You can break down SEO into two major categories:
- On-Page SEO: Ensuring your title tags, meta tags, site architecture, and content are optimized for near-perfect search engine comprehension and indexing.
- Link Building: Getting other websites to link back to your site.
In today’s post, we’re going to focus on the second category because it can be the most rewarding in terms of traffic gains. Unfortunately, it’s also the most difficult because a lot of it is beyond your control. Link building is truly an art and link prospecting is the smartest way to ensure the highest level of success.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
Understanding Advanced Google Search Operators
One of the best places to do link prospecting is Google. Not only will you uncover plenty of link opportunities, you’ll also learn a lot about your business landscape from doing this research. This is a get-in-the-trenches, must-do activity for any online marketer.
By using special Google search operators, you can quickly discover fruitful link opportunities. The most common advanced search operators being used for prospecting are:
The “inurl” search operator allows you to find websites with a specific keyword in their URLs. For example, a search query, “inurl:seo” will give a page with the term “seo” in its URL, regardless of whether it’s a homepage (i.e., seocompany.com), a blog post (i.e., crazyegg.com/seo-tactics/), or an indexed category.
You want to use inurl search operator to find pages that serve specific purposes. Here are a few examples:
- inurl:“guest-post”, inurl:contributor – to seek pages that allow contributions from external writers.
- inurl:review “keyword” – to find industry blogs with recent reviews about a product/service relevant to an industry (this fits if you’re looking for potential product review bloggers).
- inurl:links “keyword”, inurl:resources “keyword” – to look for resource pages you can reach out to for link requests or broken link building purposes.
The “intitle” search operator can provide pages with specific terms you’re looking for within the page.
Example of intitle advanced search operator prospecting
The intitle search operator will also help guide you through topical pages that are helpful for expanding your list of potential keywords.
Find other keyword gems by link prospecting!
The “site” search operator is mainly used to specify organization type. Common examples of using this advanced search operator are:
- site:.gov “keyword”
- site:.edu “keyword”
- site:.org “keyword”
- site:.au “keyword”
- site:xyzdomain “keyword”
The search operators listed above cover organization types that are extremely helpful when looking for high-end link opportunities (trusted websites).
You may use them for scholarship link building (site:.edu “scholarship”), broken link building (site:.edu “keyword”), and professional organizations (site:.org “partners”).
For country-specific link building, the site advanced search operator helps you find websites with targeted “TLDs” (top-level domains); for example, Australian-specific websites you would use site:.au. Targeting an audience that your brand focuses on will help you acquire better results in link acquisition.
On a deeper level, you can play with keywords for country-specific site search operator. Looking for Australian bloggers to write a review about your product? You can use site:.au “industry” “blog”).
The last example given, site:.xyzdomain “keyword” isn’t always the best way to find your initial list of link opportunities, but it is helpful in strategizing how to attack a target website with your outreach. Using this search operator will give you ideas on what topics aren’t covered yet on their blog or site, making your pitch more customized to their audience.
Site domain searching
The other benefit of using the site:domain search query is it will show you other link opportunities when your first attack doesn’t work out as well as you planned.
If you’re trying to pitch for a guest post and you suddenly notice that they’re no longer accepting submissions from outside bloggers (just like this image below), your intuitive reaction is to skip the opportunity and go to your next website on your list.
No longer accept guest posts
However, finding that prospect website in the first place took 3 or 5 minutes of your time. It’s a total waste of time when you skip it instead of looking for other available link opportunities within the website. Try using site:domain search for any of these results:
- site:domain “links” or “resources” – to see if they have curated industry resources (e.g., Best Tools on X topic) where you can be included.
- site:domain “review” – are they writing product reviews?
- site:domain “guide” – did they recently publish a guide? Is the guide outdated so that you can add value by providing up-to-date information on the industry?
Knowing the advanced search operators and keywords or terms dependent on what your audience is doing will help refine your results, which makes it easier to target your ideal link prospects.
Using Link Building Tools for Link Prospecting
Besides manual search in link prospecting, there are other ways you can look for potential websites and blogs to link to your brand.
You don’t have to try every link building tool available in the market today. There are web-based products that are proven to be effective in semi-automating prospecting for link targets that only require $10 to $40 per month of your budget.
Here are some link building tools I personally recommend to those entering into the link building scene (newbies), agencies having a hard time scaling link prospecting, and solopreneurs with tons of clients:
1. Citation Labs Link Prospector
The tool at first may look intimidating. But if you try testing it, it’s very easy to use.
After you sign in, you can immediately create a link report based on the types of links you’re aiming to acquire. Link types could be any of the following:
- Guest posting
- Links pages
- Research: content
- News – audience input
- Expert interviews
- News – resource links
- Content promoters
- Professional organizations
- News – accessible reporter
The cost per report is accounted as credit. On a pay as you go, it costs $5/credit. For consultants, it’s a monthly subscription of $47/month – giving you 20 monthly credits.
For example, I’m working with a property damage restoration client that recently just created a definitive guide to flood planning and preparation.
The type of link we primarily target for that link building campaign is “links pages.” Knowing that, I can easily create a link report on Citation Labs Link Prospector platform.
Select report type citation labs
I also customized the report by using its advanced option. I targeted the UK as the Select Region as the client prefers to get links from .co.uk websites (if it’s possible to acquire links from them) and chose depth at 700.
Advanced options citation labs
Take note that choosing a higher depth (e.g., 800 or 1000) increases the number of credits used as it creates a report of all possible link opportunities coming from the lowest page of search results (page 20 down).
Report cost citation labs
The sample report gives us 21139 domains, with 31167 paths or URLs (some URLs may be hosted within the same domain).
Unqualified link report
We then put more effort into qualifying these opportunities to get only the most relevant and authoritative websites in the list.
As an example, for the first 1000 unqualified prospects, we were able to get 63 highly relevant link targets with Domain Authority of 20 and above. These 63 link prospects resulted in 3 backlinks.
Another link building tool that I’m obsessed with is Ahrefs.
Ahrefs has tons of features that will enable you to semi-automate certain processes that require manual execution.
I’ll be focusing on the three most important features of Ahrefs that most advanced link builders are consistently maximizing to their fullest.
If you have just initiated a link building campaign, it’s best to know where your competitors are acquiring links from.
Ahrefs allows you to reverse engineer your competitors’ backlink profiles, checking what types of links they’re acquiring on a regular basis and assessing link strategies that they may have used to get those links.
Reverse engineering link types
Just by seeing their backlink reports, you’ll quickly notice if they’ve got .edu links coming from scholarship pages (which can easily be identified if it’s a scholarship link).
By getting hints of their link strategy, you can eventually create a similar link acquisition campaign or strategize a better version of it (e.g., creating a better content piece to acquire a higher number of resource links).
Their backlink reports also show what secondary industries they’re tapping into in order to expand link opportunities. For instance, you may see that a B2B home improvement site is also getting links not solely from home-improvement blogs but also from family/parenting sites that have a home-improvement focus as well.
Tap niches and begin reverse engineering
Checking backlink reports of your competitors is another approach to source link opportunities.
For example, let’s say you’ve just created a resume guide for job seekers.
Resume templates guide
To get your initial list of link opportunities for content promotion, you can start looking for a similar content piece (e.g., resume guides) with pages (resource pages or guest posts) that are already linking to it.
By using the Exact URL option, you’ll see pages linking to those content competitors (resume guides).
Using Exact url in ahrefs
It is best to check the one link per domain option to filter out pages that are hosted on similar domains.
Reverse engineering is a process of deriving information from competitors (whether they are competing with the same offering or with the same content).
One pertinent piece of information a link builder has to know about his competitors is their new links recently built for their websites.
Just by knowing this type of information, one can draw key takeaways from it:
- Latest external web assets published by the competitor on a regular basis – primarily guest content and visual assets.
- Mentions with links back to competitor’s site – helping to know new bloggers in the industry who write product reviews or simply mentioning brands for references.
- Types of link strategies recently implemented based on the types of new links built – by quickly seeing the types of linking pages, you can understand what specific campaign has been executed (e.g., .edu scholarship page – scholarship link building).
It is best to implement this process (checking new backlinks of competitors) to get your new list of link prospects or simply to assess new link building tactics of your competitors that you can replicate for your website.
Link Prospecting Is All About Relevance and Quality
The winning edge in link prospecting is to understand your brand audience and try to find ways you can look for them. Your long list of link targets will be further qualified according to certain metrics like estimated organic traffic (SEMRush) and engagement (social shares and average number of comments per post).
About the Author: Venchito Tampon is the CEO and Co-Founder of SharpRocket that provides high-quality SEO services to international clients based in U.K, U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe. He also writes start-up and career management tips on his personal blog.