Advanced link building queries, for the link builders who use them extensively, remain a closely guarded secret. It’s easy to understand why. For one, they want to protect a valued link source from getting flooded with link requests from the general link-seeking public. Secondly, there are some choice opportunities out there that would lose their value if the entire SEO community happened to learn about them.

Another complication with discussing and sharing link building queries is that they’re often tailored towards the linkable and shareable assets of a particular organization. Further, two businesses within the same vertical may have widely different linkable assets, and therefore will need to seek different link targets, which requires different queries.

Despite their link-protecting reticence and the complexity of communication, the 21 link builders I surveyed delivered a highly-valuable array of advanced link building queries. Thank you to all who participated!

Framing the process

In my questions, I asked link builders to respond within this framework:

  1. Linkable Asset. Definition: what’s “linkable” varies from vertical to vertical. Cash is almost always a linkable asset, as are available jobs, events, expertise for interviews and many other forms of great content.
  2. Link Target. Definition: what types of sites, pages, and people seek this linkable asset?
  3. Link Prospecting Query. Definition: what queries uncover great targets for your linkable assets?

This framework couldn’t possibly suit every link builders’ style and expertise. I mention it because you’ll see it in some cases below.

Last notes before digging in – I missed getting queries from some great link builders due to time constraints imposed by my late start (apologies to those I missed!). If you want more sample queries from link builders please say so in the comments (and/or add your own) so I can build the case for a follow-up article. And in closing, I’d like to extend a thank you to the SEO Dojo for their warm welcome and link query suggestions.

Link building queries from 21 link builders

Query #1

Ken McGaffin, Keywords and SEO Blogger for Wordtracker Academy:

Here is a mini case-study on our Firefox plug-in ‘SEO Blogger’ which shows how we create linkable assets, queries and approach people for link building.

The link building project

‘SEO Blogger’ Firefox plug in from Wordtracker

At Wordtracker, we wanted to target anyone who published a blog and we were especially interested in business bloggers. We did a reasonable amount of research on the project and it kicked off with doing queries on Google.

We were interesting in identifying sites that had published articles on ‘business blogging’ or advised people how to blog. We identified our prospects using “intitle” queries on Google.

At the last count, this piece of work netted us over 1,000 links in just a few months.

The queries we used were quite simple but they produced an excellent list of target sites.

Here are the queries I used:

  • intitle:”business blogging”
  • intitle:”business blogs”
  • intitle:”blogging tips”

For each query, I’ll look at the first 100 results and then look to compile a list of what I think are the top 50 or so. I concentrate on the top 50 because it’s cost effective. If I get editorial coverage and links from among the top 50, then I know hundreds will follow their example.

You’ve got to have superb content and publicize it through multiple channels. That’s where we put in the bulk of our efforts. For ‘SEO Blogger’ we had a 7-step process:

  1. Created a top notch, free plug-in.
  2. We created a section on our Academy specifically to offer free blogging articles as well as a blogging download.
  3. We also commissioned an e-book from Chris Garrett, “Blogging for Business” that would generate revenue.
  4. About 4 days before launch, we contacted our top 50 researched targets, gave them some copy and invited them to be the first to try our new plugin – we asked them to write about it or tweet it if they found it useful. We gave people a strict embargo.
  5. We wrote a series of customized press releases that went to the press list we’ve built up over the years. Note that we suggested how to link to us in all our communications.
  6. This is the most important step – we responded to questions and queries almost immediately. That meant assigning people to take on that task. I’m convinced our quick responses helped build trust and relationships.
  7. Finally, on release, we tweeted about the launch. Many of the bloggers journalists who we had contacted also tweeted at the same time. The results were fantastic – the synergy we got from these multiple channels is always what I’m after.

In summary,  I think you need to have a commitment to create great, free stuff in order to tap into these link targets.

Query #2

Shaun Anderson, of Hobo SEO Company in Scotland.

One of the simplest ways I use to build links for any business is finding colleges and universities who link degree students and alumni to to job opportunities, and promote their student discount partners online. I consider links from very real sites like these as authority building links.

Obviously the first thing to do is get used to publishing your job vacancies and any offers on your site, and then telling potential linking partners about them. TIP: never take these jobs offline either – just mention “Role Filled” and strike out the text.

  • Target Asset = Job Vacancy / Internships For (with your important keywords of course)
  • Key Link prospects = Universities and colleges, alumni sites
  • Link prospecting queries (in Google) = jobs degree site:.ac.uk, careers opportunities site:.ac.uk, careers advice site:.ac.uk, jobs degree site:.edu, careers degree site:.edu, careers advice site:.edu + variations
  • View this example page typical of what you might find.

Another variation of this query occurs with colleges and universities who publish links to sites that offer their alumni special student discounts (so effectively, all you need is a student discount for products or services). This is useful even for small businesses in a very tight catchment area.

  • Target Asset = Student Discount For (with your important keywords of course)
  • Key Link prospects = Universities and colleges, alumni sites
  • Link prospecting queries (in Google) = student discount partners site:.ac.uk, student discount partners site:.edu + variations
  • View this example page typical of what you might find.

Of course, in every case you need to dig around the site in question but offering a student discount to all colleges and universities and building a list of marketing communications offers at unis and colleges and contacting them asking for a link in their newsletter (which many have) in return for a student discount is going to be more rewarding than sending out 1000 unsolicited spam link request emails. TIP – don’t be cheap. The better your offer for students, the better chance you’ll get a link.

Ultimately these kinds of educational links are a win win – they are not hurting either site, and students get a good deal too. If you have good content on your site, you can just go right on and ask them to link to it if they already have a habit of linking out to similar sites to yours, or even send them articles about “How to get a job in {keyword} services” for their careers newsletter or resource section.

Query #3

Eric Ward, content link builder since 1994

Understanding how to use what Google will give you via advanced syntax queries is one of those private strategies where I don’t tell my exact approach, I only sort of hint at it. The specific queries I use are typically client/subject specific.

That said, I could share some vertical/marginally useful ones, say, if the content I am building links for is PBS’ content on volcanoes.

Then, an example target site would be this one.

And, I would have found that target site via a Google query string like this: [volcano learn diagram useful demonstration other links].

Now, this is a beautiful example, and it’s a real example, and it resulted in a topical link obtained, but…most folks who are building links are not doing so on behalf of PBS content about a vertical like “volcanoes”. So, while my example may look nice, and it worked for me because my clients are content creators like PBS, most folks will see my example and crucify me/it as being “unrealistic” for their purposes, since their content is not as “linkworthy” as PBS’s.

Query #4

Wiep Knol, newly of Linkbuilding.nl

Here’s a list of a few queries that I often use or have used in the past to find interesting websites. I left the most obvious ones out, because I assume that most people already know and use these.

Content targeted:

  • {keyword} “guest blogger” OR “guest post” OR “guest article” OR “guest column”
  • {keyword} “become a contributor” OR “contribute to this site”
  • {keyword} “write for us” OR “write for me”
  • {keyword} inurl:category/guest

You can refine these queries by using {keyword location} in stead of {keyword}, or by switching to just {location}.

Resource/ research targeted:

  • {keyword} “top * [tools/ articles/ websites/ etc.]” -> refine search to ~1 year ago. Contact anybody who shows up and ask if you can help with the 2009/ 20** edition of the article
  • {keyword} research -> see explanation above
  • {keyword} {location} resources OR “useful sites” OR links
  • {keyword} {USP} intitle:resources -> Use ‘green’, ‘cheapest’ etc as USP
  • .edu targeted: {keyword} site:.edu “planned research” OR “upcoming project” -> might return upcoming research/ project/ whatever that can be useful (both for info and for links)

To find specific types of websites:

  • {keyword} “Powered by phpBB” OR “powered by vBulletin”
  • {keyword} “Blog powered by TypePad” OR “powered by WordPress”

Additionally, one thing that always works very well for me is asking the client what the most important industry related websites and blogs are, and which ones his or her favorite are. Then I do some searching in the LinkedIn connections and Twitter followers of the client and some of his colleagues, and look for connections with these websites. If I find a match, explain to my client how he can use that connection and turn it into a link. This not only results in links to the client website on highly relevant websites that he likes (=a happy client), but it also makes sure that he is building connections that will be useful in the future as well (= life time value).

Query #5

Ann Smarty, SEO Consultant, SEOSmarty.com

  • target asset = new low-calorie chocolate product
  • key link prospects = mommy bloggers
  • link prospecting queries = [pr welcome], [submit * review], [pr friendly], [pr contact], [pr info], [get * reviewed], [allintitle:get * reviewed], [reviews inurl:submit]
  • target asset = a contest by fitness equipment store
  • key link prospects = bloggers who cover web contests with a link back to the host
  • link prospecting queries = [intitle:submit intitle:contest], [allintitle:submit * contest], [blog contests], [submit * giveaway]

Also from Ann: Link Building Search Queries Collection How to Use Google Wildcard Operator for Link Building and Baiting

Query #6

Debra Mastaler of Alliance-Link, link building services and training

We begin all custom campaigns by sending surveys to the client’s customer base, which cuts our prospecting time in half and pinpoints the sites and/or types of businesses we need to look for. From there, it’s a simple matter of doing basic research to match sites with our client’s demographic. I depend less on queries for this and more on tools like Quantcast and Compete. If I do need to query, I use all four engines (Google, Ask, Yahoo and Bing) plus DMOZ, Hoovers, Lexis Nexis and local directories. My goal is to find businesses with street and algorithmic credibility to pitch my promotions and content to.

Query #7

Melanie Nathan, consultant for Canadian SEO

Footprints: A footprint is simply common text than can be searched for thereby revealing all the places that use the same text.

For example, a Google search for [Allowed HTML tags:] will bring back all the sites and blogs that allow you to use custom anchor text when commenting.

If you happen to come across an authoritative site that allows you to automatically post content with dofollow links (for example, a classified ad), take note of the form they’re using as footprints left by the form software are easily trackable and can allow you to find other sites that are using the same form.

Some examples of common footprints:

Dofollow blog comments: Do Follow Blog Comment Footprint

Corresponding Footprint search: ["Notify me of follow-up comments?"+"Submit the word you see below:"]

Result: Over 60,000 new prospects (ie. sites that use the same dofollow form software)

Dofollow classified ads: Do Follow Classified Ad Footprint

Corresponding Footprint search: ["drupal classified ads courtesy of exodus development, INC"]

Result: Over 40,000 other sites that use the same dofollow classified ad software.

Take it a step further with “drupal classified ads courtesy of exodus development, INC”+health and you’ve narrowed it down to only the sites that mention (for example) health.

Keep in mind that these are just 2 very basic examples. Get creative and you’ll be surprised at what you might uncover.

Disclaimer: I am in NO way suggesting that you spam these types of sites. However, if you’re going to spend the time interacting and engaging with other sites and blogs in your industry (for reals!), I AM suggesting that you maximize your efforts by making sure to interact on sites which will offer the most benefit to your organic goals.

Query #8

Wil Reynolds of the ThinkSeer SEO Agency

  • Linkable Asset: A prize (product or service of course ;)
  • Link Target: The target is charity web sites where we can give something away and be listed as an in kind donor
  • Queries: ["in kind donations" list], ["in kind donors" list]

Query #9

Tom Demers of WordStream, the keyword management software company responsible fora free keyword tool.

A couple of things I’m frequently promoting are videos and free tools or widgets. Here I’ll use some pretty generic queries like:

  • target asset = Video Content
  • link prospecting queries = intitle:[{target keyword} videos], intitle:[{target keyword} clips]
  • target asset = Free tool/widget
  • link prospecting queries = intitle:[{target keyword} tools], intitle:[free {target keyword} tools], intitle:[list of free {target keyword} tools], intitle:[list of {target keyword} tools]

Then I’ll use SEO for Firefox to export the data and de-dupe and triage the link prospects based on PageRank.

Beyond just pulling down places linking out, you can also identify a few sites that are on multiple lists. From there, pull down their backlink profiles and sort by page rank (using SEO for Firefox) or find sites that are linking to them multiple times using the Hostname Occurrence Counter. At the end of the process I usually have a nice list of potential link profiles.

Query #10

Gab Goldenberg of SEORoi.com

For queries,  I try to find less commercial sites based on insider jargon, insider topics or thinking about communities. So if you are kindergarten related, I’d look up jargon related to parenting or issues like whether you should carry your kid in a sling or if strollers are better. This works better for B2C than B2B, since I can’t see professionals being up for selling links on their sites, vs the general public. I could be wrong though.

For prospects, I target bloggers, members of the said communities.

Building links to B2C sites that can have a related community. It’s harder when you’re selling stuff like toothpaste or ordinary drugstore items without associated communities.

The upside to this is that if you have the budget, you can saturate the key sites in the community with these paid links and build a brand. In which case, you can thumb your nose at Google because you’ll eventually build direct traffic as a key source as well as referral traffic, reduce their ability to penalize you, etc. I wrote somewhere about my friend Rachel who surfs Wikipedia for entertainment. That’s where you want to get to. Where people bypass Google to get to you directly. It’s ironic, but the best SEO will get you to the point you don’t need search traffic any more.

Check out Gab’s 101-tip guide to buying text links.

Query #11

Arnie Kuenn of Vertical Measures link building service.

Here are a few for you that I have saved in a our database of queries we use for link building:

  • “keyword phrase” sponsor charity
  • “public library” “useful links” keyword phrase site:.gov
  • “useful keyword phrase sites” library –clientwebsite site:.edu
  • “helpful keyword phrase sites” library –clientwebsite site:.edu
  • “favorite keyword phrase sites” library –clientwebsite site:.edu
  • “best keyword phrase” site:.edu OR site:.org
  • keyword phrase resources public library site:.us
  • keyword phrase site:.edu

Query #12

Members of the Huomah SEO Dojo, SEO Training for Search Warriors.

Many thanks to the fine community at the SEO Dojo for their contributions to this article!

member: fedem of Posicionamiento y SEO.

  • linkdomain:competitor1.com; linkdomain:competitor2.com; -linkdomain:mysite.com

This will give you a landscape of which sites are linking to 2 or 3 of your competitors but not your site. This increase the chances of finding partners willing to link to your site.

Query #13

Ken Lyons of WordStream.

I use search operators to find personal email addresses for link outreach. some of my favorites:

  • site:[companywebsite.com] + [name] + email
  • site:[companywebsite.com] + [name] + contact
  • site:[personalblog.com] + [name] + email
  • site:[personalblog.com] + [name] + contact

From 12 Ways to Find Anyone’s Personal Email Address

Query #14

Craig Parker of Soula.com

Social Media Based queries are obviously useful for commenting and scoping out competition so: site:{SN} {keyword}

Where SN (social network) is digg.com, delicious.com or twitter.com etc. and {keyword} is one of your keywords or brands/competitor brands.

The other one I find quite useful is narrowing down themed directories so:

  • {keyword} + “add a site”
  • {keyword} + “submit url”

Obviously there are literally loads of combinations of these utilizing different words for directory i.e. “suggest url” or “submit listing”

You can also combine it with the intitle or inurl command for extra fun! Again throw in different words for directory like “list” and you can make lots of combinations on this.

  • {keyword} + “intitle:directory”
  • {keyword} + “inurl:directory”

They are basic ones but can be often overlooked by those not used to this stuff.

Query #15

Jon Santillan of SEO Dubai

I used search operators to find potential links for my link building campaign using footprinted Scripts. This varies from directory, blog commenting, forum, social media directories and competitors.

  • Target Asset = Red Widget
  • Strategy – A combination of standard text or content that usually can see in a website
  • Ex: Directory = inurl:submit.php intext:Powered by “Directory Name” intext: red widget
  • Blog Commenting = intext:red widget intext:blog comments powered by “Comment Plugin”
  • Social Media = intext:”Submit A New Story” intitle:Register intext: “Name of Social Media Script”
  • Forum = inurl:forum intext:red widget

My favorite: Competitors Footprints. Following competitors Backlinks is the most exciting one, you can use link:competitorsdomain.com and check a potential link partner. By following competitors footprints, you can sometimes see the strategy of their link building, for example, if they are using Directory, Blog Commenting, Social Media or Forum. If by any chance you got the name of a Directory Script, Social media script, plug commenting plugin that is not in your list, you can add that in your arsenal.

Once you have figured out the competitors pattern how they are building their backlinks plus your link building strategy I think that will be easier for you.

In my opinion, combining different search operators and website content pattern is one of most effective link building strategy you just need to be more creative to combine and try different combination.

Query #16

Navin Poeran

I’m using advanced queries in combination with Google alerts, to receive mails, whenever there is somewhere i can drop a link.

I just create a new alert with: OR -mysite.com inurl:links

Query #17

Andy Murd of MMMeeja.

I use this query in Google Image Search to find the little “U Comment – I Follow” logo:

  • “MY KEYPHRASE” inurl:ifollow*.gif

For deep links to your blog posts, you can add “CommentLuv Enabled” to find the popular WordPress plugin.

I make RSS feeds from link-building searches so my feed reader nags me to post a few comments per day.

Query #18

David Harry (The Gypsy) of the Huomah SEO Blog

When reverse engineering link profiles, we use stuff like:

  • [linkdomain:huomah.com site:.com "SEO Blog"]
  • linkdomain: – searches for links to Huomah.com
  • Site; – tells it to look for results from ‘.com’ extensions.
  • “SEO Blog” searches the KWs on the page (or hopefully in the anchor text)

Or

  • [linkdomain:example.com site:.edu "keyword"]
  • [linkdomain:example.com site:.gov " keyword"]

Or maybe if we’re looking for relevant pages, we can track the TITLE

  • [linkdomain:huomah.com -huomah.com intitle:SEO]

Page URLs are strong also, so we might do something like:

  • [linkdomain:huomah.com -huomah.com inurl:"search engine optimization"]

We also can use a variety of low level link trolling with dorks related to:

  • [add-links, last-updated 2000 inurl:.edu]

Query #19

Julie Joyce, of the link development firm Link Fish Media

“You can find particularly interesting sites geared towards a very specific interest, by using an organic thought process in which you have no major agenda. This all sounds very New Age but it has led us to some of our best inbound links.

I’ll give you an example for this one, since it’s the only method that isn’t exactly what it sounds like. When working for a site that sells punk rock concert videos, we may search for “punk videos” to start with, then we’ll see a long-tailed search phrase somewhere down in the SERPs on page 3, so we’ll then type that phrase in, then click on the first result, see something on the site’s homepage that triggers an idea, and we’ll end up on a fan site that is devoted to the music of Stiff Little Fingers.

We see that this site seeks to list all online stores that happen to sell Stiff Little Fingers items, and our client has one of these sites. Therefore, it’s a great place to get a link, and it was a somewhat random method of discovery. It’s also relevant but we still go about it in a slightly more haphazard way.”

Excerpted from: 6 Discovery Methods For Finding Ideal Linking Partners

Query #20

Brian Gilley of SocialSEO.com

Drupal Powered Websites (most allow comments links and/or dofollow)

Targeting Drupal sites with the keyword phrase “home mortgages” with comments turned on and that allow HTML links to be added and are almost always followed.

Want to get more specific and search for the keyword in the title. Try the “intitle:” search operator on for size.

Want to get freaky with it and go the broad route and not including Drupal websites or any specific CMS platform? Just search for sites allowing the HTML tag, which usually means a followed link and brings up endless possibilities.

See more tips from Mr. Gilley on how to find backlinks with search queries.

Query #21

Brian Chappell, Search/Social Marketer

Finding people who will want to share your content (…including linking to it…) can be much simpler if you know how to search quickly through the major social networks.

  • Linkedin: [site:linkedin.com inurl:in "social media expert"]
  • Bebo: [site:.bebo.com inurl:profile inurl:bebo "social media expert"]
  • CafeMom: [site:www.cafemom.com inurl:cafemom.com/home/ "stay at home mom"]
  • Facebook: [site:facebook.com/people "led zeppelin"]
  • Flickr: [site:flickr.com/people "@gmail"]
  • Twitter: [site:twitter.com -inurl:statuses -inurl:status "social media expert"]
  • MySpace: [site:profile.myspace.com inurl:myspace inurl:fuseaction "go to nc state"]
  • YouTube: [site:youtube.com/user "social media expert"]

From: How to Target Users within Social Networks

Additional link query resources:

Two Link Prospecting Query building tools:

10 Articles on Advanced Queries for Link Building

  1. Long List of Link Searches
  2. Five Search Queries to Find Sponsorship Link Opportunities
  3. 13 Search Operators for Ultimate Link Building
  4. Advanced Link: Operator to Explore Your Competitor’s Backlinks
  5. The Power of Search Queries for Link Building: The Basics and Beyond Part 2
  6. Link Building Tip: Easily Find DoFollow Blogs Search String
  7. Search Engine Query Cheat Sheets
  8. Google Hacks for Dorks and SEO prowlers
  9. Getting Links From Known, Quality Linkers
  10. Eric Ward Queries from Print Search Marketing Standard Interview

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | How To: Links | Link Building | Link Building: General | Link Week Column

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About The Author: is co-founder of Ontolo, a link building agency and co-author of Link-Building-Guide.com, which leads motivated readers through the methods and processes of large-scale, crawler-based link research, link acquisition and linker-targeted content strategy.

Connect with the author via: Email



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  • http://www.kevinphanley.com kevinphanley

    This is one of the most helpful articles I’ve ready in recent memory. Thanks! I wish Eric Ward could be a little bit more descriptive, but it was a great read.

  • http://www.searchoptimist.co.uk Krys

    This is far the best article on link building I found during last year, congrats !

    Definitely a motivation to check out rest of your blog for such gold nuggets!

  • Susannah

    I can’t wait to try some of these tips this week. What a resource! It’s like having a coffee with 21 experts. One thing I would love to get feedback on — how do you get your clients to understand that even though we know how to get the links, they know their fields the best, and can therefore really help to create the best content and may already have connections within the desired network. Or in your opinion does it devalue you as a link builder if you ask a client to expand on a connection they’ve already made?

  • http://ontlo.com/blog Garrett French

    hi folks! Glad you enjoyed the piece!

    @Susannah – I definitely recommend having a check list/fact finding conversation before starting a link building campaign. We discuss \linkable assets\ which include everything from existing content to individuals who could potentially give interviews with bloggers (thought leaders). These assets, along with the keywords they’re targeting, in turn inform the queries we use to identify link prospects.

    Here’s Wiep’s suggestion, related to your question, from above: \…one thing that always works very well for me is asking the client what the most important industry related websites and blogs are, and which ones his or her favorite are. Then I do some searching in the LinkedIn connections and Twitter followers of the client and some of his colleagues, and look for connections with these websites. If I find a match, explain to my client how he can use that connection and turn it into a link.\

  • adyberry

    By far the best article that i have read for a long time. Some very useful tips which i have passed on to junior colleagues in my seo dept

  • Pamela Falle

    I’m trying to accomplish some of these tips. What an idea! It’s like guiding clients to how to get the links and access them immediately.

  • http://www.seocompanyseomarketing.com/ SeoCompanyseomarketing

    Great information! I think this tips is really very helpful for those who are finding this information. I was looking forward to read about this. Thanks for this allocation.

  • abu ruhu

    very useful tips and good but old. I wrote about somethings on marketing communications writing

  • expressed media

    I will definitely try to work out on these tips.Thanks for sharing…..
     California seo

  • http://twitter.com/LinksTycoon Links Tycoon

    Great article.There are several link building tools, site, and softwares available out there. The only problem is we do not know how and which ones to choose. Thank you for pointing out the great ones.

  • http://twitter.com/effarticlemkg Anne Moratis

    Wow this is a great resource page; I have just written a link building tutorial for 2012 and I’ll make sure to include this article when I turn the tutorial into an e-book. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/ErDannyjoy Danny joy

    Appreciated work and excellent quires. But which queries which you use for link building are really works for you? 
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    Bloody
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  • http://twitter.com/SEOimd22 James Godes

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  • http://twitter.com/Tudor_Davies Tudor Davies

    I used various search commands, for seo I’d do something like “link building” “post a comment” allinurl:news google seo. I’ve also started using Twitter search and Topsy.com – which are really good for finding relevant sites.

  • cost catch

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nisha-Sharma/100003608752297 Nisha Sharma

    Hey thanks nice post and very useful information for seo freshers i learned a lot from this. thanks again.

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  • http://www.tightlineproductions.com/ Tight Line Productions

    Many people are unaware of these search strings. It can really be a gold mine if you know what you’re doing. I knew of some of these, but a lot of these are advanced and I had no idea.

    I’m bookmarking this so I can revert back to it for future reference.

    Thanks for the awesome post!

 

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