Link prospecting is straightforward. Find a site you can get a link from, find a relevant page, or figure out how to make one.
But scaling link prospecting across hundreds of landing pages, multiple sites, and thousands of link partners, is challenging.
Qualities of Enterprise-Level Link Prospecting Processes
High-scale link prospecting processes must be:
Scalable – Your processes have to be able to generate hundreds, if not thousands, of qualified link prospects as rapidly as possible.
Additionally, other members of your team should be able to execute your prospecting process – there’s no ‘great man/woman theory of scalable link development.’ Scalable link building is a team sport.
Measurable – Is this tactic generating effective link targets? How many links returned from this tactic, upon further vetting, become good potential link partners? What is the ratio of overall prospects to qualified prospects to links received?
Fungible – Can the tactic be used across a variety of verticals and clients, or is it only good in one area? While one-off tactics can be helpful, if you’re promoting a portfolio of sites or a variety of clients, you want fungible tactics you can combine into a scalable link sourcing strategies.
In our work at BuzzStream, we’ve seen a variety of link building teams approach this problem in many different ways. Here are some tactics we’ve seen teams implement that are scalable and can be applied to different verticals with ease:
Brand Social Account Prospecting
Social prospecting in your own social accounts is a very good place to start. Rather than starting with cold relationships, those people like your company and are predisposed to link to you.
The basic flow of social account is prospecting is:
- Find your company’s social accounts.
- Use an associated API, crowdsourced labor, screenscraping, or an intern to grab a list of their followers/fans/whatever the kids are calling them these days.
- Make a list of the websites your followers/fans have associated with their profiles.
Now you have a list of websites associated with people who are interested in your brand and what you have to say. Many of these people might link to your site, especially if you ask nicely, send them a sticker or other swag, or give them some content to post.
- Take your list of sites, and remove ineligible domains like Facebook and Google Profiles.
- Sort them by order of DA, PageRank, or your other favorite link authority metric.
- Reach out to the blogs on your list, make friends, and ask for the link or mention.
Wil Reynolds of SEER Interactive has created a step by step walkthrough of this process for Twitter. It’s extensible to any sort of network where you have a social presence, be it MySpace or any niche social network.
Social Search-Based Prospecting
The other type of social prospecting is using some form of social search to find people talking about link opportunities. This can take a couple of forms:
- Phrases like ‘guest post’ or ‘new guest post’ can tell you which sites actively accept guest posts.
- You can use tools like FollowerWonk to identify influencers on social networks that might talk about your market & product.
SEER Interactive’s Ethan Lyon created a spreadsheet to identify guest post opportunities on Twitter automatically, but you can scale this method to any searchable social network.
List-based prospecting is one of the simplest and most effective prospecting techniques.
Basic List Scraping
List scraping is my next go-to method of prospecting once social options have been exhausted. It is one of the simplest:
- Find a list of sites in your vertical
- Copy the list
- Remove the sites that have already linked to your site. Also remove irrelevant sites.
- Reach out to the remaining sites on your list
List Scraping Tips and Tricks
Finding good lists can be challenging. Both Alltop.com & Invesp.com curate lists across a large variety of verticals that can form the basis of prospecting lists. Additionally, the Google query “List of [KEYWORD] Blogs” can typically source handcrafted lists.
Enterprise-Level List Scraping
Each of the blogs you get back may have another series of blogs it links to. By scraping these lists into a master list, you can get a tremendous list of publications in your area of interest.
- Start with your initial list (AllTop and Invesp are both good places to start.)
- Go through that list, and find either ‘Resource’ pages, ‘Links’ pages, or Blogrolls.
- Scrape those lists (using the Scraper Chrome Extension or the BuzzStream Blogroll Scraper.)
- Assemble these into a master list and remove duplicates.
This technique will give you a very, very large list of relevant sites and blogs, appropriate for guest posting, interview outreach, and other techniques.
Prospecting queries are perhaps the strongest link building technique. They also have the biggest learning curve.
Prospecting queries use a ‘footprint’ – be it a URL structure, a piece of text, or the name of a competitor – to find link opportunities.
The particularly excellent part about query-based prospecting is that if Google returns a site for a query, Google might find the site relevant for that given query. This implies that the link on that page will help your rankings more than a link on a random page, because Google judges it relevant.
Constructing Prospecting Queries
Prospecting queries begin with an opportunity type & a keyword:
Some opportunity types are:
- Infographic/Data Visualization Placements
- Guest Posts
- Links/Resource Pages
- Reviews of Competing Products
Many of these opportunities have distinctive URL or title structures.
For example, if a site has a guest post category and is using WordPress, these posts will have “category/guest” in their URL. Accordingly, you can use the INURL: search operator to find relevant guest posts:
- This operator looks for text in the title of a post. It’s useful for finding competitor reviews and interview opportunities.
- This query looks for specific text strings in the URL. While not incredibly useful by itself, combined with a knowledge of the default settings of content management systems like WordPress and Drupal, it can become very useful.
~ (the Tilde)
- The Tilde tells Google to search for synonyms AND the word following the Tilde. (EG “~College” also covers synonyms like University and Institute.) It can be helpful for broadening your keyword queries.
Queries for Different Opportunities
While there is a large universe of prospecting queries, here are some of our favorites.
Note: All caps terms in brackets mean that the bracketed keyword should be replaced by your keyword in the query.
Resource & Links Pages
Prospecting Query Automation Tools
Prospecting queries tend to generate some less relevant, lower quality sites, especially deeper in the results. This creates a cycle of “Click on Link – Click around for a while – Go Back to SERP – Repeat.”
You can become more efficient by ‘batching’ – first gather all of the results of the prospecting queries, then look through each one and qualify it, then find contact information, and begin engaging.
To harvest a large number of prospecting results in the first step, you can use:
- The Citation Labs Link Prospector, which also comes with a large number of prospecting queries built in
- The Scraper Chrome Extension with Google set to return 100 results
- BuzzStream’s Prospecting Module
Backlink analysis is my least favorite prospecting method because it frequently returns links that are impossible to obtain.
For example, your competitor raises money from Fred Wilson at Union Square Ventures and gets a link on AVC.com. You could not get this link from any marketing or SEO activity. (If you can think of a way to get this link, please leave a comment or email me.)
Often links uncovered will be quite old, and reflect a different era of linking on the web. Because 2000-2008 linking behaviors are structurally different than 2008-now linking behaviors from the twin forces of web commercialization and social media, it is incredibly difficult to replicate old links. Often webmasters no longer maintain those older sites, and, short of illegal activity, the links cannot be acquired.
That being said, in many cases (especially when your competitors are executing their own SEO strategies), backlink analysis can be incredibly effective.
Executing Backlink Analysis
- Get a link graph dataset (MajesticSEO, Open Site Explorer, AHrefs, Bing Site Explorer, Blekko, and Link Research Tools are all good choices) and pull backlink graphs for competing sites, as well as your site.
(If you want, you can use multiple link graph sources and dedupe the links to generate a particularly accurate link profile. To take that a step further, you can use scripts to check for the existence of each of the links on the pages, ensuring completely accurate link data.)
- Now that you have many competing site’s link graphs, merge them together into a massive table. I like to use VLOOKUP in Excel to do this, but you can also do it in MS Access or MySQL if you have a large data set. (For Excel Tips & Tricks, I highly recommend Distilled’s Excel for SEO guide.)
- Now I have a giant table of linking URLs. I like to create a new field for # of common competitors each URL has. (For example, if a page linked to six sites in my space, it would get a six.) I sort by this field, with the highest first.
- I remove every URL that links to my site from my list.
Now I have a prioritized list of URLs to contact. You can then prioritize them by your favorite link metrics.
Once I have my giant list, I like to go through and classify them as “attainable” (eg – I can feasibly get this link through some sort of Marketing or PR activity) or “unfeasible”, where I cannot.
- Garrett French of Citation Labs has put together lots of great resources on his site. His Link Building eBook is also excellent.
- Ross Hudgens has written some standout articles on prospecting queries.
- Ontolo has a useful free query generation tool.
(Prospector Image Credit)
What prospecting methods do you use?