Link building is among the most important search engine optimization techniques. It is foundational and essential. Just about every successful commerce business wants or needs to build links, but it is hard to do well.
Moreover, there is no easy way to “hack” link building. It won’t scale like other SEO or marketing tactics.
What might be called “tactical link building” was once comparatively easy to do. There were even services for it — pay a monthly fee, and links would appear. You could also join a link exchange.
But many of those links purchased or exchanged didn’t make a lot of sense. For example, does a link from a blog about crocheting to an ecommerce site selling comic books make sense? Probably not, but it is the sort of link that might have shown up in the past.
Buying links (and not identifying them as paid) or exchanging links to improve a site’s search engine ranking is a violation of Google’s policies and discouraged by other search engines, too.
“The way that I think about links is the way that Google has always thought about links — the ‘editorial link’ was what they were looking for,” explained Bill Sebald, founder of Greenlane Search Marketing, during a May 13, 2021, live stream for CommerceCo by Practical Ecommerce.
An editorial link makes sense in context. An example is this article about link building, where I linked (above) to Google’s policies around buying links or exchanging links. Another example would be an article about comic-book-pricing trends linking to an online store selling comic books.
Editorial links, Sebald continued, are an indication to Google. They show the search engine which pages are popular for a given topic not because of link trading or buying but because of the quality of the page’s content. Thus an editorial link is a better link.
In the past, Sebald said, some businesses would buy links to trick Google. But the search engine’s algorithms are too good for that sort of lazy effort to work anymore. Hence, SEO link building takes hard work because each link must be worthy.
Difficult to Scale
The fact that SEO links cannot be easily created also means that SEO link building is relatively more difficult to scale, stated James Wirth, the senior director of strategy and growth marketing at Citation Labs. Wirth was also speaking during the aforementioned CommerceCo live stream.
“We’d all like to hack link building, but really it is [done] one link at a time,” Wirth said. “We can’t just programmatically do it; it requires human intervention…especially the style [of SEO link building] we do — focusing on landing pages, sales pages, and local pages where the links have the most impact.”
Having established that SEO linking building was hard, Wirth and Sebald encouraged businesses to do it and do it well.
Sometimes doing the hard things is the key to a competitive advantage.
Creating compelling content — particularly landing page content or product detail page content — is not easy. It will be difficult to find and contact site owners and show them why it makes sense for their business to link to your product page or landing page.
If you are not strategic about the process, it is more challenging still.
But link building might be that SEO technique your competitors are not doing — because it is hard.
Now that you understand that SEO link building is hard and can give you an advantage, try this approach.
- Understand your topic in context. Think about the topic of the page you want to promote. In context, how is that topic used? When would someone need help with that topic? What sort of things could a site post about the topic?
- Identify “citeable” elements. What about the content it is worth linking to? What is citeable? How does that citeable element relate to your topic’s context? If nothing is citeable, what can you add?
- Carefully select sites. Don’t just ask for links from every site that publishes guest posts. Spend time understanding why the link or submitted article would benefit the publisher. How does the topic of your content make sense for the site and its audience (answered in the last step), and how do you articulate that offer?
- Make a meaningful connection. Reach out to the publisher not with spam or templated email but in a personal and specific way. For example, consider calling the publisher to pitch an article idea rather than just emailing with a “guest post.”