August 27, 2010
By the ZippyCart Shopping Cart Reviews Content Team
Part 6 in a Series of SEO Tips for Ecommerce Success
Last week, I published part 5 in this series of SEO tips for merchants entitled 13 Ecommerce Link Building Tactics for Your Online Store. While link building is extremely important when it comes to optimizing your storefront to be found in search engines, there are some methods of getting links that shouldn’t be touched with a 10 foot pole. This is because some link building tactics are viewed as spam and can harm your brand credibility among your colleagues as well as with Google and other search engines. As such, some types of link building can do far more harm than good. Because of this, I’m concluding this series with 13 ecommerce link building tactics that you should avoid at all costs.
Very Bad Link Building Ideas:
1. Forum Spamming: There are hundreds of thousands of forums all over the Internet, and they exist so that members can get answers to questions, find help with problems, share their knowledge, and discuss topics they find interesting. Forums do not exist for you to build links to your website. That said, many people view forums as a great way to gain links, because almost all forums let you include a keyword rich anchor link in your signature line. This is all well and good if you are participating in the forum regularly. If, on the other hand, you join the forum simply for links, then you’ll give yourself away fast, as most people who join a forum just for links end up doing the following types of forum spam:
- Adding tons of links in their signature line (really, 2 looks a little too much so why do more?)
- Only commenting on posts where they can add a link
- Commenting on posts with one or two words like “For Real!” or “I Agree,” just so that they can get a link
- Commenting like crazy one day, then forgetting about the Forum going forward now that links have been gained
2. Blog Spamming: Blog spamming is very similar to forum spamming. This is when someone posts a comment on a blog just to get the link. These are the people that don’t read posts and just add a random comment in hopes that it will be approved and they will get links. On ZippyCart, we get about 5 of these a day (thanks to spam filters that keep most of these out). Here’s one I deleted this morning: “You highlight this controversial subject well, I do concur thank you.” This was in regards to a post that had absolutely no controversy entitled “Music Sites to Use While Operating Your Online Store.”
Another way to spam a blog is by reading through a post entirely, commenting on the post, but including a long link to a spam website in the comment URL field. When this happens on ZippyCart, we approve the comment, but delete the link. I don’t know why, but for some reason we just aren’t fans of linking to sites about Viagra [sarcasm intended].
Most bloggers will not approve spam comments, and even if they do, they will likely include the “nofollow” attribute in all comment links. So, if you want to get links from blogs, don’t waste your time spamming a bunch of blogs in hopes that 1 out of 10 will give you a link. Instead, find a few that you are willing to read loyally, comment only when a story is worth commenting on and share relevant information when you comment (don’t just post a few words). Get to know the blog author(s) by making your comments conversational and just maybe they’ll give you a blog roll link down the road or let you add a link in the context of the comment rather than just the comment URL field.
3. Email Spamming: This is probably one of the worst ways to get inbound links, especially if you are using software to automate the process. Email spamming is when you send hundreds of people emails saying “I have linked to you, now here is the code to link to me.” Or just “I saw your site and would like to request a link.” Anyone sending hundreds of these out at once will need to automate the process, and this is where it becomes spam. When hundreds are sent out at once, there is nothing personal about them and can be spotted as spam from a mile away. If you have found some websites that you want links from, then reach out to them in a way that is personal and not pushy. Send an email explaining what you like about their site and how you think that your site would be a good resource for their viewers. Be sure to call out specifics about their website so that they know that you are personally writing the email. Also, if you can find the name of a person to email, then include their name in the salutation rather than a simple “Hi.” Finally, if they don’t respond, follow up only once. Do not get pushy and do not harass them. The fact is, not too many people will respond, so this old school link building tactic might be best kept in the past.
4. Participating in Link Farms: A link farm is a website that has hundreds of links on every page and lets you buy your way in. Google has red flagged these sites, so just stay away from them. It’s as simple as that.
5. Link Exchanges: 2-way and 3-way link exchanges can be spotted from a mile away by any smart search engine, which means Google, Yahoo and Bing (or Binghoo since they now share results). In the infographic that I posted “Understanding Google PageRank” I show that link exchanges cancel each other out. Since then, I’ve received some comments asking if this was really true, because surely Google can’t ding you for linking to a reputable site that also links to you. This is true, Google won’t ding you if you’re a reputable site linking to another reputable site, but if you’re participating in a link exchange program, then they’ll notice. As you can see in the Google PageRank Infographic, the sites participating in link exchanges are not necessarily high quality.
Link exchanges generally include sites that have little, if anything, to do with each other, trading links for the purpose of optimization only. This is why it gets spammy, because the audience of either site won’t benefit from the link. Now, if you want to get a link from a site similar to yours and you also want to link to them, search engines will be able to tell the difference between that and spam. That said, you should still consider linking to different pages on their site than the pages that have links to you because this keeps PageRank flowing through your sites better. This is what the Infographic is intended to mean when it says that the “you vote for me and I’ll vote for you” method cancels out the votes.
6. Buying Links: While there are some in the SEO industry that say buying links is fine, all will admit that this is a gray hat tactic at best. The problem with buying links is simple: Big Brother Google knows who’s selling links for the most part, so they know your buying. While some companies have found a way to get around this, the fact remains that all of the easy and affordable ways to buy links are likely known by search engines already, so why waste your money?
7. Using the Wrong Directories: In my last post, I discussed using directories to gain inbound links, but stressed that you should only use the best directories out there. The fact is, there are thousands of directories that want you to pay to get listed. Avoid these directories because most of them (not all, but most), will bury your link on a page so deep in their website that search engines won’t crawl it and they will add links from any site that will pay them.
What are the best directories you ask? JoeAnt, DMOZ, Yahoo, Business.com, Best of the Web, Gimpsy, GoGuides, Skaffe, and WebSavvy are all great. Beyond that, if you find directories related to your niche (and your niche only), then these are great options for submitting your site to as well.
8. Award Programs Without Credibility: Award programs are a great way to get inbound links, but only if you are a site with a reputation that people would want a reward from you. An example of an award program is the SEMMYS, which give awards out to a variety of bloggers and website owners based on quality of their sites. Anyone who receives a SEMMY can post the SEMMY badge on their website, which includes a link back to the SEMMYS.org site.
So how did this award system gain credibility? Well, the SEMMYS have a committee of 8 people who provide awards in a non-bias way to start, they are not selling anything, and based on their nominees, it’s clear that their standards are quite high. While an award system is a great way to get links, it’s clear that there needs to be value behind any award given, which can only occur if you have the credibility and reputation to make it happen.
Two quick asides:
- If you would like to create a credible awards program, talk to Larry Sivitz at SearchWrite, he has had much success in this arena and is a great SEO to work with.
- When you’re done reading this post, take a moment to read this amazing SEMMY award winning post: Surviving and Thriving as an Ecommerce SEO Professional (a must read for any merchant wanting to optimize their online storefront)
9. Social Spamming: This involves social networks, social sharing sites, and social bookmarking sites. No matter what you do, do not create multiple accounts on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Digg, etc. just so that you can retweet, re-stumble, re-digg, or re-post your content multiple times. Besides the risk of getting banned from these sites, people will eventually figure out that you’re doing this and you and your brand will lose credibility.
10. Creating Controversy by Being a Jerk: The fact is, people love drama, which is why controversy gets a lot of attention and a lot of links online. There are funny and light-hearted ways to create controversy, like The Chive recently did with their Girl Quits Her Job hoax, or there are rude and mean-hearted ways to create controversy like Jason Gambert (notice that the link doesn’t go to him or anything he owns, as most SEOs have kept from sending him links).
While being a jerk may get you some links, in the end you have put your reputation on the line for a possible bump in Google, which won’t matter if your brand can’t be trusted.
11. Hiding Links in Text: This isn’t gray hat, this is simply old school black hat SEO. Don’t show one thing to a search engine and another to your users, because this is the first step in getting removed from a search engine’s index. In other words, don’t hide links and don’t allow someone to link to you that is hiding your links. Especially if they are hiding those links in text (links that look just like regular text), because they won’t get clicked on and if they do, the user will feel duped which deteriorates any trust he/she could have gained in your brand.
12. Buying Hundreds of Domains To Get Links From: This is an old tactic that does nothing but waste time. Every once in awhile, someone gets fed up with link building and has an “Aha” moment that should be avoided. This is the moment when that person thinks “I need 100 links, so I’ll just launch 100 sites and link to my one site from them.” Choosing to do this requires a great deal of time, because if you launch 100 sites, they better all be unique and have a good amount of unique content. Also, since they’ll be brand new, their links won’t hold much value. So, to grow value for the links, you’ll have to let the sites gain history in search engines and you’ll have to get inbound links to those sites so that they build PageRank. As you can see, this tactic takes your problem of finding links for 1 site and multiples it by 100.
13. Too Many Non-Related Sites: As mentioned in number 5, most link exchange campaigns give you links from sites not related to yours. This is a problem because these links don’t hold much value to you, especially if you get links from hundreds (if not thousands) of them at once. Search engines take into account who is linking to you and whether or not they are related to your industry. The more links you get from common sites the better, because it shows that websites in your industry find you to be a credible resource. If you can’t get websites in your industry to link to you, and instead have an abnormal amount of unrelated sites linking to you, then a red flag goes up for search engines. Don’t go out of your way to get a link from a site that doesn’t target your audience. If you have thousands of links and 5-10% are from non-related sites, then you should be find, but try not to go above that.
Clearly these ideas aren’t “bad” because they lack creativity (since they’re pretty darn creative), but they are worth avoiding so that you can maintain your credibility, gain trust from your customers, and build your brand with confidence.
Posts in this Series
Part 1: Choosing an SEO Firm To Drive Traffic to Your Online Store
Part 2: Finding Profit Driving Keywords to Optimize Your Online Store
Part 3: Optimizing Your Online Storefront for Search Engines
Part 4: Understanding PageRank to Optimize Your Online Store
Part 5: 13 Ecommerce Link Building Tactics For Your Online Store