There’s Gold in Them Thar Links! -Tips and Tools to Evaluate Your Link Prospects

SEO Jul 30, 2013

I don’t think we can escape the simple fact that, as long as Google and other search engines use links as a positive ranking signal, we will always be doing link building.

I know, people ask if link building is dead, like all the time.

The answer to that is Nope, like all the time.

Granted, links can also be used to negatively affect your ranking.

It’s a prime weapon of choice for negative SEO, for example.

And if your anchor texts are “over-optimized”, there will be slaps handed out by black-and-white colored animals. (get it? penguins, pandas, oh my!)

All links aren’t created equal of course, as who is linking to you matters more and more (relevancy is a huge factor).

What I think we can all agree on, is that since you’re going to have to get links, they may as well be quality links, right?

The only downside of acquiring such quality links is that it takes a whole lot of resources — time, energy, and money (as in, paying for someone to do all the tedious work involved; don’t get any shady ideas here).

What can we do to make that process a bit more bearable and streamlined?

That’s what we’re going to talk about…

How Good Are Those Link Prospects, Anyway?

seo-link-prospecting

The problem isn’t always in finding backlink prospects, but more in terms of evaluating and picking the websites that deserve the time and resources required for outreach and delivering something of value that will result in a link.

Not all sites are going to be a good fit.

You also don’t want to spend countless hours, days, and weeks sifting through a list of thousands of websites.

Even if you pass it off to some unlucky intern, or outsource it, you should have a repeatable process that sifts, sorts, and screens the prospects and comes up with a list of high-value, highly-targeted sites.

Decide On Link Criteria First

While there are plenty of factors and signals affecting the value of a link, we can boil it down to two simple criteria:

  1. Link Juice
  2. Relevance 

You can group indicators such as anchor text, page authority, domain authority, age of domain, relevant authority, amount of outbound links on the page, page relevance, even Alexa ranking, and many more under these criteria.

Link Juice

seo-link-juice

Raise your hand if you don’t understand the concept of link “juice”?

No one?

Good, I expect you to know, but for the sake of repetition being the mother of all learning, let’s cover some factors that can affect a link’s “juice” (also known as power, potency, and such).

Just a few of them, in no particular order:

  • Domain authority.
  • Page authority.
  • Number of external links on the page.
  • Location of links on the page.
  • Any nofollow/dofollow attribute, or lack thereof.
  • Relevant anchor text (although you don’t want to overdo this, of course).

Your usual suspects of SEO tools should be able to tell you quite a lot about any domain and their potential. You’re looking for the above information and things like PR, and more.

seo-screaming-frog-link-tool

Export to a spreadsheet list of URLs and run it through a tool like Screaming Frog to identify legitimate opportunities to contribute content.

Set it to “List” mode and upload a list of URLs. Then just set up some custom filters to look for specific phrases, like, for example: “contribute to our blog” or “write for us”.

Relevance

seo-relevant-relevancy

It’s not news to anyone who does SEO that relevancy matters quite a lot. Google will like you better if you have relevant and related websites link to you.

If you’re trying to rank for tax evasion then don’t try to get a link from a gardening website, okay?

Your relevancy increases when:

  • The site linking to you is topic and content relevant to your site and page.
  • The anchor text of the link is close to or matches the keywords of the destination page.
  • The words (and other content) on the page linking to you matches or is close to the page on your site.

Now, combine these two and answer this question…

The One Question To Rule Them All

While you can rephrase this however you want, essentially, you should ask:

What’s the quality and value of the traffic that this link passes on?

If you know the potential of relevancy and link juice of a website, you should be able to answer that question well enough to know if a link from a particular website is worth pursuing.

With this question, you’re hitting on some important points regarding traffic:

  • High authority sites usually have more visitors and traffic.
  • Relevant and quality traffic is worth more, reducing things like bounce rates for when people do end up on your site.
  • It’s not just about a link helping with rankings, but also sending targeted visitors to your site (which, ultimately, is what you need).
  • Even some nofollow links (think Wikipedia) are worth pursuing, if they’re from the right place.

Remember: you want traffic to your site, not just vanity rankings.

This question should also help you qualify or disqualify a link prospect.

Low-quality link sources, like directories, websites with spammy or poor content, low on authority, other outbound linking, low social media engagement, and more are signals that would tell you to stay away.

This should give you some guidelines on evaluating link prospects. You don’t want to waste your time with too many low-hanging fruits that end up being rotten.

Next up, we should take a look at a list of tools and resources that can help you in all this.

Tools And Tactics For Finding Prospects And Workin’ Them

First up is a tactic that’s pretty common but useful…

Spy On Your Competitors Links

Don’t neglect finding link opportunities by researching your competitors. There’s value in tapping into where they’ve got their links from and figuring out if you can do the same.

You can try various search queries in Google to see if there are any footprints left by those doing guest posts:

competitorwebsite.com + “guest post by” -competitorwebsite.com

Here’s a  great post on using advanced search queries for finding link opportunities from the kind folks at Distilled.

Here’s another 10,000 of ‘em. Knock yourself out.

Link Prospector

seo-link-prospector

This marvelous tool from Citation Labs is high on just about everyone’s list. You can (for a monthly subscription) get credits that enable you to get prospecting reports on the kind of link building you’re looking to do, like infographics, video content, blogger outreach, and more.

You can decide on parameters like geography, keyword combiner, domain criteria, etc.

Scrapebox

seo-scrapebox

Don’t let the name and connotation of sleazy spammers scare you. There’s a feature in this tool that allows you to set “footprints” into its harvest module (think “write for us” combined with niche blogs). It’ll chew and chew and spit out plenty of link opportunities.

You may have to refine the list a bit, and you can also use its function of fetching PageRank to sift for usable options.

My Blog Guest

seo-myblogguest

It’s been around for a while now and is a community for guest blogging — find websites and bloggers looking for content and bloggers and writers wanting to contribute content.

You should be able to find a few prospects across plenty of industries and markets.

Curated Blog Lists

You know those “Best 30 Blogs…” and “Top 25 Blogs…” lists for various industries? Yep, these are (often) hand-picked, compiled lists of influential and authoritative websites and blogs.

You will want to check those out for potential link opportunities. Most likely, these blogs have quality traffic and high engagement (both on social media and commenting).

Use Amazon Mechanical Turk To Source Guest Blog Opportunities

Kevin Espiritu over at SupremeStrategies.com shared a tactic for generating 180 guest blogging opportunities for, like, $9 or something.

By using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk for outsourcing.

Kevin writes:

The Problem: It’s really, really tedious to go through a list of blogs and get the names, emails, and Twitter handles of these blog owners when you’ve got a large list.

The Solution: Outsource it and get it done quickly and inexpensively!

With the help of some creative Googling, I was able to outsource this aspect of the link prospecting phase of a SEO campaign.

The result?  The name, Twitter, and email of over 180 blog owners in my target niche.  The cost?  Nine bucks.

Bulk Contact Info With Buzzstream

Granted, you need to be a subscriber of Buzzstream to get access to this Bulk Contact Info Research feature, but if SEO is your full-time gig, it’s probably worth it.

Getting the low-down and contact info of prospects helps you for when you do reach out to them. You can evaluate, get an idea of who they are, compare metrics, and get a sense of how to go about softening up these prospects to be a part of your link building schemes and antics.

Use Ahref’s Batch Analysis

ahref-batch-analysis

You can find plenty of tools that helps you batch analyze URLs, export them, and use the metrics to finagle a list of valuable prospects, sorting them to your heart’s content.

Ahref is a pretty good one, which includes IP addresses and social metrics.

These are just a handful of tools and tactics you can use in your quest for striking gold in your link prospecting labors.

Sift And Evaluation Link Prospects For High-Quality Link Prospects

Hopefully, you already have a process of evaluating link prospects and a method for gathering and screening websites.

If not, well, this should get you headed in the right direction — and if you do, you have probably picked up a few more ideas on what to do.

The important thing to keep in mind is that while you can gather hundreds of link prospects into a spreadsheet, the best return on your invested time, effort, and money is to sift, sort, and screen those potential links and only go after those websites that can pass along relevant, quality traffic.

What tips can you share on link prospecting?

3 comments
  1. Daniel Martin

    Great article and excellent choice of tools any SEO should look into. Also worth noting a couple of extra online-apps for Link (and bulk-link) evaluation, like:

    Linkody – the cheapest link monitoring tool out there. (PayPal is not an option on their website but you can contact them and you’ll be able to pay with PP)

    CognitiveSEO – I just discovered this one and did the free-trial. I uploaded all my links to MoreFansForYou and the tool does the most complex analysis of those links

    Backlink Monitor – Link building and link discovery

    Thanks for the article! It’s been very informative and the information is fresh, I’ll go looking into the ScreamingFrog app right now.

    1. Damian Thompson

      Thanks for the extra tool advice Daniel, always cool to add more SEO weapons to the arsenal.

  2. Gert-Jan

    Great in depth article. My advise for people who own a business and want to rank higher, is to find collegues outside their working area (so no competitors) and to see if you could somehow cooperate with one another. Perhaps make a site about your type of business in a wide perspective. So for example, if you are a dentist in city A, then try to contact other dentists in cities B to Z. Ask them to join forces, and startup a site that contains information about dentists in general, and have your traffic float back to each individual dentist for cities A-Z. That way everyone (OK, OK, other than your direct competitors in city A 😉 benefit :). Btw, we’ve created a set of premium WordPress themes with unique SEO Optimization tips and features for small and medium entrepeneurs. If you are interested to review one of them, send me a tweet @barkgj and I can provide you with a version you can review. I would love to see a review on your site about that subject (including 50% aff. program).

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