A Guide To Qualifying Link Prospects For Relevance, Value & Potentiality

The core problem of link building—assuming you’ve maximized your site’s linkability—is not prospecting for sites that may potentially link to yours. The problem lies in rapidly identifying the link prospects whose links will provide the fastest and largest impact on your search marketing goals.

With tools like the SEO Toolbar and SEO for Firefox, every URL from every domain that ranks for your keywords reveals a wealth of inbound linking pages, each of which is a link prospect. Add in opportunities from the link suggest tool, and several .edu site searches and a determined link builder could find thousands, if not tens of thousands of link prospects in less than a day.

Based on our experience in automating link research and link prospect qualification for millions of URLs, we wrote this article—and created a free, downloadable worksheet—to enable motivated link builders to quickly identify the most relevant, valuable and likely-to-link prospects from thousands of potential link opportunities.

The core metrics for link prospect evaluation

When building links to influence search rankings we look at three key metrics for evaluating link prospects: relevance, value and acquisition potentiality.

To illustrate the link prospect metrics of relevance, value and potential we created the following Venn diagram:

RVP Scoring

Let’s walk through the metrics, how they’re derived and discuss their importance to your link building process.

Measuring link prospect relevance

Relevance in link building is the measurement of a page’s relevance to your keyword(s). Relevance should measure whether the keywords are present or not as well as where they appear on the page or in the tags, as these factors will have shadings of influence on the search-rank impact of a link prospect.

Here are some factors to measure that will indicate a link prospect’s relevance to your target keywords:

  • Keywords in the Title tag
  • Keywords in the body of the text
  • Keywords in H1 tags

As you visit each link prospect, put a “1″ in the appropriate column for that page’s relevance to your keywords.

Measuring link prospect value

The value of a link prospect—for the purpose of influencing search rank—lies in the amount of link juice the page is capable of directing to yours. For these purposes, no-followed links have little impact. As a primary measure of value we recommend looking at the PageRank for the hostname as well as PageRank of the specific page. Many hold that the PageRank that Google displays is not an accurate measurement. While this is true, PageRank represents the only page value measurement currently available from a search engine. Further, PageRank makes identifying penalized sites easy. We propose that by combining the measurement of a link prospect’s relevance with its value, one can make faster decisions regarding acquisition priority.

Here are some factors to measure that indicate a link prospect’s value:

  • PageRank of hostname
  • PageRank of page
  • Outbound links followed/no-followed

As you visit each link prospect, put a “1″ in the appropriate column for that page’s value to your search marketing goals.

Note: If your link building goals include increasing community involvement and referral traffic from relevant sites then no-followed links should be considered. Read this for more information about measuring the value of no-followed links.

Measuring link prospect acquisition potentiality

Acquisition potentiality is the likelihood that a particular link prospect will actually “convert” into a link for your site. We look at link potentiality based on your ability to add a link to a page yourself and secondarily your ability to impact or influence the page’s creator to add a link.

Here are some factors that indicate a link prospect’s acquisition potentiality:

  • Is it a competitor?
  • Ability to submit, add or comment
  • Relationship with someone at that domain
  • Publication date
  • Can you make a valuable addition or correction to the page?

As you visit each link prospect, put a “1″ in the appropriate column for that page’s acquisition potentiality. Note: link buyers may not have as much of a need for this metric. Keep the column in the worksheet, though—it could represent likelihood of accepting a reasonable offer.

Using the Link Building Worksheet

We created a spreadsheet – freely available for download – to accompany this article and assist motivated link builders seeking to grow their current capacity for rapidly and effectively qualifying their link opportunities. Not only does this worksheet streamline work flow and keep your team more organized, it comes pre-programmed with equations derived from the ones we use in our automated link prospecting and qualification process.

Download the Link Building Worksheet.

All you or your team has to do is evaluate 9 elements of each link prospect URL and mark a “1″ in the appropriate column of the spreadsheet if that element is present. The spreadsheet does the rest for you.

Remember – the link building worksheet works best with large numbers of link prospects. The more you can evaluate the better. We prefer working at a scale of hundreds of thousands of prospects. If you’re working by hand, try and get up into the high hundreds, if not thousands.

In future articles we’ll cover methods of slicing the link prospect data you add to your worksheet as well as advanced link research methods that will ensure that you find only the best opportunities for your link building campaigns.

More link qualification resources

Link prospecting by-hand would be significantly more tedious and difficult without the tools created by Aaron Wall of SEOBook. We highly recommend the SEO Toolbar and SEO for Firefox.

Our Link Building Guide has a section called Link Opportunity Qualifiers Within Large Scale Link Prospect Data Sets that will give you more ideas for add-ons or modifications to your spreadsheet.

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: General


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.ericward.com Eric Ward

    You guys really are getting closer and closer to the elusive sweet spot. I have a series of spreadsheets and macros that I’ve used for going on ten years to evaluate large scale URLs, and I look forward to using yours as well. It’s amazing what you can learn when you know what to look for. At the same time, even when we know by analysis the exact 3,217 target sites that will be the most impactful for any given topic, that info is useless if the site seeking those links cannot earn those links by virtue of high merit content. The very nature of this approach is what makes the targets much tougher to get, and thus potentially more valuable. But it still circles right back to content. Knowing is only half the battle.

  • Garrett French

    Hi Eric – Thanks for your comment. I’ve been a reader/student of yours for years now.

    We’re working hard to chase and expand that link prospect sweet spot for our clients…

    You’re right – sometimes having MORE data can be a detriment to action, and as you said, if it’s the RIGHT link prospect data then all of a sudden the bar for quality content goes WAY UP.

    Ben and I would highly value any feedback you have on the worksheet – and hey, if you ever wanted to discuss automating any of your macros, well, we’d be up for that ;) I’ll follow up with you next week by email, and thanks again for your comment.


  • http://www.seoauditors.com seoauditors


    This was a great post. Thank you for sharing this information. I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity. I would love to hear some tips about getting links, outside link baiting, pitch letters and social media.

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

    Hi SEO Auditors – thanks for the kudos. I hope this article and worksheet helps streamline your approach to link building!

    Phew! You’ve outlined a tall order:

    getting links
    outside link baiting
    pitch letters
    social media

    Though we specialize in link prospecting and leave acquisition to our customers/agencies we have written about link acquisition tactics in our blog.

    As far as link bait (we’re really trying to push the term “linkable content” ;) we’re currently working on a guide + worksheet for analyzing and creating highly linkable content. Keep an eye on us – it should be out in the next couple of weeks.

    Distribution of said content – using pitch letters and social media – would certainly make a great article too…

    Specifically regarding pitch letters and acquisition I submit to you:

    Wiep Knol’s fantastic link request article:

    We wrote:

  • http://www.buzzstream.com/link-building/ JeremyBencken

    Great spreadsheet. I think relationship status is almost a gating factor to the whole process, and I don’t say that just because BuzzStream is all about managing link relationships.

    Getting a link requires outreach. So you need some way to contact a site owner (usually an email address). But… if you can identify the name of the person responsible for the site, email address, Twitter id, Linkedin profile, phone number, and address, your odds of getting a link are exponentially higher than emailing info@foo.com.

    Here’s a tip– if you find someone’s Twitter ID, try plugging it into KnowEm and see what other social media sites they might be on. Then try to connect with them there. You can also try Spoke and ZabaSearch (once you know their name and location).

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