August 6th, 2008 - by Golgotha

I met with some people last month that run an e-commerce website. Their story is an all too familiar one. They’re not selling as much product as they had hoped to and want to see what can be done to change the situation.

In this article I’ll share with you what I shared with them. It may surprise you to hear some of my suggestions.

The beginning of our conversation was your typical SEO talk. It started with an explanation of how Google (and others) ranks web pages. The typical reader of this blog will be familiar with this, so I’ll skip it. But if you need a refresher, read the article Google’s PageRank Explained.

After explaining to them the significance of inbound links to their site it didn’t take long before they asked the question that always gets asked at this point, “How do we get people to link to our website?”

I deflated their spirits be telling them that it’s not easy. You see, e-commerce sites, like theirs, don’t typically attract people wanting to link to them. Nobody, naturally, wants to link to a website that sells jewelry or Hungarian food condiments and trying to get people to link to a site they don’t want to can be an Lose Weight Exercise in futility. I know, because I’ve done it many times.

But hope is not lost. There is a way…

The short answer is you have to give people a reason to want to link to you. But how does an e-commerce site do that?

That’s what we’ll look at in this article. No, it’s not your typical, “How to acquire links” article so read on.

Doing Old School E-commerce in a Web 2.0 World

Your typical e-commerce site is the web equivalent of a retail shopping aisle. It basically just puts product in front of the consumer. That’s a necessary step – you need to put the product in front of the consumer in order for them to purchase it, but it shouldn’t be the first step and it most certainly shouldn’t be the only step. If you don’t take steps to encourage their buying decision along the way then placing product in front of them won’t even matter. It’s kinda like the guy that swings his jacket open revealing a bunch of watches and asking you if you want to buy a watch. He’s probably not too successful unless he’s fortunate enough to be in a room of people needing watches.

The Amazon Effect

Just because Amazon does it doesn’t mean you can too! Amazon has become the model for which many people base their e-commerce paradigm on and I believe this is hurting a lot of web businesses.

Amazon was launched in 1995 and was one of the first major companies to sell goods over the Internet. While many companies did not survive the late 1990s dot-com bust, Amazon did, and now has become a household name for web shoppers.

If you are running an e-commerce shop you need to get one thing straight. You’re not Amazon!

There’s three attributes that Amazon possesses that you don’t:

1. Everybody knows Amazon; we don’t know you. In fact, we’ve never heard of you and we don’t trust you. Over the years I have made hundreds of purchases from Amazon. They have earned my trust. I can purchase from them without fear that my personal information is in jeopardy or that the product will never find it’s way to me. I can’t say the same for you.

2. I already have an Amazon account. Ultimately this may be your biggest problem. I’ve already given all my user information to Amazon: name, address, city, state, zip, credit card info and all the rest. I really don’t want to go through that process again. In addition, I really don’t want to have to create an account and remember yet another username and password. Sure, I could use my same username and password as I do for Amazon, but is it worth it? Especially if I’m only going to buy from you once?

3. Amazon doesn’t have to do a damn thing. Because Amazon has earned my trust they really don’t have to do anything but show me the product and the purchase button. In fact, many times I will find a product on another site that I like then turn around and see if Amazon has it so I can buy it from them; even if it costs me a few more dollars. What can I say, I’m lazy and don’t want to fill out the forms again. And like I said, I trust them.

So you can see you really need to question whether the Amazon e-commerce paradigm will work for you or not. Keep in mind, it wasn’t easy for Amazon to get where they are either. It took them eight years to make their first annual profit with this model.

At this point you may be asking, “But what other model is there?”

Let’s look at two companies I mentioned earlier: the jewelry store and the Hungarian food condiments store. They both have some things going for them, things that separate them from Amazon. The jewelry store has prices that Amazon can’t compete with and Hungarian food condiments is something Amazon doesn’t sell; maybe the only thing these days. So both are good businesses to make a go of it.

Here’s what I would do if I ran either of those websites: I would blog. If I owned the jewelry store then I would blog about jewelry. I would become an authority on jewelry. Here’s some of the blog post you might find on such a blog: Don’t Buy a Diamond Without Reading This First! The Difference Between a Cultured Pearl and a Natural Pearl. Or Do You Know What The Hardest Metal on Earth Is? It’s tungsten carbide. I would explain what tungsten carbide is and nonchalantly explain why it makes for a great ring and — are you ready for it — I would link to the tungsten carbide ring section of my store. I’m using the blog to act like a impartial party that informs and teaches it’s audience about jewelry all the while linking to my store that sells the product. It’s important to not make your blog post sound like a sales pitch, but casually plug your products.

Need more ideas? You could blog about what popular celebrities are wearing. Perhaps a blog post showing the necklace that Angelina Jolie is wearing on the red carpet or the ring that Paris Hilton is sporting. You could show pictures, tell who designed it, list what it costs and then link to a necklace or ring that you sell that is similar, but for a fraction of the price. Sound silly? Take a moment and think about how many people do searches for “Angelina Jolie”. On Google in 2007 Paris Hilton was the eighth most popular search so perhaps not so silly.

The Hungarian food condiments blog could feature a new recipe each week. Each recipe would be sure to use one of the condiments that your e-commerce store sells and of course it too would link to its product. Imagine how many people perform searches on recipes. Certainly much more than those that perform searches for Hungarian mustard! Instead of just having an audience of Hungarian food lovers you have an audience that loves food… much bigger.

Becoming an Influential Source

Creating a blog / e-commerce tandem allows you to become an authority on your subject. It allows you to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about your product and even passionate about it. This allows you to move away from the cold, impersonal store front of placing as much product on the screen as possible and replaces it with a human; complete with personality and passion.

In the end the idea is to connect with your audience and form relationships with them. This builds trust and trust is a big factor in making purchasing decisions.

Let’s Spell it Out

Let’s review and see where we’re at. We have an e-commerce site that isn’t doing well in the search engines because no one links to it. Why would they?

As a result we are creating something else, something that if done correctly people will feel compelled to link to: a blog. Whether you put the blog on the same domain as the e-commerce site or its own domain I’m not sure. I welcome your thoughts on that.

The blog not only acts as a conductor of links, but more importantly, it allows you to influence people’s buying decisions. In addition, it allows you to do something most e-commerce sites don’t. It allows you to have a relationship with your customers and hopefully convert your blog’s audience into your e-commerce stores customers.

I will conclude by saying that this strategy is not a quick fix. Nor is it easy. It takes work, but all successful businesses take work!

18 Responses to “Thinking Outside The SEO Box”

1 Link Building Bible

Depending on how old the ecommerce site is should determine if u should so a separate blog, or an on-domain blog…. if you ecommerce domain is over 6 months old, i’d do it on the domain, in order to to risk being put in the google sandbox….

2 TOMAS

Nice write up and refresher Mark; bookmarked for reference. ;)

3 John

This practice applies equally to any small business site, not just ecommerce sites. If you’re a small business with a few pages about what you do, there’s not a lot of reason for people to link to you, but if you write about the industry you’re in on a regular basis, then you can change that.

4 Marko Novak

Getting a blog for your online store is very popular nowadays. It really can help you with your brand recognition. You wrote some really good tips in this post.

I’m subscribed to many blogs by RSS feed and it takes something special to get to my list, since I’m very picky with who I choose to add. I was convinced by your knowledge and great posts and I liked most of them. Keep up the good work.

5 FupDuckTV

A blog is a good idea for your store, but how do get people to find your blog? There are 15 other Hungarian food condiments blogs. This all boils back down to the success of any blog: regular posting and quality writing. Good article. I don’t sell anything on my blog, but it got me thinking about things.

6 Golgotha

@Link Building Bible – interesting take…

@TOMAS – Thanks Tomas.

@John – Good point John. Thanks for pointing that out.

@Marko – Thanks much for subscribing!

@FupDuckTV – It all takes good old hard work. Damn.

7 Julia

Hi, this is a great article, and as far as outlining and explaining the goodness of blogging for business goes, it’s very insightful, and I agree completely. I think the only thing I would add – and that is through the experience of working in the SEO/SEM – blogging is conversational. I know it may be difficult to find the common ground on this point, but apart from providing links from the blog to your own site it is also important to link to other sites/blogs. Not least because this is how your blog may get discovered. And when I say “to link” I don’t mean “to stuff your post with any link” – it goes without saying that it must be a quality link, perhaps something that provides some extra value to whatever you have written. It does not mean that this has to be in each and every post on the blog, but when it’s appropriate and relevant, it should be. If, for example, someone wrote an in-depth article about tungsten carbide with some curious data, then I can see no reason why your blog should not link to it, especially if you used its content to help write your own piece. My view is that you get people link to you by doing two things: writing compelling content and linking to other sources. The latter also serves the purpose of not making the advertising purpose of the blog all too evident.

Thanks again (and I’m your subscriber, too).

8 Eric

Great Article. Let the blog begin.

9 Golgotha

@Julia – excellent point, standard blogging practices apply :)

10 John

It doesn’t just work for small companies or startups. The general idea of this type of blog is to open your doors to consumers.

When Microsoft created the MSDN blogs and Dell created the Direct2Dell/Community pages, they were embracing an idea that a corporation does not have to act as one gigantic entity.

Giving your employees a public voice, even a moderated voice, can benefit almost any company of any size.

11 Seo Dave

Blog on/off site..Do both of it !

From an SEO point of view, if on site, your creating new/more pages = more links (possibly) ,more change to rank , more change to gather some PR and distribute it to pages which are really important to your biz (conversions) .

Personally I target the long tails in the blog posts which are easy to rank very fast + a good way to shoot links to your actual product pages.

If we forget about the SEO thing, you’re giving your customers a view behind the screens of your shop and you start to interact with them.

If off site, a great way to shoot external links (you control) to your moneysite and sometimes 1 good inbound link is enough to see a good ranking for a less competitive keywordphrase.

If you keep it on your site, put it in a folder, not a subdomain since G will see that as an independent site and not a part of your actual site (thinking about incoming links:o )

[…] Thinking Outside The SEO Box, Search This […]

13 Links of Interest - CSS-Tricks

[…] latest article from Search-This, Thinking Outside the SEO Box, is about small-guy eCommerce stores and what they really need to do to compete in the […]

14 Biodun

Another idea to get links to an ecommerce site is write link-worthy content to put up on the retailer’s site.

15 Links of Interest | Proba

[…] latest article from Search-This, Thinking Outside the SEO Box, is about small-guy eCommerce stores and what they really need to do to compete in the […]

16 property in spain

As long as you can offer something unique and of value to your users they will come back.
Make it as easy as possible for them to find the information and RSS it or subscribe to a newsletter.
Once you have got them, fight to keep them.

17 seoz87

blogging needs time and patience and unfortunately most of the web entrepreneur lacks these jewels.

The basic things for an ecommerce sites should be Presentation.
when we talk bout amazon we should remember that Amazon pays a lot of attention on user interface. Making the navigation flow or you can say that directing the visitor to the decision point is the most crucial thing for any ecommerce site.

Putting some products in blocks on home page don’t make your website unique in any term.

Another thing to remember is if a person comes to your site, he do possess some interest in the product you are offering. all you have to do is Give him the reasons for buying.

Traditional way:
Money back guarantee, 14 days trial, free shipping, discounts, free gifts, coupons..

Think outside the box now…
what can be unique…??

maybe a related free or discounted item..If you want A than here Take the B on discounted price

maybe a section on product page that says WHY YOU NEED THIS PRODUCT

18 SEO Company

write link-worthy content to put up on the retailer’s site.

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