Link prospecting is the stage of the link building campaign where you locate to viable link building opportunities.
It’s the pivotal stage of any successful link building campaign because this is where you either get the link or you don’t.
If you don’t have a strategy in place and know what you’re doing, this is where link building can really fall off the rails, and your ROI can plummet.
Having a link prospecting strategy in place is crucial for successful link building for a couple of reasons:
- You will improve the odds of actually landing a link
- You increase the chances it will be high quality.
What, exactly, is link prospecting?
Link prospecting involves searching for and identifying authoritative, relevant websites that you would like and think you could get backlinks from.
These are websites that meet your domain authority requirements, are in your niche and that will provide you with the SEO value you need to rise up the rankings and improve your organic search traffic.
If you know what you are looking for (and what to avoid), after the link prospecting process is complete, you will very likely have a list of websites that could be willing to provide you with a backlink.
Target site owners and the wrong sites, however, and not only will you find it hard to acquire links, but you might find the links you do get don’t help you very much.
There are usually three components to a link prospecting campaign:
- Choosing the strategy
- Outlining your ideal backlink
- Developing your outreach list
Choosing the right link building strategy
Before you do anything, you need to know what kind of link building strategy you plan on employing to actually get your backlinks.
Understanding the strategy you will use is important because it informs the kinds of websites you will be selecting and eventually reaching out to.
There are basically three types of link building strategies for which you will be building your prospecting list.
- Guest blogging
- Linkable assets
- Link insertions
Below, we will delve into more detail regarding each of the above tactics and the kinds of link building and websites they are most suitable for.
Guest blogging, or guest posting, is when you write content for a website and, exchange for your efforts, you get a link back to your site within that content.
Guest posting always starts with prospecting because you first need to determine which sites offer guest posting opportunities.
When building your guest posting link prospecting list, the below two questions should always inform your decision to use or pass over a site:
- Is the site in your niche or industry (i.e., relevant) and high quality?
- Does it appear the website in question accepts guest blog submissions?
The first criterion is vital because only relevant links from authoritative, trustworthy sites are going to provide you with good SEO value.
Question number two matters because it’s always more straightforward to publish a guest blog on a site that you know accepts them.
The alternative is trying to convince a site owner or webmaster to publish your content, but that could take a lot of back and forth and may ultimately not be worth the effort.
Identifying websites that publish guest posts
There are a couple of tells that a website hosts guest blog content.
- They are explicit about doing so–they usually have a page that is dedicated to explaining their guest posting guidelines and what they expect.
2. There are posts on a site’s blog that clearly were not written by the site owner or people who work for the company behind the site.
If either of these two signs is present, it’s likely the site is going to be open to publishing your guest post.
Be careful about guest post farms (i.e., link farms)
While doing your guest post link prospecting, it’s important to understand that you are bound to come to guest post farms.
These are websites that exist exclusively to sell guest posts. They don’t offer any real value and usually have no or a very thin editorial policy when it comes to what they accept.
So long as you are willing to pay, these kinds of sites will sell you a link.
Buying links from places like this is expressly against Google’s webmaster guidelines.
Google views this as an attempt to manipulate page rank and, depending on how flagrantly and how often a person engages in this practice, they might find their site subject to a manual action.
At the very least, these links are not going to confer any SEO value. Google will spot the manipulation attempt and neutralize the link juice.
It is best to avoid these sorts of places while doing link prospecting and, importantly, know how to spot them.
A linkable asset campaign
Linkable asset link building is where you build a high quality piece of content and then reach out to websites and see if they would like to link back to it.
This is also known as skyscraper link building.
The idea behind skyscraper link building is that you find content, via competitor research, that is already receiving a lot of backlinks (i.e., there is a demand for this type of content) and then create something similar while also improving on it.
You are creating something that you know there is already a demand for, but you are making something that is more comprehensive and useful than what is currently out there.
Why link prospecting is so important for linkable assets
Link prospecting is of vital importance to a linkable asset campaign because, without it, it is unlikely that your content is going to be organically discovered and link to.
Given enough time, you mind start to see some backlinks trickle in as you receive more web traffic and (if and when) Google decides your content is worth boosting in the rankings.
But you are going to build backlinks to your linkable assets much faster and more effectively if you shop it around.
The objective with linkable asset link prospecting is to find pages that you think might benefit from including a link to your content.
Once you have located these pages, you can pitch them your article and see if they are willing to link to it.
Examples of a linkable asset link building process
You might create a report that is full of original research (maybe you commissioned a study or asked your site’s visitors to fill out a questionnaire).
Following that, you might consider finding websites or pages that would benefit from linking to your original research–especially if your data is more recent or your methodology is more rigorous.
If you have compiled a list of niche or industry statistics, especially if you can provide attractive visualizations of these stats, websites are always looking for these kinds of things. They might be willing to add a linkable asset like this to an existing article on the topic that could use some statistics to back up the points or arguments they are making.
You might also consider creating a tool (e.g., if you’re a mortgage broker, a mortgage rate calculator) and then finding “best of” lists, blog posts and niche resource pages that are covering topics that might benefit from the addition of your tool.
Ultimately, what you are trying to do is make it as simple as possible for a website to link back to your asset. A website is more likely to link back to your content if they don’t have to do anything other than add a link to it.
The oversaturation of linkable assets
The problem with linkable assets and the skyscraper technique is that there are so many people out there doing exactly the same thing–a lot of it is low effort.
In order to stand out, you have to invest a lot of time and energy into creating something that is truly unique and useful to people.
Linkable assets are also great for broken link building opportunities
Another great way to score backlinks with linkable assets is to look for broken link opportunities.
A broken link is one that, when clicked on, takes you to a 404 error page.
Having broken links in an article is bad for user experience, and websites (usually) want to correct them.
You can often get backlinks to linkable assets by identifying broken links on pages related to your asset and then reaching out to the site.
You let the webmaster know about the link and suggest your linkable asset as the replacement.
Broken link building can be very effective because you are providing value right away, which is a good way to ingratiate yourself with a site.
You’ve informed them of a UX issue on their page and suggested a readymade solution that is easy to implement.
There are free Chrome plugins that you can use to identify broken links on a page. Broken link checker is one of the more commonly used
If you are using an SEO analytics link building tools like Ahrefs, you can take a broken link, plug it into the broken link tool and compile a list of all of the websites that are linking to that broken link, greatly expanding your link prospecting.
The third type of link prospecting is to use link insertions.
This is where you ask a website to link back to a specific page on your website. Depending on the circumstances, you may have to discuss payment with the website owner.
You will need to have patience and an open mind while link prospecting for link insertions because you are going to need to reach out to a large number of sites.
It’s a numbers game and the more sites you contact, the higher your odds of landing links.
The first step is to search for relevant sites in your niche and then filter the websites by authority.
Usually, you want to look for sites that have a DR/DA of at least 30 to make sure you are getting links that are actually going to positively affect your SEO.
Generally speaking, it’s not usually worthwhile doing link insertions on sites with lower DR (unless the price is low enough).
It is also probably safe to skip over sites with too high of a DA/DR.
Sites above DR 70 likely aren’t going to be accepting link insertion requests.
As with guest posting, the most important thing to keep in mind when doing link prospecting for link insertions is to avoid spammy sites.
The same guest post mills that exist solely to sell links in guest posts are probably also selling similar link insertion opportunities.
Google knows about these spammy sites, and it will neutralize (and potentially penalize) links from such places.
Spotting a spam site
Link and guest post farms tend to have a few recurring features:
- Their blog is full of very low quality content. Usually, this is stuff that is just painful to read, is full of spelling and grammatical errors and maybe even looks like it was written by AI.
- The website is poorly designed using a simple template
- There is no about or contact information for the owner
- The site receives little organic traffic according to SEO tools such as Ahrefs
- A lot of suspicious-looking outbound links
- The posts have no author attribution
Very often these mill sites have been purchased because they have a high DR, meant to fool unwitting link builders into purchasing a link.
They might have been sites that have changed hands multiple times. When one person squeezes as much money as they can out of the site, it is sold to someone else, who does the same, perhaps rebranding it in the process or hosting the domain on a different server.
Buttress your link prospecting efforts with HARO
HARO link building is worth an honorable mention here, despite the fact that it doesn’t really involve link prospecting in the way that other backlink types do.
HARO stands for Help a Reporter Out, and it is a digital PR service provided for free by New York-based company Cision.
Essentially what it does is connect journalists and writers with expert sources for articles.
HARO is great for organic, high quality, high authority homepage links. When you get a link from a journalist or blogger on HARO, your home page is most likely where any dofollow links will point to.
Look at some of the links we have landed for our clients using HARO:
This will increase your overall domain authority (which will trickle down to other pages on your website), but HARO is not for building backlinks to deeper pages on your site (your blog and service pages for example).
The next stage of a link prospecting campaign, once you have laid out your link building approach, is to determine the kinds of websites you are targeting.
These will be sites you target based on authority and website niche.
Deciding on your link prospecting targets
As mentioned, there are two things to keep in mind when targeting websites.
The reason niche is such an important consideration is that Google values links that come from sites in your same niche higher than less relevant niches.
This makes sense.
If you’re in the finance industry, links from other finance-related websites are better indicators that you know what you are doing/talking about than links from a Home and Garden site.
There are basically three types of niche relevancy:
- Same niche relevance,
- Related niche relevance
- Wider niche relevance
For example, let’s say you’re an eCommerce site that sells tennis gear.
- Site in your niche would be: other tennis gear sites
- Sites in related niches would be: Sporting gear sites
- Sites in the wider niche would be: fitness and sport-related websites
You need to brainstorm topics in the above categories so that you can come up with a list of potential high quality link building opportunities in your niche.
The bottom line is that there are basically endless link possibilities. With some imagination, you should be able to expand your niche opportunities massively. You just need to make sure you can justify a link from a particular website based on one of the above three categories.
Be open-minded, but don’t go for websites that are clearly irrelevant. In the above tennis equipment example, you wouldn’t want to target a DIY carpentry website, for example.
Setting your domain metrics
After you have identified your niche opportunities, the next stage in your link prospecting is to set your target metrics.
These include things like:
- Domain Rating (DR) or Domain Authority (DA)--depending on the analytics link building tool you’re using
- The amount of organic traffic a site receives each month
- The value of a site’s organic traffic (this is a good way to get rid of low quality websites)
Generally speaking, the higher a website’s DR or DA, the more powerful the SEO value from the link, but the harder it is to build links on these sites.
Below are some general metrics that would serve any link prospecting campaign well:
- A DR of between 40 and 80
- Over 1000 organic traffic per month
- A traffic value of $1000
The 40 to 80 range is appropriate for most websites and will generate good SEO results.
If you’re a new site or are just starting to build links, however, it’s better to extend your lower range even lower, as you are going to benefit from any links you get (provided they are from legitimate, non-spammy sites).
If, on the other hand, you already have a well-established site, you should be looking for links from higher authority sites, as lower authority links aren’t going to do a whole lot for you.
We have a comprehensive guide on how to build domain authority if you’re interested in taking a deeper dive.
Caveat: domain authority on its own can be dangerous
Domain authority is a legitimate metric to use when evaluating backlink opportunities, however, by itself, it can also be misleading.
That’s because there are people who will buy expired domains with good domain authority and then redirect that authority to their website.
The new site might be a spammy link or guest post farm that gets no traffic and which Google doesn’t like.
A new link builder can get excited when he or she receives a high DR or DA link, not realizing that the link is, at best, SEO neutral, if not potentially harmful.
Build a prospecting list
Once you know what kinds of backlinks you want to create (guest post, linkable asset or link insertion), you need to start doing outreach.
There are plenty of ways to go about this, but they can essentially be broken down into two categories: manual and automated.
Manual list creation and link building
Manual list creation is pretty straightforward.
You can either use Google search or an SEO tool to come up with a list of websites and then go about reaching out one by one.
Using Google is easy. It depends on the kinds of link opportunities you are looking for, but basically, you are using Google search operators to locate viable websites.
For example, if you were trying to locate guest posting opportunities for your tennis equipment eCommerce store with Google, you might consider using a search operator(s) like:
Google would then present you with a list of websites that have pages containing the words “guest posts”--a reliable indicator that these sites accept guest posts.
The ones at the top of the SERP would, of course, be the top ranking pages, so any links you got from such places would likely be high DR.
You would then add these sites to your link prospecting list and reach out to them, pitching your guest post ideas.
Automated link prospecting
Automated link prospecting involves using something like Ahrefs to find out which sites are linking to your competitors' pages and then reaching out to those sites.
Reverse-engineering your competitors' backlinks is usually a good way to approach link insertion or linkable asset link building because you already know that a site has found your competitor’s resource useful.
All you have to do is make sure that what you are offering is even more useful.
For example, let’s say you’re still that same tennis eCommerce site, and you’re trying to find out which sites are linking back to a competitor (Moo Tennis)’s thought leadership/linkable asset pages.
You would plug that competitor’s domain into Ahrefs
And then click on the “best by links” filter under the “pages” tab on the left.
This would bring up all of Moo Tennis’ pages, sorted by which have the most backlinks.
Once you have identified the pages that you want to use, you would click on the number beside the backlinks and it would bring up a list of all of the sites linking back to that specific Moo Tennis page.
Following that, you would begin the final stage of link prospecting: the outreach.
Manual vs automated outreach
Once you have your outreach list, you can either automate your link building outreach campaign or do it manually.
Automated outreach involves using email software that allows you to upload a bunch of email addresses and websites, design outreach templates and then essentially hit start and forget about it.
Continuing with the Moo Tennis-Ahrefs example above, you would take that list of backlinks and associated referring domains, download the list as a CSV file, go through the list to make sure that you are not including any websites that don’t meet your domain metric requirements, and then upload that file to something like Snov.io
Mailshake is another popular email software
The email software then finds the relevant contact information (if it exists) and sends out template emails (that you create and personalize) in intervals that you program.
This is a good tactic to use when you have a lot of emails you are reaching out to.
Manual is pretty self-explanatory.
You would simply take your list of email addresses and websites and then write the email yourself (or use a template you had created), going through the list one by one.
Obviously, building links manually is a lot more feasible when you don’t have that many prospects to reach out to.
Link prospecting is a very involved part of the link building process
As you can see, a lot goes into link building efforts and getting high quality links.
Finding the relevant websites, building your list of link targets, purchasing and using link prospecting tools, putting together and updating new content when necessary, filtering out irrelevant links and low quality sites; it’s a lot of time (and potentially money).
That is why, of course, so many companies with the budget for it choose to work with an experienced link building service.
Dofollow offers no-contract, performance-based, completely transparent pricing and case studies that prove our outreach, editorial processes and link building methods work.
Why Trust Us On SEO
Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.
Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.
While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.