift
 
Kotex recently did something similar titled "Women's Inspiration Day". From this campaign, Kotex received an incredible response with almost 100% of the 50 women they sent this gift to posting and pinning this user generated content online, resulting in 2,284 interactions and 694,953 total impressions. This example just goes to show you that sincerity, great execution, and placing something of value perceived value in the hands of your passionate users can pay dividends. 
 

Link-worthy Contests

If personalized product giveaways aren’t possible, consider running effective contests in conjunction with identifying influential individuals on channels using tools, like Followerwonk. This would allow you to systematically target the type of audience and sites you want involved (while also expanding your brand awareness). You need to give something away that people would actually want, especially your target audience. It’s also worth having a little fun with it and seeing if you could come up with some creative tactics that would require contest submissions to link back to your site. 

Some possible ideas include:
  • Fashion/clothing ecommerce sites: Does your boyfriend need a $500 fashion makeover? Send pictures and write a post on the products you would purchase.
  • Tools/home improvement sites: Shopping spree competition - Does a room in your house need a makeover? How would you spend the money using products from our site?

Value of High-Quality Photos

Who doesn’t like looking at pretty pictures all day? We’re all visually stimulated by beautiful images and so really, it’s worth the effort to incorporate large, high-resolution photos on your site. Not to mention as an ecommerce site, your website is the main vehicle for visitors to take a closer look at the products you offer. If I can’t see the product clearly, why should I buy it from your site? How can I even trust it?

Pictures are also an effective linkbuilding tactic. Fab’s 4th most linked to page on their site is the Fab Inspiration wall. It’s a social mood board so that the community can share inspirational designs with each other. Although the impetus for the creation was to incorporate social sharing on the website, its design speaks volumes about the impact of bold, high-quality photos. Not to mention, the page has received links from Elle and Cool Hunting.
 
Fab High Quality Photos

Leveraging Anticipation

There’s something to be said about building anticipation before a product actually hits the market. People are naturally inquisitive and want to be the first to be granted access and try out a product. Think about the huge lines that were outside of Apple stores the day the iPad 3 was released or the anticipation surrounding the release of Diablo 3. 

Startup Visual.ly released a teaser preview video about their product before people were allowed to sign up for public beta. When they finally opened the site up, it inspired 60,000 people to sign up for invites and resulted in 8,500 people following their Twitter account.
 
Visually Beta Signup and Video
 
An ecommerce store that also successfully leveraged anticipation was Bonobos, who are in the business of selling better fitting men’s products. They recently launched a denim line, which expanded their product line from just chinos and cotton pants. The company built a micro site for individuals who wanted to be the first to be notified when the denim product line became live, as well as released a promo video. It was so successful that they ran out of invites! This new product launch received links from Esquire and Dappered, as well as coverage in the WSJ.
 
Link Building with Anticipation

Widening Your Audience

Sometimes we become so entrenched in trying to attract our target audience (What’s their persona? Who do they follow? How can I build a relationship with them?), that we can lose sight of all the other potential opportunities that are out there. Brainstorm all the cool things that you’re doing as a company and what your next initiatives are. Can you make any of these into a story? If you can’t think of any, then think outside your site and your target audience and write a blog post that speaks to them.

Often times, companies use their company blog as a way to promote their products. That’s not the purpose of the blog (unless, perhaps, you’re Apple). People aren’t interested that your site has gone through two iterations of redesigns unless it directly affects them. Most don’t care that your new product is now renamed product 2.0 because it went through a minor change and even if they were interested, would they link to it? People want quality, interesting content that makes them go “Wow, that’s kind of neat. I want to share that!” or “(Name of person) would really enjoy this article. I’m going to send it to them now.” 
 
Let’s say your site sells car brakes. Expand your scope, so that your site speaks to not just people who are interested in buying brakes, but into racing or race cars. There are likely more race car aficionados than brake ones. Use tools like Google Insights for Search and Google Alerts to figure out what are some hot trends in racing. Check out forums and learn more about what they’re interested in. Entrench yourself in these conversations by providing value. 
 
This year, Codecademy launched Code Year, an initiative targeted towards individuals who want to learn to code and have made it their New Year’s Resolution. Each week, people who sign up receive a new coding lesson free. It was a massive success as over 400k individuals have signed up to receive these lessons. The designer who designed the Code Year landing page wrote a phenomenal post on how he designed the page in 1 hour. The purpose of the post probably isn’t targeted towards the 400k individuals who signed up, even though they helped make the site a success. I’d like to think it was targeted towards designers or entrepreneurs currently working on their own startup. The blog post received 671 links from 141 linking root domains from sites like Hacker News, Tech Meme, and Reddit. 
 
Think about anything even semi-related to your industry-inspiring buzz or creating amazing products and write really quality content surrounding it (also use this post as a reference) on your site or blog. 
 
If your site doesn’t have its own blog, consider securing guest blog post opportunities, which is still a valuable medium for link prospecting and link building (especially for building links to deeper pages, like category pages). Blog posting also offers opportunities to reach an audience that has not yet heard of your brand. There are tons of outstanding resources available that already provide in-depth detail on how to go about approaching bloggers for guest blog post opportunities. 
 

Using Personal Stories

The new online marketing landscape offers new opportunities for storytelling and adds a human element to the type of stories that we share. The Coca Cola content initiative demonstrates that content marketing is growing and becoming a vital part of online marketing. There are several other brands that also utilize storytelling as a channel, such as Nike's story on how running reunited a long-distance relationship

From an SEO perspective, storytelling attracts links. This video that told the story about a modern day knifemaker who makes his knives by hand attracted links from the NY Times, FastCoDesign, Huffington Post, and Gizmodo to his business site, Cut Brooklyn
 
The Knife Maker
 
This fantastic video link bait slideshare shows how you can incorporate video into your link building strategy for around $1500. Furthermore, having video instead of just plain text will almost triple the average number of linking root domains. 

Taking a Risk and Creating Amazing Content on a Budget

Let’s say you have a limited marketing budget and aren’t sure that you have the resources to create linkbait content. Having such constraints for marketing is normal, but being creative, bold, and taking a risk can still pay off. Take the Dollar Shave Club as an example. With less than $5,000 budget, Dollar Shave Club was able to create a Old Spice like video about their product that led to over 4.5 million views on YouTube, 27,000 Facebook Shares, and over 2,000 tweets. This LA-based startup combined razors, a monthly subscription model, and a video introducing their company to the world with humor as their way to break into the space. Creating content like this isn't without its risks, but when it pays off and is aligned with your core offering, there are many added benefits (brand awareness, growth in revenue, and word-of-mouth).

Dollar Shave Club

Audio Content Marketing

Here is another great example of how something as random as a late night Facebook comment manifested itself into a No. 1 Amazon.com selling book almost overnight. Adam Mansbach, author of the children's book for adults titled (kids, cover your ears for this one) "Go the F**k to Sleep" quickly garnered the attention of celebrity Samuel L Jackson to do the narrative once he heard there would be an Audible.com version of the book. It was this combination of interesting, yet unique content narrated by a recognizable voice that transformed Audible.com's sales page into one of the domains top linked, most socially shared, and highest reviewed pages on their site.

Quick stats about this audible page.. It has 8,053 user reviews, received links from 351 linking root domains. The page also received a total of 1,092 Links, 21,900 Facebook Shares, 21,124 Facebook Likes, and 1,902 Tweets.
 
Go The F to Sleep

Utilizing Pinterest

Pinterest has experienced rapid growth over the past 6 months with over 10 million registered users. The power of Pinterest is in its ability to drive referral traffic to your ecommerce site. This type of platform presents an opportunity for ecommerce sites to use Pinterest’s user base as a way to effectively engage targeted users by creating content that is relevant to them, and make its products more visible to the right audience. Ideally, the strategy should be to create compelling and valuable content so that users want to click on the pins and land on various product pages. Colby Almond of 97th Floor has created a Viral Guide to Pinterest Marketing, as well as written additional blog posts that introduce how to effectively build your Pinterest following and create the right type of content for this medium. 

Some brands, such as Whole Foods have launched its own Pinterest initiative (which has 28k followers) and use it as a social media channel to represent their core values. They’ve even launched contests, like this “Pins for Mom” one from their account. 
 
Other ecommerce sites, such as Everlane view Pinterest as an opportunity to have its products pinned on different boards. As a result, they’ve incorporated Pinterest’s Pin It functionality on their product pages. 
 
As far as direct SEO benefits are concerned, links from pins and repins are nofollow, as are links that appear in the description. 
 
Everlane Product Page

Lessons Learned When SEO Isn't a Consideration - Honda

Everybody loves a Rube Goldberg machine. They are fun, smart, interesting, and super darn creative. Honda created a Rube Goldberg device crafted out of their car parts called “The Cog”. You know what made this video less cool? The fact that still, to this day, this content is nowhere to be found on any of Honda's websites or YouTube channels. Guess who this did bode well for? A car enthusiast channel known as Web Rides TV with over 3.7 million views and counting. This URL also received links from 582 linking root domains. 

Just imagine the lost opportunity Honda had here to capture the links, social mentions, and brand attention to their website and YouTube Channel. When you begin to think creatively and outside the box on how to more effectively leverage different marketing channels (television in this case), don't forget to make SEO a KPI for your campaign and get that link equity flowing back to your website - self-host that video content on your website, post it on your YouTube channel, and do a focused PR push around your campaign that includes a link back to your site page. Finally, don't leave room for others to be the de facto page that comes up when they search for your amazing work and always incorporate SEO within all of your marketing campaigns.
 
Honda The Cog
 

It's Hard Work, But Keep at It

Link building is hard work and results often don’t appear until months after you’ve invested an incredible amount of time and resources. However, these case studies show that it works and even though results appear minimal at the beginning of the curve, results will grow exponentially at the end of the curve. It’s all about constantly pushing the flywheel, working really hard until you get even a hint of momentum, and then continuing to build upon that tiny amount of momentum until it starts to ease up and pushing through becomes easier. Just keep iterating and don’t give up! 

Additional Resources on Link Building for Ecommerce Sites


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