Finding qualified link prospects is like searching for a needle in a haystack.

One question we hear a lot at BuzzStream is: “The prospecting module has returned lots of link opportunities, but which ones are worth my time? How do I qualify a link prospect?”

This is a great question.  And like so many questions in marketing, the answer is:

It Depends.

‘It depends’ isn’t helpful, so in this article I’ll explain how to qualify a link prospect in 2012.

I can’t give you a definitive answer to this question – it depends on your campaign’s resources, your goals, and your existing link profile.  But here are some questions I ask when I encounter a link opportunity and decide whether it’s worth pursuing:

What are you hoping to get from your link?

There are many benefits a link can provide to your site:

SEO Benefits

To unpack this a little, this includes:

  • PageRank
  • Anchor text
  • Followed/nofollowed
  • AuthorRank
  • #/trust of linking domains site-wide
  • Cache date

There are also negative factors:

  • Does the page or site link to ‘bad neighborhoods’ ?
  • Was it constructed from a dropped domain?
  • Are its links from sources at risk for depreciation or removal (lower quality sources like spam comments, etc.) ?

Branding Benefits

  • A link from the New York Times or your publication’s major industry might improve the perception of your site and brand in the mind’s of its target audience.
  • By contrast, a link from a site of no interest or relevance to your target market might have no branding benefit.

Traffic

  • How many referrals will this link send?
  • Moreover, what sort of audience will be referred by this link?  A link from a well-known blogger can send a small audience of people likely to link, thus creating second degree links and incredible SEO value.  The front page of HackerNews is a good example of this sort of link.
  • Will the referred traffic take a conversion action like a subscription, a form-fill, or a purchase?  Will the traffic sent by this link share your content socially?

Competitive Factors

  • Will the link be difficult for your competitors to get?  Moreover, will it be dramatically more difficult for your competitors to get than it is for you? (One example of this sort of link is .edu and .gov sites when you compete with mostly lead gen sites.)
  • Does your competitor already have this link? 

Attainability

  • Will you be able to attain this link with existing assets?  Will you need to create new linkable assets?  
  • Will you need to create a high-touch relationship over months (or retain a PR firm), or can you get it with a simple link request?
  • Does the site link externally? If the site doesn’t link externally, it’s very difficult, if not unobtainable.

Aligning Your Qualification Criteria with Your Campaign

Depending on the goals of your campaign, different link opportunities will be qualified versus unqualified.  If you have few resources and have to show an ROI quickly, you’ll choose different sorts of opportunities than if you’re working in-house and taking a long-term view.

Let’s look at some different examples:

Building Links for a Heavily SEO-focused Lead Generation Site in an ‘Unsexy’ Field

Let’s say I’ve been hired to build links for a site that hopes to rank for terms around ‘rental insurance’.  In this case, I’m going to go for links that are relatively easy to obtain (so I can show my client an ROI for the length of their campaign), and use mostly traditional SEO metrics like PageRank, cache date, OpenSiteExplorer Domain Authority, and the like.  I’ll be less concerned about branding and traffic, and deeply concerned about anchor text.

Building Links for a New Blog

In this example, I’ve decided to start a new blog about coffee, with an emphasis on making coffee at work (or while working from home) for maximum productivity.  

While I’ll be concerned about SEO, I’ll need to start by building up trust and a brand, which is relatively hard to do if you intend on building links one link at a time.  In this example, I’d focus on getting great ‘brand’ links, and getting links from other bloggers and social sources that attract lots of other website owners.

I’ll also look at RSS subscribers and email subscribers by source, along with sources that drive social shares.  If I find sources that consistently drive these audience development actions, I’ll try to get repeated placements, even if I already have the link or if they’re nofollow.

Building Links for a Software Company

This example is near and dear to my heart.  When I build links for BuzzStream, I aim for all of these factors – branding, traffic, SEO, and creating a competitive barrier to entry. However, I prioritize brand far above any other factor.  I also look at AuthorRank – not just Google’s AuthorRank, but if people in an industry trust a given person.

Further Resources

There are lots of other great articles on qualifying link opportunities out there – here are a few of the best:

How to Help New Link Builders Evaluate a Link Prospect

A Guide to Qualifying a Link Prospect for Relevance, Value, and Potentiality

The Beginner’s Guide to Qualifying a Link Prospect

The Definitive Guide to Qualifying a Link Prospect (With Video!)

How do you qualify link prospects? Leave any thoughts or questions in the comments…

 (Opening image by KennyMatic under Creative Commons)

 

 

 

mattgratt

Matt works on customer acquisition at BuzzStream. Before BuzzStream, he worked as an SEO Strategist at Portent and a Marketing Manager at AppCentral (acquired by Good Technology). You can follow Matt on Twitter or Google Plus.

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