Content MarketingLink BuildingLink Building Strategies Link Building with Product Sampling and Reviews

March 17, 2021by Erik Braunitzer

Product endorsements and reviews are well-worn marketing strategies. But in the age of e-commerce, these tried-and-true tactics are gaining new life. Instead of celebrity endorsements, we have social media influencers. And while reviews have long been a mainstay of selling products, they may be on the decline now.

In addition to directly boosting sales, these strategies are useful in link building for e-commerce sites. Get links from influencer pages and posts as well as reviews. Just make sure you follow the rules, or the links could do more harm than good.

What You Need to Know about Product Samples and Influencers

Influencer marketing has been growing for years. It can be a  powerful tool for e-commerce sites. Before influencer recommendations of products, there were celebrity endorsements. The idea is similar, but studies have actually found that influencers have a greater, more positive impact on consumer habits.

While we may look up to, admire, or even idolize certain celebrities, influencers bring better qualities to the table. Consumers identify with their favorite influencers; they aspire to be like them; and influencers have credibility in their niche. Know how to use influencers and product samples to boost your link building campaign.

Product Samples for Link Building

The concept of link building with product samples is simple:

  1.   Give a free product to someone, preferably an influencer.
  2.   Ask them to use the product and create content about it.
  3.   Include a link back to your page when they post the content on their site, blog, or social media page.

This strategy works because it’s an exchange. Most people will agree to create some content in exchange for a freebie.

The catch is that this practice can run afoul of Google’s guidelines. To make it work within the rules, it must be clearly identified as sponsored. These types of links are also supposed to be tagged with nofollow. (Yes, nofollow links can still help with SEO.)

Influencer Marketing and Link Building

Sending a free sample to just anyone isn’t going to take you far. You need to target influencers. A recommendation of a product is a powerful incentive to buy. According to studies, millennials in particular rely on peer and influencer recommendations when shopping online.

Working with influencers is a great way to build meaningful links from high quality pages. Influencers are primed and ready to use product samples to link out to pages because new products are often jumping off points for the content they create.

When choosing influencers to work with for product sample and link exchanges, there are two main factors to consider:

  1.   Audience. Any influencer you send samples needs to have the same audience that you target with your products. If you have a new type of cat litter to push, find the cat bloggers and cat Instagram pages. Selling litter through a content marketing influencer who happens to own a cat won’t get you the right traffic.
  2.   Reach. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you have to reach out to the big guns for influencer links to be useful. A link from someone with just the right target audience and with 20,000 followers may be more beneficial than a 1,000,000-follower influencer in a different niche. Securing a link from the biggest influencers can be too difficult anyway, especially if your budget is limited.

How to Find Your Influencers

Now you’re ready to make a list of influencers to pitch for product samples. You may have some people in your industry in mind already, but you can also do some easy research to find more or better targets:

  • BuzzSumo. Use BuzzSumo’s influencer marketing tool. Input your topic and you’ll get a list of influencers, bloggers, and other sites with related content. The top content search will show you people sharing niche content on Twitter. You can do additional searches and filter results to rank influencers by domain authority, retweets, and more.
  • Alexa. The audience overlap tool helps you find sites that share your target audience. The audience interest tool finds topics and pages your audience likes.
  • Google. Try Google search operators. For example, find Instagram influencers with something like this: “k followers” site:Instagram.com cats” This searches Instagram for people with 1,000 followers or more and cat-related content.

Making the Pitch

When pitching an influencer for a product sample, it’s important to be personal. This will get a better response. Study their blog or social media profile and make sure you understand what they’re all about before making the pitch. You want to develop a relationship with the right influencers, not just get a one-time link. Here are some other things to keep in mind for the pitch:

  • Provide value. To interest an influencer in checking out your product and taking the time to write about it, there must be value. The monetary value of the product you send should be at least $20.
  • Offer a relevant product. If you’re pitching a health and wellness blogger, send her a yoga mat, not a pair of sunglasses. Her audience relies on her authority in a particular niche, not for any random item.
  • Set expectations up front. Your pitch should be personalized and friendly while also clearly stating what you expect in return for the product. This avoids awkward confusion later. Be specific. Do you want them to write a review, use the product in a video, or share a coupon code?
  • Follow up later. Again, your goal is to get a link but also to develop an ongoing relationship with an influencer. Follow up and establish a connection that you can both benefit from going forward.

How Product Reviews for Link Building Works Now

Product sampling through influencers and getting links from product reviews have some overlap. An influencer may do a straight up review of your product, but many use free samples as the launching point for a variety of content types.

Link building through reviews has declined with the ascendency of influencer marketing, but it’s certainly not dead. Review link building still has a place, but you need to know how to do it right.

Why Use Reviews?

Review links may be waning compared to influencer marketing, but there is still a place for this strategy. Reviews help build authority and trust with consumers, while also providing a source of backlinks for SEO purposes.

As with influencer marketing with product samples, there is an exchange here, which makes it easier to get a link. The reviewer can include their own link in the testimonial, so they benefit too.

Outreach for Reviews

Start with a list of sites, bloggers, and individuals who might be willing to submit a review or testimonial. You can use your SEO tools—Ahrefs, Moz, Alexa, and others—to find anyone linking to or reviewing your competitors. These are great targets for outreach.

For the same reasons that you want to limit outreach to huge sites, target mid-tier pages and blogs for reviews. Keep the niche narrowed to your audience and craft a personalized pitch that shows the target you’ve done your research.

Google Terms and FTC Guidelines

There are some risks involved with using reviews to get links, based on FTC guidelines and Google’s rules. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Google’s terms are based on the FTC’s guidelines for paid endorsements. These protect consumers by insisting on truth in advertising and preventing misleading advertising.
  • Google says that exchanging links for reviews may count as a paid endorsement according to the FTC.
  • Sending a free product for a review with a link definitely counts as a paid endorsement and is considered by Google to be a link scheme.  
  • Going after review links on a large scale will get you noticed, and it will be considered a link scheme.

How to Use Review Links While Following the Rules

There are rules when it comes to getting links with product samples and reviews. They are still worth pursuing. Just be sure you and the person on the other end of the exchange are following those rules. There are two main things to do to be in complete compliance:

  1.   Disclose the relationship. You see these disclosures all the time. They simply let readers know that the reviewer or influencer has a relationship with you, the company selling the product. Somewhere in the content, the blogger or influencer must make the disclosure. Be sure anyone you work with knows to do this and agrees to it.
  2.   Use a nofollow tag. Review links don’t have to be nofollow tagged unless you provided a free product as a sample. A nofollow link can still help your SEO, but ultimately whether you decide to risk a follow link is up to you.

Key Differences in Influencer and Review Link Building

There is a lot of overlap between these link building strategies and sources, but there are some important differences. For example, influencers tend to be more focused on social media sites and YouTube, while reviewers are more web-wide. Influencers, by definition, have followers, while reviewers may or may not.

Also, influencers are on the rise, growing in number and, of course, influence. The use of reviews is declining in comparison. This has to do with the shift from websites to social media, but the rules of Google and the FTC can also explain why influencers are more popular now for marketing.

Both types of strategy can be valuable for e-commerce link building. Consider your goals before settling on a focus:

  • Brand awareness. If your main goal is to build awareness for your brand, for instance if you are a new company or have a new product, either method can work. Influencers are ideally suited to bringing attention to new brands, but enough positive reviews will have a similar effect. 
  • Traffic and sales. For actually bringing up traffic and getting more sales, the answer is less straightforward. If you can target an influencer with major reach, it will drive traffic. With a micro-influencer you won’t see as much traffic. But, if it’s the right small influencer, any increase in traffic will be more targeted and result in sales.

SEO value

SEO value can be tricky because what you really need are follow links. The nofollow tag requirement can help with SEO, but that help is limited. When working with product samples and influencers, the rule is clear: a nofollow tag is required. If you are asking for reviews without sending a product or paying, you may want to risk using a follow link.

Start Building Links, But Follow the Rules

Whether you choose to send out free samples, get reviews, or a mix of both, follow the rules. Not doing so can result in legal difficulties, getting penalized by Google, or getting called out on social media. Both you and the reviewer/influencer can get in trouble. Stick with the rules to play it safe and benefit from this kind of link building.

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