by Daniel Sim

If you want to start at the very start of Search Engine Optimization, check out our beginner’s guide.

Either way, you’ve probably heard there's a great deal you can do “on-page” to improve your ranking: make your pages load faster, stuff them with the perfect keywords, use the right heading tags in the right places…That’s exactly what Plug in SEO will help you get on top of: whether you’re starting out with our free plan or getting suck into the nitty-gritty details with Plug in SEO Plus, we’ll help you prioritize the right improvements to really boost your search ranking.

What seems to come a little less easy to many merchants and marketers is the slightly trickier “off-page” side of things.

What is Off-Page SEO and why does it matter?

The quality of your onsite content and its technical setup is obviously very important. But having well-optimized pages is only one part of the puzzle. Google cares about you and your very special store, but they also care about what the rest of the world thinks of it. How do they judge that? By following links back from external sources to your pages.

So, the mission should you choose to accept it, is to get your brand and your content off your perfectly polished web store frontage and out there into the real world, into the places your potential customers live online, in through their eyeballs and lodged in their brains.

In a broad sense, SEO types like to call this process “link building”: actively working to create links back to your store, your collections, your products and your content from the wider web. The internet is a big place and, on one hand, it might seem like there are so many options it’s hard to choose where to start. But, on the other hand, it also means there’s unquestionably a niche community of folks interested in your products out there. Somewhere. You just have to track them down.

Links: Quality vs Quantity

It might seem like getting any backlinks at all is a win but search engines aren’t quite that easy to please. It’s important to make sure those links are from high- quality sites. The same way a search engine judges the relevance of your on-site content, it looks at and scores all of the rest of the net. If you’re linked from the front page of the New York Times, it gives you a bigger boost than the link in the signature of your forum posts. But you don’t need to aim quite that high - a local fashion influencer linking to your boutique or a specialist podcaster recommending your products can also produce results.

In the past, Search Engine Optimizers might have built a portfolio of thousands of links from spammy paid placements, but the risk of search penalties means avoiding such services is a more sensible choice these days. If you can't just pay some mysterious link farm to create those links, what options do you have? Next up, we'll cover five of our favorite strategies for earning backlinks. 

Idea 1: Social / Sharable Content

We’re sure you don’t need reminding that having an active social media presence is a central part of most webshops’ basic marketing strategy. A properly set up and well-engaged-with presence on relevant channels is important in establishing your credibility and visibility.

At the same time, you don’t want to be shouting into the void. The content you do create and distribute through your channels should be valuable to your audience, as engaging/interactive as you can spin it and (we cross our fingers tightly for you) sharable. How you incentivize that sharability is always tricky and going viral is not as easy as it sounds. Think of the perfect fashion infographic spreading out all over Pinterest. Or that Ultimate Guide to Your Flagship Product being endlessly reposted to your most relevant subreddit.

Idea 2: Guest Posts

Getting your content and your brand onto other, reputable sites can be as easy as just asking. Start with some research. What industry/hobby/fashion/local blogs might be interested in your store, your products and, perhaps even more importantly, your story. Make a list of places online you would like to be featured and reach out to those blog editors.

If you’ve already got your content machine up and running, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to create a content piece that can resonate with their audience and yours'. We know from experience that creating tons of quality content is hard work and it's probably a huge relief if you're offering to contribute your hard work and share your in-depth expertise to another blogger's audience.

Idea 3: Reviews

Collecting reviews on your site is super important for social proof and driving conversions, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have some reviews out there in the wider web. Find ways to incentivize your shoppers to drop you some love on their personal blogs, social media streams, on forums and to their personal networks overall. You could contact them with an automated follow-up email and offer a discount on their next purchase if they send in a link to their review. 

Idea 4: Influencers

There are many strategies for getting influencers onboard with your Shopify store, be they local micro-influencers or massive Youtube stars. Test the water with smaller, local figures who won't ask for the megabucks. Perhaps offer them free products or a super generous discount code. You could even try a revenue sharing scheme where they get a cut of all sales made including a tailored promo code. Wherever you can, provide them value and resources to help their personal brand promotion and they'll be happy to boost your business in return.

If you're just getting started, why not just mention a few amazing influencers anyway, how amazing they are and how much they would theoretically love your product? Then drop them an outreach email that you’re giving them free publicity.

Idea 5: PR / Media

Especially when you’ve grown some buzz and early successes, it might not be so tricky to grab a piece of the traditional media pie. Again, it's a case of building relationships and perhaps starting small. Think of what it is that sets your business apart from the competition. What's interesting in your brand that might appeal to a journalist? First, search in your personal network for any contacts you might have. If you're coming up short, get online and browse some outlets. See someone writing about town development in your neighborhood? Tell them how your store is contributing. Strongly disagree with a piece about small businesses online? Drop an email to the author and offer to be quoted in their next followup.

Technicalities - What to keep in mind

Follow / no-follow links

Not all links are created equal. Ask that anyone linking to you doesn't use a no-follow link. This way, search engines receive the message loud and clear that this external site recommends your page. Especially if you're paying for a link, it should 100% be of the "follow" variety.

Anchor text

Again, to help search engine robots understand what it's being linked to, the actual text of the link is something to think a little about. It's much better to have a descriptive anchor link "handmade silk ties" / "upcycled midcentury furniture" / "the most useful shopify apps" rather than "click here" or "check it out" or "something else boring".

Landing pages

Where do you want those all-important visitors to end up? With organic / “natural” back links, you don’t have much choice. (Although you can reach out to the author if you’d like to try to adjust something.) When you are actively collaborating with a partner to link back to your store, you have a little more leeway to propose suitable destinations. If it’s a blog post specifically about your amazing silk ties, it would make a lot of sense to direct that traffic straight to your well-optimized silk tie collection page or the best seller the blog post is raving about.

If you’re really invested in making the collaboration work, you could create a specific landing page (including a special offer for those visitors in particular?). The volume of clicks through to your site through the link matters, but it’s also important that the visitors stick around and, ideally, take some action on your page. That way Mr Search Engine knows it’s a good link, with relevant content on the other end of the http tunnel.

Further Reading

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