Recent updates to Google’s search algorithm have made high-quality links more valuable than ever, and have reduced the significance of low-quality links. As a result, outreach and link building have become more important aspects of business’ web marketing strategies. Webmasters, SEOs, and interactive marketing folk are spending more time on building these links, and constantly searching for ways to hasten and simplify their techniques. In short, they’re “bridging the gap” between a site’s need for links and links from prospects.
The Google updates affected everybody simultaneously, causing high-quality sites to be bombarded with emails begging for links. These sites have no choice but to ignore most of these requests, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to thoughtfully respond to each one.
As a result, most webmasters and the like see a very low rate of positive responses, and end up spending hours upon hours of work for a link or two. In order to see results from your outreach efforts, the process must be broken down into smaller, digestible portions.
One Step at a Time
The process of link building is like building a house. You can’t put on the roof and start painting the walls without first laying the foundation. The foundation for outreach and link building efforts is prospecting. It might seem elementary, but finding the right people to reach out to, before you reach out, will save you lots of time and stress. In fact, the more time you spend on prospecting, the more time you will save in your later outreach efforts. You wouldn’t want to visit a foreign country without prior research (what language do they speak? what is the weather like? are they at war?); Likewise you wouldn’t want to start reaching out without knowing who you are reaching out to.
Image: Tomasz Przechlewski
Google gives merit to websites that have high-quality, relevant links. Targeting links from other sites in your industry, or related industries is the best bet to ensure that your efforts are rewarded. Take a note of which types of sites you would like to target and set up a spreadsheet to help manage the prospecting process. Designate columns for the name of the site, the URL, type of site, domain authority, site notes, contact name, contact email, date contacted, and contact notes.
Before we move on, since this is the Beginner’s Guide, let’s discuss domain authority. Domain authority is a number between 0 and 100 that measures the strength and sway that a website holds. Search engines will judge links based on where they are coming from: the higher the domain authority, the better the link. Because of the recent algorithmic updates from Google, you should only look for sites that have a domain authority of at least 30 or higher.
You can determine domain authority by looking into domain authority tools such as Web SEO Analytics’ Domain Battle, Moonsy’s Domain Authority Tool, Robin Gupta’s Bulk Domain Authority Checker, or Moz’s Open Site Explorer which costs money, but is an amazing product that is worth every cent.
What Do I Need to Do Before I Start Prospecting?
Before you begin prospecting, it is of the utmost importance that you do some keyword research to help you decide on potential prospects. Organic search traffic queries will tell you what keywords people are using to find your site, and a list of these keywords can be found in Google Analytics.
Google’s Keyword Tool is a great resource that can help you determine what keywords to use in your prospecting efforts, these keywords’ monthly search volumes, and the competition for each keyword (how many advertisers are bidding on each term). Google Trends is another free tool that will show you some related terms, their search volume over time, and which related terms are trending.
Once you know which keywords you will use, make a list of “linkable assets”, or what these prospects will be linking to. Is it an infographic, a guest blog post, or a backlink to a URL? The assets on this list will come into play when determining who to prospect. The linkable assets should all have something to do with the organic search traffic keywords that already direct people to your site.
After you know how people get to your site and what linkable assets you possess, you can easily determine who your target demographic is. What kind of people would be searching for your target keywords? What kind of audience would get the most from your guest blog post? What kind of websites would your site benefit the most from linking to? Remember, the more relevant the site is to your industry, the more value the search engines will give that link.
There are some shortcuts to make prospecting less time consuming (albeit a bit more expensive), but a list of keywords and separate list of linkable assets will be necessary even if you decide to use paid tools to help in your prospecting efforts.
Prospecting Tools: The Easy Way Out
BuzzStream, RavenTools, Ontolo and Link Prospector are all useful tools to help you in your prospecting efforts. Each tool does a lot of the legwork for you, saving you time to search for even more prospects. Time=Money; if you have the extra cash, these services are worth every penny.
Here are some helpful posts about these tools to get you started.
It’s All About Relationships
Websites do not run themselves, every website was started by a person or group of people. This is an incredibly important aspect to consider in your prospecting efforts, especially when you get to doing outreach.
Start off by searching for influential people in your industry. Chances are they work at companies that have websites, or they might run their own site. followerwonk, Wefollow, and Twellow are tools that allow you to find the most influential people in their industries on Twitter. Search for industry keywords, and find the most active tweeters with the most followers in that industry.
Follow or retweet some of these influential people’s posts to warm them up a bit before you ask for a link. If they recognize your name and see that you have been making an effort to engage with them, they will be more likely to respond positively to your link request.
Getting Down and Dirty with Advanced Search Operators
If you have the time (or if you don’t have the $), and want to get your hands dirty with prospecting, learning how to use advanced search queries can get you every possible link on the web, granted you invest the time. Advanced search queries are free, easy to use, produce immediate results, and are where the science of prospecting begins.
If you are looking for potential guest blogs about restaurants, start off with some inurl: or intitle: searches, such as:
These examples will return results about restaurants with “blog” in the URL, and blogs with “dining” in the title, respectively. If you are searching for guest blogging opportunities, both
inurl:blog (your industry)
inurl:blog (target keyword)
…are great starting points. You can take it whichever direction you’d like from there.
If your industry or keyword is more than one word, be sure to use an “exact phrase” search. Combining exact phrase searches with other operators will give you more specific results:
inurl:blog “restaurant reviews”
(keyword) “add a site”
(keyword) “submit a URL”
…will return results with blogs about restaurant reviews, and pages related to your target keyword where you can submit links.
If a certain domain is dominating the search results or if a specific, unwanted term keeps showing up, use the minus (-) symbol. For instance, if you wanted to find blogs about restaurants but did not want yelp reviews to show up, you could search
inurl:blog restaurant -yelp.com
…which will eliminate all yelp.com pages from the search results.
One of my favorite search operators is the tilde (~). If you want to find similar blogs about related terms, you could search:
…which will give you results that are about restaurants and related terms, such as dining, cafe, and gastropub.
The advanced search operator combinations are endless; the more creative you get, the more specifically-targeted results you can find. Combine as many as you would like to find the target prospects you are specifically searching for. If you are unfamiliar with advanced search operators, check out Bruce Clay’s Advanced Search Operator Guide, which is particularly helpful since it includes some common Yahoo and Bing operators, as well as some from Google.
Once you find a good prospect, don’t stop there. Find a links page on the prospect’s site, and take a look through your prospect’s links. Then go through the links’ links, and so on. Do a site search for a blogroll, resources, or similar terms. When you find a page with relevant links, each of those links have other relevant links. Do the same with your competitors’ websites. A lot of the work has been done for you if you look in the right places.
Building Up Your Initial List
Instead of searching for prospects and evaluating potential prospects at the same time, split the responsibilities and take care of one at a time. Remember, break it down into digestible portions. “Search now, evaluate later” is much easier than “search, evaluate, search, evaluate, search, evaluate, search, evaluate.” Every time you find a prospect you like, put the information in the spreadsheet. If you’re unsure of a prospect’s worthiness, go ahead and add them to the spreadsheet for the time being, it will be easier to remove it at a later time than it would be to try and remember that site you saw that now seems like a good prospect.
SEO Quake is an amazing plugin that will allow you to scrape 100 prospects at a time into an excel sheet. Check out Jason Acidre’s Extreme Link Prospecting With SEOQuake post for a tutorial on how to get the most out of the product.
Evaluating Your Prospects
Now that you have a gigantic list of potential prospects, it is judgement day for the weaker websites. The first step in the evaluating process is getting rid of the prospects with low domain authority.
Sift through your excel file with all the prospects and their information. Any site with a domain authority below 20 should be slashed. Sites between 20 and 30 can be kept on the back burner for now, they might make a jump up to 30 in the near future, and can be used as a backup plan if you would like more links.
Think about which prospects would be most beneficial for each of your linkable assets. Categorize and group the prospects according to which linkable asset you will be pitching to each site. Once you have eliminated the weaker websites and determined how you will be asking for a link, sites with domain authority above 30 that are relevant to your own site, and whose content speaks to your target audience, should be marked and researched in order to craft thoughtful outreach emails.
The tools and techniques in this post are only a few of the thousands out there. The web is full of great links and replete with guides, tutorials, and tools to help you get them. What other types of tools and strategies do you use in your prospecting efforts?