The e-commerce sector continues to boom forward at an incredible pace. Consumers in the U.S. spent an estimated $5 billion online in just 24 hours on 2017’s Black Friday, and global e-commerce sales are anticipated to hit $4.5 trillion by 2021.
As nearly 40% of all e-commerce traffic came from organic search as of 2016 — a figure that continues to trend upward — it’s clear that highly effective e-commerce SEO efforts are more important now than ever before. But the unique SEO challenges e-commerce sites often face can quickly start to pile up with — and sometimes seem to overshadow — the opportunities for success.
One of the more uniquely challenging areas of e-commerce SEO is link building. The continued importance of the number and quality of inbound links was yet again one of the biggest takeaways from Moz’s last search ranking factors survey, and it doesn’t appear likely to change anytime soon.
So the question stands: how can an e-commerce site clear the hurdles to create an effective backlink profile?
To help answer that question, we’ve compiled a list of the most pressing challenges in e-commerce link building, and how to overcome them.
Challenge 1: Dealing With Scale
With demo pages, whitepapers, and varying tiers of product pages that can sometimes number in the hundreds, even a smaller e-commerce website will easily have more pages than the average non-e-commerce site. With so many pages to potentially link to, you couldn’t possibly earn impactful backlinks to all of them.
The Solution: Focus Your Link Building on Strategic, Goal-Based Landing Pages
This doesn’t mean link building can’t make a difference, though. All it means is that you will need to be more strategic about your link building, focusing your efforts to just a small number of optimal landing pages.
In that respect, this solution needs to come before you’ve even begun earning a single backlink.
The key, as with any business endeavor, is to keep your goals front-and-center. The most likely intended outcome of any e-commerce link building effort is increased conversions, but even within that goal there are a litany of choices to make.
Do you want to focus on increased conversions for one product in particular? Naturally, the links you earn should be pointing to that specific product’s page. Perhaps you’d rather increase conversions on an entire series of products, or your entire inventory in general — in those cases, you’d want to earn links to the series page or top-level inventory page, respectively.
Or maybe you’d like to go a slightly different route and let your potential customers see for themselves why they should buy your product. That would likely mean building links to a “demo” page, if you’ve got one.
Having a clear understanding of these objectives, and by extension the pages you want to link to, will go a long way toward getting the most out of your backlinks.
Challenge 2: Contextual Relevance of Link Building to Product Pages
You’ve narrowed your list of a hundred product pages down to one or two whose increased ranking will best support your business objectives, and now it’s time to start earning those backlinks!
But in the midst of all your work, you’re discovering a painful truth: link building to a product page is just plain hard.
Rowe Digital Outreach Specialist Colin (who lives and breaths link building day-in-day-out) cites maintaining contextual relevance as one of the most frequent roadblocks to earning backlinks for e-commerce sites.
You may find yourself in the middle of writing a guest post and suddenly realize that you don’t quite know how you’re going to fit a link to your product page that doesn’t feel shoehorned or unnatural.
Colin says that a guest post you’re writing about a general topic “could include an entire section about how your product can help, but it’s more natural if it’s only mentioned in passing”.
On the other hand, a passing mention of your tangentially-related product’s page might not seem relevant to a reader. Worse still, Google might not find it relevant, either.
If your product is particularly niche, Colin notes, you may even have trouble finding a site that is relevant enough to your vertical to guest post on at all.
The Solution: Think about user experience
To avoid this difficult situation and ensure a link to a product page is always relevant and logical, keep the following in mind from the very outset, before you even start writing:
♦Is the site you’re earning the link from vertically relevant?
♦Is your post’s topic highly relevant to a specific issue that your product solves?
♦Is the anchor text semantically relevant? If someone reading the article clicked the link, would the landing page that the anchor text brought them to make sense?
If an in-text backlink is a user’s first point of interaction with your site, the last thing you want is for the person clicking that link to suddenly find themselves on a type of page they weren’t expecting, with information that isn’t relevant to what they were reading.
The primary end-goal of link building should be an increase in metrics like DA, PA, and keyword ranking increase that stems from them. But focusing on a good user experience from the start is the first step in ensuring the links you earn from tactics like guest posting and influencer marketing are as contextually relevant as possible, giving you the biggest boost they can.
Challenge 3: Lack of Easily Linkable Content
You’ve managed to earn links to your targeted product pages, and what’s more, you’ve managed to make them all logical and contextually relevant!
But what happens when you’ve just about exhausted your ideas to earn a relevant link to your individual product pages and find that the rest of your site isn’t exactly prime link building material? Well, the solution to this is two-fold:
Solution 1: Set Your Gated Content Free
Often times with e-commerce websites, it can be tempting to hold information in pdf files, even frequently gating them behind a download. Long-form content like brand catalogues and white papers are frequently downloaded and printed, and the conventional wisdom is to hold these as pdfs to make those actions as easy as possible.
But content on pdf files is not crawlable by Google, and as gated content is almost impossible to earn backlinks to, this practice forces you to fight the link building battle with one arm tied behind your back.
It may not be as readily convertible as a product or store page, but the fact of the matter is that informational content like this is almost tailor-made for link building. Converting this content into accessible live pages and earning links to it raises not only the Page Authority and search ranking of these pages, but increases the Domain Authority and brand-awareness of your site as a whole.
If some of your richest, most valuable content is locked away in a gated pdf file, you’re taking away your ability to effectively link to it and allow your site to rank in SERPs where it
Related Article: Strategies to use Infographics for Link Building
Solution 2: Build a Better E-Commerce Blog
When you’ve got conversions and demos and catalogues to worry about, it can be easy for something like a blog or content marketing to get lost in the shuffle. Like countless B2C e-commerce sites, you may not even think you need a blog at all.
But a well-developed and maintained blog can be a link building machine. Blog content is some of the best content for link building — falling under what’s commonly known as “link bait” — in other words, content that people will want to link to.
If you think your niche isn’t big enough to justify blogging about, the fact that there’s a big enough market for your product to dedicate an entire website to it means there’s enough demand for information about it to justify creating a decent blog.
Even in niche verticals, a great blog will earn backlinks to your domain with less effort than most other content on your site, and this boost in inbound links — and the boost in DA that comes with it — can help quickly close the gap between you and your blog-less competitors.
Bonus Tip: Make the Most of Reviews
Making links out of unlinked brand mentions is a fairly simple concept — your brand has been mentioned somewhere on the web, but the site mentioning you didn’t link to your site, so you reach out to them and ask them to remedy that situation.
This type of link building is something anyone can and benefit from, but it holds a uniquely rich potential for e-commerce sites, as e-commerce brands will automatically have a higher volume of brand mentions in the form of product reviews.
While any product review should link back to the proper site, a cursory search of nearly any brand’s reviews will show a frightening amount link only to a product’s Amazon page, or worse: don’t offer a link at all. For instance, take a look at this review of the best standing desk mats:
This site has some wonderful things to say about each of these products and brands, but links only to their Amazon pages, and thus the brands’ actual sites miss out on backlinks from a domain which, as you can see, has some pretty fantastic Moz metrics.
While there are benefits and drawbacks to also offering your products on Amazon, a positive review and brand mention that links to Amazon rather than your own site doesn’t help your site’s search ranking at all.
If you want to make the most out of your brand mentions, searching out and earning backlinks from as many reviews as you can is practically a mandatory step on any e-commerce site’s link building checklist.
E-Commerce link building can be hard, but with the right strategies, it doesn’t have to be. If you’re earning links from the most plentiful sources, maximizing your site’s options for linkable content, and pointing your earned backlinks to the pages that will best support your site’s goals, you’re well on your way to an optimized strategy. You may even find yourself giving your competitors a run for their money.