Forum Participation Rubric for Ecommerce Link Building

As mentioned before by Jason Acidre and Steph Chang, catching quality links for eCommerce sites can be among the most difficult challenges one can face in this game. Scott Cowley wrote about the route that he took to get sales conversions instead of links to affect rankings. Smart thinking, and if you are like me, you investigated where to place links that result in sales. I’ve found a most valuable resource for finding these opportunities and a scale by which to put them into tiers of quality.

Getting links for converting traffic isn’t difficult if you know where to look. Sometimes it’s simply where competitors are not looking. Where do I look? Forums, yes forums and communities. I don’t mean to spam and “scale” this method. That is far from the point of this exercise. If it is quantity of links you’re looking for, look elsewhere. Here, the value is found in the traffic and sales a link placed on a forum can generate. You should be advised with common sense to never spam a forum because you’ll never last long if you do. Forum moderators are wise to what you are doing; they are likely not going to tolerate flagrant, shameless plugs for your products. As always, you need to add value!

But how can we ensure we participate in online discussions and ensure that the discussion contributes to the discussion? Successful, collaborative online discussions are directly linked to assessment; in other words, to encourage good online discussions, qualify them. How? I use a rubric that I created. The idea is simple: the rubric helps you determine what is ideal, and then is used to grade the prospects according to these ideals. Use this rubric, or create your own, so you can better participate in forums.

To generate a list of prospects, I use the best tool for the job: Link Prospector from Citation Labs. For the most part, I use the broadest key phrases for the initial query, and then narrow the choices by inclusion/exclusion of keywords in the title, page description or domain name using filters once my prospects are gleaned. (Note: your mileage may vary using this method, but it is a good starting point from a potentially overwhelming list of prospects).

Now that you have your set of prospects, use the rubric to qualify the best ones to try participating in the conversation. One note to also consider is the voice you choose to participate with in the conversations. This guide for ethics of using personae from Outspoken Media is one of the best references for this. Please remain consistent, and do not deviate from your initially chosen voice. Having more than one shill in the town square can lead to an instant turn-off for readers/other participants and/or have moderators drop the hammer on you.
Once you’ve gotten to this stage, here’s where the real work comes onto play. From my experience, this is where most of my peers give in and lose out on the passive sales I collect every month. Like anything else, follow through and finish is everything in this business. You must read and comprehend the conversation before you jump into one. Sometimes you’ll find it’s best not to begin with a link. You may need to drive the conversation to get participants to ask your opinion. You may need to feel out the community before they’ll accept you as a reliable source of information they want



Here is the legend for qualifiers on the left of the rubric:

Timely: I like to try and stay current, as sales opportunities can go from hot to cold very quickly. Online conversations can change focus just as instantly. As an online retail salesman, you must be ubiquitous on “the showroom”. Which any good salesman knows is everywhere he is. You can use this method for current press hits as well.

Collaborative: Agree or disagree, supporting another user’s statement helps you build a relationship, and that’s what link building really is when you boil it down. Keep in mind, the first few interactions you make will most likely not be a good time to drop a link. This is a situation that calls for patience and being genuine in your responses. Remember, this is not about ranking sites and scaling the shit out of a process, this is about adding value to a community.

Education: This is most likely the best facet of this approach. Every product, no matter how much like other products it may be, has unique features, advantages and benefits. These are the selling points of your product over others. Your on-site content should communicate these FAB’s and offer the G, which stands for Grabber (ask for the sale, without asking).

Clarity: This is one of my most common 4’s on the scale. Having an opportunity to address a misprint or correct an opinion formed by the reader is a blessing in disguise. This is also where it pays to have assessed all of your press mentions and link profile. Many times, I have found opportunities to place links to other sites that already have links that generate sales. BOO-YAH! Some press hits from 2 years ago had no inbound links in the body, but after giving a clarifying statement (with an informational page link) they still bring in significant monthly sales.

These results were incredible, but only after careful planning and expert execution. Here is a snapshot of what a monthly sales report can look like when you implement forum participation into your traffic strategy.


Some of the lowest traffic sources can bring consistent sales because of the quality of that traffic. Once curated, social media promotion of these links can amplify the effect when applied at the right time. I hope this helps you on your quest to be a Joseph Decreaux of eCommerce.


We are honored to have the above contribution from a peer that we highly respect, Donny Rhoades. Beyond being from our home state Kentucky, Donny Rhoades has a strong affinity for one of our most revered fellow Kentuckians, Hunter S. Thompson. Don Rhoades is a search marketing savant and eCommerce consultant since 2006. He currently lives in Raleigh, NC and works as a freelance SEO consultant. Follow him on Twitter: @TheGonzoSEO

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