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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This post was written by downtownecommerce_admin

  • Nice. Excellent way to explain forum posting and be clear that it’s not simply about spamming links with every junk post. Adding value is not an option but absolutely necessary if forums are going to bring any value to your SEO efforts.

  • Minchala

    The non-linked press mentions angle is genius. Good stuff, Don. Any recommendations for striking while the iron’s hot for new press mentions? Would your queries (either in Goog or in Link Prospector) change at all? Process change? Think either a new product release or maybe a partnership announcement where big company is using your stuff…

  • Thanks for the comment, Dave. For new press mentions, keep in mind that the synchronicity only comes into play if the rubric says so. I wouldn’t force it. In cases when the press hit had no link in it, there is almost always an opportunity to offer more education or clarity. No change to the process or queries really, because keeping an eye on these things is what it’s all about.

  • Smart stuff Donny, it reminds me of the talk Will Reynolds of Seer Interactive gave at MozCon this year – which was basically, stop building links, nobody cares about them, what they care about is revenue!

  • Love this post, probably the best thing I’ve read in the last month.

  • Thanks, Phil. Wil’s RCS is what we should all aspire to do.

  • Thanks Ross. I’ve got more in the tank, just taking it one useful post at a time so they are done right.

  • Great post, communities and forums are a great place to target if you’re an eCom site but as you rightly say admins are generally very hot on to stop obvious spam.

    One tactic I have found a lot of success with is to monitor the web for mentions of you brand name or even links to your site on these community hubs and when somebody drops your name try to get involved in the conversation quickly. I’ve found that this works really well weather the initial mention be positive or negative because you can start to answer people’s questions and add value to the discussion either way.

  • Exactly, Gaz. I use Trackur to track these mentions. Google Alerts works too, but I’ve found them to come a bit late at times. This is an overlap of ORM procedures I already had in place. Thanks for the comment!

  • Don.. any thoughts on scaling something like this? In terms of getting the desired affect of those types of targeted visits?

  • Hey Tom, I have been able to scale, but only because of the initial prospecting. With the rubric I was able to take a list of 1600+ prospects and narrow them down to around 400. Once qualified, each one was scored an overall 3 or higher, so I had no problem placing informative links over the month. What is important to note here, is the on-page content was what converted the traffic to sales. If you wanted to scale this method, I’d say reddit is likely your best bet. Just tread lightly on there, the reddit community can smell a scheme and that’s the last thing you want on your hands. Using this method, I got 5500 visits in one day from reddit.. but zero sales.

  • Hey thanks, Tim! Exactly, adding value is NOT optional!

  • Thanks Don!.. I was thinking more along the lines of sponsoring forum ambassadors that would do this for me in more of a passive sense. They just have a link in their signature. I’m sure this already goes on..

  • That is a smart move Tom, if you can pull it off. I don’t like to give up control on stuff like this because a bad outcome can come back on me. This particular client is a young brand and the last thing we need is a loose cannon. Sponsored ambassadors have but me in a bad spot before, so I can’t vouch for doing so here. If I were to consider using them, they’d have to be knowledgeable enough about the products and the brand’s message. I suppose I could make an if this/then else flowchart with canned answers like many customer service representatives use to prevent any loose cannons, but then the personal touch/relationship is lost, IMHO.

  • This is no joke. As an ecomm guy, if I may add, when you’re selling niche products the forum opportunities lessen, but the impact is bigger. The community is passionate and can take away more from your posts than just a purchased product. They may all have sites of their own, so I try to throw in our content portals too (as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the transaction path).

    I love “forum marketing” in a niche ecommerce vertical.

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  • Really good to know all these. Thanks for the info.

  • Salmaan Aslam

    Great stuff Don. It was amazing that the 3rd source sent only 179 visitors. What do you do when you identify a traffic source like this with such high conversions? Media Buy? or keep on doing what you are doing?

  • Se?n

    Genius post that discusses one of the most important SEO skills out there, patience.

    Great work Don, this post shows that this technique can muster decent results if you’re willing to do things properly.

  • Spook SEO

    I totally agree with Jason and Steph that taking quality links for eCommerce sites can be among the most difficult challenges one can face. Anyways, I tend to agree with you that by supporting another user’s statement helps us build a relationship, and that is really what link building is when we boil it down.