eCommerce link building is a broad term that refers to a specific strategy to improve SEO results.
Today, we’ll cover the basics of link building, some tactics to avoid, and 14 methods that can work for you.
Let’s get started!
What is link building?
Link building is the process of getting other websites to link to you. These links are called “backlinks.”
The goal of SEO is to show up higher in the search results of Google and other search engines.
As explained in my guide to eCommerce SEO 101, one of the best ways to get a better rank is to have more websites link to your site.
That’s why link building is one of the elements of effective SEO. If you want to speed up your results, link building helps everything move faster.
All things being equal, more links are better. But if you want a specific target, you can work toward getting more links than your competitors.
(You can use an SEO tool like Ahrefs to learn how many backlinks your competitors have, as well as other information.)
So how exactly do you get other sites to link to you? The short answer is outreach. About 95% of link building is reaching out to website publishers asking for a link.
As you might imagine, you’ll get plenty of rejection. But the few who say yes can have a huge impact on your site.
Sometimes, you’ll see companies that promise packages like “20 high-quality backlinks.” Avoid these since they can do more harm than good. I’ll explain why in a minute.
But let’s first talk about what works.
Principles of effective eCommerce link building
To help us understand how link building works, let’s look at the type of links we want.
Links from quality sites. As you might imagine, a link from The New York Times means more to Google than one from your cousin’s blog. The terms “domain authority” and “domain rating” give you an estimate of a site’s value. They’re a number from 1–100 on a logarithmic scale, so a DR 80 site is more than twice as strong as a DR 40 site.
Relevant links. Let’s say you sell cycling equipment. Backlinks from related websites, like Bicycling.com or Schwinn.com, will help you a lot more than, say, a website on baking bread. The occasional irrelevant link won’t hurt, but if they’re a big percentage of your backlinks, your site can get flagged as spam and see your SEO go down.
“Dofollow” links. Even if you have a link, it might not count. That’s because some links have hidden code—a “nofollow” tag—that tells search engines to ignore it. If you can add content to a website, it probably uses “nofollow” links. This includes sites like social media, forums, and Wikis. You can check if a link is “nofollow” by right-clicking in your browser and selecting “inspect” or “console.”
Here’s an example of a “nofollow” link on Wikipedia.
Links pointing to important pages. Whenever possible, you want links to point to the most important pages on your site, typically product or category pages. But most sites will instead link to content pages (like blogs or research) or your home page. Here’s a simple trick: add internal links to category pages on your home page or in the menu—the fewer steps between your home page and other important pages, the better.
Now that you’ve got these important principles, you’ll immediately understand why some link-building strategies don’t work.
Link-building strategies to avoid
There are two kinds of link building in the SEO world—“white hat” and “black hat” from cowboy garb in Westerns.
I’m firmly in the white hat camp, and everything I recommend is legal and ethical.
But you’ll encounter plenty of so-called “black hat” SEO experts who recommend unethical or even illegal strategies for better SEO. If you get caught using black hat strategies, you can get permanently banned from Google.
And it doesn’t work well in the long term. Google updates its algorithm daily, with big changes (called “Core Updates”) every quarter or so. And the biggest losers with each update are almost always black hat enthusiasts.
Here are the most common black hat link-building methods I’ve seen.
Buying links. Some websites offer links—for a price. That price is up to $400 per link, based on research by Ahrefs. Buying links is against Google’s guidelines, and if you’re caught, you can get hit with severe penalties.
For example, here’s an email I got the other day from a site offering to sell me a dofollow link:
Spam links. You can find “link-building packages” that promise dozens of links for a flat fee on sites like Fiverr. The problem is that these are usually irrelevant, spammy websites—or will be soon. A common tactic is buying an old website with a high DR rating and filling it with sold links. Few methods destroy high-DR sites faster, making your purchase worthless (or worse).
Link exchanges. The idea here is simple. You link to a set of websites, and each of them links to you. The problem is that these schemes result in irrelevant links that Google can almost immediately spot as spam.
(Note: There’s nothing wrong with helping out a colleague with a website in the same industry. The problem is joining a “link exchange” program.)
There are plenty more black hat eCommerce link-building strategies, but these are the most common. Generally speaking, building ethical links takes work, not money.
14 eCommerce link-building strategies
Let’s cover some of the best strategies eCommerce stores can use in 2021 and beyond to build high-quality links.
For broad site links
If your site is brand new, or you want to boost rankings for all your pages, getting links to your home page is key. These strategies will help you get quality links to your site as a whole.
1. Share expertise with a reporter. News websites are often very high DR websites and are always looking for expert opinions. It takes work, but I’ve gotten a handful of high-quality backlinks this way. Plus, you’re in the news! A great program for this is Help A Reporter Out, which has both free and paid plans.
2. Guest posting. Most sites will give you a backlink if you guest post for free. (There are exceptions, like the email I shared above.) The downside is, of course, that you need to write, or hire someone to write, an original article.
3. PR outreach. Public relations is essentially creating and promoting an interesting story about your brand. What have you done that’s newsworthy? Create a press release and pitch it to relevant publications. (Note: Google ignores most press release links. Your goal is to get news sites to write an original piece, not just republish the press release.)
4. Replace a mention with a link. It’s hard to come by this opportunity, but it’s also about the easiest ask in the world. Do a Google search for your brand name. If you find a website that’s mentioned your brand but forgot to include a link, ask for one. You can automatically get notified of new brand mentions by setting up a Google Alert.
5. Find partner websites. Bulk link exchanges are bad, but friendly referrals aren’t. Partner with other sites that offer complementary products or services. Link to each other when relevant, and refer both SEO benefits and customers.
6. Be a case study. If there’s a tool or platform you love, offer to be featured as a case study on its website. Many case studies will link to the featured websites. Companies are always looking for real-life case studies, so if you’ve seen success, this could be the easiest “yes” you ever get!
Using content marketing
eCommerce content marketing is creating a new piece of content, like an article or video, to promote your brand. Most websites don’t have a reason to link to your site. By creating great content, you give them a reason.
7. Publish original research. Chances are, you have access to data that others don’t have, such as which products are most popular. Sharing this data in an interesting way—or even doing original research on a related topic—can be newsworthy by itself.
8. Share an infographic. Plenty of websites love sharing interesting graphics and interactive charts. Create the piece, then share it with sites that might be interested.
9. Pitch an ultimate guide. If there’s a common topic in your industry that people want to know about, many sites will happily link to a complete guide on the subject. For example, if you write a detailed guide (along with graphics and step-by-step instructions) on creating a custom keyword, you can ask for links on dozens of hobbyist websites.
10. Reach out to quoted experts. This is the opposite of tip #1. Instead of you being quoted somewhere else, quote others on your site! You can either do this outreach before or pull quotes (with attribution) from industry leaders. Let them know you featured them in your post, and many will share and link back to your content.
For product and category pages
One of the highest-impact strategies for eCommerce link building is getting backlinks to product and category pages. It’s usually tough because few sites want to promote products for you.
Thankfully, these strategies can make it a little easier.
11. Featured products. Plenty of sites have product roundups. Getting on one of these can bring you more sales and help your SEO. To get featured, reach out to site owners—and offer a referral program if possible.
12. Broken link outreach. With this strategy, you’ll find sites with broken links to competitors and offer a link to your site instead. For example, if a sports supply store has gone out of business, you can pitch your similar page of sports supplies as a replacement link for every website that links to the old site.
13. Product reviews. Many eCommerce stores already do outreach to influencers for honest reviews and product writeups. While links should never be a requirement for reviewers, most will link to you.
14. Affiliate program. Plenty of bloggers and “soloprenuers” make their money by selling products with affiliate commissions. If you set up an affiliate program, you can get sites to start promoting your products and linking to you. The downside is, of course, a percentage of your profits. But the upside is lots of backlinks and almost zero chance of negative press, unlike product reviews.
How to speed up eCommerce link building
As you might have guessed, link building takes time. A lot of time.
The most effective outreach is personalized and individual, which means you can’t just blast contact lists and expect results. And if content is part of your strategy, only the best work piques the interest of overwhelmed reporters and publishers.
There isn’t a faster way to build high-quality links. But you can hire an experienced team to do it instead.
Interested? Let us know.