How Entrepreneurs Can Beat Amazon at Organic Search
According to a recent Washington Post article, one company accounted for roughly half of all online retail sales as of 2018. Say it with me: Amazon. Unfortunately for smaller merchants, Amazon’s stranglehold on ecommerce is only getting tighter, thanks in large part to a simple yet remarkably effective search strategy.
Of course, Amazon has the budget to dominate paid search, display and shopping ads on Google. It casts an enormous net covering its vast keyword universe of product terms. The biggest problem for competitors, however, is that the ecommerce giant is dominating organic search as well. Amazon’s SEO is so good that you can basically count on the company being listed at or near the top of the search results for any product listed on its platform.
So, what is an entrepreneur to do?
Chasing a page 1 ranking.
There are hundreds of factors that go into a webpage’s search ranking, and you can’t control them all. Historically, Google’s algorithm has been powered by PageRank, which ultimately determined how important a webpage was. The algorithm prioritized pages based on the quantity and quality of links that were pointing to the webpages, which reflected the way scientists measured the “importance” of scientific papers. Links still play a key role in how pages are ranked today, meaning a solid backlink strategy is critical for any company seeking visibility online.
As the leader of a company with a long history in the SEO industry, I’ve seen time after time that quality trumps quantity when it comes to securing links. Moreover, in my experience, the companies that achieve the most SEO success are the ones that incorporate backlinking into their larger business strategy.
For example, if you look at the list of the top 500 domains, ranked by the number of linking root domains, you’ll find it’s heavily populated with news sites. That’s because reporting on the news tends to require linking to sources, and as news spreads, it drives more links. All of the largest social media sites are on the list, too, as users on those sites share content with one another via links. You’ll also notice that sites like Bit.ly, which base their entire business models on link-sharing platforms, garner a huge amount of links.
Many of these sites use “nofollow” tags for most links, usually because they don’t want to vouch for the quality of the linked content or to prevent paid links from influencing search results. These tags tell Google not to “follow” the links, or to pass any clout, rank or keyword relevance to the destination URL. However, even nofollow links can help improve a site’s rankings.
The bottom line is that entrepreneurs seeking to improve their company’s online visibility need to deploy a creative backlink strategy. Here are three approaches for doing just that:
1. Create useful content.
Creating content that other sites want to reference is arguably the most effective approach to securing quality links and improving your rankings. Useful content can take on a number of different forms. For example, one creative way is to hold a scholarship contest to secure .edu links, which typically carry more weight and clout than traditional links due to the authoritative nature of sites with the .edu domain name.
You could also create valuable onsite content such as blog posts or in-depth guides that show your expertise in a particular topic. Likewise, you can develop proprietary assets in the form of research or survey results and promote them to blogs, news sites and industry publications, which will want to link to them to bolster their own articles. A recent study on the relationship between human circadian rhythms and the visibility of social media posts was recently picked up by Harvard Business Review, for example, and could serve as a useful citation for others who write about such topics in the future. If you provide similarly valuable findings, and the site includes a link to your research, that can boost your rankings.
2. Reach out to resource pages.
Resource pages exist for the sole purpose of linking to outside resources, which makes them perfect link-building targets. It’s a popular strategy because as you build out some of the content mentioned in the first point, you can use it to catch publishers’ eyes and get the link to your resources included on their pages.
Take Scholastic’s teaching resource page, for example. Scholastic is a widely respected hub for all things learning, so it makes sense that teachers would turn to the organization for advice and trust its recommendations. This resource page naturally includes a handful of links to Scholastic’s own pages, but it also links out to more than a dozen other websites that all get third-party validation that their sites are valuable -- in addition to a well-placed link. Find resource pages in your industry to which you can submit your valuable content, and you can reap the same reward.
3. Fix broken links.
This tactic requires some detective work, but it’s a great way to build relationships with other content publishers. There are several tools and steps required to execute this strategy -- Ahrefs, for example, has gone through the process with successful results -- but there is a never-ending list of broken links on the web. No organization wants to have a broken link on its site, so if you can find these links and suggest a replacement (i.e., your site), that is fruitful for both parties.
To implement the tactic, you’ll want to find websites and pages relevant to your industry and the content you’ve produced. Next, search those sites for any links that are outdated or turn up 404 errors. When you find one, choose a piece of your own content -- or, if you can turn out a high-quality piece quickly, create one -- that would be a suitable substitute for the broken link. Finally, email the webmaster to point out the broken link and suggest your content as a replacement.
Amazon is an ecommerce behemoth -- a fact that is unlikely to change anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean that as an entrepreneur, you and your business can’t compete. With a strong, proactive backlink strategy, you can improve your website’s ranking and do business alongside industry giants.