Many SEOs think that finding link prospects is a rather boring and tedious task because sometimes it takes days to select a reasonable quantity of good sites. In this guide I'll show you how to reduce the time spent on this activity from several hours to 15 minutes using Google and an Excel spreadsheet you can download for free below.
When it comes to finding sites for link or content placement, all SEOs can be divided into 3 main groups:
- Novices. They don't know where and how to search and filter results.
Estimated time spent on the research is from several days to "damn, let's skip it and do something else!"
- Intermediates. They know what they need to do and filter the results using a couple of tricks.
Time spent ranges from several hours to one working day.
- Professionals. They know all the best practices of finding what they need, have a number of tools to help filter the data (quite often they develop the tools themselves).
Time required is 15 minutes max.
By link prospecting I mean searching for appropriate websites which don't link to my site BUT will most probably place a link to it if I knock at their door.
Good news: after reading this guide you'll be able to do link prospecting at the velocity of sound.
The time you'll save can be spent on on-page optimization or watching a good movie, but on-page optimization is the better choice if you're at work, of course.
Understanding search types and advanced Google search queries
Let's assume you've already done keyword research. Just in case, the key phrases should be 1-3 words length and have medium to high search volumes.
In my opinion, there is no better tool for link prospecting than Google. The trick is that you can substantially improve the search efficiency by using advanced search operators.
Let's assume you have to find an opportunity to write a post about shampoo somewhere. An inbound marketing novice will, probably, type in Google write a post about shampoo. This may seem logical, but unfortunately in SERP you'll see only one or two results you're looking for.
Actually, in order to succeed in composing right and effective search queries you should always imagine a typical webpage which will host your link or a piece of content. Every webpage has "footprints" like:
- Generic words and phrases in the title: write for us, useful links, guest column, etc.
- Generic words and phrases in the URL: example1.com/blog/guest-post, example2.com/our-partners and such
- Template phrases in text: guest post by, submit url and similar
- Other footprints like menu elements and site modules' names (sidebar sections, comments, etc.).
Going back to our shampoo example, an experienced internet marketer may use a query like this: shampoo intitle:"guest post" OR inurl:guest-post.
As you can see, this way you get relevant results only.
In fact, in most cases you will need only 3-5 advanced search operators:
inurl: or allinurl: intitle: or allintitle: site:
because if a keyword is included in the URL or in the page title, the webpage is most probably relevant to this query.
Still, there are some other operators you may find useful:
- Quotes "keyword" – to make sure the phrase in quotes will be present on SERP.
- Minus -keyword – to signal Google that you don't want to see this keyword on SERP.
- Wildcard keyword1 * keyword2 (or keyword_part*) – when you're not sure what words you will see among keyword1 and keyword2 (or know only a part of the word keyword_part).
- OR and AND operators – OR is used if you want to choose one or both keywords, whereas AND is used to only choose both options. These operators should be written in capital letters only. Otherwise they won't be treated by Google as search operators.
Now I will give you some examples of advanced search queries grouped by the types of link building strategies. You can find quite similar examples on other sites as this topic has been discussed a lot in SEO community but there are still many people not familiar with these queries. Copy them and replace [K] by your keyword.
Pro tip: Some words are usually ignored by Google while query processing as they don't bring much value to users. Check out the list of such stop words which can be omitted from the queries.
Guest posting and submission
[K] inurl:guest-post OR intitle:"guest post"
[K] inurl:write-for-us OR intitle:"write for us"
[K] "become a contributor" OR "contribute to this site"
[K] "submit * post" OR "add * post"
[K] "guest post by" OR "guest column"
[K] inurl:blog AND inurl:guest
Lists of sites, directories
[K] inurl:useful-links OR intitle:"useful links"
[K] inurl:related-sites OR intitle:"related sites"
[K] "submit * url" OR "submit * site" OR "add * url"
[K] "suggest * website" OR "suggest * url"
Sponsorship and partnership
[K] thank* "to our sponsors"
[K] "partner* list" OR "our partners"
[K] "press release" inurl:contact
[K] "send * your press release"
[K] "send * product information"
[K] "send * your news"
Ideas for copy writers
[K] intitle:"top OR best * tips" inurl:blog
intitle:"ways to * [K]"
intitle:"check list *[K]"
allintitle:best [K] blog
I think these examples will be helpful in your understanding the principle of advanced query construction. Please note that there can be a unique set of such queries for every specific niche, thus I recommend you to experiment and invent queries which will work best for you!
Pro tip: If you're looking for potential link donors from, for example, the UK you can try adding site:.co.uk to each query. Also, if you represent a well-known brand and think your content is good enough you can consider looking for links from .gov and .edu sites by adding site:.gov and site:.edu.
Google search and browser settings
So, you've learned advanced queries and your "Googling" skills have improved greatly. You can be proud of yourself, but if you start visiting dozens of sites from SERPs, manually analyze the relevance and quality of each of them, and write e-mails to website owners, you may face:
- Déjà vu – you visit more and more sites you've seen before (quite often you may not be sure whether you've already visited them, or not.)
- Facepalm – you find a website, thoroughly analyze it, search for contacts and write an outreach letter just to realize that it already links to you. (in some cases it's OK though)
This is not my way of doing link prospecting. Let's learn how to select link donors QUICKLY!For this matter we need the following:
1) Install an add-on which lets you copy a group of links with anchor texts or titles from a page. Personally, I use Multilinks for Firefox. If you use Chrome, Linkclump is a good solution, but you need to change settings after the installation. In Chrome Options go to Tools/Extensions. Then in Linkclump settings in the field Actions press Edit and set the Selected links as copied to clipboard.
2) Go to Google, log out (we don't need results distorted by our personal search history, right?) and click on Settings, go to Search settings in the top right corner, switch off Instant search and set the search depth greater than 10 (I usually use 30-results SERPs).
Excel link prospecting template
It's time to open Excel. I created an Excel template which can be used for link prospecting.
Make a backup copy so that you can return to the starting point if something goes wrong.
1) Type in your first advanced query into Google search box and then click and hold the right mouse button selecting all URLs on SERP as shown at the picture below (this is what Multilinks or Linkclump allow you to do):
2) Thus, all the links from SERP are copied to your clipboard. Paste the results into the table (first time – start from the B7 field) on the Link Prospects worksheet in the Excel file . Also, copy your query into the first column and extend to the last row with the results. Repeat these steps for all your search queries, pasting the copied data below the last record of the table into column B (Title). As a result, your table will look something like this:
In the D column (Root domain) you may see the following formula:
It extracts root domains from URLs and inserts a hyperlink to the homepages. Please do not edit any formulas, as the magic will vanish straight away! You see, the sites which appear several times on different search results pages are marked pink. It means you can avoid visiting the same sites several times. Moreover, if the same site appears in SERP twice or more times, this means it's really worth examining.
3) These easy-to-replicate steps will already save you a lot of time. However, I suggest you go further and exclude websites which already link to your site. Download the list of backlinks to your site, for example, from Google Webmaster Tools and insert the data from this list to the column A (Backlinks) on the second worksheet of my template. No doubt, removing dead pages and missing backlinks from the list is the right move.
4) Done? Return to the Link prospects worksheet and look at the column E (Links back). All sites linking to your site are marked as Yes and the rest as No data. This step is useful if your site has hundreds or thousands backlinks.
Now, after removing duplicates and filtering out all the websites linking to yours you can start opening pages and making decisions.
If you are a happy owner of link building management software license you can import the list of link prospects to the software (or service), check SEO metrics, get contact details and send out outreach emails in bulk.
If you have your own lists of useful advanced search queries or know any other breakthrough methods to search for link donors – do not hesitate sharing your experience in comments!
Preannouncement: Our team is currently rebuilding Link Assistant so that the above listed features (and many more) will be included into the fresh version of this piece of software. Stay tuned!
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