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Hey. Scott Austin here.
In this episode. I'm going to talk about building a link strategy for your Shopify store as part of your overall SEO strategy. Link building is the most important part of an SEO strategy but it's also one that most store owners totally overlook, so I'm going to try to explain how important link building is with analogy.
So imagine a politician and they want to run for office. I'm in California, so let's say there's somebody who wants to run for the governor of California. And let's say this person is a great candidate. They're well-known. They have the right background. They have popular ideas and plans and programs. They have a great team around them. They are what we call highly electable. So they go to Sacramento and put themselves on the ballot for the governor's election.
And while they're on the ballot, they continue to make themselves a better candidate by firming up their plans and by buying a new wardrobe and getting their hair done and their teeth whitened. All sorts of efforts to make themselves the best candidate possible. But can you imagine someone doing that and not campaigning? They don't go out and meet the voters. They don't talk to the press. They don't go on talk shows. They don't participate in debates. They make themselves the best possible candidate that they can but they don't participate in the greater election process.
That to me is what it's like when you do all the on-site efforts in your Shopify store for SEO like coming up with your keywords and doing all of the SEO best practices on your site, but then not having a link building strategy. You see just like a candidate for governor needs to compete in the greater election process, your store too does not exist in a vacuum. It's part of a greater ecosystem that Google is evaluating to see what site has the best content. And while Google does look at your site and your content, a big driver of a site's ranking in google search results page is how many other sites are pointing to your site. Google is just counting the votes that the internet is casting. So you have to put a link building strategy in place and continuously make progress on it to be successful in SEO.
Now, there's no silver bullet for SEO. To start, you have to have great products and you have to have great content and you have to have your site technically compliant with all the SEO best practices. Then you have to go out and have many, many links on the internet pointing to your website.
And each one of those steps is hard. That said the people that are successful at SEO are the ones that do that hard work and differentiate themselves from their lazier or less-focused competition. Now for this conversation, I'm going to assume that you're a small store with a staff of just a few people. You're not a big company with a team or a person dedicated to just SEO. So, SEO is a part-time effort for somebody on your team. So, I won't go into the lengthy discussions of completely valid SEO best practices that just aren't realistic for a small team to be doing. I'm going to try to keep things grounded and executable for the small team.
Not all links to your store are going to be equal. Every website has what is called a domain authority, which is just basically a measure of how important Google thinks that website is. For example, Wikipedia and the New York Times have high domain authorities. A brand new blog created by somebody that only got a couple of articles is going to have a very low domain authority. The number of inbound links to a site is actually one of the big drivers in the domain authority of that site. So as you're building your links to your site, you're going to want to try to get higher domain authority sites pointing to you. But the reality is you're not going to able to get the New York Times to write a story about you every week. But you may be able to get smaller sites to write about you frequently. Your link building strategy should be putting effort into getting links from big fish and little fish.
So, here's a list of different ideas that you can apply to generating links to your Shopify store. Now, I assume before you start driving links to your website that your store either has great products. Or great content. Or both great content and great products. In other words, if you're a store that is drop shipping products that many other stores are drop shipping and you're not improving the shopping experience in any way with great content, a link strategy is going to be really hard for you because there's nothing differentiated about your store that other sites are going to want to link to. That said, here's ways to build links to your Shopify store:
- This is the easiest one on the list, so I'm going to start with it. Make sure that you are linking to your store wherever you can on other sites that you're on on the internet. For example on all of your social network profiles, you should be sure to include a link to your store. And if you run another site for a different purpose, you can also add a link, if appropriate, to your store from there. For example in the text description of the Shopify Solutions Podcast that I put into my podcast publishing software, I included a link to the JadePuma agency site. Then, as that text description goes out to all of the different podcast portals, I get more links to my Agency's site.
- This one is low-hanging fruit. Get links added to any mentions of your store on the web. So just go to Google and do a search for your brand. And lower down on the search results you may see sites that mention your company. Go check those pages out and if they're not linking to you send them a polite email saying hey, you know I love that you mentioned our Shopify store. Could you please add a link? And you may need to follow that email up a couple of times before they do, just because we're also busy.
One word of caution here, the internet is a pretty unscrupulous place. So as you start searching for your brand name on the internet, you're going to find some odd things. For instance, I just searched my agency's name, JadePuma and I found a graphics sharing site that has my logo on it. There are also some sites in Russian that want me to click on a button when I land on them. So be very careful and if you're skeptical at all about a site that you land on don't worry about the fact that it's mentioned your brand somewhere. Just avoid the site like the plague. It might be some sort of scam that wants to put some sort of malware on your computer and take advantage of you. I recommend that you close the browser tab and don't think about it again even if they are letting people download your logo for free.
Press. The press exists to inform the public. If you have something of interest to press outlet's audience, they are going to want to share it. And there's different levels of press, there's national press, where it may be hard for a small store to get an article written about them. There's a local press where it could be much easier for a small store to be written about as a local success story. And there's also industry press.
So there are lots of publications out there that you can get writing about you and linking to you. But you have to help them with that. You have to give them something to write about and in my personal experience many times you just have to write the article for them and they'll just go ahead and edit it. This is essentially what we are doing when we create press releases. So give the press a story to write about. Have a product launch. Announce business milestones. Create a local interest story by running a competition or partnering with a charity or something to that effect. Doing these types of activities will give the press something to write about and also letting the press know that you're doing these types of activities and reaching out to them will also help.
Guest blogs. If your store is anything like my website you probably get emails every day about someone wanting to write a guest blog post for your store's blog. What they're doing is link building. Because if you add their blog article to your blog, you're going to include a link for the author back to their website.
The challenge here is that guest blogging has become oversaturated and kind of spammy. So to be successful with guest blogging, you've really got to differentiate yourself in the solicitation that goes out to the website that you want to post your blog article on. It can't look like a form letter as most of them do. Your solicitation should be very personalized to the site that you're targeting and explain to them what's in it for them? What article are you going to write? How do you think that's going to resonate with their audience? How is that going to help build their brand? You need to help them understand the value prop you are offering to rise above all the low quality solicitations that they are getting.
So if you're going to do guest blogging, I recommend you keep the list short of who you're sending solicitations out to and very targeted. Spend a little bit of time investigating each site so that you can send them a personal email. And once again follow up that email three or four times if you don't get a response as we're all busy.
- Podcasts. Podcasts are the new guest blogs. What your goal with podcasts is to find relevant podcasts in your space and get the host to have you on the podcast as a guest. They'll include a link to your store in the show notes. A lot of the same best practices that I explained for guest blog also apply for podcast. Keep it focused. And really figure out how you can be of value to podcast on their audience.
- The next one's kind of a fun one. It doesn't happen often but when it does you should really take advantage of it. And that is when your competition either goes out of business, or cancels a product line, or cancels a product . What you want to do when that happens is you want to go out and find every site that is linking to that store or that product line or that product that no longer exists and say, hey site owner this link you have is broken. Why don't you replace it with a link to my content that is better than what you had there before and is up and running and not delivering a 404 error.
Affiliates. An affiliates program can be a very effective link building strategy. In fact back in the early days strong affiliate programs are how eBay and Amazon both became early internet giants. They had so many affiliates building out content and linking to them. On a previous episode, I talked about a company called Evolve that makes electric skateboards. They are a great example of a company that is using an affiliate program with success. As I was researching my different electric skateboard option I found a YouTube channel out the UK with lot's of great videos and commentary on the Evolve boards. This content affected my purchase decision. This YouTuber spent a lot of time and effort making good quality videos that explained why he loved his skateboard and the quality of the company. The YouTuber was doing this as he is part of Evolves affiliate program. So in all of his videos and the descriptions of the videos, he included his affiliate link.
If you can create an affiliate program, that can be a great way for you to start building out links and directly driving traffic.
Here's another real example. On this podcast when I mention a company I try to include a link in the show notes. But sometimes I forget. Recently, Printful, the print on demand company, sent me an email asking for a link because I had mentioned them in an episode. They were following tactic #2 on this list. But I was busy and I didn't get around to it. What really could really help them is providing me with more incentive through an affiliate program. I'm not saying this hoping Printful hears this episode. I'm saying this so that you add an Affiliates program to all of your link requests to help motivate the site or person you are reaching out to.
- Mimic your competition. There are several online tools out there that can help you figure out who your competition has linking to them. Moz's Link Explorer and Ahrefs Backlink Checker are two that are popular. You can use these tools to see who is linking to your competition. Add these sites to your list to reach out to.
- Provide great content for sites to link to. So here's a couple of examples of what I mean by great content.
- Buyer's Guide. A buyer's guide educates consumers and helps them make the decisions that are part of the purchase experience. For example, let's say you sell garage doors, your buyers guide could explain the different style, levels of security and weather protection provided by garage doors and help the customer pick the right one for them.
- Gift Guide. You could have a gift guide for a holiday or event. For example, let's say that you sell flowers. You could have a gift for Valentine's that explains the meanings behind different color roses.
- Infographic. Infographics, at least good ones, are highly shared on the internet. Making infographics for your industry gives people something to share and gives you links. For example, let's say you sell products made from upcycled materials, you could have an infographic that explains the benefits of upcycling.
- Online Tool. An online tool or calculator can also be easily shared. Let's say you sell sodas and mixers. You could have an online calculator that tells you how much of each mixer and alcohol to buy for a wedding based on the wedding size.
- Find complementary sites. As you look at the top results in Google search results for the keyword phrases that you are targeting, a lot of the results will be for your competition. They will be other online stores. But some of those results will not be your competition. They could be a complementary site that could become a partner. So reach out to those sites with the right content and get them to add that to their site and the link to you. For example, if you sell fishing gear, you could find a blog about fishing. And then every time they discuss fishing gear, they can link to you. Of course, an affiliate program would be very useful here.
Influencers. Influencers have become a valuable part of link building strategies and overall traffic generation. Remember the YouTuber I mentioned with the content about electric skateboards. You need to find those people for your industry. I recommend that you target influencers that either have their own website or a YouTube channel because those two experiences will provide you permanent links. While if you target an influencer on Instagram or Facebook, they may do a great job in driving you traffic, but that link doesn't have as much permanence. As Facebook and Instagram are timeline driven, the links fade away.
With influencers, you need to think about how to incentivize them. We've already talked about an affiliates program. Another incentive that my clients have successfully used is to hand out a free sample and ask the influencer to write a review or do a video review of the product. So there is some costs of this to you. But the quality of the content you can get out of it can be really substantial. If they do a great video you can also include that on your site, with their permission.
Now, if your products are too expensive, to be giving away for free, you could set up a demo day in a region with a lot of influencers and invite them all to that demo day. Make them feel special and engaged with your brand and your products to incentivize them to create their reviews.
Now, I just give you 11 different ideas on ways to generate links to your website to increase your domain authority with Google. The goal of this is to improve your SEO traffic. Now a large company is going to have all sorts of tools they use to implement this and measure it and test it all out. As a small company, you don't have the time and bandwidth to do that. So what I recommend for small companies is to just take note of if they are getting links added. And then the objective measure of success should be revenue driven by SEO. With all SEO, it's a really long game. You want to be measuring it over time. I have a Google Analytics dashboard that you can use to measure SEO traffic and sales. I'll include a link to it in the show notes.
Next, I'll cover a handful of best practices that you should use in your link building efforts.
- Avoid dated best practices. Google is a really smart company and they're constantly evolving their algorithms for search. So something that worked in 2012 may not work well today. For example, back in 2012, I went to an SEO conference where they were explaining how you could set up a hundred different websites on your own with computer generated content. You could then use these sites as a link farm to then link to your site and boost its domain authority. Today doing something like this would destroy your sites reputation with Google. But that best practice existed in the past. So be very careful when someone is giving you a best practice. Make sure it's a best practice that works today and wasn't something that worked in the past that will actually hurt you today.
- As you build out content reuse annual pages. If each year, you create a holiday buyer's guide. Make sure you use the same page and URL each year. And don't take the page down when the holiday is over. That way, links from past years will benefit your guide this year and into the future.
- Be human. You are reaching out to real people as yo a're building your links so start with a real conversation. Be genuine. Make sure your email feels natural and your tone is friendly. Don't write vague or generic emails. Do your research and personalize your message to each person or site that you're sending an email to. And don't use a template. Influencers and websites get many template emails each day. And they are easy to sniff them out. While sending a template email might seem like an easy way to engage a lot of people quickly, the effectiveness of them is going to be minimal.
- Talk to the site or the influencer you're reaching out to in terms of what's in it for them. Don't just talk about what you want. Talk about what you're going to provide for them, the value that you're going to give to them, their site and to their customers.
- And lastly. You need to operationalize link building. Link building is an ongoing process that never ends. So you need to make it a part of your normal routine. If you're a to-do list type of person add a recurring task to your to-do list for your link building efforts. If you're a calendar-based person, block out some recurring time on your calendar to do it. If you just wait for time to free up to be able to do some of this work, you're never going to get there. Our to do lists never end. So you're going to have to regularly prioritize link building to make progress.
As I said in the beginning, link building is hard and it never ends. But to be successful with SEO you need to do this hard work. Doing the onsite SEO task without a link building strategy is not going to move the needle much. Those that invest time and energy into link building will be able to reap the ongoing benefit of organic search traffic.
That's it for this podcast episode. Hopefully, this is helpful. Thanks for listening.