Today, I want to talk about link prospecting and determining authority.
There are two steps in a scaled link prospecting approach: finding websites, and then qualifying those websites.
In a more marketing-centric approach, there’s only one step: determining authorities within your niche.
Each has its own rewards, with different benefits.
With a scaled approach, you’re more apt to find a multitude of good opportunities. With a marketing approach, you’ll be targeting the top websites within your niche which can lead to a variety of other online marketing wins, including:
- Exposure to new audiences
- Thought leadership
- Shared authority
- Brand recognition
Personally I like a combination of scaled and marketing-centric approaches. Using systematic processes in the scaled approach will leave no stone unturned. The marketing-centric approach will allow you to focus more time, energy, and thought on the sites the really matter – industry leaders.
Whatever your method, you’ll need to learn how to quickly and easily determine authority – particularly if you’re operating in a quickly growing, evolving, or changing niche.
So today I want to present a checklist for authority identifiers online - specifically, signifiers an authority website should have.
Tool Filters with Human Emphasis
Depending on the scale and quality of your site gathering, you’ll need a few tool based signals to filter out the lower authority websites.
At the very least, you should look at pulling MozBar DA/PA stats. Although things like domain age can throw off the DA/PA (it takes time to build reliable linking metrics), it should be a decent baseline to use.
You could also look at pulling things such as social shares, linking root domains, # of links, website SEMrush data, etc.
The goal here should be to filter out lower quality websites to save yourself time and energy. Where your have your baseline will depend upon the niche, your campaign goals, and the authority of your own website.
Tools that can help you pull the data:
Once you’ve pulled your data (likely into an excel file) it’s time to hand check the remaining websites to determine authority.
I can’t overemphasize the need for engaged, caring, experienced humans in this section of link prospecting. Although you can always automate a certain percentage of any task, you will run into issues eventually. For link prospecting, every single website you outreach to will need a human to perform quality assurance, before you outreach.
That person will/should be able to determine things such as:
- Link opportunities
- Rightness of fit
- Quality of website
- Level of appropriate investment
- Proper contact for outreach
- Likelihood of conversion
The signifiers of quality you’ll want your SEO link builder to look for:
- Website’s purpose and value
- Company/product USP
- Website design/UX
- Identifiable administrators
- Consistency of tone, language, and branding
- Human activity, engagement
Here you’re analyzing the website itself, not necessarily their SEO factors. Those should have already been addressed with your tools, during the filtering stage.
Let’s discuss each element and why it’s an indicator of authority and quality.
1. Clearly Identified Website Value and Purpose
Quality websites always have a value they add to their industry and the web. Authoritative websites’ value is clear and easy to identify.
The reason a website exists, the need it meets, should be readily and easily identifiable. It’s purpose should be clearly stated, either on it’s about page, it’s homepage, tagline, title, etc. If you can’t find – or have to dig to discover – the purpose and value a website serves, then it’s unlikely that website is an high quality or an authority.
Although clear value and purpose is only a single characteristic of quality and authority, it should definitely give you pause if you have a hard time identifying why a website exists.
2. Clear Company/Product USP
The USP (unique selling point) of the company or product the website is featuring should be clear as well.
Authorities within their niche are much more likely to have a convincing and strong USP. Because they’re familiar with the industry and their audience’s pain points, they should be able to clearly craft a product or service that is unique from their competitors.
Furthermore, they’ll understand why their product or service is different from their competition and be able to easily express their USP.
3. Website Design/UX
Although strong website design and user experience (UX) doesn't always equate to authority and quality, it does have a strong correlation.
A website/company who’s invested in being an industry leader will typically invest as well in the design and UX of their website. It only makes sense.
If the website you’re looking at is poorly designed, looks like it’s from the '90s, or is user unfriendly, you might need to remove it from your prospecting list.
4. Identifiable Administrators/Site Owners
All websites should have easy to find contact information. That includes site administrator, name, company, physical address, etc.
If a website isn't clear about who’s actually behind the site, running it, investing in it, what are the odds that the site is quality and/or authoritative? Not very good, I’d argue.
Websites take a lot of time, energy, and resources to run. Great websites, meant to have value, serve an industry need, and generally be authoritative will have proud owners. It will be clear who’s behind the website, running the operation.
If a website doesn’t have obvious administrators, odds are it’s not authoritative.
5. Consistent Tone, Language, Branding
A strong earmark of low quality websites are poor grammar, spelling, and lack of cohesive messaging.
If the website displays an inconsistent tone, language, branding, or messaging you should be extremely cautious proceeding.
Of course there’s always a possible explanation for such inconsistencies, so such a website shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. But you should absolutely make sure the site is truly worth contacting and building a relationship with.
6. Human Activity and Engagement
Not all websites are designed to be hubs of community and engagement. Nevertheless, there should be some sign of human activity, somewhere.
If you can’t find signs of actual human life on the website there’s a possibility the website isn't authoritative or quality. This shouldn’t be as big of a red flag, especially for smaller niches/industries. Not all websites will teem with life, despite being quality or authoritative.
Nevertheless, if you can’t find the humans you should proceed with care.
Link prospecting is a large part of link building. It takes time, experience, and human care to find quality websites worth building a relationship with and a link from.
You can automate certain parts of the process, but the most important aspect will always have to be done manually, with a trained SEO.
Once you've audited enough websites you'll quickly learn what to look for when determining whether the website is authoritative, or even quality, no matter the niche, industry, purpose, product, or size of the website.
High quality, authoritative websites will have:
- Clear value and purpose
- Well defined USP
- Strong design/UX
- Identifiable site admins/owners
- Consistent tone, langue, branding, messaging
- Human activity and engagement.