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by James Agate on 23rd January 2013
James Agate makes his return to the Koozai blog to explain why link building doesn’t just have to be a part of online marketing. He examines the research people do before they purchase and how, through tapping into this process, link building can help drive sales across all of your marketing channels.
Link building often gets labelled as the dumb cousin of ‘real’ marketing, but in truth, building links can be as sophisticated as you want it to be.
We all know link building forms a key part of Google’s algorithm and when it comes to tweaking the SERPs and improving visibility of properties you don’t necessarily own, links are one of the only ways to shift the needle. All too often however, building links gets downgraded in the priority list, pushed out to any old freelancer with little thought given to their importance or potential for contributing directly to ROI.
Today I want to look at an instance where you can control a customer’s purchase path by strategically building links so as to avoid business slipping through your fingers into the hands of your competitors.
The Canon IXUS 500 is a middle of the road compact camera and one that I was considering purchasing in the January sales (and also the inspiration for this post).
A query for this item brings up much of what we have come to expect from a shopping SERP (loads of ads, shopping listings and only a handful of old-school organic listings):
The mobile SERP is much the same, minus the shopping units
The way we shop for cameras and other consumer products has evolved. We no longer just walk into a shop, greet the shopkeeper and absorb their expertise as gospel paying the price they demand. We go on a mission of research using our trusty smartphones, tablets and laptops to help us seek out reviews from other consumers, find the best prices and get the facts from online influencers. In fact “Whether we’re shopping for corn flakes, concert tickets or a honeymoon in Paris, the Internet has changed how we decide what to buy. This online decision-making moment is called the Zero Moment of Truth — or simply ZMOT.” (Source).
Understanding shifting consumer behaviour is essential knowledge for any savvy link builder. As long as links continue to drive Google’s algorithm, it is up to us to best understand how to effectively build them to capitalise on the way consumers use Google.
Much like any other consumer, I found myself in a Currys PC World having a play with the camera in question, I fired up my iPhone to check A) The price B) The spec was correct and in line with what the sales assistant had told me and C) Is the camera actually any good (I wanted to read a couple of reviews).
Did I end up purchasing this camera? No. That’s because I spotted a few reviews which deterred me somewhat. This little episode inspired this post because Canon (and the retailer) missed out on my business simply because I saw a couple of reviews which didn’t present the camera in the best possible way.
This review was one of the first I came across, it highlighted some problems such as “tiny buttons”, “disappointing battery life” and “lack of manual controls”. I’d fired up Google feeling good about this camera looking for reasons to purchase, but now the experts were highlighting a few ‘bad’ points about the camera and it shifted my mindset – I was now on the hunt for reasons NOT to buy this camera.
Never mind the fact that I wouldn’t know what to do with a load of manual controls if it had them or that battery life isn’t an issue since I probably use a camera 3 times a year.
I kept sifting through Google and I came across this review – it’s much more positive about the product, but for me (as a consumer) it was too late, I was already rationalising reasons not to get the camera. Then the SEO in me kicked in and thought about how this could have been very different with some better control of the SERPs.
The one ‘okay’ review that I came across derailed my path to purchase, but had there been some strategic second-tier link building and therefore enhanced visibility for the right properties, it would have been a very different story.
Applying this largely comes down to savvy second-tier link building; selecting the right targets and acquiring links on their behalf to achieve the desired result.
For reasons discussed later on in this post, it is probably advisable to try this on a handful of your products (probably your bestsellers) and see how well it works. We’ve done plenty of similar stuff utilising second-tier link building and controlling branded SERPs for reputation management exercises, but this (for now at least) is just a concept born out of an experience I had as a consumer.
Step 1 – SERP selection
Search, as if you were a consumer, for your best-selling products… some SERPs might be fine just as they are, others however will need a bit of help from you.
In particular, you want to think from the perspective of your actual customers. You might be selling entry-level cameras for people looking for a cheap product that’s straightforward, but those people don’t want to feel like they’re going to be the laughing stock of their social circles by selecting a camera which has been talked down by a high and mighty tech reviewer that belittles your product versus a more expensive, fancier, competing product. So you are looking for SERPs where reviews that may not necessarily be negative, but which don’t perhaps demonstrate the real USPs of your product. Those are the ones you want to correct.
The idea being that we are going to help to surface the reviews that present your entry-level camera as “easy to use” rather than the one which lambasts you for making one that “lacks in features”.
Try a few variations of the query and if you have internal data to utilise then obviously do so, otherwise I’m afraid you are stuck with Google’s 100% accurate Keyword Tool to determine the most worthwhile – from a volume perspective – to target.
Step 2 – Identify your targets & Assess viability
In most instances the second level property may not even directly link through to you, but for the purposes of this exercise, that doesn’t necessarily matter. We want to control the SERP to enhance conversion rate.
Research suggests that 65% of consumers read between 2-10 reviews (source) so selecting and seeking to promote a handful of properties is likely to be the most effective strategy.
What to look for? You want to be targeting a number of reviews or information pages if applicable that present your product in the way intended. In terms of assessing viability, you need to be realistic about how much movement you are going to be able to deliver with the identified targets. A lot of queries are somewhat dominated by the higher trust review websites, so pick your battles.
Step 3 – Build links
Go easy here, whenever I start talking about second-tier link building, people immediately start thinking about linkwheels, link pyramids and other fairly high-risk activities. From what I’ve seen, and given that penalties can be applied to specific URLs a sudden spike to the one review page is not the way to do this even if the domain is highly trusted – Google will more than likely smell a rat.
My recommendation would be to build links as if it were your own site. You might even like to work closely with the site owner to explain what you are planning and to see if they can help you in any way. In other instances, we have pushed second-tier properties into StumbleUpon and Outbrain to drive some additional traffic for the site owner – that kind of inexpensive, but effective gesture can work wonders for a relationship. This might open the way for greater visibility of the page on the site itself (hello internal links).
Step 4 – Monitor
Attribution is the real challenge with this exercise. At best I think you would be piecing together justification based on rank tracking for the second-tier properties, referral traffic from the second-tier properties (if applicable), conversion rates and overall sales. You can then draw some form of correlation between the uplift in ranking of those properties relative to an increase in conversion rate and/or product revenue.
As with anything, it does come back to practicality and budgets, but given that in a market like consumer electronics where product lines tend to be vast and with potentially multiple keyword targets per product, I would say it will be more practical to attempt this on best-selling products only (as I mentioned earlier).
This is also likely to be the most efficient use of your budget given that a handful of best-selling products are likely to be the ones bringing home the bacon (Pareto would have you believe at least). So the point of diminishing returns, if this were to be rolled out over a massive product line, is likely to kick in fairly quickly.
With other forms of second-tier link building you are typically capitalising on and trying to convert online traffic. With this exercise you are potentially looking at a lot of offline traffic as well. You may not even want to bring that offline customer online either, so things like call tracking for example might not even be applicable.
If you have other ideas on how to monitor and analyse a campaign like this please add them in the comments below.
Offline and Online Chart from BigStock
The views expressed in this post are those of the author so may not represent those of the Koozai team.