Link building is the hardest part of SEO, and also the most important.

While optimizing your on-site SEO is necessary, it’s no longer enough to win great search rankings. If you want to get your company on page one of Google, Bing or Yahoo, you need to get really good at earning high-quality backlinks.

Unfortunately, as more companies have realized this, link building has become much more challenging over time. The competition for backlinks is especially fierce in product-based ecommerce, because unlike local or service-based businesses, ecommerce businesses often sell similar offerings in the same general price range.

That means that if you want to stand out, you’re going to have to do more than simply running your own blog or guest posting on a few industry sites. Here are three innovative tactics ecommerce businesses can use to skyrocket their link building success.

 

1. Embrace Online Video

Online video is an extremely effective and versatile digital marketing tool. Apart from using videos to educate customers and increase conversions, you can also leverage them to generate buzz for your brand and earn natural backlinks.

For optimal results, you should host your videos on YouTube and include a followed attribution link with your embed code. That way, every time a website embeds your video in an article, the code will automatically generate a backlink to your site.

For example, Dollar Shave Club’s classic viral video generated over 5k links and 500k Facebook shares for their site:

 

 

This video is so effective because it manages to be funny and entertaining, while also communicating the brand’s key selling points. The fact that founder Michael Dubin himself stars in the video gives it an element of authenticity as well.

But videos don’t always have to be zany or over-the-top to attract a large audience. Dropbox’s original explainer video is a case in point. This was essentially a simple user demo of the company’s MVP, but included a number of clever references to Office Space, xkcd and Tay Zonday’s viral “Chocolate Rain” video. These “easter eggs” really resonated with the userbase on Digg, where the video was first posted, and the video received more than 10,000 Diggs in 24 hours.

 

 

Video has become a lot more popular as a marketing tool since the likes of Dropbox and Dollar Shave Club have validated its effectiveness. But even today, truly remarkable videos are rare, and creating one is still a very powerful way of earning backlinks.

 

2. Leverage “Engineering as Marketing”

In their excellent book Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Growth, Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares describe a powerful marketing tactic where software engineering is utilized as a marketing tool.

The idea is to create a widget or feature that’s related to your product in some way, then provide it to the world for free. This is an enormously efficient marketing tactic for three reasons:
 

  1. Your widget will stand out, as few companies are willing to invest expensive engineering hours into creating one
  2. Your widget is uniquely related to your product in some way, so others won’t be able to copy it
  3. Once you create a widget, it continues earning links for you forever

 
A great example of this is Getty Images’ Embed function, which opened up the company’s library of over 66 million digital images for free use on any website or social media account. Of course, these embedded images would come with a branded footer crediting Getty and linking back to their website.

 
Getty Images Embed Function
 

Apart from the large number of direct backlinks generated from the widget itself, Getty also won numerous mentions from prominent web publications, further bolstering their search authority.

But what if your products are not inherently shareable? No problem. This tactic can work with simple apps hosted on your own website as well, as long as they provide real value. For instance, Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides a simple monthly cost calculator for users to determine how much they would have to pay in various usage scenarios.

 
AWS simple monthly cost calculator
 

Clearly, this calculator isn’t exactly the stuff of viral dreams. There is nothing shareable about it, it’s not pretty, and it involves a lot of numbers. Yet this calculator has earned AWS over 10k backlinks, simply because of how functional it is for their actual paying customers.

No matter what product you sell online, you can probably think of a simple app or widget that would make your customers’ lives easier. Invest in creating that solution today, and you’ll have a recurring source of backlinks for many years to come.

 

3. Give Something Away

Everyone loves free stuff. By giving away something for nothing, you stand to generate a lot of positive attention online, as people do their part to spread the good news to their friends, followers and readers.

The most straightforward way to do this is by running a giveaway event for your customers. Be sure to set up a landing page on your own website that directs to your giveaway, as this will prevent high-traffic third-party sites from stealing all of the link juice. Of course, this page will also require participants to enter their email addresses, thus allowing you to build your list at the same time.

It’s important to remember that you should not give away products in exchange for a link, as Google will penalize your site heavily for it. Instead, think of these giveaways as an organic means of generating buzz for your brand, which will naturally lead to backlinks over time.

Specialized giveaway management software like KingSumo can help you create these landing pages, as with this example from Buffer:

 
Buffer giveaway management software
 

Another, less obvious variation of this strategy is to give away your product to a charity or non-profit. This can be very powerful because non-profit sites tend to have high search authority and naturally attract a lot of inbound links.

Warby Parker’s “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program is an ideal case in point. Together with their non-profit partner, VisionSpring, the company provides affordable glasses and basic eye care to low-income individuals around the world. This simple infographic illustrates why their mission is important:

 
infographic showing power of one pair of glasses
 

The program has been covered in a number of major online outlets, such as Mashable, earning the company some significant link juice:

 
Mashable showing backlink to warby parker glasses
 

Naturally, charity should not be done only for the sake of backlinks; instead, links should be seen as a byproduct of charitable giving. But as Warby Parker proves, establishing a regular program of giving is an excellent way of doing well by doing good.

 

Originality is Key

In today’s competitive ecommerce SEO environment, a “paint-by-numbers” approach to link building is simply not enough. In order to earn high-quality backlinks, companies need to provide something original and useful to the world at large. Use the ideas in this article as a starting point to come up with your own unique contribution, and watch as the backlinks roll in.