Is the work you’re putting into link building helping your site or slowing it down? The mistakes you make in link prospecting and site selection can waste all the time and money that you’re investing into the link-building process.
In this short guide, you’re going to learn about what link prospecting is, how it’s done, and what qualities make a link prospect valuable. Then, you’ll learn one of the biggest mistakes you can make when writing guest posts for a link-building campaign.
At the end, we’ll cover some alternative link-building methods and how they can help you find link prospects and build new links safely.
Link prospecting is the process of finding sites where you want to build backlinks to so that you can target them with outreach.
This is one of the earliest steps in any kind of link-building campaign. Of course, you’ll likely need to do some keyword research first if you haven’t already, but that’s necessary for all parts of SEO, so we won’t cover it in detail here.
Many link builders start the link prospecting process by plugging keywords into a link prospecting tool. However, many SEOs still find sites to build links by using the search operators in Google searches.
A Common Strategy: Link prospecting with search operators
A search operator is a special command that can be inserted into your search strings to deliver specific results for your search queries. Nearly all search engines have this capability.
For example, if you put quotation marks around search terms, your Google search will only find pages that contain that exact match search phrase. Or, you can use an intitle search command to find sites with certain words or phrases in their titles.
Google maintains a long list of these commands. You can use an inurl search (inurl: keyword) to find sites that have specific terms in their URL or an info search (info: keyword) to see Google search results that include extra data about each page.
Neil Patel demonstrated how a simple or advanced search operator could be used when link prospecting for guest post opportunities, in particular.
He provided examples of how you could combine your keyword research with commands like:
The Inurl search and intitle search operator commands are used a lot in link prospecting because they can help you find link prospects that are more receptive to being pitched.
However, they still come with risks. You’ll learn about some of them below.
Knowing how to get specific search results by using an advanced search operator can help you with link prospecting. However, once you have the results, you need to refine them. If you value your time, you’ll only reach out for links to sites that are worthwhile.
What Makes a Good Link Prospect?
Good link targets will fit some important criteria. They should be new (you don’t want to target the same domain again after getting a link). They should also be valuable, relevant, and reliable enough that you won’t just end up wasting your time.
It’s Valuable To You
The referring domains that you choose as link opportunities should be able to pass on some juice to your site. In most cases, you want to select sites that have a decent domain rating and at least 1000+ monthly traffic.
It’s Topically Relevant
A good link prospect will share themes with your site. The more closely related it is, the better. Backlinks that are relevant will pass on power more reliably. Even the highest-ranking sites may not be very effective in improving rankings if they aren’t relevant.
The Effort Is Likely To Pay Off
Outreach and negotiations over building links may not take much time on their own, but a lot of failed link requests can be a significant drain on your time and resources.
You should limit your prospecting to sites that have some chance of responding. These are sites that have active blogs, and a history of allowing dofollow linking on their websites.
Link prospecting tools may be able to help you narrow down the most promising link targets through a variety of methods. You can also use scraping tools and set parameters for searches so you don’t have to scroll through hundreds of Google search results that don’t qualify.
Guest posting is one of the most common ways to approach sites for link building, but as we’ll cover shortly, it’s one that can expose you to some dangers. Let’s take a quick look at what it is, before we jump into the way it can go wrong.
What is a Guest Post?
Guest posting (also known as guest blogging) is the act of writing content that will be published on another website. This is a practice that goes back to the earliest days of link building.
The process is simple. You reach out to another site you found through link prospecting, and you offer to produce some content that will be valuable to their audience. You slip a link back to your site somewhere in the content and workshop it with them until they’re ready to post it.
This process works well for everyone involved. They get free content and you acquire links.
I still believe that writing a few guest posts is one of the best ways to build new links. It helps out your link prospecting because it allows you to offer some value back to your link targets. That's why it's an essential step in my process of building the right links at the right time.
But this type of link building isn’t without risks. SEOs constantly get caught in a trap when they start prospecting links for guest posts. Let’s talk about how it happens, before we get into the ways that you can protect yourself.
What Are SEOs Doing Wrong?
If you’re not paying close attention, you can make a mistake that trips up so many SEOs: pitching to link prospects that openly advertise that they accept guest posts.
Think back to the search operators that we covered near the beginning. Searching for sites that invite guest posts may seem natural. However, choosing these sites can come back to bite you. If you can find that information easily, so can Google.
There is no easier way to get caught than to publish a link on a site that openly declares “write a guest post for us.”
That’s the big mistake. When you choose these sites, you’re inviting Google to consider you a spammy link builder. You may not like what happens next...
The big risk of prospecting “write for us” sites
Matt Cutts of Google declared the death of guest blogging in 2014. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work anymore (or sites that take posts are bad link targets). However, it does mean that Google uses both direct and indirect methods to identify sites engaging in this practice in a spammy way.
In one of my past pieces, I hosted SEO and manual-penalty removal specialist Rick Lomas. His research demonstrated the risk that these sites pose.
That research is just one reason why Authority Builders will not work with any sites with these risky messages listed in their header, footer, or sidebar.
However, that does not mean those phrases are inherently dangerous no matter where they are. The truth is that a lot of desirable sites include these words somewhere on their site—enough of them that you can still do great research using the operators above.
The difference is that non-spammy sites don’t put these terms on the page where your link is posted. So it’s not as risky when these links are tucked away on resource pages or contact information pages.
As you can imagine, it’s a big problem if these terms are littered throughout the header and footer because that means they show up on every page.
It’s also a problem if phrases like “guest post by” are added to the author bio, because that means the words will appear on the same page as any new link you land.
These sites need to be crossed out of your link prospecting list.
Will manual penalties follow?
Building links on sites that invite submissions too openly can attract manual penalties.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a penalty is guaranteed. You’re probably not facing that much risk if you’re not making a habit out of posting on every site that accepts random submissions.
You may be asking, “If I avoid sites that advertise that they take submissions, how will I find sites that will even open my email?”
I promise it’s not as hard as it sounds. There are many ways to find good link building opportunities without prospecting in risky ways or relying on expensive link building tools.
Link Prospecting Strategies That Work
I’ve identified four sources that can lead you to excellent link building opportunities. They won’t require advanced link prospecting tools, just some innovative thinking.
1. The Websites That Are Already Ranking For These Keywords
Some of the best link targets you’ll find are the top ranking pages for your preferred keyword.
Link prospecting couldn’t be easier with these sites. To find your link targets, just do a Google search for your target keywords or queries related to your keywords—no advanced search operators are needed.
The sites that appear first in Google search results have already been recognized as the most relevant and authoritative sites. As a result, they’ve already been awarded organic traffic. That means less risk for you and the promise of plenty of link juice if your link requests are successful.
If you didn’t get a response from the first site, just try the second and keep going. Other websites already ranking for your preferred keyword will perform a lot better than the sites you find by searching “write for us.”
Naturally, these sites have some high standards for new links if they’re already winning.
Don’t be discouraged if this strategy doesn’t work well for you. Even if these quality sites don’t want to help you with your link building efforts, you may be able to find some information that will help you with your link prospecting. That’s the idea behind source #2.
2. The Websites That Link To Your Competitors
If you can’t land a link on the top-ranking sites, the next best place to find a list of link prospects is their backlink profile. The pages linking to your biggest competitor can be a goldmine of link opportunities.
Simply use a link building tool like Ahrefs to search the link profile of the already ranking sites. Find out how many backlinks your competitors have, and then list the sites that link to them. Then, reach out to all the relevant websites in that list.
These sites are likely to be less picky than the site ranking for your keyword, but that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable.
Remember, these referring domains are the same sites that helped your competitor rank in the first place. If you target them with your link prospecting efforts, they may help you do the same.
This can be an effective strategy if your site is already ranking and populated with good content. However, you may need to try source 3 if you are still struggling for link opportunities.
3. Everyone In Your Niche
Start by performing searches for related terms. Scan the Google search results that come up for sites that may benefit from working with you.
Free tools like SEO minion can help. This extension scrapes sites in Google search results based on specific criteria you define.
Plug those sites into an email outreach tool that tracks contact information. Then start writing some compelling outreach emails letting them know that you’re interested in a link.
This is usually followed by some negotiations.
I use this exact process for finding Authority Builder partners. Naturally, we only use sites that Ahrefs can confirm get 1000 visitors a month.
If you’re opening up to a variety of relevant sites in your niche, you may benefit from ideas that are more creative than standard guest posts.
Resource links, broken links, link building partnerships and images can all help you close the deal. Let’s look at these creative link magnets in more detail.
Resource pages are filled with curated lists of links. You can develop a linkbuilding strategy around targeting these pages on other websites.
Create a piece of content that fills in a gap in their existing list, or provides better data than one of their other links.
After the content is done, reach out to the site hosting the resource links to let them know you have research that could make their list even more valuable to their readers.
If you create a great research piece, you may be able to build links on the resource pages of multiple top-tier sites in your niche.
I suggest you create some great linkable assets ahead of time. For example, comprehensive guides, interesting statistics, attractive infographics, or entertaining content can be effective.
Even if your targets don’t want that specific asset, having good content ready can convince them you have something valuable to offer.
Maybe you’ve already created something valuable, such as a custom image or infographic that’s been used by another site. Perform an Google image search and check to see if it’s being used without attribution.
Then, reach out and request attribution to replace their current outgoing links with your own.
If you find a broken link, produce some content that matches the resource they’ve linked to in the past. Then, you can approach them and recommend your new, working page to replace their broken link.
You can take this another step further by contacting other sites that linked to the broken page and getting links from them as well.
Broken link building is a great way to offer these sites content they already want, and it’s often recommended by top SEOs.
There are likely hundreds of sites in your niche that need to do some link prospecting of their own, and you can save them some time by reaching out first and offer to work together. They may be interested in some mutually beneficial link building opportunities.
4. The People You Work With And The Products You Host On Your Site
I like using the last three sources, but they all involve a little bit of begging and bargaining. I love sourcing links from partners because they’re typically eager to help you out with a link.
For this kind of link prospecting, you won’t even need to check any Google search results.
This source works incredibly well if you’re in the affiliate space and selling products attached to another site. Naturally, these sites want you to keep selling their products, and it’s to their benefit if you could somehow sell more of them just by getting a link.
Just think about all the people you work with and buy products/services from. For example, if you’re making review content for a product, the product makers are an excellent source for links. Reach out to them and ask if they’ll link to articles that feature their product.
You can still do a little bargaining. For example, make a list of the brands you sell and rank the best ones. Then, you can offer to move someone’s brand up the list if they link back to you.
Find Link Prospects the Right Way
Now, you know how to do link prospecting more safely than ever. In addition, you have some ideas that you can put to use to find link opportunities without the need for high-risk strategies or expensive link prospecting tools.
Remember to assess every site you prospect to make sure they aren’t advertising that they take submissions in an obvious way. Better yet, choose link targets that already rank for keywords, already link to the top sites, are in your niche, or need you to sell their products.
Are you looking to build more links the right way, without all the hassle of outreach? Authority Builders can do it for you. Our link builders apply the best practices, like the ones you just read about, to deliver links that are safe and powerful. Try out one of our flexible services today.