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The New School of Link Prospecting Keyword Research (+4 Tools & 2 Tips)

french-garrett
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Keyword research is an established "school of thought" in the SEM space. There are hundreds of free and paid keyword tools, and carefully outlined and repeatable procedures and processes.

When it comes to link prospecting and link prospect keyword research, however, shockingly little is written.

Before digging into our tools and tips for link prospecting keyword research though, let's contextualize a bit by way of some definitions and start outlining this school of thought.

Link Prospecting

Link prospecting is the process of finding potential sites, pages, and people that will share your link with their visitors. Most SEOs use backlink analysis, link building queries and conversations with internal employees to discover their link prospect lists prior to outreach.

Link Prospecting Queries

Link prospecting keyword research is only useful for the link building query approach to finding prospects. With the link building queries approach, you design search engine queries that pinpoint link prospects for your campaign.

Queries are more versatile and powerful for link prospecting than backlink analysis because you can look for prospects based solely on your linkable assets and the link opportunities unique to your niche. Here is some basic theory of link building queries.

  • Example: You sell baby bottles online and you have a medically-reviewed guide and infographic to the dangers of bisphenol A (BPA). None of your competitors have a guide like this and though you've mined their backlinks it's tough to build out a deep and comprehensive list of prospects that might be interested in sharing this guide. Though there will certainly be a large grouping of potentially interested linkers (e.g., your competitors probably have backlinks from many parenting blogs), you will not have all the potential linkers in one place unless you conduct link prospecting queries based on your target prospects.

Link Prospecting Phrases

Link prospecting phrases are the "roots" of your link building queries. We've called them market defining keywords in the past, but even that is a bit off because it doesn't encourage you to look for unique footprints.

Further, SEOs have a tendency to see the word "keyword" and start thinking in terms of what words they want to rank for. Often your target ranking keywords make poor prospecting phrases.

  • Example: So you've got this guide to bisphenol A (BPA), and you sell baby bottles online. You want to promote your guide and send baby bottles to bloggers for review. You want to rank for "baby bottles, buy baby bottles, baby bottles online, etc." If you use those in your link prospecting queries you're likely to end up with competitors, as well as apparently shallow link opportunity inventories. The real depth of opportunity emerges when you think about phrases that describe your target bloggers, such as "parenting, new parents, new baby, etc." Finding and identifying these kinds of prospect-defining keywords brings us at last to the research... Note: link prospecting phrases are what you'd add to a link query generator -- they are roots.

To get a sense of the difference between a good link prospecting keyword and one that doesn't provide great prospect depth, try these two searches in Google:

  • [buy baby bottles online blog”
  • [baby bottle review blog”
The list of prospects generated from the second search could also be decent prospects for promoting your bisphenol A (BPA) infographic. If you only wanted to promote your infographic, check out the difference between these two queries in the SERPs:

  • buy baby bottles online blog
  • new parent blog

4 Tools and Tips for Link Prospecting Keyword Research

This is the fun part, and an aspect of link building about which there's very little written, especially in comparison to the pages and pages written on SEO keyword research! The hallmark of a great link prospecting phrase is that it connects you, via your search engine of choice, with the deepest-possible list of qualified prospects.

Luckily, a number of tools and tips will help you do this job faster and more efficiently. And yes, I told the SEOChat group that there were no great tools for link prospecting research. You can thank them for this list.

Before digging in you will certainly want to have a two to three prospecting phrase seed list -- these can be your market defining keywords, or even your "biggest head" SEO keywords.

  1. Tool: Google Related Results I use this function heavily when digging for prospecting phrases. When logged into your Google account it's in the left nav, click "more search tools," then "Related searches." I used to scroll to the bottom of my SERPs, but will now forevermore just use this tool since I discovered it existed.

  2. Tool: Advanced Query Operators Advanced query operators are more about using Google well as a research tool than they are a distinct tool. That said, as a link builder constructing link prospecting phrases you should know them really, really well.

  3. Tool: Google Wonder Wheel This guide to using the Google wonder wheel for link building will help you dig into prospecting phrase research. Remember when researching your phrases you're not looking for prospects yet, just the keywords that define them.

  4. Tool: Soovle Soovle taps into the search completion and suggestions from (it looks like) 11 different sites. I used to use search completion at Google quite a bit for prospecting phrase research. Now I use Soovle.

  5. Tip: Google SERP Snippets The Google SERP snippets themselves are typically loaded with prospecting phrase ideas, especially when sites are actively targeting keywords you hadn't thought of in the first place. Further, you may discover non-competitive footprints that prospects have in common with each other. Here's one example of such a footprint.

  6. Tip: Client Conversations I'm frequently astonished by my own assumptions when it comes to prospecting phrases. After conducting my own research I'm almost always shocked to discover how off base I was once I have a conversation with a client. Google simply can't know all the prospecting phrases out there, and how a niche or market names or describes itself is very different from how you'd instinctively describe it. I'd also recommend forum research too if there are active forums in the vertical you're researching.

Growing the School!

While link building queries and prospecting have been written about extensively, finding great phrases is typically conflated with other stages of the process. That said, I'm certain I've missed some tools and resources for link prospecting keyword research. If you know of any, please share them in the comments!

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