A little over a year ago, we published a guide to qualifying link prospects. That method still holds; however, in the past year, we have adjusted our thinking, honed our processes and most importantly created a few simple, free tools that will make your link qualification phase much faster.
Before getting to the tips and tools, we’d like to quickly outline *our* model for effective link campaign design. This way, it will be easier to understand where link qualification fits and why it is such a critical step of any link building campaign.
For reference, it might be best to review these prior articles on Search Engine Land:
- Linkable Asset Identification: A Starting Point For New Link Building Campaigns
- How To Research, Create And Distribute Highly-Linkable Content
- Different approaches to link prospecting: Link Prospecting Queries, Competitor Backlink Analysis. Topics include: Helping Fix Broken Links, Links to Attack Sites on Prospects’ Sites (I’ve read great stuff from Melanie Nathan and Darren Shaw on these methods but have no personal experience with them.)
- Link Request Outreach: 5 Steps To Maximize The Value Of Every Opportunity
Now that we’ve framed up the specific model we’ll be using for this how-to, let’s dig in!
- Align link prospecting methods with linkable assets
Make sure that your linkable assets line up with your link prospecting methods. This means that if you don’t have writing bandwidth in your organization, then any “guest post” opportunities are automatically disqualified. Aligning assets and prospecting methods is a form of pre-qualifying your link prospects and shortening the time it will take to decide whether or not to add them to your “outreach” list.
- Check the tool-based URL quality scores
If you’re dealing with thousands or even hundreds of thousands of prospects, it can often make sense to simply remove huge chunks of the least valuable link prospects. Some link prospect sources such as Linkscape, MajesticSEO and our new application provide a scoring method that estimates the value or trust that given pages have earned. These kinds of quality scores make it simple to disqualify massive numbers of prospects that are (most likely) junk. Save them though – today’s trash could be tomorrow’s treasure when you create and launch new linkable assets!
- Count URL, hostname occurrences in SERPs and competitor backlinks
The number of times a URL and/or hostname appears can be a vital signal of quality. If you’re using queries for your link prospecting, we highly recommend running them through the URL and Hostname Counter Tool and the process outlined in Analyzing SERP Dominators For Link Opportunities. If you use link building queries in place of your targeted SEO keywords, you will more-quickly discover larger numbers of qualified prospects. In order to make the best use of your time, focus on a single linkable asset at a time with your queries.Also, if you add backlinks to multiple competitors into the URL and Hostname Counter mentioned in the article above, you can check for co-occurring backlinks. Co-occurring links to your competitors from a single URL or hostname is a qualifying signal.
- Remove duplicate hostname occurrences from big lists
If you’ve run your query-generated link prospects through the Url and Hostname counter, you can cherry pick the most-frequently occurring URLs. If you’ve queried deeply enough, it’s likely that there will be tens if not hundreds of duplicate hostnames. You probably don’t need to visit each and every prospect URL from a single site to determine whether or not it’s worth reaching out to them. The “Remove URLs with Duplicate Hosts” tool will remove duplicate hostnames from a list of URLs (while keeping the URL of the first hostname instance) so that you get lists of link prospects from separate websites for qualification. The benefit here is that you’re reviewing the top URLs from each website, rather than encountering the possibility of reviewing 20 URLs from the same site. This tool essentially eliminates duplicate qualification work on a website-by-website basis.
- Make quicker visits to each URL for final decision making
Once you’ve removed as much chaff as possible from your prospect lists, there comes a time when you have to qualify, by hand, URL by URL. This can take forever. To speed things up as much as possible, we recommend first and foremost disabling images in your browser. Second, we recommend using the “URL Reviewer”, which opens a list of URLs in new tabs in your favorite browser. With the images off, you can quickly open multiple pages all at once, and run through them more efficiently by hand as you won’t be distracted by images (seriously – a long bout of qualification can increase ADD). You also won’t have to wait for images to load before reviewing the site; we’ve found that this is one of the most significant barriers to fast qualification times.
Be careful though: try adding only 10 urls at a time at first, then going to 20 so you don’t put too much strain on your computer, then try 30 and so on. Sometimes RAM will be a bottleneck, sometimes it’ll be your router, sometimes it’ll be your internet connection. Find the balance for your setup. We also recommend using Chrome as your browser for this, as it manages RAM allocation much more efficiently than FireFox, Opera or Safari. Ben Wills hand-qualifies up to 250 URLs an hour this way.
Here’s another tip: use Ctrl-W or Command-W to close tabs, rather than mouse-clicking to close tabs. If you find a prospect, only mark confirmed prospects in a separate column in your spreadsheet. After you’re done qualifying, sort by that column and mark all of the unmarked URLs as “Not Prospects” so you don’t review them again later.
Finally, you’re ready take your qualified list to the Link Outreach stage.
Link prospect qualification can be one of the most tedious parts of a link building campaign. Apply these tips and tools to your process and you’ll find yourself cruising through your link prospect lists… and moving on more quickly to Link Outreach!
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