Hackernoon logoA Guide to Link Building: How to Use Product Reviews to Increase Ranking by@pitashi

A Guide to Link Building: How to Use Product Reviews to Increase Ranking

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Jeff Solomon Hacker Noon profile picture

@pitashiJeff Solomon

SaaS and startup guy; currently working on markuphero.com. Previously founded Amplify.la & Velocify

Everyone knows that acquiring high-quality backlinks, from sites with better domain authority, is an essential component of any SEO strategy. A quick search on Google will return a ton of great strategies for this. It's also well known that getting your customers to write reviews on sites like G2 or Capterra or even Google Places can lead to a nice bump in traffic. But these two marketing approaches aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Well, they are, but they don't have to be.

The truth is, writing a product review might be the easiest way to get a backlink from a high ranking site that would otherwise ignore your request.

This article will walk you through a white-hat approach to getting backlinks from high-value websites by writing detailed product reviews. This strategy can be useful for just about any marketing professional but is particularly valuable for newcomers who are struggling to get links from high ranking websites.

Importance of Domain Authority

For some context, let's quickly review the function of domain authority. One of the key indicators of how well your SEO strategy is working is your domain authority. Google uses a proprietary formula to determine how authoritative your website is. This rating is a major factor in whether your website shows up in organic search results or not. And while Google doesn't publish your rating, several sites can give you a pretty good idea of where you stand. Most SEO professionals rely on popular Domain Rating (DR) calculations from either Ahrefs and Moz. And the primary factor that drives your DR is backlinks. But of course, not all backlinks are equal.

Generally speaking, backlinks from sites with higher DR will cause your domain rating to increase. To that end, finding effective ways to get backlinks from websites with significantly higher DR than yours is how you grow your organic search traffic.

Getting Links from High DR Sites is Challenging

Whether you are building a SaaS business, a service organization, a marketing company, or anything else, your domain authority starts at zero. But you need inbound links from sites that rank higher than yours to see your domain rating increase. It's a classic chick-and-egg scenario. And if you've already tried some link request outreach, you're probably gotten a lot of no's.

This isn't surprising because why would a site with a DR of 80 give a link to a site with a DR of 10? Even if you offer a link in return, the benefit is massively one-sided, for you. The key to getting links from sites with better domain rating than yours is to give them something equally valuable in return. Guest posts, expert quotes, and useful metrics are one approach that works. But you have something else you can give them right now that you might not realize — personalized product reviews.

Product Reviews are Valuable to Any Business

Regardless of the type of business, you are in, customer feedback and user reviews are highly coveted. That's why many businesses have marketing programs designed to solicit reviews from their users. However, product reviews don't exclusively live on platforms like G2, Capterra, and Google. Just search for your favorite product or service with the keyword "review" and you'll find independent and largely unsolicited blog post reviews by passionate users. You can do this too. And companies will almost certainly link back to your post regardless of your domain rating.

What Companies Should You Write Product Review Articles For

You already use a bunch of tools and services every day. If not Notion, then Evernote. If not Slack, then Microsoft Teams. If not Canva, then Figma. Some of these tools you love. Start there. Make a list of all the SaaS products, online services, and software apps you use frequently, especially those you pay for. Then use Ahrefs Site Explorer to lookup traffic and domain rating and rank the list. Notion, for example, ranks 2,775 with a DR of 87. That's quite strong.

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If this is your first attempt, start with a few products in the 60-70 DR range and choose companies that are a little less established, they'll be more likely to say yes. Be sure to check out the blogs of each site and get a sense of their content marketing strategy. Are they actively writing content and building their backlinks? If they have a high DR, they probably are doing similar activities to build their domain strength. Startups or pre-series A funded companies are also more likely to respond. It's going to be a lot easier to get to the right person in an organization if they are also trying to grow their organic search. More than likely the company will have a dedicated person or department for content marketing and link building.

To recap, look for software and services that:

  1. Focus on products you already know how to use or even pay for
  2. Choose companies with active blogs and thoughtful keyword researched titles
  3. Pick a business with a domain rating between 60-70 (for your first few, then go up from there)
  4. Find one or more people with the title content marketer, content manager, or similar on LinkedIn
  5. Look for startups or companies that are Series A funded or earlier

After you get a few of these done, you can reference your previous product review articles in future outreach efforts — it's going to be a lot easier after that.

Outreach Effort and Formulating the Pitch

Once you've identified a handful of companies that you can confidently write a detailed product review for, it's time to do outreach. There are a few approaches and best practices you might consider:

1. Write the Article, Send it To Them, and Ask for a Backlink

You'll probably have more luck if you make the effort to write the product review article first and ask for a link and maybe some social posting in return. This is a risk however because you're doing a lot of work upfront with no guaranteed result. And because the article is specific to that product or service, you can't pitch to another site if they say no.

Still, content is content; and just because they don't respond or say no at first, you can always go back and ask again once your site becomes more established. I'm still waiting for a yes on my Notion vs. Evernote article I wrote six months ago. But I still get value. My article is the 4th result on Google for search "Notion vs. Evernote".

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2. Pitch the Idea First and Ask for a Backlink After They Approve

As you get a few under your belt, you can switch your approach and write your article after they've said yes. As of writing this piece I've got a yes from Chargebee and Timedoctor, two high ranking SaaS products with extremely popular blogs.

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This approach guarantees a link back before you write the product review article. And you can create a pipeline of upcoming articles so you know exactly what you're working on next. And while you're going to want to still do keyword research to optimize your title and body, it's much less critical since the goal is to get a high-quality backlink but not necessarily get organic traffic from search. That said, you will get traffic from the link on their blog.

3. Ask for a Link in a Relevant Blog Post

When you reach out to your target companies, do some research ahead of time to figure out where they could best link to your article. This is a general rule of thumb for any backlinking outreach strategy. Give the target partners as little work as possible to add the backlink. Find a blog post and show them the specific block of text that contextually makes sense to link to your product review. Here's an example for one I recently did for Planable.

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Pro Tip: Don't forget to ask for social sharing. This is a no-skin-off-their-back ask that costs them almost nothing but can be very valuable for you. If they agree, but forget to do it, just post the article on your social channels and @mention them. They'll almost certainly like and re-share it.

What to Write in Your Product Review

Now comes the fun part, writing the article. If you chose a product you already know and love, this is going to be a piece of cake. This was very much the case for the Notion vs. Evernote article I did. I had been using Evernote for the better part of a decade and had recently switched to Notion. I knew both products well and I was able to point out some aspects of the tools that weren't generally common knowledge.

This is going to be important in your review. If the product or service you're targeting is already popular, then others have already written reviews. Unique content always works better so try to write about features and benefits that most people don't know, and especially aspects that aren't on the home page of their site already.

1. Focus on Features and Benefits

While your goal is getting a backlink, the article needs to be informative and valuable to readers. Take the stance that people reading your product review aren't current customers of the service. They're going to want to see how and why you use it. They want to know why it's better than competitors or alternatives. They want to be convinced, by a peer, that this product is something they should consider.

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You don't need to cover every last feature, show them the parts of the product you love, and tell them why it works. Include stats from your own experience if possible. And know that product reviews from users are often more trusted by consumers than the corporate website is. And in this case, your product review doesn't live on a review platform, it's on your blog, it's unsolicited by the company, and very authentic.

2. Be Authentic, Personal, and Point Out A Few Shortcomings

Of course, you want to write a positive review or the company is not going to get behind it. But be authentic and include a few things that could be improved. Incidentally, I frequently add a "would be nice" feature in my product reviews, and in more than one case the company ended up building that feature after reading my review.

Also, make the review personal. You aren't running a professional product review site. This article is your personal experience with the product or service and that's what potential users are interested in. So be yourself. Write as if you were passionately sharing with a friend or colleague how strongly you recommend the solution.

Bonus: After writing a review for one of my favorite Gmail and app management products, Shift, they were so excited about my experience they not only linked to my article but also wrote an entire case study on me!

3. Use Annotations to Showcase How You Use it

Your words will say a lot, but screenshots and annotations can help people understand your ideas quickly. Remember, this is a product review, people want to see the product in action not just pretty Unsplash images. Showcase important features and aspects of the solution that you want people to remember.

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And, don't forget, images get indexed by search engines too. More than 20% of traffic from google.com comes from image clicks. And annotated images are more likely to get noticed as you can see from this example:

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4. Use Stats to Backup Your Opinions

Since you are writing about your personal experience, most of your commentary is going to be an opinion. And that's fine. But if you can back up your opinion with actual stats, that's even better. I like to use Frase.io to search for stats in other articles. As an example, if I was writing an article about a tool for product managers, I might include some stats about the role. A quick search for "product manager salary" returns a ton of data points from other blog posts.

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Be sure to cite any stats and try to link back to the original source even if you initially find the stat on another blog.

Conclusion

Just like any white hat backlinking strategy, the approach outlined in this article does take work. But it's straightforward, scalable, and is going to have a much higher success rate than just about anything else you try. You are creating real value for another company when you write a detailed review of their product or service. This is how you get a much higher-ranked site link back to your much lower-ranked site. In 4 months of testing this strategy here are the results:

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Writing product reviews as a way to get high DR links back to your blog is just one approach that I know works. But remember, you can't do everything, especially if you're small. You need to pick and choose the SEO strategies that are going to make an impact and that you are well suited to execute on — leave the rest for later. 

As HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan likes to say, more companies fail from overeating than starvation. If this concept resonates, give it a try. You're unlikely to be disappointed with the results.

Jeff Solomon Hacker Noon profile picture
by Jeff Solomon @pitashi. SaaS and startup guy; currently working on markuphero.com. Previously founded Amplify.la & VelocifyTry Markup Hero

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