By Jesse Stoler
29 Apr 2015

Common Sense Link Prospecting: What to Ask Yourself

Link Building

There’s a fine art to link prospecting.

You might think it’s as simple as doing a Google search for a target keyword, and throwing all of the results into a spreadsheet. It’s not.

Link prospecting is complex endeavor - complex enough that we built an entire resource guide around the practice.

Good link prospecting requires you to:

  • Use advanced search modifiers
  • Employ creativity to continue to find new sites
  • Analyze sites for quality assurance
  • Uncover contact information
  • Etc.

Link prospecting is not as easy it sounds. Remember when Matt Cutts said link building is sweat plus creativity? Well link prospecting is a formula with a common factor: creativity plus common sense.

Today, I’d like to cover the common sense portion of link prospecting. These are three questions every link builder should ask themselves as they explore the web in the pursuit of links:

  • Does my link make sense on this site?
  • How does my link provide value to this site’s audience?
  • How will this link benefit me beyond organic search?

Does My Link Make Sense on This Site?

This might just be the most important question to ask yourself while link prospecting. If you can’t honestly say that your link would make sense on that page, then you should dump that prospect.

In the post-Penguin era of SEO, I’m sure you’ve heard countless SEOs preach the importance of relevancy. They’re not wrong - not at all. You should always attempt to determine the relevancy of your link prospects.

Here’s a kicker though: the relevancy isn’t always obvious. You can miss out on link opportunities if you don’t stop to smell the relevancy.

Two domains may not be alike or in similar niches, but site-to-site relevancy isn’t the only consideration. If the site-to-site relevancy isn’t obvious on the surface, it doesn’t mean that a link can’t fit snugly on a specific page.

Example: if you’re familiar with my writing, you know I like to indulge in analogies. That means I occasionally devote a paragraph or two of my articles to a subject dissimilar to SEO and link building, usually to further the analogy.

I’ve linked to Vox, one of my favorite news sources, several times.


Yet when I do a sitewide search for the term “link building” on Vox:


They don’t write about link building at all.

Linkarati and Vox devote themselves to completely different niches. But when I take the time to highlight a fun game created by Vox, it absolutely makes sense for me to link to them. If anything, it would be unfair of me not to link. Vox took the time to create the game I’m highlighting, and they deserve credit in the form of a link.

Linking makes sense, because I want the readers of the article I wrote to play the game, so they better understand what I’m referencing.

How Does My Link Provide Value to This Site's Audience?

Link prospecting is fundamentally important to your campaign. But truthfully, the quality of your outreach is considerably more imperative.

People don’t link out recklessly. Every quality site exercises editorial control over the sites they link to. A site is only as good as the amount of trust they’ve built with their audience. Imagine if The Atlantic started linking out to sites owned and operated by conspiracy theorists and low-grade tabloids. Their audience would bail.

I’ve always said that it’s easier to build links to grade B content with grade A outreach as opposed to the vice-versa.

Outreach is not only imperative to a link building campaign, it’s also incredibly difficult. Even if you write the most amazing, persuasive piece of outreach, it doesn’t matter if the webmaster doesn’t open your email.

The inbox of site owners is often inundated. Many of these emails will be dreck, barely intelligible text programmed by a bot.

A staple of marketing is that you should always find a unique way to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack. No one is interested in what you have to offer if you’re not offering anything new.

What can you do that’s different? Explicitly state your value.

When you write outreach, don’t make the person work to pinpoint what your link has to offer. Instead, clearly explain why they should link to you.

What are some of the reasons a link might benefit a site?

  • The link acts as a source to lend credibility to a claim/statistic
  • The link points to a service the site’s audience is interested in
  • The link provides further information about a key point

Influential webmasters are busy. They want to know what you have, and why you’re coming to them with it.

If you can’t concisely state the value of your page/site, you’ll never effectively persuade anyone to link to it.

How Will This Link Benefit Me Beyond Organic Search?


Q: What is the ultimate goal of a link building campaign?

Congratulations, you just won SEOpardy!

Quality backlinks are one of the primary drivers of Google’s algorithm. Any link building campaign not centered around organic search is going about the project backwards.

But here’s the rub: links aren’t exclusively about organic search traffic.

It’s advisable to adopt a “search first” mindset when building links, not “search only.” Only chasing link equity could lead you to pursue irrelevant, unnatural links that will ultimately hinder your efforts.

A natural, quality backlink can provide a multitude of benefits that have nothing to do with an algorithm.

A link should do more than flow a morsel of equity your way. If you can’t think of any secondary benefits a link will provide, that link is most likely not worth pursuing. A link should be a signal of brand authority as well.

You don’t just want rankings; you want links on sites that carry credibility. The more people see your brand linked on relevant, quality sites, the more likely that credibility is associated with you.

Referral traffic is another benefit of link building. Just remember that not all links are created equal. Even some links on world-renowned domains won’t directly power your search visibility, but could send you solid referral traffic. A great example of this are nofollow links. Wikipedia is famous for nofollowing all outbound links. That shouldn’t change the fact that you always, always want a link on Wikipedia.

Common Sense Plus Creativity Equals Links

There are a plethora of other questions you should concern yourself with whilst link prospecting.

  • When was the last time this site was updated?
  • Is the content grammatically correct?
  • Do people engage with the site?

To me though, these questions should take the backseat to the ones I’ve posed above.

It’s important to ask yourself some common sense questions before you start digging around for site metrics.

You need to understand why your link makes sense on a site, what value your link provides that site’s audience, and what other non-algorithmic benefits you’re likely to get.

If you can’t answer these questions, than the other questions will be quickly rendered unimportant.

Jesse Stoler

Jesse Stoler has years of experience in the SEO industry. His hobbies include stand up comedy and pretending he has fans.