Link building has evolved in recent years.

The increasing domination of Google’s algorithm updates, and the major shift after the Helpful Content update has caused a shift in the focus from quantity to quality.

In this context, Google is rewarding sites with authoritative and relevant backlinks.

As a result, link prospecting requires a set of specialized skills and tactics to find the best, most authoritative link prospects.

The right link prospect can provide a steady stream of high-quality links and targeted referral traffic.

Today, we will look at 10 simple steps to find the best link opportunities.

But first, let’s start with the basics:

Link prospecting is the process of finding link opportunities that will bring the highest SEO value.

In other words, it’s a systematic way to find new backlinks for your site.

While the overall strategy might vary from business to business, some of the principles remain the same.

For instance:

  • Relevance: You need to find backlinks that are relevant to your industry and topic.
  • Authority: You want high-quality links from top-tier sites that will be beneficial to your organic rankings.
  • Context: A link should appear in context, i.e., surrounded by relevant text that establishes its value to the reader.

We’ll cover specific strategies to develop your own prospecting strategy, but first, let’s answer a crucial question.

Not all links are created equal. 

Google has been clamping down on low-quality links that pass little or no value to the user. On average, top position ranking websites on Google have an average of 3.8x more backlinks than the results rankings in 2 through 10, and most of them are from quality sources.

The wrong links can harm your organic rankings, damage your brand reputation, and if particularly done incorrectly, put you at risk of a penalty.

Besides, the correct link prospecting strategy allows you to build relationships with industry influencers.

The right approach can lead to countless opportunities, increased visibility for your brand, and combined with the right outreach, a steady stream of high-quality links from authoritative sources.

To sum it up, you will need to implement an intelligent link prospecting system that can filter out useless opportunities and help you find the right link prospects quickly.

Now, the question is: What does a great link opportunity look like?

Let’s explore a few key characteristics:

A high-quality website with an authoritative presence is the starting point for any link prospecting strategy.

But it doesn’t end there.

Your link prospects should meet a few essential requirements:

Is It Authoritative Enough?

To be honest, the word “authority” can mean different things to different people. So, how can you measure the authority of your link prospects?

Even though there’s no exact formula, you can look at a few factors to determine the authority of your link prospects:

  • How long has the website been around?
  • How much content does the website produce?
  • What are its social media stats?
  • How much traffic does the website receive?
  • Does it have a robust and well-balanced backlink profile?

When you do link prospecting, you need to take this more holistic understanding of authority, rather than only rely on third party authoritative metrics like Domain Authority or Domain Rating

This does require a more human approach to prospecting, and that’s where having someone with a keen eye to detail, and ability to do a ‘sniff test’, helps to cut out spammy link farm sites from your lists.

At TLG, we have a data prospecting team who diligently scrape and filter the data, in just this way. If you want to have this kind of experience within your link building process, please book a call with us to find out more.

Now of course, you can still use those types of metrics like DA or DR as a baseline, and use it to cut out very small sites. For instance, setting a baseline of DA or DR 20, and only prospecting sites higher than this. But just be aware, there is a risk that you may cut out some good sites that fall under that benchmark. 

On the flip side, depending on your tactic, you may want to avoid sites over a certain authority level. At TLG, we find that if we’re doing something like guest posting or resource link tactics, it’s a waste of time to collect top tier media sites, as they generally won’t allow a guest writer, or edit existing articles. So, we’ll set an upper limit of DA 75, to ensure we don’t collect them.

If you’re doing manual prospecting via Google, you can use the free MozBar, which helps you filter out sites that fall only within a certain metric criteria. Or if you’re doing something like the skyscraper approach, then we find that Pitchbox has a useful feature, where it’ll extract links, and allow you to filter for sites within a certain DA range. 

using Pitchbox to filter sites within a certain DA range

The goal here is to ensure your link prospecting efforts (and subsequently your outreach) is as efficient as possible.

Is It Relevant?

It doesn’t matter how “big” a site is. It just won’t be as impactful for your site, if you’re unable to build links that are relevant to your niche and topic. 

Every link prospect should be related to your industry or niche somehow. Either the potential audience of the site should have some proximity to your target audience/client, or there should be a logical industry crossover.

Start by brainstorming a list of relevant sites and/or industry categories that would be an asset to your link building campaign. Here’s an example of a strategy map we created for a project.

strategy map for link prospecting

Once you’ve established some essential criteria, think about how to extrapolate that into larger lists of websites, and ways in which you can provide a benefit to them, and your own site.

For example, let’s say that you own a cooking blog.

It wouldn’t make sense to approach a site that’s about pets.

But you may see a much clearer link with food & drink magazines, or local restaurants.

Your link prospect should not only fit your specific criteria, but it should also be relevant to your readers. How you bridge that gap depends on your tactic, but there is where outreach comes in, and you’ll either have existing content you can leverage, or in the case of guest posting or media outreach, you have something relevant they may want to publish.

Is It Contextual?

Your link prospects need to feature on-topic, contextual links.

Links that are irrelevant or have little value can cause harm to your rankings, or at the very least, won’t pass much link equity. 

On-topic links can increase trust among your readers and improve click-through rates, which in turn boosts your search rankings.

You can’t always guarantee a link with exactly the perfect context, but it’s helpful to target pages closely related to your content topic, to maximize your chances.

However, if you are already have content or content ideas, which aligns with your target audience and you have taken care of the “relevance” factor at the prospecting level, this should steer strategy in the right direction anyway, in terms of context. 

If you are using paid strategies, link swaps or you’re doing digital PR outreach, this is where contextual relevance can come a cropper. 

With paid links or link swaps: You have more control over the link, and you may fall in danger of pigeon-holing a link in, purely just to make it fit. Just ensure with these tactics not to compromise on context no matter how good the site seems on paper. 

With digital PR: if you are leveraging a data-driven story (like with reactive PR), it can be tempting to just create a story that you know will interest journalists, but tagging on your brand just for the purpose of getting a link. 

Here’s an example of a PR campaign where the relevance seems like a real stretch. A roundup of “Scariest Urban Legends” on a travel publication, where it links to a personal loans company.

roundup post on Scariest Urban Legends

Does It Provide Additional Benefits?

If the link can help you achieve multiple goals, it might be worth pursuing.

For example, if your link prospect is an industry influencer with tens of thousands of followers on social media, you can tap into their network and get tons of exposure for your brand.

If you’re trying to land guest posts for your blog, you might be able to snag additional opportunities by approaching popular sites with high domain authority.

And if you get featured on a popular site, like Forbes or Entrepreneur, that could bring you tons of referral traffic.

You can look for additional benefits to help your outreach efforts. Remember, the more relevant and beneficial links you can get, the better.

Is It Attainable?

It doesn’t matter how relevant you think your link prospect is. If it’s too difficult to reach, you’ll never be able to score the link.

Think about your relationship with your link prospect.

What’s your chance of getting featured or reaching out to them?

Trying to approach a site that doesn’t respond to guest posts or other outreach efforts is a waste of time and energy. It can also damage your relationships with link prospects down the road.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to put your link prospecting skills into action. Let’s explore 9 steps to build a list of qualified link prospects.

Step 1: Define Your Success Criteria

Before you even start, you must define what success means to you. For example, an easy way to accomplish this would be by creating measurable goals.

One of the best ways is by setting a target number of links.

Make your goals specific and measurable. For example, don’t just say “I want to get 10 links.”  

Say “I want to get 10 links from relevant sites that have 500 or more total linking root domains.” 

That way, it’s easier for you to keep track of what you’ve accomplished.

Otherwise, you’re just shooting in the dark.

Also, remember that link building is a long-term strategy.

Be patient and don’t take any shortcuts.

Step 2: Design Your Overarching Link Building Strategy

Your strategy will define the appropriate prospects you should add to your list.

For example, if you want to acquire links through content marketing, your approach might look different from going after broken links.

Maybe you want to focus on guest blogging.

Whatever the case, make sure your strategy is achievable, realistic, and scalable. A few things to consider include:

  • Are there any restrictions? For example, you might be limited by your brand’s image or your relationships with link prospects. Or you may be particularly focusing on a geographical location, and that can affect the pool of sites you can collect.
  • How will your strategy progress and change over time? Your strategy should be flexible and evolve in line with your efforts. For instance, depending on the type of content you’re planning further down the line, you may need to change the link building tactic, which may affect the type of pages you’re collecting.
  • How will you measure success? If it’s a long-term strategy, assessing your progress should be simple. You can use reports or track your efforts on an ongoing basis.

By success, what we mean is being able to scrutinize the link strategies you’re using and the prospecting batches being collected – and seeing the results – be it reply rates, positive responses or links won. By doing this, it acts as a feedback loop and informs future strategies. 

  • How much time will you need? Having a schedule is vital for staying on track and maximizing your efforts. Once your strategy is in place, you can create a timeline and determine how much time you’ll spend over the next few months.
  • What is my budget for link building? Whether you’re outsourcing your link building, or hiring in-house, this will determine the volume of work you can do, and ultimately, the number of links you can acquire per month. At the strategy and prospecting level, its generally going to lead to you collecting targets faster than you can do outreach to – but you don’t want to collect so much data that you can’t reach out to that many websites. So by knowing how much you want to spend on link building/how many links you want to build, this gives you more insight into how many link prospects you need to be collecting over that time period.

By answering these questions, you can create a flexible and scalable link-building plan that’s tailored to your needs.

Step 3: Decide the niche you want to target

One of the best ways of building high quality links, is to focus on building the most niche-relevant links. 

And to do this, is going to require an audience-centric approach to link building. You need to ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. Who is your target audience – and knowing that potential audience of your content – what other website types could they potentially be browsing?
  1. Are there known “linkable audiences” that you know are passionate about content or their audience, that are related to your niche? 

For context: linkable audiences are sectors that you know are more likely to be comfortable with, and used to sharing and linking to content. These may include the parent sector, disabilities, senior niche, amongst many others

Once you have these niches or industries in mind, you then need to determine how you’re going to make it related. 

The easiest way is to come up with content ideas, which are relevant to those websites you identified – and then ensuring it’s both relevant to those targets, and to your site. 

Or if you already have an existing piece of content, then researching topics that crossover with that, and then 

Creating a link strategy based on a niche

Imagine we own a fitness brand and we know a really good audience for us is women, and more specifically, women who want to get in shape before an upcoming wedding. 

We’ve identified we want to reach out to sites with an audience of newlyweds. This isn’t simply just about scraping Feedspot for the top 100 wedding blogs, but thinking much deeper about who has that type of audience. Bridal stores, wedding lifestyle news, women’s lifestyle blogs, health eating blogs with a female audience – are just some of the sites that come to mind. 

There are different ways of creating content ideas, but you’ll then want to create a topic that bridges that gap between fitness and newlyweds. A bit of deep diving into the SERPs and preliminary research should give you some ideas that you can use for your content ideation. 

deep diving into the SERPs to find ideas that you can use for your content ideation

This would then be a strategy you can take forward to the link prospecting stage.

What doesn’t work

We won’t always know if a niche will work, but the idea is with the right research and using the right content angle, it increases the chances of it working. 

You do need to be careful when picking out niches for prospecting, that it’s something achievable. Few things to be careful of:

  • A very narrow/obscure niche: Let’s say we’re in the crystal healing niche and we want to build links from the tarot sector. Even if we use loads of advanced operators and keyword combinations – we won’t find a lot of targets, especially if we do any filtering with authority metrics/traffic. 
  • A competing/skeptical niche: It’s better to think about this at the prospecting level (but you may even find out during the outreach stage), and that’s if the niche you’re trying to collect is competing with yours. In other words, let’s say we have a protein supplement store and we decide we want to reach out to paleo blogs, because we think that is a health-conscious audience we can capture. The problem is that many in the paleo niche may not see much need for taking protein from supplements because they get it from meat. And from a link building standpoint, they either may not be interested in our topic, or just don’t feel comfortable linking out to a business which doesn’t align with their personal opinions (or audience sentiment).
  •  A difficult niche: Difficulty is all relative, but you will find some types of websites will just be exponentially harder to get a link from, and won’t always be suitable for your situation. Government, universities, schools – have very stringent guidelines on what they can/can’t link to. If your business model doesn’t align or the content doesn’t fall within that it’ll be impossible to get a link. The medical and finance niche can also be difficult to get links from, depending on your business. For instance, we’ve found that while it’s possible to get links from health clinics, they will probe you for more info about the author writing the article, their/your qualifications and will likely have a strict editorial process and will call out any inaccuracies. So you either need to have the expertise or process in place to deal with this – or avoid the niche altogether!
  • Irrelevant niche:  For example, let’s say you have a scented candle business, getting a backlink from a website that talks about software development or outdoor activities does not really qualify as a relevant niche. Now, lets say your business is quoted in a marketing publication to talk about your marketing success, or your site has been mentioned as a good example of an ecommerce brand, and you’re credited with a link. It’s still relevant in some way, and will pass some value. But you wouldn’t want to base your entire strategy on links like these.

Step 4: Create a Spreadsheet To Organize Your Prospecting Efforts

Since you’ll be dealing with many moving parts, you need a document to manage all this information.

You should have a spreadsheet that lists all of the prospects relevant to your niche.

Even though each campaign is different, you should try to include, at the very least, the following information:

  • Name
  • Email
  • URL
  • Authority criteria
  • Notes

Depending on your needs, you might want to include additional information.

For example, if you’re also trying to build links for a local site, you can include data like citations or NAP information.

The more data you have on hand as well about overall strategy, audience insights or industry nuances –  the easier it will be to craft personalized outreach emails.

Step 5: Use Google To Pinpoint and Outsmart Your Competitors

Google provides a simple way to identify top-performing content in your industry.

You can find pretty good link opportunities by analyzing the top 5-10 SERPs for a given search query.

You should start by identifying keywords relevant to your overall business goals.

For example, if you’re selling sponges, it might be worth looking for terms like “Best kitchen sponge 2024” or “How to buy the best sponge.”

This exercise will help narrow down your list of prospects, so you only deal with relevant sites.

Then, you can use Google’s search operators to refine results.

For example, you could type “Keyword” site:URL to view all of the content that’s published on the specified URL for that keyword.

You can use this information to discover top performers and then sort your list of prospects by relevance.

Step 6: Tap Into BuzzSumo To Identify the Most Active Influencers in Your Niche

BuzzSumo is a content discovery platform that can help you find top-performing content in your industry.

You can also use BuzzSumo to identify the most active influencers in your space and analyze the content they’re currently sharing and linking.

This information will help you identify promising prospects actively publishing content and linking to good sources.

What’s more, the site lets you filter results based on many metrics.

For example, you can identify influencers with more followers or get more social shares.

With a bit of work, you can use this information to find prospects worth pursuing.

Step 7: Use Twitter To Find and Connect With Influencers

Twitter works great for connecting with people you wouldn’t be able to reach on other platforms.

For example, you can use Twitter to flag down bloggers and site owners that you wouldn’t find with a simple Google search.

You can use the “Who to follow” tab on Twitter to find new prospects that are worth pursuing.

Besides, Twitter shows you who’s been mentioned using certain hashtags.

For example, if you’re trying to build links for your local business, you can use Twitter to identify local bloggers and site owners.

You can do this by analyzing the content they’re sharing, their followers, and who’s been mentioning them.

Even though this might not help you land a link right off the bat, it can help you build valuable relationships that can pay off down the road.

The point here is to look for influencers that are relevant to your niche and might be interested in what you’re doing.

Step 8: Use LinkedIn To Connect With the Right People, at the Right Time

Link building is more about relationships than any other thing.

It’s not about what you know, but who you know.

Here’s where LinkedIn comes into play.

LinkedIn provides a great way to connect with decision-makers and build valuable relationships fast.

Thanks to LinkedIn’s advanced search features, you can find prospects by industry, company size, location, and many other factors.

The best part?

LinkedIn users are already looking to connect with new people, so it’s pretty easy to start a conversation.

Just make sure you’re adding value and not just asking for a link right off the bat.

Some best practices include:

  • Be cool: Approach every prospect with a warm introduction and stay low key. If you send them a weird cold introduction, it’s going to scare them away.
  • Be helpful: Try to provide value before asking for anything. For example, you could point your prospects to an exciting piece of content or show some samples of your work.
  • Be human: Don’t be a robot and start conversations with some small talk or anything like that. People want to do business with their friends, not a wall of text.
  • Be personal: People like to do business with people they know, like, and trust. You can use LinkedIn to find out more about them and personalize your message.

Step 9: Analyze Your Competitors’ Strategy To Come Up With Creative Ideas

If one of your competitors is getting a lot of links, chances are they’re doing something right.

By analyzing their link profile, you can find some new prospects or develop a more efficient link-building strategy.

Now, most people approach this the wrong way.

They simply analyze competitors trying to steal their links.

But if you pay close attention to the context in which your competitors got those links, you can identify valuable insights about your industry.

For example, if your competitors got a lot of links from infographic directories, that’s something you might want to look into (and probably even avoid and beat with better strategies)

Maybe they got a lot of links from forums or press releases. 

Perhaps they’re pitching local sites. 

Heck, they may not even have actively gotten some of those links.

Sometimes natural links can give you a good insight into what works and what doesn’t.

For instance, we analyzed a competitor who had a link from a local government site working with a client.

We then picked up on that and proactively reached out to local government sites across the US, which led to dozens of .gov links. 

The bottom line?

When analyzing your competitors, don’t just try to steal their links.

Try to understand what works for them and apply it to your link-building efforts.

Step 10: Use the Pareto Principle To “Groom” Your List

Once you’re done with these steps, you’ll have a HUGE list of prospects.

That’s awesome, but it can also be overwhelming.

At this point, you might want to figure out which prospects are more likely to link to your site.

Here’s where the Pareto principle comes in.

By prioritizing your list, you can focus your time and effort on the right people.

For example, imagine you have a list of 1000 prospects.

Instead of reaching out to all of them, you should focus on the 20% that’ll produce 80% of the results.

This way, you can spend more time crafting a better message, and also increase the likelihood of getting a link.

How can you prioritize your list?

One way is to assign a score from 1-5 to each prospect based on the following criteria:

  • Industry relevance: How relevant is the prospect’s industry to your site?
  • Likelihood of success: How likely is the prospect to link to you?
  • Authority: How strong is the domain in question?
  • Relationship: How well does the prospect know you?

By assigning scores to your prospects, you can prioritize the list based on risk-reward.

Even though this is not exact science, this simple exercise can help you focus your time and effort on the right prospects.

The Bottom Line?

Link building prospecting is tough.

You want to build relationships with the right people, but you also want to make sure your strategy is scalable and efficient.

The good news is that it’s possible.

By following these simple steps, you can find your link building “sweet spot” and get the most out of your link building efforts.

And if this still looks too tough – then TLG are here to help, and are just an email away.