At Pubcon, I was lucky enough to meet a person I’d long tweeted with, Melanie Phung. She took notes on a great link panel I wanted to attend but coudn’t.
For some background on Mel, she is a Washington DC SEO with extensive in-house experience.
She currently serves as director of new media at PBS. She’d like to remind fans of public media that they can watch TV online for free on the organization’s video portal or on PBS’ mobile apps.
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Moderator: Lee Odden, TopRank Online Marketing
Greg Hartnett, Best of The Web
Dixon Jones, Majestic SEO
Rae Hoffman, Outspoken Media
Aaron Shear, Shopping.com
Aaron Shear of Shopping.com Talks About “Real World Links”
Aaron works with e-commerce clients like Zappos.com, which he calls a phenomenon to watch in terms of link building.
They have pretty much all the links they could ask for and that’s in part because Zappos trusts employees to evangelize on the company’s behalf.
Building links for ecommerce is a challenge, especially if you’re in a saturated market. There aren’t a lot of compelling reasons for sites to link to shopping sites.
It’s easy to think big and try to build links for quantity rather than quality, a strategy that worked 5 years ago. But he wouldn’t recommend buying low quality links to his clients.
Leveraging Affiliate Links
For e-commerce sites, the best way to generate high-quality links is through affiliate networks.
The top affiliate networks offer great service and great support, but won’t pass links, though.
Some of your affiliates may be a good source of links, but with a standard affiliate campaign, search engines won’t pass link credit because the affiliate network runs everything through tracking links.
So what can you do?
The solution is what Aaron calls a “naked link campaign” – a cookie-based affiliate tracking system (i.e., instead of URL-based).
You need someone to build functionality for your program that allows the link to go directly to the merchant site (rather than through an affiliate system), and have the tracking info stored in cookie rather than via sophisticated link-based tracking system.
[Mel: I've worked in e-commerce before and this idea works well in theory for small blog-type affiliates, but you run into all sorts of problems if you happen to run a major white-label solution through the same system.]
If you can get someone to build this functionality for you, this is great way to get links naturally and harness that credit.
[Mel: That's what I thought too, but I could never get anyone to build that functionality for me because they were more concerned about making sure affiliate info didn’t get lost due to cookie issues than they were in harnessing naked links. Damn the affiliate managers prioritizing affiliate payments over SEO.]
Linkbait and Widgets
Another strategy of course is to do link bait, but it’s hard to do e-commerce link bait.
“Products” are not that interesting and for the most part no one is going to care about them. But if you have a feature or service that makes it easy to find something, for example, you can create a widget (the web kind, not “widget” as a stand-in for a product).
Comparison engines are popular and they get to take all the credit. Find anything that’s unique or interesting, do that extra step of drilling down to create a widget, and that will drive a simple system that will easily attract links on its own. People will share that. It’s an effective approach to providing value that can result in links.
Don’t forget to reach out to bloggers to get them to write about you and your widget.
Bloggers can be an influential source for ranking products and category pages. Give them gift card to get them to buy on your site and write about the experience.
Even if it’s a negative experience, you still get the link.
High profile bloggers won’t do it for free and even if you pay them, it’s probably not worth it to them, but a gift card will usually work better than straight-up cash. [Although I’m sure the FTC has something to say about either method.]
Suffice it to say, you have to be social. Social media can be powerful if you manage it. He jokes, do what all the other SEOs are doing.
But then he cautions about doing social media badly though and gives as an example the experience he had with an airline on Twitter.
They tweet but won’t answer complaints. If you tweet at them with an issue, they’ll say, “that’s not handled by my department.”
But there’s no such thing as “my department” in social media, you ARE the company, all of it. If you tweet about your products or services, but customer service sucks, everyone sees that and won’t buy from you. The lesson: Social media is not just a marketing driver, it’s customer service too.
Facebook “Like” is Social That Works
Google does look at social signals. Unfortunately, the Facebook “like” button is slow. It could take a large site down if implemented incorrectly.
Putting “like” on a product could be helpful depending on the product, but a better tactic is to focus on getting users to “like” a buying guide or other similarly sticky content.
Aaron explains that links from social media may not be traditionally “good links” because most sites use “nofollow” but they can make a difference in rankings if combined with other quality signals.
Press Release SEO
Every SEO book out there says to write press releases [with embedded links, like you can do on PR Web].
But he says you have to have something worth writing about; most ecommerce sites have nothing that the press is really interested in unless its dirt on bad product. You’ll piss off press and get them to ignore you. Keep it down to 2-3 releases a month unless you are an Amazon and have exciting announcements.
Don’t forget to archive your old press releases and make sure you add text with deep links to important pages, categories or products on your site.
Also change up the links in boilerplate — don’t just send the same thing out over and over again.
Next up Aaron runs through ideas to help e-commerce site SEOs to brainstorm on relationships they can leverage for links:
- Are you selling something exclusive?
- Some manufacturers have a page with a list of vendors
- Leverage conversations and actual relationships to turn them into links
- A deep targeted link would be better than one to homepage, but don’t turn links down. Take what you can.
- Do you have clients that have a website?
- Traditional linking methods are not as effective, so put your thinking caps on.
- Create trusted partner program, certification. Shopping engines get tons of links from these types of programs.
Last but Not Least: Rae Hoffman, Outspoken Media
And finally, the speaker that probably drew the most people to this panel: Rae Hoffman. Rae is CEO of Outspoken Media and a long-time affiliate marketer.
Rae mentions that the #1 retweeted tweet of the day is something about married men at PubCon not wearing wedding rings. [It’s only because it was one of those really annoying sponsored tweets that got pinned to the top of the search results.] Don’t lose hope, says Rae: I’m marrying a guy I met at PubCon. [Congrats on this week’s nuptials!]
After that bit of happy wedding news, she warns:
“You know how you’re not supposed to just yank your thumbdrive out of the computer, and it always warns you that not ejecting properly will corrupt your files, but no one heeds that warning because it never does? Well, yeah, it will.” Apparently her thumbdrive is toast.
Rae starts giving linkbuilding tips sans PPT or notes. [This is rapid fire and I have no bullet points on a screen to help me fill in what I’m missing as Rae is talking double-time.]
Example: You need links for an app. Submit to mobile apps directories and sites that review apps; most of these sites will link back to main site plus the specific app page.
Facebook “like” button. Rae likens it to old days of Digg. People misunderstood what they were chasing. The point of getting on Digg was the homepage and getting eyeballs — not just being submitted — and getting people to see you and blog about you.
Getting “liked” is a great discovery mechanism. Every time you can get someone to like something on your page, you may get in front of 300-400 friends because it shows up in that person’s feed.
Focus on getting button on pages that might actually get liked, especially your meaty content.
Blogs: Get link juice to blog where all the good content is and then push links back to main site.
Twitter: Get the attention of media on twitter. Sites like wefollow.com, journalisttweets.com and muckrack.com have lists of journalists on twitter by beat. Click on “follow all” button and try to interact with them, create relationships. Use Twitter to push big media pieces.
Another Twitter example: Outspoken Media did a Twitter Bowl. It got lots of horizontal links from Jets sites.
Market your site horizontally. Don’t limit yourself to just your own niche. A guy who sells apples might think to reach out to other fruit blogs but he could also connect with a senior living blog – write an article about 5 Things to Do with Grandchildren, #4 is make apple pie. You just need to come up with four other non-apple related things.
The Lesson: Don’t be Britney Spears (who has someone tweet for her), be Alyssa Milano – be real.
Another idea: Contests for free stuff.
People do ridiculous things for free stuff.
But keep in mind that you’re not allowed (from Google’s standpoint) to launch a contest that says “enter by linking to us”; instead say “enter by blogging about why you love us”. That’s the difference between a paid link and a social media campaign
When the contest is over, transfer the contest content, including the winner info, to another page and 301 the old page somewhere else. That way you retain the content people might continue to link to, but you pass the bulk of the link juice to a more valuable target page.
Rae didn’t drop the F-bomb once, but she warns her twitter account is not family friendly.
Link Building Q&A
With that, the formal presentations are over and a lively Q&A follows. I don’t usually take notes on the audience follow-up because the questions tend to be so basic, but the presenters share a lot more tidbits during the Q&A that are worth highlighting.
Rae: If search engines are smart, they’d discount affiliate links so don’t rely to heavily on your affiliate program to do all the heavy lifting in your link building strategy
Dixon: Don’t forget that you can discount specific parameters in Google Webmaster Tools.
Badges: They may be cheesy, but they still work, says Greg. Rae urges people who make badges to give different badge options for those people who want the graphic to Lee cites his own backlinks due to his BIGLIST, many from competitors, not only because his list is link-baity, but because he has badges for sites that made his list. Dixon gives a pro tip: widgetize the badge creation so you can include a text link but vary it so it’s not always the same anchor text.
One audience member asks what’s going on with links losing value – how it is that links can get a page to rank really well for a short period of time but then the page slides off the SERPS again. Rae explains that this has a lot to do with Google getting “fresh” signals for a while; there’s an initial boost in rankings as everyone is visiting. Google is recognizing that there’s buzz. Then you drop back down. Then you need your links to age. And you move back up (hopefully).
Someone from the audience says that he heard that sending press releases via PR Web doesn’t work anymore. A lively debate ensues, with Aaron warning that you want to only send releases when you have something good to say: Don’t cry wolf constantly – you’ll get put on the “ignore” list by your target journalists.
But Greg says even crappy press releases get good “pickup” from scrapers. Yes, all things being equal, quality is better for “high value” placements but high volume links also cool. Rae quantifies it by saying even crappy press releases probably get 20 scraped links. If you’re brand new site, and all your links are scraped, this won’t help; but a good site, it’s cheap for links with great anchor text
Press release SEO is a hot topic. Another audience member shares a story of how her press release got copied word-for-word but all links got changed to point to their competitor. [Yep, been there too. Really annoying.]
Pretty much all the panelists shrug and say there’s not much to do about it. It’s the web. That stuff happens.
Rae says that if you take the amount of time you stress over competitor’s behavior and channel it toward efforts on your own site, you’ll do much better. Put it behind you, it’s not worth it to your business to spend time getting worked up over stuff like that. Stress = bad ROI. The time you spend chasing down someone who copied a single one of your press releases could be spent on writing even more and better press releases for your own site.
Dixon says his company has a templated letter to send to the offender’s ISP about IP violations and then he washes his hands of it. He agrees that it’s not worth the effort to do any more than that.
And with that, having run at least 20 minutes into lunch, the session is over.Tags: link building, Linkbait, Linkbuilding