Welcome to our complete guide to link prospecting, arguably the most valuable single skill for any SEO professional.
While search engines have grown better at understanding good content and credible authorship, the number of inbound links to any website remains crucial. Look at any tough niche you care to name, and you’ll see the websites ranking highly consistently have large volumes of inbound links. With those links come higher sales, visibility, and brand value.
Of course, it’s more competitive than ever, but don’t let that put you off. If you spend time worrying that your competitor has thousands of inbound domains, you’re burning energy and achieving nothing. Instead, you should focus on one bit of outreach at a time and focus on the long game. If you do this week in and week out, you will, over time, build a resource of impressive power and reputation.
The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step!
So let’s begin the process of prospecting an SEOs gold.
What is Link Prospecting in SEO?
Link prospecting is finding link prospects or targets for a backlink building campaign in SEO. Authoritative domains on relevant anchor texts routinely link to websites that rank highly. If you can replicate or exceed that for your brand, you can appear higher in the SERPs.
That said, few areas in online marketing tread such a disputed ethical line. Google has made it clear they don’t feel webmasters should actively build links so much as focus on creating great content and let the links take care of themselves.
But like many ideals, real-world marketing only sometimes follows the official line. Even if you’re a significant brand with some great writers, more than simply publishing content is needed. Having an effective link building strategy helps amplify the reach of your content and gives it the authority to rank highly.
3 Step Link Prospecting Process
There are three critical aspects of building excellent links. That is:
- finding them
- qualifying them through a careful process
- and then contacting webmasters via outreach
For this guide, let’s imagine our client has a website selling roasted coffee beans. They want this to become a major national brand and have hired you as their SEO professional to amplify their organic reach.
You have begun by creating a content calendar and writing some fantastic content around their core subject areas. One of these is ‘‘’The Best Coffee Beans in the World’, which is intended as a detailed guide.
It’s important to point out that no matter how much of a link prospecting guru you may be, your eventual success hangs on the quality of your content. So begin by writing something genuinely awesome that enriches the web and improves upon anything else. This will give your efforts the best chance of success.
So we have our content, and now we need some links!
1. Create a prospecting list
How do I find link prospects? There are two main approaches to building a prospecting list 1) by using Google or 2) using an SEO tools such as Ahrefs, Moz, Sistrix, or SEMrush. In this guide, we’ll look at both options: the manual way using Google and the automated way using Ahrefs.
Using Google Search
Using Google search is simple, free and effective. Because if Google is positioning sites at the top it must consider them authoritative, right?
With this method you don’t have to filter complex metrics, but simply to see what’s already ranking.
Here’s how that works.
- Research your keywords and isolate those relevant to your article.
- Type your search terms into Google.
- Manually inspect each listing and consider whether the webmaster might link to your article. In the case of our coffee article, our resource is purely informational, and it contains no product sales anywhere on the page. So this gives us a higher chance of success. We can prospect within informative articles, resource pages, or relevant bloggers. The limitations here are only those of your imagination!
- Note down the URL on a Google Sheet or Excel for viable pages. Remember, you’re unlikely to get the top sites to link to you. So begin on page three and continue going up to page 10 or more of the results.
- Rinse and Repeat. Exclude competitors or pages that would not be appropriate to ask for a link. This is where an experienced SEO will make judgements based on the experience of what works. But if you’re not experienced, use your best guess.
Tools like Ahrefs were designed to facilitate professional SEOs time-consuming jobs, including link building. These tools cost money, but as you realise how difficult it is to find and build links at volume, their worth becomes self-evident.
Ahrefs Content Explorer module allows you to simply type in a keyword, and then filter results with referring domains. It’s a huge time saver.
- Click into Content Explorer
- Type in your keyword
- Choose ‘Sort by Referring Domains’
- Tick ‘Filter Explicit Results’
- Export List to CSV (top right hand corner)
You can experiment with searching in the title or content. And if you use quotation marks in the search box, you can find exact match mentions within the body of an article.
This allows you to go further than people ranking for this topic. There may be someone that’s written about “The Five Most Unique Foods in the World” somewhere that’s not coming up in Google for searches around coffee. Using Ahrefs ‘in content’ filter, you can find a potential for outreach that’s completely legitimate.
2. Qualify Links
Some SEOs like to generate link lists first, and then follow up by manually checking each one to ‘qualify the prospect’. Or you can do this at the same time, checking the link before adding it to your spreadsheet. You’ll find your preferred method of doing this over time.
But what does it mean to qualify the prospect?
Well it means, ‘Have you got any chance in hell of getting a link from this website?’ Or are you going to be adding to the chances of getting your email address added to a spam list by annoying someone who will never link to you.
Figuring this out is absolutely crucial. Getting it right saves you time because you’re not wasting resources contacting the wrong people. It also preserves your bank of goodwill out there on the web.
Your client does NOT want you harassing websites at massive volume for links they will never give. They want to hear you’re treating their brands reputation with kid gloves, and making polite requests from well considered targets.
- If the site has no obvious outbound links, don’t imagine you’ll be the first. This is a clear indication to move on.
- If the site sells coffee beans themselves, they are never going to link to you. Be mindful of bothering competitors because they will say no, and will also learn about your own methods
Once you’re built a long list of qualified link prospects, you have the third part of the equation which is outreach.
Outreach means ‘reaching out’ to webmasters. We’re going to see if they’re open to adding our article to their site, or if there are any other circumstances in which they’re open to working together.
Here’s how we do that
- Finding the email. We use a Chrome extension like Hunter.io which allows you to simply click on a URL and see relevant emails.
- You can also check the author’s bio link, or failing those you can use LinkedIn or Facebook. The key here is to spend time finding the ‘right’ email. If it’s a big organisation, the person handling the info@ inbox is a gatekeeper you may never get beyond. But if you email the writer directly, you’re in with a chance. Don’t rush this process or you will be doomed to fail!
- Add the emails to your outreach spreadsheet.
- Prepare 3 templated emails: initial contact, reminder, final reminder
- Import your emails and templates into a software like Buzzstream or Mailshake and you’re ready to begin.
4 outreach tools you might want to research are:
Write a Backlink Outreach Email that Gets Replies
If you’ve been in the digital marketing game for a while, you will be wearily familiar with the poorly written email templates that land in your inbox. They are generic, devoid of humanity, and encourage the clicking of the spam button like nothing else!
We’re all weighed down by too much data, and used to multi-tasking while never getting everything done. So with that in mind, we need to craft outreach emails that seriously stand out from the crowd.
Let’s start with what NOT to write:
Hey webmaster, I would be SO stoked if you add our link to your page (URL), we worked real hard on it and I think your readers will like it.
This email is spam worthy because it’s:
- Asks for someone but doesn’t offer anything
- Is poorly written
- No unsubscribe link
Let’s try a more personal approach
I loved your article: ‘Five Most Unique Foods of the World’ in which I saw you mentioned BlueMountain Coffee. I work for an artisan coffee roaster and we’ve written a huge piece about this, also mentioning four other unique beans and why they’re special.
Just wanted to ask if you might consider linking to our piece: (URL) We’d love to share your article with our 4000 strong social media subscribers in return, or if I can help in any other way just let me know.
Have a great day,
(Clear Unsubscribe Link)
Why this is effective:
- We’ve taken the time to find the webmasters name
- We’ve shown appreciation of her existing content
- We’ve demonstrated who we are, and the value of what we’re offering
- We’ve sweetened the deal with the offer of a social media share
- We’ve signed it personally, with an email relevant to the brand we’re promoting
- We allow the webmaster to unsubscribe easily
Don’t Forget: If people actually do you the kindness of inserting your link, don’t forget to (a) thank them, and (b) mark them on you outreach system so they don’t get more replies.
Free Link Prospecting Tools
For newer SEOs the cost of tools like Ahrefs or Sistrix can be daunting. Perhaps you’re just working your first few clients and you want to show good results without having to spend out on expensive SEO prospecting tools.
Here are some useful tools
- Open Link Profiler – This useful free tool does a good job of grabbing inbound links or websites. The database is not as large as Majestic or Ahrefs but it works just fine!
- Ahrefs Free Backlink Checker – Ahrefs offer a suite of free SEO tools, amongst which is a decent entry level backlink checker
Google Search Commands – These are handy ways to get the best out of Google search and the secret weapon of any good SEO.
Simply type the following into Google search box.
- Coffee Roasting – Search for ‘Coffee’ and ‘Roasting’
- Coffee + Roasting – Search for the terms ‘Coffee’ and ‘Roasting’ (equivalent to the standard search with Google).
- Coffee OR Roasting – Either “Coffee” or “Roasting” should be found on the target page.
- “Coffee Roasting” – Google searches for the combined phrase.
- Coffee -Roasting – Only results with “Coffee”, excluding “roasting.”
And here’s a useful one particularly for link builders
- allinanchor:Coffee Roasting– Searches pages that have links with link text that include “Coffee roasting”.
Combine search commands to find your competitors links within the last 12 months
- allinanchor:(keyword) competitor.com -site:competitor.com date:12
This search command should show you all inbound links to a website from the last 12 months, upon a particular anchor text.
Effective link prospecting is an vital component of building domain relevance and authority. In this guide we’ve shown you how to find and build backlinks at volume.
As we mentioned, Google suggests this will happen over time without any effort at all purely on the basis of good content but it’s not quite that simple. Certainly, a good site that ranks highly can accrue natural links and mentions over time simply because it’s a resource that folks naturally reference in the course of their activities. But for a new site, getting the visibility does take a little push.
As you go about the time consuming business, just remind yourself to keep your link requests:
- Relevant – Only seek links from websites where the content is on topic
- Authoritative – Consider each backlink like a recommendation from a work colleague. The more senior and respected that colleague is, the better their recommendation will work for you. So just ask for links in places you’ll be proud to get a link from.
If you are looking for help with link prospecting, link building or are looking to expand the marketing services you provide your clients through the use of white label SEO services, we’d love to talk to you.
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