I had the pleasure of participating on a Link Building Clinic at the Shop.org conference in Las Vegas last week. This conference attracts a different crowd than the SEO/SEM related shows in that practically every attendee at a Shop.org show is running a web site that sells something. Now, link building for a shopping site brings with it a set of challenges and realities that pure content sites will never fully appreciate. I work with both, so I come at this with some practiced perspective. In Vegas, the vibe sent from site owners was what I would call a reluctant and unhappy acceptance that product-only sites don’t attract links of any long lasting value. Folks were bordering on miserable that they had to find some way—any way—to attract links so they’d rank well. Is it any surprise then that the tactics these folks use for their generic sites are by now equally generic? Whether you spend $100 or 1 million dollars getting your ecommerce site up and running, if linkworthy content is an afterthought produced grudgingly and only because you haveto, then you are going to fail (see furniture.com’s famous $40 million lesson).
And social media is not the answer many “experts” want you to believe it is. You cannot bookmark, tag, stumble, or otherwise digg your way out from the truth that a generic web site with generic products available on fifty other sites is not going to succeed by using the same stale tactics those other fifty sites are using. For every Coke/Mentos success there are a million silent failures.
What’s the answer? How do you build links for an unremarkable ecommerce site? Articles? Directories? Link Bait? RSS Feeds? Blogs? Widgets? It’s all a waste of time until and unless you offer something of real value that is sustainable. Adding a bunch of “Bookmark This” buttons to every page of your site is meaningless if every page of your site is completely forgettable in the first place. Anyone can Google Map a sewage plant.
The answer and the reality is that some sites are doomed and that’s the way of the web. You either produce sustainable value that people and engines can detect, or else you don’t. Those of you who choose to create some sort of contrived content only because you have to, and not because you want to, will likely pursue tools and services just as useless as your web sites will be to the people you trick into linking to them and visiting them.
As harsh as all this sounds, I’m actually an optimist. I believe you have to recognize and accept your site’s inbound link potential, and respond based on your level of commitment to the medium itself. If you launched a site with ten bucks for no other reason than to “give this web thing a shot,” then good luck to you and please keep the spam down. If, on the other hand, you launched a site because of a desire to help me and others accomplish something, no matter how small, then even if you are an ecommerce site, you have a shot. Harry Callahan once said “A man’s got to know his limitations.” So should a web site.
What you don’t have to do is accept those limitations as being permanent.
Chipmunk postscript: A note of thanks to everyone who responded to last week’s Show Your Linking Acumen With Chipmunks column where I asked which set of links you would prefer if you were running a web site devoted to chipmunks. While most folks went for Set Three (repeated below), a few liked Set Two, but nobody liked Set One. I agree. Set Three is probably the best bet for the long haul, but on the other hand, Set One would likely keep you ranked high at MSN until the next century…
Eric Ward has been in the link building and content publicity game since 1994, providing services ranking from linking strategy to a monthly private newsletters on linking for subscribers. The Link Week column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.
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