It seems that many SEOs have taken to believing that link building is synonymous with guest posting. We’ve already busted the fear that guest posting violates Google’s guidelines, but the fact remains that most SEOs use it as a crutch. If we can’t persuade influencers to link to our content without offering a guest post or something similar in exchange, there’s something wrong with our strategy.
And that brings us to link prospecting, the process of finding influencers that we can reach out to in the hopes that they will give us an editorially-placed link. Unfortunately, most SEOs approach link prospecting in a very mechanical way: relying exclusively on popular prospecting tools and competitive link analysis.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to shake things up a bit by recommending some link prospecting tools that might not be quite so obvious, and that might even change the way you think about your prospecting strategy.
Let’s dive in.
“Wait, what? Amazon isn’t a link prospecting tool.”
Oh yes it is, and it’s one of my favorite secret weapons.
Here’s something you might not be aware of: book authors love press, and they love to promote reviews and interviews that portray them in a positive light. Amazon is fantastic for finding relevant authors, and then reaching out to them with a book review, or to request an interview with them.
Here’s how to use it.
Start by heading over to Amazon’s Best Sellers in Books section. In the left sidebar, find the closest-matching category and click it:
Now you’ll be confronted with several subcategories:
You can either choose the most relevant subcategory, or just start browsing through the results for the broad category. Keep in mind that outreach is usually easier with a more specific category, and the audience is more relevant, but the audience also tends to be smaller. I recommend doing both, but with an emphasis on the specific category.
(Note: I feel it’s important to search the “Best Sellers” category of Amazon, as opposed to “New and Popular.” Both can be useful, but the best sellers list focuses on which books are most popular, as opposed to what’s new as well as popular.)
Now what you’re looking at isn’t just a list of books. It’s a list of the most influential thought leaders in categories related to your audience, conveniently organized from most to least currently popular.
Start browsing through the list to find the most acclaimed, relevant books, and Google the author (or the name of the book). Take a look at their website and see if they like to link to interviews and reviews. Even if they don’t, working with these influencers can be a great way to earn exposure, and credibility during future outreach.
Another great place to look on Amazon is their list of books that are coming soon. This is when authors are most eager to promote their book, so it is sometimes the best time to do outreach. At the same time, these authors are often very busy with other interviews and publicity stunts, so if your site is a no-name, this can sometimes be the worst time to do outreach. It all depends on the circumstances.
I know, I know, you’re already rolling your eyes for sure.
Here’s the thing: Google needs to be an integral part of your link prospecting process. This is because of the simple fact that you need to earn links from places where “link builders” aren’t earning them. If all of the links you build come from link building tools, you’re not doing anything to separate yourself from the competition. You’re building the same links as every other run-of-the-mill SEO firm.
Of course, other link prospectors will be using Google too, so you need to approach it differently than a “mechanical” SEO. Here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t just look for sites that accept guest posts. Look for any blogger or webmaster who might take an interest in your resource.
- Don’t get keyword myopia. Think about the type of blogger or webmaster who would take an interest in your subject matter, and look for related interests. Search for your broad category, or for other interests your target webmasters might share. Google Correlate is a good way to find interests considerably more diverse than suggestions from the keyword planner. Diversity is important, and a great way to find the prospects your competitors won’t be using. Keep in mind that webmasters will probably be more interested in your subject if they haven’t already covered it specifically on their site, since the information will be less redundant.
- Use blog and discussion searches. Google used to have filters right on the main page that allowed you to restrict your searches to discussions (from forums and Q&A sites), and blogs. You can’t access these directly from search anymore, but the search tools are still available. Search from https://www.google.com/?tbm=dsc to restrict your search to discussions. This will help you find hubs where people talk about subjects like yours. These forums can be a good place to drive referral traffic directly, and a good place to find webmasters. Search from https://www.google.com/blogsearch to limit results to blogs.
- Search for “directory,” “resources,” “links” etc. Many sites, especially educational sites, have a page with a list of external resources or links that offer more information for visitors. If the list is high quality, and it clearly isn’t a “for SEO” directory, these placements can still be very valuable. Many SEOs have a false perception that any link outside of blog content is useless. As long as it’s an editorial link, and the site has a relevant audience, the link is valuable. (Avoiding exact match anchors is highly recommended)
- Think beyond “guest posting” when searching for a place to guest post. While searching for “guest post” or “guest posting” plus your categorical keywords can be a good way to find sites that will accept guest posts, many of these sites will be built for SEO. If you search for more journalistic phrases like “become a contributor,” “about the author,” “submission guidelines,” etc., you will often find higher quality sites, and will certainly find sites you otherwise wouldn’t have.
- Look for sites that review products. Sites that offer high quality product reviews that users eat up are a great place to earn coverage. The obvious query is “review,” but these bloggers often mentioned that they haven’t received “compensation.” “Submit for review” is another good query, and queries related to “review opinions are my own” are another good place to start.
- Try straight-up categorical searches. By this, I mean try searching for broad categorical queries alone. This will turn up the most authoritative sites in your broad category. While this obviously means that obtaining a link will be more difficult, it also means that links from these sites will be more valuable, and SEO-only marketers won’t be competing against you. These link prospects will require the most creative, personalized outreach in order to be successful.
HARO, or Help a Reporter Out, is a website that connects people who are looking for publicity with journalists. Your site needs to have an Alexa ranking less than one million, and journalists need to meet several other requirements, but if you meet the requirements, it’s an incredible way to get in touch with influencers for free, and letting them do the outreach.
The best thing about HARO is the fact, as a journalist, you don’t have to do any outreach at all. The sources will come to you for interviews and publicity. All you need to do is sort through them. Since the source initially contacted you, it’s typically much easier to get things going than if you were doing cold outreach. It’s less about trying to get a response, and more about sifting through the prospects to find the high quality ones.
Sites that are trying to get a guest blogging section off the ground, or who are looking to interview influencers, can easily benefit from this tool.
Of course, HARO can also be a good place to reach out to journalists if you choose to be a source. However, this section of the site is not free.
Similar to using Amazon as a link prospector, the key is to find people looking to promote themselves who also like to link to their interviews and news stories.
While tools like these won’t typically put you in touch with top notch influencers the way that cold outreach will, it’s a good way to build up a reliable base of interviews and contacts that you can use to build credibility.
4. RealTime (rt.ly)
RealTime is a search engine provided by bit.ly. The best thing about it? The search results are based on which bit.ly links are currently being clicked the most. It’s not about links or retweets or “Likes,” it’s all about traffic.
You can sign up for RealTime by going to rt.ly and connecting it to your Facebook, Twitter, or bit.ly account, and giving them your email address. Once you’ve done that, you can start searching. The tool looks like this:
Keep in mind that RealTime doesn’t have the diversity of Google. You’ll need to keep your searches fairly broad. However, the results will be heavily clicked links on social networks. Doing a search for a broad keyword, or choosing your topic from the “any topic” box, and then performing a search, will quickly put you in touch with the most popular links in your niches.
Using these links, you can quickly find influencers and popular websites based on interests similar to yours. This is a good way to get in touch with prospects who recently published something related to your topic. It brings context to your outreach and makes the process of promotion that much easier.
RealTime lists the number of clicks per minute next to each listing to give you an idea of how popular it currently is. The results aren’t strictly organized by most popular, so you might want to scroll for a while to find the most popular links.
Needless to say, RealTime is also great for blogs that need to stay up to date on “news” and want to cover stories as quickly as possible.
Bit.ly itself is also a great link prospecting tool, even though most people think of it as a data mining tool.
Here’s why. We all know that competitive link analysis is a good way to discover places to earn links. When we take a look at a competitor’s page, or a page similar to one of ours, we often go straight to Open Site Explorer or Ahrefs to see who linked to them, and prospect those sites for links.
However, we often forget about the influencers who share the content on social networks instead.
Bit.ly can tell us who is doing this.
After posting a link to bit.ly, you’ll get this popup:
And if you click on that grayed-out “View stats” link, you’ll get some very helpful information. But more importantly, if you scroll down, you’ll see this:
This is a good way to find influencers who shared a link to the content with their followers on social networks. They are conveniently organized not by Page Authority, retweets, or any other vanity metric, but by actual clicks. This is a good, quick and easy way to find influencers with actual audiences who have an interest in content like yours, and are willing to share it.
While social metrics don’t directly influence search results, they can indirectly influence search results by generating positive user behavior and producing secondary links.
Of course, influencers who are willing to share content similar to yours on social networks are more likely to share links on their websites as well, and these are influencers your competitors won’t find with traditional link analysis.
The way that you approach link prospecting will have a dramatic impact on how successful your outreach is. While popular link prospecting tools are still an important part of SEO, they will also send you all the same suggestions as your competitors. To stand apart from your competitors, you need to find more innovative sources of information about who to get in touch with.