Ecommerce Forum Link Building with Don Rhoades (Part 2)

by Jon Cooper

About 7 months ago Don Rhoades wrote up a fantastic post on Downtown Ecommerce about building links with forums for ecommerce websites. If you’re in Ecommerce and you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you do before you go any further.

A month or two ago I got a chance to meet up with Don in person, and I caught myself asking a few different questions that weren’t answered in his post. I realized that I didn’t want any of you guys to miss out on some of the answers he gave, so I decided to do a followup interview to that post right here on Point Blank SEO.

Before I start listing off the Q&A, I just want to say thanks to Don for taking the time to provide us with some profitable answers!


1) Can you explain a little bit about your forum participating rubric? Have you made any adaptations in the last 6 months?

Yeah, it is a method of using criteria to make decisions on participating in forums and online conversations that mention a need for your products. It is great for me because I’ll hem-haw around and let the opportunity slip past me if I think about it too much. The rubric makes it cold and indiscriminant; it makes the decision for me and tells me what persona I should to use.  I am making new ones all the time. It can be added to or revised; the rubric is fluid and agile depending on my needs.

forum rubric

2) Does this work in verticals where everyone’s selling the same products? how do you pitch your products when this is the case? Or am I missing the point?

It can, but you better be on top of it. I’ve used it in spaces where it might seem useless, but it’s all in your salesmanship and your product knowledge. About 15 years ago, I worked at a retail chain that sold consumer A/V electronics. This place was ugly, with ugly brown carpet and goofy radio ads. It was a dumpy discount house, but it was awesome! We were always positioned across from a Circuit City or Best Buy (or the West Coast favorite, now defunct Good Guys!). We always had people come in from across the street to shop us on our prices, and these were the sales I went after with the intention of closing. Our corporate buyers were smart enough to buy deep in the model above what the big box stores carried, and we listed them for the same price. If you came in looking for the Hitachi HDX-series, we had the HDXV-Cinema Series for the same price. All I had to do was explain the feature advantages of my model, ask what price their model was, and possibly offer them a few margin points off a TV and surround sound package deal. My close rate was in the high 80% and my margin was 21 out of a possible 30, the best in California. I made Sales Manager in 3 months and was assigned to every storein the Bay Area that was struggling to get it producing “Federal Way or Calackamas Numbers”. All this from reading the product sheets and knowing what features, advantages and benefits our models had over the cross-street rivals.

You can incorporate which is the best X product into your rubric and participate in those conversations. They are out there, and if you know your products you can make the case for them over a competitor. Or if your customer service is better, that might also be a selling point. Know your products and know your competition before you blaze this trail, it’s the only means of success.

3) What level of research/education do you undertake before starting each forum participation project?

It is just like the product sheets for HDTVs, you just need to know the product, but the pain points that make your product a necessity or luxury as well. Know your products and know your audience. I guess if your product only has one feature it is less to know, but why would someone buy your diabetic socks over a competitors? Is it your service? Is it because of the quality materials? The price point? Free shipping? What sets yours apart? I’ve found that the more you know about your product and what it offers consumers, the better. Don’t think because you’re the best known brand or the best selling store that you have won. At best, Coca-Cola only owns 42% of the market share of carbonated drinks. Even though that is several $ billion a year in sales, I would never settle for 42%. Never stop learning, but you can start as soon as you know what your product offers that others don’t.

4) Do you prospect to find forums or specific forum posts?

Absolutely! I use Citation Labs Link Prospector to find forums and then set up alerts for them on every monitoring tool I have. Trackur, BuzzStream, Google Alerts. I might not be able to participate right away, I might wait until a fresh conversation comes up. I also look to see if anyone has mentioned my brand in a positive light and I might mention their link if a similar question comes up later.

5) On average, how many replies do you give before dropping a link?

That really depends. These days I try to build the profile out and participate in the conversation as much as I can, even if it doesn’t directly apply to my client’s products. Building authority in those forums and communities has proven extremely valuable.

6) Can we see an example of one of the replies you wrote that’s driving a lot of sales?

Not without breaking the NDA, but I can tell you there are some that continually produce a few sales a month and there are those that flash in the pan. You can’t expect them to perform well, so weigh the time vs. return when as you continue.

7) What’s the best way to present the link in order to drive maximum sales? (i.e. link the URL, use anchor text, put it on a separate line, use in sentence, etc.)

I don’t do anchors in these. Ever. I do brand links if anything, but mostly just naked links. If I am confident in our product or shopping process or price, I will even include competitors in responses just to give the user the option to choose the best one. I wouldn’t recommend this for every client, but there are some that are hands down the best option.

8) What types of verticals does this seem to work best with?

High-end men’s’ and women’s’ fashion is a really good one. Electronic gadgets gets some play. Anything educational is an excellent space in which to use this technique. If you’re selling things online, it is likely you can leverage this technique.

9) What’s the criteria you have for a client or target site in order to do build links in this way?

Emerging brands are exciting like upstart boxers because they are young and pretty and they hit hard. They win just by being new on the scene. They usually have features that older competitors don’t have. I like anything that I can easily identify the edge over a large competitor. I like to take them from rookies to title contenders and then see them outgrow their long-standing rivals. These are the challenges for why we do digital marketing. In my experience, established brands are usually better served doing ORM and retaining customers. I’d imagine this method can be used that as well, although I have not tried it so be aware.  The best ones are the ones who understand this is not a scaling technique, and should not be used for ranking purposes.

10) What voice/persona has worked best for you? Can you give us examples since they differ per project/vertical?

It depends on the circumstances. The safest bet is to be the official company voice. This is generally my most used persona. I do subscribe to creating buyer personas for a project. These personas could end up being haters turned brand advocates or experts on a given site like reddit or askville or quora. Most of the time, I try to have a male and a female and varying cultural/social backgrounds based on the products popularity among demographics. This isn’t always applicable. The data you compile from any of the sources you use will help shape these personas. Once I create them, I populate a few social profiles because a lot of these thread systems either require or make it easier if you log in using a social network. Despite the title, Mike King’s prezo here doesn’t really tell you how to use the personas you create, but it is a damn good reference for creating them. Hubspot also has a good and simple guide for creating buyer personas.

Thanks again Don for answering these questions for everyone! You can check out his blog here

This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 129 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper is a link builder based out of Gainesville, FL. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter @PointBlankSEO.

Relax - I send out free emails full of
cutting edge link building tips.
  1. Julian Hooks says:

    Nice interview, my websites could definitely benefit from engaging with potential customers in forums. But as I’ve seen with being active in other social media communities, it’s ultra time consuming to add value to the conversations. Even writing this comment took a little time :p

  2. Hey Thanks for following up with me Jon, I hope this was helpful. Today I was asked if the rubric method could be used for link building outside of eCommerce. The answer is yes, but eCommerce sales are easy to track and show the value of using this method. Many other types of conversions aren’t as easy to show ROI like you can with dollars generated.

  3. Thanks for sharing this interview. I do agree that involving prospective customers through forums is a big factor for your business. However, this may require much of your time and effort as well. Just imagine the time you may have to spend just to engage with the other social media networks to promote your business.

    • Yes, this process is very time-consuming, but as seen in the original article, the revenue it generated justified that amount of time. I’ve had to hire people specifically for this technique. I can’t think of another method that I can rely upon to bring in sales the way that forum participation does. Social engagement is generally at a wider phase of the sales funnel, the forum folks already have their wallets out.

  4. Great interview! Thanks a lot Jon for introducing us/me to Don’s work. Don this is some really nice info, and I appreciate your reference to retail sales experience. I’ve been looking at ways to add to our e-commerce digital strategy, and this road map has already gotten some ideas flowing.

    • No sweat Jeremy,

      If you are limited on resources (time/manpower) try to find just a few sites that can pre-qualify your traffic and participate in those forums. See if you get some traffic from them. I’m still surprised at what sales forums can generate with proper planning.

  5. Greg says:

    The Gonzo is THE MAN!!! Fantastic post guys

  6. The first step in creating effective, actionable buyer personas is to interview the people you are targeting. Don’t fence them in — ask open-ended questions about what they like and what they want, their favorite social media hangouts and websites, and especially what they expect from your product or service. Once you have created an amalgam “character,” give them a name (e.g., Molly or Andrew). Then post their picture and description for your marketing and sales teams so they will be familiar to everyone. Some companies have one persona in mind — but having several is common.

  7. That chart has really helped! Thanks i’m going to have to start looking for more recent conversations. Most of the one’s that I “find” seem to be older but i guess I have to dig a little bit more.

  8. Uniecommerce says:

    Good data the chart was really helpful. Thanks for sharing the info.

  9. Great Interview with Don Rhoades Jon! I love the fact that Forum is always the key to success when promoting your ecommerce business.. Forum is really an effective way in link building and generating traffic and leads to your website, as long as you are engaging to other forum users in the right direction.

  10. gareth says:

    nice interview and great follow up but when i click the links to see the original article the website has been suspended – i don’t suppose you could ask for a copy and make available on your website

  11. Christopher says:

    Oooooh forum commenting, the necessary evil. So valuable, but so time consuming. I love the results, but cringe at the work I do to get them. Thanks for the insights offered in this interview. It should make the process a little more efficient and a little less painful for me. 🙂

Ecommerce Forum Link Building with Don Rhoades (Part 2) - Point Blank SEO