In case you’ve been under a rock, the word is out: you can do everything right in terms of your on-site SEO efforts, but the job is only partially done if your site isn’t linked to from other credible, relevant sites.

As Page One Power’s Jon Ball noted at this year’s SES, getting link juice for e-commerce sites is a tough business because “nobody wants to link to a page full of products.” Indeed, you have to get creative – invested, even – to get links from credible sources like .orgs, .edus, news publications, blog sites, message boards, etc. But the reward is great, as links from sites like these always have and probably always will add instant credibility to a website.

Of course, there are companies & agencies out there that will always try to game the system (like the firm JCPenney used in their notorious link-building campaign a year ago). Clearly, somebody led JCPenney down the wrong path, and as a result the retailer ended up in Google’s doghouse.

Deceptive practices concocted for the sole purpose of linking back to a corporate site or sites are increasingly getting sniffed out and kiboshed by the engines because, in the end, they offer no value to users. Taken a step further, “black hat” strategies like this actually ruin the search process for users, preventing them from finding what they need.

It’s All About ZMOT
Last fall, Google’s Jim Lecinski introduced an innovative marketing concept called the Zero Moment of Truth, or ZMOT. For almost a decade now, marketers have been acquainted with First and Second Moments of Truth, conceived by Procter & Gamble to identify the points in which a consumer makes a choice to pick one product over another (First) and then uses that product (Second).

Acknowledging the pervasive nature of today’s Internet—you can email or post to Facebook just about anywhere on the planet—Lecinski identified another Moment of Truth, Zero, when consumers (data from a 2011 Shopper Sciences study indicates some 84% of them) regularly engage in “pre-shopping activities” like online comparison shopping, posting questions on Facebook or in forums, watching Youtube videos, checking out relevant blog posts, and even reading detailed product descriptions before ever visiting a brick and mortar location.

More than ever before, consumers do their homework before the First Moment of Truth takes place, and philosophically, any link-building strategy needs to factor in this reality. Channel your inner ZMOT and find answers to this simple, two-pronged question:

Who are our customers, and what do they need?

If you know who your customers are and what they need, you can go a long way toward identifying the websites, blogs, and social spheres that need to be integral parts of your link building efforts. In ZMOT terms, think of it this way: If the average consumer does in fact consult 10.4 different sources like the Shopper Sciences study indicates, where on the Web do you need to be in order to be a valid, contributing part of the decision-making process?

And make no mistake, a strategy needs to be in play here – you can’t just visit a message board or Facebook page and start randomly throwing around links to your website like candy at a Christmas parade.

Be strategic
Say you own a small store that sells running shoes. Engage (don’t pay) bloggers and other key social influencers in conversations so that you stay on their radar (social networking, anyone?) when the topic of where to find a good pair of running shoes comes up.

Join local online communities that are populated with potential customers (think: running groups), but don’t treat them like customers. Get to know them, interact with them, build trust, and if you do share links to your site, make sure they point to a relevant pages.

For example, if the forum topic is “What are some good, inexpensive options for cross-training shoes?” offer some genuine insight or tips and if the opportunity presents itself, link to the page on your site that actually displays inexpensive cross-training shoe options, not some other page users have to navigate from before finding shoes.

Focus on building solid, sincere relationships first. The links will naturally follow.

Joseph K. Hall
VP, Content Marketing

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