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5 fundamentals of large scale link prospecting | Wordtracker

5 fundamentals of large scale link prospecting

Posted by on 26 April 2012

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Garrett French explains how he seeks out link prospects on a very grand scale …

Once my foundational links are built for a client, Google remains my go-to tool for finding new and tactic-specific link prospects. Whether I’m finding prospective sites for a guest post campaign, link page requests, product reviews, contest sponsorships, local sponsorships or other tactics, Google provides me with pre-qualified prospects in the hundreds, if not thousands.

To speed up my process I’ve even built a link prospecting tool, but before trying it out you must learn the five fundamentals of link prospecting with Google. And this learning only happens when you roll up your sleeves and go elbow-deep in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

Note: as you follow along from home remove all brackets from the examples below when searching. [Brackets] are how I indicate a search query.

1) Anatomy of a link prospecting query

Link prospecting queries are specialized searches run in Google that can bring back prospects for your link campaign. Understanding how they work requires us to dissect a bit … A link prospecting query has two basic parts: the “category phrase” keyword and the “footprint” keyword.

Let’s get more concrete here and say you’re building links to a new PDF guide on heart health for diabetics. Here’s a sample query for finding resource pages relating to heart health: [heart health links]. The category phrase keyword here is “heart health.” The “footprint” keyword in this case is simply the word “links.”

Go ahead – try the search for yourself and look through the links pages that come back in the top 10: [heart health links]

Heart health links

While you’re at it, try a query with a different category keyword: [diabetes links]. Look at the SERP titles. Look at the SERP snippets. Click through on some of the results. These are what link prospects look like as Google displays them, and there’s quite a lot you can learn from looking at the SERPs … but we’ll get to that further on in the article!

2) Make effective category phrase keyword selections

The most common first mistake made by new link prospectors is that they use their target SEO keywords as category phrase keywords. Take VERY CAREFUL NOTE that in the example above “heart health” is not necessarily the term we’re trying to have our content rank for – it’s a phrase that will help us find target pages to outreach to and request links from.

Let’s look at another example to illustrate the point. Let’s say you’ve written a guest post and you’d like to find some blogs that accept guest posts from outside writers. Your SEO objective is to build anchor text links to your “Oster 7-Piece Equine Care Series Kit” page (it’s a set of horse brushes). You know what you want to rank for so you use “Oster 7-Piece Equine Care Series Kit” as your category phrase keyword and “guest post” as your footprint keyword in your query to search for guest post opportunities. Go ahead – go check out the results for this query: [Oster 7-Piece Equine Care Series Kit “guest post”]

7 piece equine care

Yikes, right? Not much there to work with.

Now let’s think about some possible “category” keywords for “Oster 7-Piece Equine Care Series Kit.” Brushing falls into something of a care or health category. Therefore I’d first try the following in conjunction with the “guest post” footprint keyword:

  • horse care
  • horse health
  • horse grooming

Next, since brushing can be a part of showing or displaying horses I’d also try:

  • horse show
  • horse training
  • horse riding

Just so you know – there are frequently cases where your targeted SEO terms can yield productive results in the SERPs. For example, try “Atlanta DUI Lawyer” in conjunction with “guest post.”

Atlanta DUI guest post

Often this is because your competitors have already done some guest posting targeting these high value keywords and you’re just following the trail of their efforts. So do test your SEO keywords, but don’t rely on them. Remember also to think about broader category keywords and you’ll expand your reach and diversify the sites that come back in the SERPs.

3) 5 important prospect “footprint” keywords by tactic

So now that we’ve covered the category phrases, it’s time to touch on the footprint keywords – these are the terms that must line up not with your category but rather with sites required for your specific tactic.

Guest Posting: If you have strong writers you have guest posting opportunities. My favorite guest posting footprints, which are commonly found on guest posts or sites that accept guest posts, include:

  • guest post
  • intitle:”write for us”
  • “about the author”
  • “guest post* guidelines”

Also, check out Ann Smarty’s guest posting footprints.

Reviews: If you have products or services you’re willing to give away you can try the review tactic. These footprints are common on pages that are reviews.

  • review
  • “I received no monetary compensation”
  • “Submit * for review”
  • review opinions are my own

Contests: Again, if you have products, services or gift cards you’re willing to give away you can try contests. These footprints will help you find sites that have published contest-related pages in the past.

  • contest
  • giveaway
  • intitle:”win a”
  • intext:”how to enter”

Sponsorships: If you have cash you’d like to donate and negotiate with for a mention you can try the following footprints. NOTE – you may find that cities and specific causes or activities are more useful than category phrases in conjunction with these footprints.

  • sponsor
  • “sponsorship opportunities”
  • intitle:”Our Donors”
  • intitle:”our sponsors”

Links Pages: Asking for links (links page requests) is often the first tactic a beginner link builder tries. Links pages – the good ones – are best reserved for high quality, academic-grade content. Not your average blog post, but a massive survey you’ve conducted or 10,000 page guide you’ve written. Take a look at the content and sites that get listed here and make sure yours is in the same league. FURTHER – if you’re getting on GOOD links and resource pages you won’t be building highly targeted anchor text to money pages (unless your content converts).

  • links
  • resources
  • intitle:links
  • intitle:resources

4) 6 vital advanced search operators

We’ve kept things fairly basic so far, and I’ve only thrown one advanced search operator at you – the quotes “”. These tell Google that the words inside the quotes MUST appear in that order somewhere in the document that they return. Since I run queries in bulk with my link prospector tool, I typically run queries with and without quotes – in this way I expand the number of relevant domains returned. Quotes are just one of the essential operators for a link prospector though. Here are my other must-have operators and how/why they’re useful.

  • intitle: This operator tells Google that the term directly following the colon must be in the title of the document returned. I use intitle: to narrow down and essentially prequalify my prospects from the SERPs. If the phrase “guest post” is in the title of a document that’s an even better indicator that the site publishes guest posts than if it appears in the body. HOWEVER you don’t want to rely on intitles only – there are many many sites that don’t have effective title tags and you’ll pass by many great opportunities. You can get phrases in your intitle search if you put them in quotes, for example – intitle:”more words”. You can also combine intitle with the tilde operator, which I’ll touch on later.
  • inurl: The inurl operator tells Google to return documents that have the specified phrase somewhere in the URL. Like the intitle operator, the inurl operator lets you narrow and prequalify sites. An inurl:”guest post” footprint keyword can be highly effective. Again, you won’t want to rely just on the inurl operator – you need to layer it with other operators or you’ll miss out on prospects.
  • site: The site operator is typically used for searching a single site. I use it for indicating that I want pages from a specific type of domain ([TLD]( For example, if I wanted links from sites whose domains end in .EDU I’d include ** in my query. I think you could probably use *inurl* for the same thing.
  • ~ (tilde) The tilde, or synonym operator, is one of my new favorites. I’ve only recently discovered it It’s best used on your category keywords, and only on single words. So, taking from our above example looking for horse-related guest posting opportunities you could do this [horse ~health “guest post”] and Google will substitute synonyms for the word health. You could also try [~horse “guest post”].
  • – (minus) The minus sign tells Google to remove any pages containing the word that follows. I have a very narrow use for the negative operator and will share it, but want you to read this article on reductive link prospecting queries I use the minus operator in conjunction with the tilde. So my query would look something like this: [~horse -horse “guest post”]. In this way you can isolate the synonyms Google suggests in a single SERP.

When prospecting I seek a relentlessly thorough understanding of the opportunity landscape. I want to know every single possible opportunity. Operators help me do this because the pages that rank top 20, or even 100, for [horse guest post] will be different than [horse “guest post”] and [~horse “guest post”] and [~horse intitle:”guest post”]. Building out careful and thorough batches of prospecting phrases is the only way I’ve found to ensure some degree of thorough querying, and thus the importance to me of advanced operators.

5) Never stop learning and experimenting

Your observations of language used in the SERPs and on the pages of potential prospects are your best teacher. That’s where you’ll pick up new category and footprint keywords. That said, here are more resources for link prospectors who have made it all the way through this article!

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About Garrett French

Photo of Garrett French 

Garrett French is the founder of Citation Labs, a link building tool “factory” and prospecting + outreach agency. He writes about link prospecting regularly for Search Engine Watch and looks forward to writing more for WordTracker!

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