Finding and prioritizing link targets
There are a host of ways to find websites that may be interested in linking to you. The volume can depend quite a bit on your industry because some will naturally be bigger than others in terms of blogs, magazines, publications etc.
As an example, if you’re in the travel industry, there are many, many blogs on a range of subtopics - flights, hotels, backpacking, group tours, sightseeing etc. So you have quite a big set of websites to research and try to engage with. There is a downside here, though. In general, the bigger the industry, the savvier the blogger is, and the more likely they are to ask for money in return for linking to you.
In this section, I’ll outline my favourite techniques for finding link targets. In a later chapter, there are links to lots of additional tools that you can use for finding link targets.
Advanced search queries
Every SEO professional needs to know advanced search queries like the back of their hand. This technique is, pretty much, always the first thing that I do when starting the process of finding link targets because I can usually find many websites within a matter of minutes – for free.
Going back to basics, briefly, an advanced search query is a technique for filtering your search results to be a lot more specific than just using keywords. There are lots of different ways you can do this. Google has a basic list here if you’re unfamiliar with them and here is a more in-depth guide from Firecask.
The best way to explain is to show you a few examples of ones that I use for finding link targets.
Let’s say I work for a company that sells running trainers, clothing, equipment, etc., and they have a really cool blog. I may want to get a few links by getting them listed on curated lists of running blogs. I could start with a basic search like this:
This would give us a few results to start working with, but the downside of this search is that some of the results we find are pre-compiled lists of sites in the format of “Top 50 sites of 2020.” These types of lists don’t tend to be updated very often. What we want instead is lists of running blogs that look like they are constantly maintained and not in any restrictive format such as “top 50” etc.
We can do this using an advanced search query like this one:
Before I show the results we see, let’s take a quick look at what is going on here.
The quotation marks tell Google to only show us results that have this exact text on the page. Next, we have “inurl:links” which tells Google to only show us results that have the word “links” in the URL. So it will not show us this URL:
But it will show us these, which is the result of the query above:
Without even clicking through to them, these look like much more targeted results that I stand a chance of getting a link from. After clicking through, I found that all three websites were relevant and that two asked for suggestions for sites to be added to their lists, that’s not a bad result from the first couple of results and a few minutes work!
You can use the same type of search but switch out the word “links” with “resources:”
This also gave me pretty good results and a few potential links just on the first page I looked at.
There are, literally, thousands of combinations of keywords plus advanced search queries that you can use. Rather than list them all here, you should definitely check out this post on Optimize Smart which is awesome and contains lists of 10,000!
Followerwonk is probably one of my favourite tools for finding link targets. It allows me to also find influential people on Twitter, which is a nice bonus to have when you’re prioritizing who you’re going to contact.
Here is the process I love to use when finding link targets using Followerwonk.
Start with a simple search from the “Search bios” section of Followerwonk:
Here are the results I get:
Once you’ve downloaded the results into a spreadsheet, you can start filtering and sorting. The first thing I tend to do is filter out those who don’t have websites listed in their Twitter bio.
From my 1,100+ people that I downloaded, this left me with just over 250 – pretty good! Now I can just start going through this list, judging the quality of the sites, and adding them to my outreach list if they’re good targets. But I can do a bit of extra filtering first, especially with some of the really neat tools that Followerwonk gives you such as engagement score, likelihood to tweet, and retweet score.
Next up, I’ll import this list of websites into BuzzStream, which will automatically start to gather various bits of information, such as:
- Domain Authority
- IP address
- Contact details if it can find them (i.e., email address and contact forms)
- Linked social accounts (e.g., Twitter, Facebook)
When you log into BuzzStream a few hours later you’ll have all the information you need to either start looking at the sites or do some more filtering. If I have a very large list, I’ll also filter out any results where BuzzStream has not been able to find the contact details.
This whole process takes about 15 minutes or less of work! It may take you a little longer the first few times you do it, but you’ll naturally get quicker and develop your own style and shortcuts.
A step further with Followerwonk
I’m not going to take credit for this particular process, it is one I read about from the guys at Builtvisible. Here is the original talk by Richard Baxter at MozCon. For the sake of completeness, I’ll outline the process here and use a slightly different example than the one given by Richard, so you have a bit more context.
First, identify your target audience. Note, this isn’t necessarily your target audience to get links from, this is more your target audience who you’d want to connect with to sell your products or services. Chances are that you know who these people are, particularly if you’ve done persona research in the past.
For the purposes of this example, and to make things easy to follow, let’s say that our target audience is Wil Reynolds, Rand Fishkin, and Will Critchlow – all of whom are in the search industry and own their own companies. We can easily find them on Twitter, once you have their Twitter handles, head over to Followerwonk, and input them into the compare users report and select “compare users they follow” from the dropdown:
The results will look something like this:
There is a lot of interesting data on this page, but we’re most interested in this bit:
Click on this and you’ll get a nice list of Twitter users who all three of them follow:
Hopefully you can already see where we’re going with this!
This is a list of people who three of our target audience all follow. Connecting with one of these people and building a relationship with them means that we have the chance to get in front of our target audience in one shot.
Now there are a few ways you can go from here, I’m going to explain the simplest and quickest way to get your feet wet with this technique. If you want to go deeper and do a bit of scraping and coding, take a look at this Moz post.
We need to find out what type of content these people share and what websites they share. Doing this the manual way means using a simple Twitter search:
from:@msuster OR from:@dharmesh filter:links
What we’re saying here is show me tweets from @msuster or @dharmesh but only ones that include links. The results look like this:
Scanning through these and opening the links will give you a quick idea of what types of content and websites these guys share. You can add even more of the Followerwonk results into this search if you want to and get a bigger list of tweets.
There are a couple of things you can do with this kind of information:
- Find ways to connect with these people and build relationships with them.
- Find ways to connect with the websites they share the most and try to get your content or company on them.
I’m not going to lie, these are hard. They are hard because you’re often dealing with pretty influential people and pretty big websites. You need to have a good reason for them to notice and deal with you! However, when you get it right, it works very, very well because you’re going to be getting in front of more of your target audience.
Using social media to your advantage
This is a method that also makes use of Followerwonk. This method works best if you have a good following on Twitter but it can also work if you have a competitor who has a good following.
Let’s imagine that I’m looking for opportunities to engage with people who follow Hawksmoor (one of my favourite London steak restaurants) on Twitter. I head over to Followerwonk and click on the “Analyze Followers” tool and enter their Twitter handle:
On the results page, click on the following:
Once the report is complete, click on this, which allows you to download the data into a CSV file:
Once it has completed, open up the file.
Now we need to find out which of the followers are bloggers, so we run a simple filter on the “Bio” column:
This left me with 20 Twitter profiles, all of which also had websites listed in their bios:
Not all of these will be perfect, but I can now start going through these and seeing which of them I may want to approach and start building relationships with. I could do a number of things here, one example could be to run an offline blogger event and get these guys along to it.
Link Intersect (inside Moz Link Explorer)
This is a really cool tool from Moz that can give you some quick win link targets. The tool works by looking at which websites link to a few of your competitors, but not to you. The theory is that if they’re willing to link to your competitors, they may link to you, too. This can give you some nice link targets but you should not rely on this technique alone because you really want to be getting links that your competitors can’t get.
You simply enter your own website, along with a few competitors, and hit search. The tool will then search the Mozscape index to find those quick win link opportunities.
You can then go through the results and see if there are any link opportunities for you to pursue as well.
Gathering link targets in bulk
I like using a few techniques to gather link targets in bulk. Most of the time, I prefer to do stuff manually because I get a much better feel for how good the websites are, but there are times when I want to gather in bulk, such as when I’m a bit short on time. This section outlines a few methods for doing this but with keeping quality at the forefront of our minds.
BuzzStream link prospector
I feel that the key strength of BuzzStream is with the CRM features, but it does have a nice little tool for gathering link targets in bulk, too. You’ll notice a few similarities here with the earlier section on advanced search queries. We aren’t changing the way we find sites, but we are taking out a bit of the manual work and letting BuzzStream do some of it for us.
Here is the process that you can use here.
When you open BuzzStream, you’ll see the Add Link Partners button at the top:
Hover over it and go down to Link Prospecting > Create New Prospecting Profile and you’ll see the following, I’ve entered some example searches:
This will start the process and BuzzStream will go and run these searches for you on Google. Once it is finished, you’ll get an email so you can go in and start filtering the results. Simply click on the link in the email to view the results.
Here is a snapshot of the results I was given:
I have 108 websites to look through. I want to get that down to a more manageable size, so the first thing I’m going to do is get rid of any domains where BuzzStream has not been able to find an email address or other contact info:
I’m aware that I could go and check these websites manually for contact details, but, remember that we’re finding and filtering in bulk here, so we need to be quite harsh and quick with our decisions. If you already have quite a small list, you could also keep link targets where BuzzStream has found social accounts such as Twitter or Facebook because you can always reach out via these if you want.
I will then go and remove any that have a Domain Authority of below 30.
This leaves me with a more manageable list of 49 websites, all of which have an email address and good domain metrics. All in all, this took me about 10 minutes.
Next step is to go through these websites and make sure they’re good enough quality to contact and if they are, you can start your outreach. BuzzStream makes it easy to do this using the BuzzBar feature:
This will load up the list of prospects one at a time in your browser and you can go through each one to find more details, then accept, reject or blacklist them:
It really doesn’t take long to go through this list. This extra level of manual checking helps to ensure that you’re keeping quality high.
Easy web scraping
No coding knowledge required – I promise!
You can also do a bit of scraping yourself without needing to learn any code. If you do want to learn a bit more about basic scraping which involves a bit of code (copy and paste mostly), then check out this guide on Distilled.
If you don’t fancy learning any code, then simply download and install Scraper for Google Chrome, which makes scraping elements from a page super easy.
So what can you scrape?
The two common things that I use Scrape Similar for, when it comes to link building, are:
- Scraping search results from Google
- Scraping a big list of link targets from one page (without having to copy and paste each one)
I’m sure there are many more uses, this is one of them, but the two above are my favourites so I’ll outline the processes here.
Scraping search results from Google
Let’s go back to our advanced search query for finding running blogs with resource pages. The first thing we need to do is change our default Google search settings after our search so that we display 100 results per page instead of 10. We can do this here:
Then scroll down to see these options:
Select 100 results per page, then scroll down and save.
Now return to your search results, right-click on the first one, and click “Scrape Similar:”
This will give you an output that looks something like this:
Then, simply export to Google Docs, and, within a few seconds, you’ve captured 100 potential link targets that you can now start filtering and sorting.
Scraping a list of link targets from a webpage
The principle here is pretty much the same, but let’s say we searched for something like “list of running blogs” and found this list:
Now it would be a bit time consuming to go through each one and paste the URL into our link target list. Instead, simply right-click on one of the URLs, select “Scrape similar,” and the tool will pull all the URLs from the page and let you export them to Google Docs!
A quick note on Upwork / outsourcing SEO work
Another way of gathering link targets in bulk is to outsource the work to a worker on Upwork, this can be a really good way of getting a list if you haven’t got the time yourself. You do need to be careful, though, and a bit of trial and error is needed to get the process right, as well as getting the right people.
I’m going to be covering the use of Upwork in a later chapter on outsourcing your link building.
Filtering link targets
Now that we have our big list of link targets, we need to do some serious filtering to get the list down to a manageable level, as well as getting rid of low-quality and irrelevant websites.
We touched upon this a little already when we looked at using BuzzStream for link prospecting, but here I’m going to explain the manual process a bit more as I appreciate not everyone has access to tools for this job. Any tools or techniques I mention here are free. You can use all of these or just the ones you prefer. The one thing I’d highly recommend is to have a manual check of websites before you do outreach to them. This helps reduce the chances of you emailing someone totally unrelated and getting negative responses. In fact, I’d insist that you check every single website before you get in touch with them, otherwise, you’re taking too big a risk with your reputation and results.
Use raw domain strength metrics
Before we start manually looking at websites, we want to get rid of any that do not have enough strength in terms of domain metrics. This helps ensure that we’re not spending valuable time looking through websites that are not that strong.
My favourite place to do this is in Excel and using a few plugins, the main one being SEO tools for Excel, which can quickly grab the Domain Authority / TrustFlow / Domain Rating of my list of link targets.
Use influencer / multiplier effect
The idea here is that you identify the websites that are most influential, and therefore if they promote your content, it has a lot more chance of being seen by more people. If you know your industry well, then this doesn’t actually take that long, even if you’re doing it manually. For example, if you are in the technology space, then you know that TechCrunch and The Verge are big sites and ones that you want to highlight.
If it isn’t this obvious, here are a few things to check on the websites as you’re looking at them:
- Following on social channels (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest)
- Number of comments on their posts
- Other places they write (e.g., newspaper columns)
I actually really like this simple diagram from this post by Justin Briggs which is an old blog post, but still a goodie::
If you can segment your link targets into buckets like this, you can easily see which ones need more time from you.
The team at Aira see this a lot when doing outreach to top-tier media. For example, we know that if we get a link for a client on the Daily Mail in the UK or USA Today in the US, the chances of getting more links as a result are increased because of the multiplier effect. This is because these websites get a lot of traffic and means that your content is seen by more people.
This is another reason why nofollow links can be worth pursuing. The Daily Mail usually only give nofollow links which may or may not pass equity, but the multiplier effect could mean that you get more links as a result which may well pass link equity.
Finding contact details
While tools like BuzzStream can sometimes find contact details automatically for you, they aren’t always perfect. In case you find yourself in this situation, here are a few other techniques to use.
Sales Navigator by LinkedIn
Sales Navigator (previously called Rapportive until it was acquired by LinkedIn in 2012, is a plugin for Gmail which allows you to see more information about the people you’re contacting and in some cases, guess someone’s email address with a good degree of accuracy. If you’re not a fan of Sales Navigator, then FullContact have a similar plugin which is very similar and worth taking a look at.
Once you’ve installed the plugin, there are two main ways to use it.
1) Get more information about the person you’re contacting
When you compose a new Gmail message and paste someone’s email address into the “To” field, Sales Navigator will take that email address and try to find more information about it. It can find a range of things including:
- Job title
- Social accounts such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook
- Recent activity on social accounts
It’s really simple to do and looks something like this:
As you can see, when my email address is entered into the new message, Sales Navigator kicks in and goes off to see what else it can find out. In this case, it’s found a few things:
- My picture
- My location – London, United Kingdom
- My job title – Co-founder at Aira and Global Associate at Moz
- My LinkedIn profile
- My Twitter account
If I’m composing an email to an outreach target, I can use this information to better customize my message to them.
2) Guess someone’s email address
This is a fun feature. As you saw above, when my email address was entered, various information was found about me. But look what happens if I put the wrong email address into Gmail:
As you can see, Sales Navigator hasn’t returned any information at all. So it reduces the chances that email@example.com is a real email address. What this means is that you can take a guess at someone’s email address and if you get it right, Sales Navigator can help you see that.
This can take a long time though, surely there is a more efficient way? Enter the next tool.
VoilaNorbert allows you to find almost anyone’s email address. The interface is very simple and looks something like this:
You simply input the name of the person you’re trying to contact, along with the domain they represent. VoilaNorbert will then tell you whether it’s been able to find an email address:
If you don’t find any matches, you could try pasting the list of email addresses into Gmail / Sales Navigator to see if you get any matches that way.