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NOTE: This post was written by Measured SEM co-founder Tom Demers, and originally appeared on the WordStream Blog.

Once you’ve created some stellar content, as an SEO, the next step is to go and promote it. One of the challenges with link prospecting is that not every link is a home run. In fact, most of the people you’ll identify as possible prospects through traditional means will be some combination of:

  • Irrelevant - Some of the potential targets you pull up in your research won’t really be targets at all (often you’ll find competitors, sites that are dormant or don’t link out, etc.)
  • Unresponsive - If you are creating content and generating a “traditional” link outreach list, a large number of possible linkers won’t respond to your emails.
  • Slow to Respond - Additionally you’ll also often run into linkers who just take their time getting around to your request.

For these reasons, it’s important to “fill your link building pipeline” at every stage of the funnel. In this post we’ll focus on the top of that funnel and walk through a simple process for generating a nice initial list of “raw URLs” to start your link building process.

Link Outreach In Stages – Getting A Big List Of Raw URLs

This type of link prospecting typically calls for a few stages of prospecting, namely:

  1. Generating a big list of potential link prospects made up of “raw URLs” (just the address of the page you’re targeting, sans contact info)
  2. Prioritizing and filtering that list
  3. Adding contact information to the “winners” you actually want to spend time doing outreach to

Here we’ll just focus on this first step: accumulating some raw URLs (note: there are a LOT of ways to generate these types of lists, and this is just one; for more in-depth information on alternative link building processes Wiep and our friends at Link Building Company Ontolo consistently post some amazing and absurdly detailed stuff on various approaches, and any of the subjects of our SEO link building experts piece would be excellent resources as well).

Generating An Initial List Of Link Prospecting “Suspects”

I’ll borrow some of the B2B lead gen language I’ve learned here and refer to this initial batch of URLs as “link suspects.” Basically what we’re trying to do here is get a nice mass of URLs that could belong to linkers who we want linking at us. As I mentioned there are a number of ways to do this, for our purposes here we’ll make use of a great (and free) tool from Ontolo. You’ll have to create a free account, but then you can find the Link Building Query Generator within their Link Building Tools section (their paid subscription takes this tool set to another level, but for our purposes here we can leverage the free tool). This tool is fantastic for our purposes!

Let’s imagine we’re promoting our keyword competition group interview. We can simply plug a few quick data points into the Ontolo tool around what term we’re targeting, what type of content we’re promoting, and what types of links we want:

link-prospecting-suspects

Then we’ll wind up with the output of the Ontolo tool, which is really a bit of link building gold:

link-prospecting-ontolo-output

Behind these results lies some real link suspect/prospect meat — basically what the tool has done is automatically generated every advanced query operator a link builder would normally have to think of and research on her own. Having leveraged the tool, we can now just start clicking the links and have a few tabs full of potential link prospects.

Getting Our Prospects Into A Spreadsheet

Next we want to take all of this backlink prospect goodness and get it into Excel, which will help us prepare it for part two in the series. To do this we’ll simply:

  1. Pop open the most relevant query results from the Ontolo tool in new tabs (you’ll be left with some open tabs and a list of Google search results)
  2. Make use of Google’s advanced search option and alter your results to show 100 (you need Google Instant disabled, but everyone who realized they could did this already right?) — up from ten
  3. Use either of a pair of other cool (and free) tools to get the data into Excel

This third step can go either of two ways:

  1. Grab the URLs and Run - To just get a hold of the totally raw URLs you can use the Google Results Bookmarklet from Online Sales — check out their other bookmarklets and tools while you’re there as well — lots of handy stuff! (NOTE: If you use the bookmarklet in FireFox with lots of plugins you may wind up with slightly funky results.)
  2. Get Some Additional Data Points - Using SEO for Firefox (still a free tool available with a free account sign up as this is being written) you can get not only an export, but all sorts of great extra data including page rank, cache date, and link-to-page totals. This is really the ideal route for this task, as this additional data will help you in the next stage of link prospecting (link qualification).

And that’s basically it! You now have a really nice list (easily hundreds and potentially thousands, if you were really industrious) of link prospects to start to work off of. In the next installment we’ll start to walk through how you can take the next step with this list and get it ready for actual outreach.

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