The best SEO tactics are the ones that are discovered by accident, like Lexan.  Last week, I stumbled upon a linkbuilding tactic so effective and simple that I felt compelled to share it here.  It’s called Groupon.

First off, linkbuilding is a painful SEO task.  It’s painful to sell it to clients.  It’s painful to do it.  And it’s even more painful to do it well.  So when you find an easy way to get the job done, well, you write a blog post about it and ruin it for everybody, right?  Here’s the story:

Switching Domains Generally Sucks
A company that shall remain nameless got their hands on a great one-word domain that had never been used before.  They decided to switch their well-aged, strange-named URL over.  They did all of the right things you need to do to make it easy for Google to figure out and the result…An instant 75% organic traffic drop:

The only thing the company did not do was get any links for the new domain.  Sure, they issued a press release about their rebranding, which very few quality sites picked up.  But every time I suggested they do some link acquisition tactics, they weren’t interested.  I guess they had a lot going on, what with the traffic drop and all.

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago.  I was checking their traffic and was surprised to see that their organic visits were starting to grow.  When I contacted the company and asked what they had been doing, they responded “Nothing…except a Groupon”.   That’s when it hit me.

Groupon syndicates out their deals to thousands of sites via their API.  The deals often contain links back to the merchant’s website.  Ipso facto, doing a Groupon can generate a lot of links.

To confirm my suspicions, I plotted the following graph showing referrals from Groupon against organic referrals from Google.  I stripped out any branded keyword referrals as well as any keywords that contained “groupon” to attempt to remove any effect the deal may have had on search behavior.  And here’s what I saw:

(The new Skitch sucks btw – click the image to see a big version)

After a summer of no SEO growth, the site did a Groupon in October.  Shortly after that, its rankings and organic visits started to grow.  Two weeks later they did another one and grew even more (+84%!).  Last week, they did another and grew further.  They are now averaging over 20% weekly organic growth.  Pretty cool.

Now before you go out and start telling everybody that they need to start doing Groupons, remember, this site’s old domain was doing ok SEO-wise.  So perhaps the reason why the Groupon links had such a dramatic effect was because the new domain just needed a little boost to get it going.  So a more established domain might not see the same effect.

That said, this got me thinking that there could be a big opportunity in generating links from Groupon if you could figure out a way to do Groupons profitably.  Even for those merchants that are not making money from Groupons, by adding in the linkbuilding benefit, the ROI might become positive.  Even better, what if you could figure out a way to do Groupons that got no redemptions?  You’d have a free linkbuilding program.

According to leading Groupon skeptic Rocky Agrawal, the best way to do a Groupon that gets no redemptions: “put lots of t&cs in … only valid on sundays between 8p.m. and 10 p.m. that will result in low purchases…i would also think that things like tourist stuff gets low redemptions, at least way i do them. bay area boat tour, bike tour, etc. i bought them in anticipation of visitors coming and not enough people have showed.”  Of course, Groupon likely polices this stuff pretty well, so good luck with that strategy.

Disclosure: I used to do SEO for a site that Groupon acquired.  I also bought some Groupon stock right before I published this as this is the kind of explosive news that will pop any volatile Internet stock 🙂

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36 Response Comments

  • Dave Shapiro  November 13, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Great find Andrew. Is there any seasonality at play here (in the first screenshot it appears the migration was in July) and/or do you think some of the increase can be due to just the nature of how Google treats 301s and migrations in general?

    • Andrew Shotland  November 13, 2012 at 11:12 am

      As far as I can tell, there were no seasonality issues. There has been a dramatic increase in rankings. For example, the one word of their domain has risen 40 positions in Google over the past month. And the rankings bumps occurred right after the Groupons ran.

      My best guess is that the new domain just wasn’t trusted enough and needed a few decent links to send the right signal to Google.

  • Kyle Alm  November 13, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Good find, I remember seeing links for a client who was running a Constant Contact campaign and getting links back for that and had a similar AHA moment.

  • Terry Reeves  November 13, 2012 at 10:24 am

    “if you could figure out a way to do Groupons that got no redemptions? You’d have a free linkbuilding program”

    Spoken like a true SEO professional.

    I have worked with a few local businesses that have used Groupon. All of them said they would never do it again. Not for lack of response. The response was great, it was the added work at the reduced profit that sucker punched the businesses.

    Some friendly advice. If you are a local moving company, don’t do a Groupon. Trust me. It may put you out of business or physically break your back!

  • Michael  November 13, 2012 at 10:56 am

    I love discoveries like this. Now to find a business/domain to test it on.

  • Andrew Shotland  November 13, 2012 at 11:02 am


    This client has been running these Groupons profitably. That said, they are using Groupon Goods so they don’t have any issues with too many people showing up at the store and overwhelming the staff.

  • Justin Sous  November 13, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Cool study, Andrew. I have a few clients who have powerful domains that just don’t rank like they should be, so trying something like this might make them “pop”. I’ll let you know if I see similar results.

    • Andrew Shotland  November 13, 2012 at 1:55 pm

      Definitely keep us in the loop Justin

  • Jim Jackson  November 13, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    I own a car detailing company in S Fl. We tried Groupon & Living Social last year. We did primarily to generate revenue, it didn’t work; but in both cases, we saw a surge in referral traffic & organic traffic for some time after that (until a domain change). We also saw increases in email list sign ups & brand awareness.

    We are doing another one towards the end of the year, primarily for promotional purposes, not ROI.

    • Andrew Shotland  November 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm

      Sorry to hear about the domain change Jim! 🙂

  • w jno-baptiste  November 14, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Interesting find Andrew, thanks for sharing. If they were doing no link building activity, it should be easy to fine the new links built since the new site launched. Using the links you pulled pre-lauched its just a matter of a fresh link export vs the old links. .. for the win.

    • Andrew Shotland  November 14, 2012 at 9:22 am

      @w jno-baptiste,

      One of the first thing I did was look at the latest inbound links. 99% of them were from Groupon affiliates. QED.

  • Claire Broadley  November 14, 2012 at 7:56 am

    Not sure I agree with the principle from an ethical point of view. Limiting an offer like this can only impact badly on the consumer. What’s wrong with creating decent content?

  • Michael Ehline  November 14, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    I am sure Google will say it is a linking scheme since it’s not PPC. But I sure could use a bunch of naked anchors. Is it a blast, or can it be done with consistent link velocity? Anyone?

    • Andrew Shotland  November 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      Michael, I think this is a case of both. When a Groupon deal goes live, it’s available via the API immediately and gets picked up by the affiliates. That said, there are so many affiliates running deals from multiple deal co’s that it probably takes GOOG a while to find all of these links.

  • gio greenard  November 15, 2012 at 2:42 am

    Hi there,

    Sounds interesting, just a quick one are the affiliate sites on different domains? Also would the links not drop off rather quick as the offer does not tend to last long?

  • Andrew Shotland  November 15, 2012 at 1:36 pm


    The affiliate sites are on different domains. There are probably thousands of them. It’s possible that the links will drop off as the deal expires, but many sites keep them up indefinitely and GOOG probably won’t recrawl a lot of them. So it’s also possible that over time, the value of these links declines, meaning you’ll need to do more Groupons to keep the link juice flowing.

  • Karilee  November 15, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Watch out for the downside of having a bunch of “discount” links show up when your company name is searched.

    I have a client I’m working on fixing this for. Half of his first page results on Google mention discounts, due to the Groupon syndication you mentioned, and it’s tough to sell an $800 service when your prospect can see that it was sold a few months ago for $130…

    There are other Groupon horror stories I could mention. I’m not knocking their product. It’s excellent when appropriate, but the campaign needs to be very well thought out and appropriate to the particular client.

  • Andrew Shotland  November 15, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Excellent point Karilee. If you do a Groupon for whatever reason, you’ll probably want to make sure that you’ve done some reputation management work up front so that you have strong URLs/domains ranking for your brand queries to keep the Groupon discounts off page 1.

  • Karilee | Marketing Coach  November 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Exactly, Andrew.

    I believe the stat is that only 2% of searchers click through to page two, so that’s my strategy for solving this issue for this new client (I didn’t set up the original Groupon campaign).

  • Matthew Hunt  November 19, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    Andrew, my guess is if it worked well with Groupon it’d work well with ALL deal sites, right? Just rinse and repeat.

    Link building by Deal Sites. Interesting.

    Here is a list of deal sites should anyone need them:

    Shirt Woot
    Wine Woot
    Kids Woot

  • Andrew Shotland  November 19, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Probably Matthew. As long as these services get syndicated, they should work.

  • reseolve  November 21, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    what about contacting the companies using groupon and showing them you can get more targeted vistors to there deal and in the long run cheaper and more exposure?

  • Ryan  November 27, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    To me this is a terrible idea. The way groupon and other “deal” websites work, that if you have a product that is worth $100 dollars retail, they take generally 50% off. You are now down to $50 for an item or service you are selling. Now depending on your break even point this is where things get hairy. Groupon or Living Social take between 30%-50% of every sale made through their site, so now, at best you getting $35 dollars for an item that you normally sell for $100 dollars. You are loosing 65% of all sales because of the site. Now is this worth a 25% -84% increase in traffic? Well to me, in the house cleaning business, it is not. I would go broke doing 3 groupon sales, so all the “organic” traffic would put me out of business, because the amount of groupons I would have sold would have cost me thousands in lost sales, and negative profits. If you are a restaurant then you may be able to recoup the cost because of alcohol sales, but for small business that have little “up sales” this is a tough thing to even think about.

  • Ryan  November 27, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Also, do you have follow up that this organic visit growth was sustained for the following amount of time, or did it stop a few weeks after the groupon deal?

  • Andrew Shotland  November 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Good points Ryan, but the trick here, like with any marketing program is to figure out how much it will cost and how much you could make. So if doing a Groupon will lose you $1,000 over the long run, then any SEO benefit should earn you at least $1,000. Of course it’s hard to figure out the SEO benefit until you try it, but based on this one site, where they are making $ on their Groupons, it’s a viable tactic.

    The company did another Groupon in early November and its organic traffic is now at an all-time high – up 300% since October. Some of this is seasonality though.

  • Andrew  November 30, 2012 at 6:51 am

    Andrew – Interesting post, however, given that Groupon syndicates this out across many sites, isn’t this essentially just duplicate content pointing back to your site? If so, wouldn’t Google give less credibility to those inbound links in some way?

    • Andrew Shotland  November 30, 2012 at 8:46 am

      Sure, but don’t believe everything you hear about duplicate content. There are billions of examples of search queries where duplicates litter page one. That said, the issue here is more about links, and while, in theory, links from duplicate content shouldn’t count much, when GOOG sees a site start to get links from multiple domains that are of reasonable quality, it seems like that outweighs the duplication issue.

  • Mestre dos sites  January 3, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Seems to me that it is a very curious thing to trying using groupon as a link machine. But off course , you have to stay focused in what you’re doing or your money will fly.

    hugs form Brazil!

  • Austin Geraci  January 24, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    From what I’ve been hearing from business owners, groupon is really squeezing them on the % of deals they want to offer.. ie $50 deal for $20 etc..

    I think people really need to see the value to bigger brands here.. If you’re not a big brand, what you may gain from some link syndication, may cost you twice as much in real life profits or clientele.

    I’ve seen stats showing a groupon customer is almost never a repeat customer.. What does that show of the quality of the buyer? Just looking for a deal? How many of your best clients are always looking for a deal?

  • Randy car detail  February 22, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    I am getting ready to run a deal with living social. My keywords {auto detailing columbia sc} I rank 8th organic page 1.
    {Mobile auto detailing columbia sc} I rank 4th organic page 1. I am hoping this info is true and gives me a blast at least to the 3rd position organic. I’ll keep everyone posted.


  • Jakub  February 18, 2015 at 1:10 am

    What kind of tool did U use to make that screen, with that kind of arrows and all?? – “The new Skitch sucks btw – click the image to see a big version”

  • Mikael Soerensen  November 22, 2017 at 4:43 am

    Great read, still best scaling for local SEO is through linkbuilding and social signals, my business etc.