Online shopkeepers can use good customer-oriented content to improve PageRank and increase sales.
In the world of search engine optimization (SEO), link baiting is the practice of creating web content that is virtually irresistible to bloggers, Diggers, or other members of the linkerati (people who can link to your site and are popular on social media sites or through their own websites). These folks link to the bait from their blog, social media site, or web page, boosting the bait’s PageRank and improving the bait’s position on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Some SEO experts speak about link bait like it is beyond the reach of ecommerce web sites. They imagine that there is nothing an ecommerce site could create that would be worthy of the dozens or even hundreds of inbound links that good link bait can generate. But I disagree, and in this “eCommerce Know-How,” I will (1) explain why I think every web page is link bait, (2) use some of the content on REI’s website as an example, and (3) suggest content that might prove to be both valuable link bait and valuable for your customers.
Any Page Can Be Link Bait
A little more than a year ago, Stephan Spencer, a longtime Practical eCommerce contributor and President and CEO of Netconcepts, a very reputable web agency, wrote here in Practical eCommerce that link bait wasn’t realistic for many online stores.
“You might wonder if elements of your ecommerce site could become worthy link bait. I hate to break this to you — but probably not,” Spencer said. “Link bait is the sort of thing that tends to spread virally through email and the blogosphere. When was the last time you saw swarms of people forwarding emails about an ecommerce site? ”
I wonder, however, if the problem is that we set our goals too high. We imagine that in order to be link bait, content has to be on the front page of Digg or be as successful as Burger King’s almost legendary Subservient Chicken campaign from 2004—the mother of Internet viral marketing.
But the Internet is the not the mass market. It is rather a collection of very specific niche markets, and there are link-savvy content consumers whose interests go beyond top-ten lists (a popular link bait format), the outrageous, or the humorous. As a quick example, my teen-aged children regularly email me links to ecommerce sites, pointing out which Skull Candy ear bud they would like for a birthday or which new Burton snowboard their friend’s parents just bought. It is also not uncommon for my kids to link to these products on their MySpace pages. Even if these activities happen on a small scale compared to some mass-appeal bait, they still meet the very definition of link bait.
Ultimately, an ecommerce site can create and generate content that attracts both consumers and links. Those extra links will count as extra votes for a URL’s PageRank, improving how that URL performs on SERPs. And the content should enrich a ‘ experience on the site.
REI Offers Expert Advice, Community Content
Outdoor equipment retailer REI doesn’t just offer product listings on its ecommerce website. Instead, the company includes content about how to select products, articles that offer expert advice on outdoor activities, and even descriptions of the company’s environmental activism. All of these extra sections add value for REI’s customers and serve as potential link bait.
- How to Choose a Snowboard, a November 2007 article that includes a rider profile, two videos, and detailed explanations.
- How to Use Your New GPS Receiver, REI Ed Robison tells us that maps and compasses are not dead and that GPS receiver should augment these basic tools.
- Getting Started Kayaking, is a step-by-step guide to your first few kayaking adventures.
- Whitewater Classifications provides class definitions.
Inbound links to these pages at REI include:
- The Boston Herald. In a December 2007 article that also includes an interview with an REI product expert, Online Editor, Todd Prussman, linked to several REI products and its expert advice page.
- Academic-Genealogy.com linked to REI’s expert advice page from a list of family friendly resources.
- Green Buy Guide’s Jessica Bacon encouraged shoppers to select environmentally responsible stores and linked to REI’s environment stewardship page.
- Primer’s Stillman Brown included a link to REI’s expert advice on camping in a profile of Bear Grylls, the star of Man vs. Wild.
While these inbound links are not going viral on the scale of, say, Ford’s infamous Evil Twin commercial campaign, but they are adding to PageRank as well as providing valuable information for REI’s visitors, and, once potential customers arrive, engaging them with interesting content may build trust, improve conversions, and create loyalty. Those are some pretty strong benefits in their own right.
Consider Adding Content that Complements Your Product Offerings
The lesson we can learn from REI is that additional and complementary content can help engage our potential customers and give interested site owners something worth linking to. Here are some kinds of content that might work for your site.
- Demonstrations. Blendtec is perhaps the best example of quirky demonstration videos that have become viral link bait. Blendtec manufacturers very high-quality blenders and has produced Will it Blend? videos that attract millions of views and boost the site’s PageRank. Even if you don’t get that sort of audience you can still attract linkers with good sharable demonstrations.
- How-to or Know-how. REI does a good job of providing how-to information that complements the products they sell.
- Blog content. Writing about the happenings in your industry, your business, or even your life is a good way to connect with your customers and blog posts offer good fodder for linking. The Discovery Channel uses a blog to promote new products for its online store, and Yarn.com uses its Yarn Blog to connect with site visitors on a personal level. The Yarn Blog has dozens of inbound links from around the web.
- Coupon or deal landing pages. If you offer special discounts or coupons, adding a landing page for those discounts can help your customers and encourage links.