This post was originally published in February, 2020. Last updated: December 14, 2020.
I’m going to be straight with you - link building is not an easy task. But, if done right, it is worth its weight in gold. This is the ultimate beginner's guide to link building for Shopify. Here's what we'll cover:
- What is link building
- Types of backlinks
- Factors that affect the SEO weight of backlinks
- Why link building is important
- The basics of link building for Shopify
- What is a link building campaign & how to craft one
And so, our journey begins...
Link building is the process of building (also called earning or acquiring) backlinks. Backlinks are links from other websites to your website. Earning high-quality backlinks is a fundamental block of any successful off-page SEO strategy.
There are 3 types of backlinks:
- Editorial backlinks (also called natural backlinks). Let’s say you sell snowboards and one day you find a link to your Shopify store on Snowboarder. For example, in an article called “10 Family-owned Snowboard Gear and Equipment Online Stores we Love!”. You didn’t ask for this link, the magazine gave it to you because they thought your website was great and worth linking to. That’s an editorial backlink.
- Outreach backlinks (also called manual backlinks). Let’s use the Snowboarder example again. Only this time let’s say you’ve contacted the magazine and asked them to add a link to your website in their article. And they did. This is an outreach backlink - you literally reached out to them and asked for the backlink.
- Non-editorial backlinks (also called self-created backlinks). Now, let’s say you’ve contacted Snowboarder and you offered to write a guest post for their blog - for example, a guide to maintaining your equipment, or an article on the top 10 resorts in the Dolomites. Your only request? To add a link to your website in the article. They agreed. The backlink in this article would be a self-created backlink.
To sum up, editorial backlinks are backlinks you didn’t ask for, as opposed to outreach backlinks and non-editorial backlinks. Editorial backlinks have more SEO weight than both outreach backlinks and non-editorial backlinks. Learn more about the different types of links from Moz’s guide to link building.
- The referring website’s domain authority - The higher the referring website's domain authority is, the more SEO weight the backlink has.
- The referring website's domain age - The older the referring domain is, the more SEO weight the backlink has.
- The linking page’s authority - The higher the linking page’s authority is, the more powerful the backlink is.
- The total number of links (both inbound and outbound) on the linking page.
- The freshness of the backlink.
The relevance of the backlink - Backlinks from websites in your niche (or a similar niche) have more SEO weight than backlinks from websites in different niches. For example, if you sell snowboards, a backlink from Snowboarder has more SEO weight than a backlink from Vogue (even though both are high authority websites).
- The quality of the content on the linking page - Backlinks from pages with high-quality content have more SEO-weight than backlinks from pages with poor content and thin content pages.
- The backlink's anchor text - Backlink anchor text is used as a relevancy signal. A descriptive anchor text that contains keywords (e.g. "snowboard equipment store") has more SEO weight than a vague anchor text (e.g. "click here" or "view more"). However, over-optimized backlink anchor text can be considered a webspam signal.
- Search engines use links to discover new pages. Thus, acquiring backlinks to new product pages will help Google find and index them faster. Which means more sales opportunities - yay!
- Search engines use backlinks to determine how a website and its individual pages should rank on the SERPs. Note: When determining the rankings of a page, search engines take into account a number of factors including the number, the quality and the relevance of its backlinks. Thus, acquiring high-quality backlinks (from relevant websites with high DA scores) will improve your rankings. It will also drive more targeted traffic to your website, as well as help you build a strong and recognizable brand.
- Link building campaigns help you build valuable long-term partnerships with influencers in your niche which can benefit your business (and bottom line) in numerous ways. But more on this later...
The basics of link building for Shopify
There is just one rule of thumb here - build a natural link profile. This means:
- Don't pay for backlinks.
- Don't participate in link schemes.
- If you start a link building campaign, make sure to reach out to relevant websites with high domain metrics. Building a relevant backlink profile is paramount to your off-page SEO success (source: Moz).
- Create a diverse link profile, i.e. make sure that your backlinks are from different domains.
- Make sure that there are no broken links leading to your website (needless to say, search engines aren't fond of broken backlinks). Our Smart SEO can help you manage your broken backlinks - the app will scan your website and use one of the most powerful APIs in the world to identify all broken backlinks. Then, you'll be able to easily fix them.
Ultimately, Google looks for diversity, relevance, and quality in a backlink profile. Thus, building a natural link profile will have a positive impact on your rankings. It will also make your website more resistant to future Google updates.
A link building campaign is the process of strategically acquiring backlinks. To create a successful link building campaign, you must:
- Define what type of backlinks you need
- Set goals
- Choose the right link targets
- Find an incentive that would make your link targets share a link to your website
- Craft the right message
- Master the intricacies of good follow-up sequences
- Learn how to deal with negative replies
In this section, we take a closer look at each of these steps.
Step 1: Define what types of backlinks you need
To define what types of backlinks you need, you must first define why you need (or want) backlinks.
As a Shopify store owner, you want backlinks that will drive more targeted traffic to the pages that can have a direct impact on your bottom line. For example, your product pages and category pages, your “On Sale” page, etc. This is the obvious answer.
However, acquiring backlinks to other pages of your website will be just as beneficial. For example, earning high-quality backlinks to your homepage will increase your homepage authority which will have a positive impact on your website’s domain authority. And, since domain authority is a ranking factor, this will boost your rankings.
You can also use backlinks to increase your brand visibility (and brand awareness) and establish yourself as an authority in your niche - this can be achieved through guest blogging, for example. That being said, backlinks can also become an integral part of your customer acquisition strategy - the more visibility your brand has, the higher the chances are that potential buyers will find your website.
These are just a few examples. But you get the idea - answering why you need backlinks will help you define what types of backlinks you need (e.g. links to product and collection pages, links to your homepage or affiliates page, etc.).
Step 2: Set goals
Setting clear goals is crucial to measuring the success of your link building campaign. In addition, working towards specific goals will help you stay focused and organized.
- The goals of your link building campaign must be related to your business objectives. In other words, achieving the goals of your link building campaign should have a positive impact on your overall business growth.
- Set quarterly goals. This will make it easier for you to stay on top of your link building campaign and keep track of your progress. It will also establish accountability and ensure sustainable growth.
- When creating a list of tasks that must be completed (in order for the goals to be achieved) it is a good practice to use the Agile method, i.e. create a bunch of smaller tasks with measurable results instead of one (or a few) huge ambiguous tasks. In fact, the more specific the tasks are, the better. Bite-sized tasks are easier to complete and create a motivational sense of achievement. Thus, they increase productivity and cultivate a culture that celebrates the everyday business victories - even the small ones :)
Once you’ve created a list of goals, you need to prioritize them and come up with an action plan (on how to achieve them). For better results, you can use a project management tool like Trello or Monday.
Trello allows you to easily track your projects. There are task cards and boards (Backlog, To Do, Doing, Done, Archive).
You can add details (members, due date, description) to each card. You can also create a checklist for each card (this way you can easily track the progress of each task) and add comments (which makes collaboration much easier). Once a task is completed, you can use the drag-and-drop feature and move it to a different list. For example, from “Doing” to “Done”.
Trello has a free plan and two commercial plans. Pricing starts from $9.99/month. Compare Trello’s pricing plans
Monday is a powerful platform that adjusts to your business needs, as well as to the needs of each member on your team. You can literally manage everything with it: agile workflows, team projects, recruitment processes, production orders, and more. Learn more about Monday's features
The best part? Pricing is extremely flexible. It starts from $24/month and there are plenty of options available. Find the plan that meets your needs
Step 3: Choose your link targets
Let’s say you sell craft beers online - you offer a wide selection of beers from all over the world, as well as an amazing collection of beer accessories (coasters, glasses, bottle openers, keychains, etc.). Your target customers are beer enthusiasts (if you follow the B2C model) and/or bar owners (if it is a B2B situation).
To define your link targets, you need to answer two questions:
- What type of content are your customers interested in?
- What type of bloggers and influencers create/post such content?
First, create a list of topics your customers would be interested in. In the context of our example, here are a few topics that your customers would like to know more about:
- Beer festivals (e.g. Oktoberfest in Germany, Altausseer Bierzelt in Austria, PINT Bokbier Festival in the Netherlands, etc.)
- Beer bars in different cities (e.g. Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Amsterdam, etc.)
- Brewing techniques and intricacies
- Food pairings, i.e. what type of food goes well with a specific beer style (e.g. ale, IPA, stout, etc.)
These are just a few examples. My advice is - take your time and create a long and detailed list of topics.
Next, ask yourself who creates/posts/shares such content online. My guess is beer bloggers, food bloggers, travel bloggers, lifestyle bloggers. These are your potential link targets.
But how (and where) do you find such bloggers and influencers? Influencer marketing is a broad topic which we’ll discuss in another article. For now, here are two tools that can help you find and research influencers: BuzzSumo and BuzzStream.
Among other things, BuzzSumo helps you find the right influencers to collaborate with and monitor your brand mentions. The tool can also help you optimize your influencer strategy, content strategy (content discovery and research), and more.
Pricing starts from $79/month (if you pay for the whole year). See all pricing plans
BuzzStream is another great tool you can use to research influencers and find collaboration opportunities. You can get each influencer’s contact information, social profiles, as well as their social and website metrics. Basically, you get a full picture of the influencer’s online footprint (including engagement and activity levels). What is more, you can easily create prospect lists and add the most relevant influencers to your database. Learn more about BuzzStream’s features or read Brian Dean's detailed review of the app.
BuzzStream’s pricing starts from $24/month. Compare plans
Once you’ve created a list of all your link prospects, you need to prioritize them by domain metrics, social authority, and relevance.
You can easily prioritize your link prospects directly within BuzzStream - the tool allows you to prioritize your prospects by DA, relevance, number of followers (on relevant social media channels), etc. But if you’re looking for a free alternative, you can create a simple Excel/Google Sheet spreadsheet (note that the process is not as sophisticated and will require a lot more effort on your side).
For example, if you’re targeting Instagram and YouTube influencers, your Excel/Google Sheet table can look something like this:
Fill in the names of your link targets in the “Link target” column.
Add links to each influencer’s website in the “Website” column. Fill in each website’s domain authority score in the “DA” column (if you want to, you can add a “Domain age” column as well). You can use BuzzStream or MozBar to get the domain authority scores of your link targets’ websites. (Note that both options are paid. SEOquake is a good free alternative.)
Once you have filled in the DA scores of your link targets’ websites, sort them from highest to lowest. Define an absolute minimum for the DA score you wouldn’t go under (e.g. “I won’t contact people whose websites have DA scores lower than 50”). Remove all websites with DA scores lower than 50 from your list.
In the “Instagram account” column add a link to each influencer’s Instagram account. Fill in the number of Instagram followers each influencer has in the “Instagram followers” column. Define a number you wouldn’t go under (e.g. “I won’t contact people who have less than 1000 followers on Instagram”). Sort the numbers from highest to lowest. Cross all influencers who have less than 1000 Instagram followers off your list. Repeat the process for the “YouTube channel” column.
The final step is to prioritize your link targets by relevance. To do this, ask yourself the following question for each potential link target on your list: "What does this person do? How closely related to my product is it?" For example, in the context of the craft beer online store, a blogger who writes specifically about beer, beer brewing, etc. is a more suitable (i.e. relevant) link target than a blogger who writes about wine, or food. To present this data in the table, you can come up with a 1-3 scale with 1 being “Not relevant” (in a different niche), 2 - “Relatively relevant” (in a similar niche), and 3 - “Extremely relevant” (in the same niche). In this case, the beer blogger would get a score of 3 out of 3, the food/wine blogger would get a score of 2 out of 3, and a blogger who writes about something completely unrelated (or vaguely related) to beer (e.g. a travel blogger, or a lifestyle blogger) would get a score of 1 out of 3.
Once you've completed these steps, you will have a list of relevant link targets who have high social authority and high domain metrics. So, how do you get them to link back to your website? By offering them something amazing they can't say "No" to.
Step 4: Find the perfect incentive
The incentive is something you offer the influencers in exchange for a link to your website. It can be anything from a great piece of content, to a huge discount or even complementary products. You can also combine affiliate marketing with influencer marketing, i.e. offer them a percentage of every sale made by a customer they drove to your website. Again, this is a broad topic which we'll discuss at length in another article.
Here's what you need to remember for now: to make the most of collaboration opportunities, you need to build valuable long-term relationships with the influencers you contact. In other words, don't focus on short-term benefits, such as getting an influencer to share one photo of your product (with a single link) on their Instagram account. Instead, focus on building long-term partnerships and turn them into brand ambassadors. And this starts with your outreach email.
Step 5: Send the perfect email
Efficient outreach is all about building valuable long-lasting partnerships. Simply put, your goal is to establish a business to business connection by starting a real human to human conversation.
- You’re reaching out to a real person. So, start a real conversation. Be genuine. Make sure your email feels natural and your tone is friendly. Do not write vague or generic emails - do your research and tailor your message to each influencer.
- Introduce yourself - who you are, what you do, how long you've been running your business, etc.
- Be straightforward. Give details. Explain exactly what you want, i.e. a link, a blog post, an Instagram post, a YouTube tutorial, a review, etc. Be as specific as possible. For example, if you’re asking for an Instagram post, specify whether you want the influencer to take a photo themselves, or share one of your product photos. Explain what they’d get in return.
- Customize the content of the email depending on the action you want the link prospect to take. For example, if you’re asking them to share a link to your website, you can write a shorter email without going into too much detail. But if you’re asking them to take a photo of your product and share the link with the photo, or to write a blog post about your product and include cool photos and a review, you need to write a longer and more personalized email.
- Encourage your link targets to ask questions and make sure to answer all of them - this will give you credibility, as well as help you establish a stronger connection. It will also increase your chances of getting a reply.
- Create a professional email signature - include your name, website URL, work-related social media profiles, and email address. In this detailed email outreach study, Brian Dean (Backlinko) and Michael Geneles (Pitchbox) found out that “linking to social profiles in email signatures may result in better response rates. Twitter was correlated with an 8.2% increase, LinkedIn an 11.5% increase, and Instagram a 23.4% increase.”
- Last but not least, do not use a template. Influencers get dozens of template emails on a daily basis... they can tell one from a mile away. So, sending a template email might save you time, but it won't go a long way.
Personalizing your outreach emails is the secret ingredient to a successful link building campaign. In numbers:
- Personalized outreach emails get 32.7% more replies than generic outreach emails.
- Personalized subject lines boost response rates by 30.5%. Note that longer subject lines (specifically, subject lines between 36-50 characters) get the best response rates.
Simply put, personalization helps you stand out in someone’s crowded inbox. Personalizing your emails makes them more engaging, i.e. it makes them more effective. So, here are a few email personalization tips:
- Write a compelling subject line. If appropriate, include a relevant hashtag or something specific to the influencer you’re contacting (such as brand name, Instagram account name, etc.). Avoid using words like “link request” or “link exchange” - this is a one-way ticket to someone’s spam box.
- Use the influencer’s name - this is a no-brainer.
- Mention something specific about the influencer’s work or mission in the email. For example, if you’re contacting Andrea Hannemann (or @earthyandy), you can mention that you love her food and exercise tips. You can also mention that you admire her philosophy and can't wait to hear more about her upcoming projects. Tip: If the influencer has a website, check the "About" page to learn more about their interests.
- Check the influencer’s recent posts - if suitable, mention something that impressed you.
- Use a tool - BuzzStream has great email personalization features. You can segment your link targets, create a custom template for your campaign, or choose a ready-made template, personalize your message based on conversation history, notes, the influencer’s recent posts, and more. You can also set a specific time to send you emails - this way, you can make sure that your message lands in the right influencer’s inbox at the right time! Learn more
To sum up, efficient outreach can be described in three words: “Make it personal!” But personalization doesn’t stop at that first outreach email - good business relationships, just like good friendships, are nurtured through continuous caring conversations. Which brings us to our next point...
Step 6: Master the intricacies of good follow-up sequences
Why following up on your outreach emails is important?
According to the detailed email outreach study conducted by Backlinko and Pitchbox (quoted above), over 90% of outreach emails are ignored. To be exact, only 8.5% of outreach emails receive a response. Not a promising statistic, I know.
However, following up on your outreach emails can significantly improve your response rate. In fact, sending just one follow-up email can “boost replies by 65.8%” and reaching out to multiple influencers multiple times can “boost response rates by up to 160%”.
What does this mean?
Аlways send follow-up emails to the influencers that don’t reply to your initial outreach email - you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
What makes a follow-up email effective?
It is simple - don’t be pushy. As Brian Dean has stated - annoying follow-ups can damage relationships and lead do spam complaints. So, here are a few tips that can help you write an effective follow-up email:
- Don’t copy and paste your initial outreach email - this is essential! Nothing screams “automated email” or “spam” louder than two identical emails. Instead...
- Try to provide additional information and give context to your previous email - tell a story, maybe tell a bit more about what you do, how you do it and why you do it.
- Highlight (in a non-obvious way!) how collaborating with you could benefit the influencer.
- Keep things organized. Organization is key to efficient outreach and good follow-up sequences. If you don’t keep track of your communication, you might end up requesting a link from someone who has already linked to you. Not good. BuzzStream can help you stay on top of all your conversations - you can save emails and tweets, automate your follow-up emails and set follow-up reminders. Learn more
Keep in mind that, when reaching out to people, more often than not you’ll hear “No” instead of “Yes”. So, before we wrap things up, let's see how you can deal with negative replies.
Step 7: Learn how to deal with negative replies [3 actionable tips]
- First and foremost, always reply. Be polite, respectful, and keep a professional tone.
- Ask a ton of questions - find out why the influencer didn’t want to collaborate and take notes. Try to learn from negative feedback and use the insights in the future.
- Try to make the best of a bad situation. Ask yourself: What did the influencer say “No” to? Did you ask for something big and time-consuming (such as an editorial piece of content like an article, a review, or a YouTube tutorial)? If this is the case, you can ask for something smaller that takes a few minutes (such as a Tweet or a Facebook post). Note that this is a viable option only if the influencer specifically mentioned that they admire your work or like your products, but don’t have the time to create an editorial piece of content about your brand. In this case, you can also offer to write a guest post for their blog - you get the exposure (and the backlink) you need, and the influencer spends little to no time on the post. It’s a win-win!
We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the article. We’ve walked a steep trail from the base camp (what is link building, types of backlinks, and the basics of link building for Shopify) to the snow-capped peaks of link building campaigns. Here are a few important takeaways:
- Set clear goals for your link building campaign
- Identify the right collaboration opportunities - reach out to relevant influencers with high social authority/website metrics
- Send personalized outreach emails (and always follow-up on them)
- Build a natural link profile (don't pay for backlinks, don't participate in link schemes, etc.)
Now, it’s time to make yourself a cup of tea, take a break, and enjoy the view. For this is just the beginning of a long and exciting journey on the paths of link building and off-page SEO. Next, we'll talk about the link building techniques that work great in 2021 and the best link building tools out there. So, stay tuned for our upcoming adventures!
If you have further questions, or need technical assistance, we’re here to help, guide, and support. Just leave a comment below.