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13 ways to evaluate link prospects and find quality

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It’s important to look for quality links to your website. A small number of links from quality sites will bring you much more benefit than thousands of links from poor quality sites. But how do you judge what a quality site is and the value of a link from it? Different link builders will have different priorities, but here Ken McGaffin shows us what he looks for when eyeing up a prospect.

I don’t expect to score a positive for every factor with every prospect. Nor do I have a cut-off point where a site must satisfy a minimum of ‘x’ criteria. I use this list just to remind myself of what I’m looking for (use or adapt my criteria as you wish).

My criteria break down into three groups:

  • The site itself
  • The site's presence on the web
  • The site's policies

Now, on with the list. Here’s what I look for:

The site itself

1. Is the site relevant?

I’ll always look for relevance first – that’s very important to me. But that doesn’t mean limiting your link building to sites within your own industry.

For example, an accountancy site should not just look for links from other accountancy sites. They might get links from a small business website highlighting their tax planning services, and a link from a non-profit organization highlighting effective fundraising methods.

At first glance the 'small business website' and the 'non-profit organization' might not seem to have anything in common. But in the context I’ve described for each, there is clear relevance.

By broadening your horizons outside your own industry, you’ll be able to find many relevant links that might not have been immediately obvious.

2. Is the content well written?

Well written content is a sign that someone cares about what they’re doing and has put the time and effort into their site. That’s the type of person with whom I’m interested in building a relationship.

If the content is not written well I’d be likely to reject it. I think there are so many sites with great content that my time would be better spent with them.

3. Has the content been updated recently?

This is another sign that someone cares about what they are doing and are actively involved with their project. I’ll have a quick look at the pattern of publishing.

It doesn’t have to be every day or even to a strict weekly or monthly pattern. But I do want to see that the content is updated – and if it’s really quality content that is just updated now and again, that’s fine by me. For example, while researching ‘turning 50’ I came across what I think is a great site – crankyfitness.com - some of the articles just brought a smile to my face.

4. Does the site link out to many other sites?

At Wordtracker we have a policy of freely linking out to good resources or examples. We don’t ask for any reciprocal link in return – we just link because it’s a good resource. I believe such links make our articles more complete as well as saying a small thank you to the sites that give us something to write about.

When I evaluate link prospects, I’m very interested in how they link out. If they do so freely, then I know that if I can give them a solid reason, they’ll be likely to link to me too.

If a site does not link out, it may be very difficult to persuade them to do so. That may mean it is not worth the effort and it goes down my list of priorities.

5. Are there real people on the site?

Some sites are not what they seem. They’re machine generated affiliate-type sites whose only job is to make money for their owners. These sites are set up and run on auto-pilot – there’s no real engagement with the audience.

That doesn’t fit my priorities in link building so I’ll want to see evidence that there are real people on the site.

I’ll look for the names of writers and I’ll also want to see if people have left comments on the articles – and if those comments are real.

If I find real writers and real engagement with an audience through lively comment and debate, then I’m very interested.

The site's presence on the web

6. Has the site got good inbound links?

The more inbound links a website has, the more important the site is likely to be, and therefore a link from that site will be more valuable. So on a first pass, I will prioritize link prospects according to how many inbound links they have.

7. Does the site score well on Google PageRank, Alexa, Compete, etc?

These metrics are freely available, for example, the SearchStatus add-on from Quirk.biz. This can be a very useful if not completely reliable measure of worth. The figures give an instant snapshot of how important a site might be. But it is only a clue, so don’t take the scores too literally – have a look at other factors too.

8. Is the site well-established?

The longer a site has been around, the higher its profile on Google is likely to be. That enhances the value of a link from the site.

Again, that doesn’t mean I’d ignore a new site. If I’m seeing other positives, then I’m happy to link.

9. Does the site perform well on keyword searches?

I would expect an important site to rank fairly well on popular, relevant keywords and I’d do a few searches to check it out. However, this would not be a show-stopper.

Their policies

10. Are they easy to contact?

Sites that are interested in engaging with their community and in linking to good external resources are likely to make themselves easy to contact.

They’ll have prominent "Contact us" details and they’ll make it clear if they welcome submissions and guest posts.

That doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily easy to get a link from. It just means that they understand how the web works and that to get good content, they’ve got to be open to receiving it.

While researching social media opportunities yesterday, I came across this "How To Pitch" page from SocialMediaExplorer.com that I really liked.

Here’s point 2:

"It (your pitch) should be brief. I don’t mind emails (send to jason – at – socialmediaexplorer.com), but if you write more than a paragraph, you’ve gone too far. Tell me who you are, what it is, why it’s relevant and ask me if I’d like more info."

I love it when sites are so clear about what they want – break their rules at your peril!

11. Do they publish resources or reviews?

If the answer is yes, then they’re going to move up my list of priorities. Such sites exist to inform their audiences – that’s what brings them traffic.

So if they do publish reviews or lists of resources, and your website is relevant, then they’ll be likely to link to you. The people behind these sites will want to keep up to date and be as comprehensive as possible. Often, they’ll invite emails that give them new information.

12. Do they invite articles or guest posts?

Again, if the answer is yes, then they’re going to move up my list of priorities.

However, guest posts require time and effort. It must be relevant, well written and usually original if it is to be attractive to the target site. That means I’ll have to devote time to writing a good post.

The question I then have to answer is, "does this site (and this link) justify the time spent in writing a post?" And of course, "is there another site where the effort would be better rewarded?"

There are no easy answers to those questions – you’ve just got to look at your priorities and what you think you can achieve.

13. Do they interview people for opinion or case studies?

Often an interview is a good option, especially if you’re pushed for time. I think most businesses are surprised that there are so many opportunities to be interviewed. One fantastic - and free - way to get interview opportunities is to sign up to HARO.

You’ll get daily emails from journalists actively looking for people to interview.

Assessing link prospects for your site

Judging the quality of a link prospect is an important task – do it well and you’ll spend your precious time targeting those that are really important to you. But it is a subjective process – there’s no one formula that you can use every time.

The thirteen criteria I’ve listed here are important to me. I don’t take the time to check every link prospect against this list, but thinking about them and indeed writing this article, lodge them in my unconscious and they become part of the way I 'feel' about a site.

So think about what I’ve written and copy or adapt the list as you see fit. What really matters is that you do have criteria that you’ve thought about and tested.

If I’ve missed any criteria that you feel are really important, or you disagree with the ones I’ve chosen, please leave your comments below.

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About Ken McGaffin

Ken McGaffin is a writer, speaker and trainer in online marketing. He provides webinar and video training in link building, online PR and content marketing on his site at LinkingMatters.com You can join him at Google+ or on Twitter

He wrote The Definitive Guide to Successful Link Building with Mark Nunney, and has created two in-depth online courses, 'Get Links: 7 Weeks to Link Building Mastery' and 'Broken Link building Video Course', both with Garrett French.