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Beginner's Guide to Link Prospecting Using Google Search

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glass-waterGoogle is a no-cost, simple, and powerful tool for quickly finding link prospects. Best of all, because your results are instant, Google can quickly teach you about your market - and the art of link prospecting.

This beginner's guide will walk you, your interns, your contractors or your staff through the very basics of link prospecting. If you're a pro and find this article to be a bit like "the guide to pouring a glass of water" please check out my query theory article for more advanced subject matter.

For this exercise we'll look for directories to submit our project management software site.

Finding Directories - Query 1

One of my first jobs at the agency I worked at in 2004 was free directory submission. This built low quality links and a miniscule trickle of traffic to the clients' websites.

These days directories can still provide a quick kick of link value as well as a bit of traffic – especially if there are any niche directories for the site you're promoting.

The first and most obvious query to try is [project management software directory]. Leave the quotes on but the brackets off when you search. The brackets show you where the query starts and stops. The top 20 results – where you typically find the most useful prospects when querying - show that there are quite a few options for you.

SERP Awareness for New Opportunities

Be sure to stay alert while poking through your results! When I searched I noticed a list of project management software tools. While lists aren't directories, they are pages from which you could potentially get a mention and definitely point us to another query... That's right - [list of project management software].

When searching for lists of project management software I noticed that there are also comparisons. Now we're really veering away from our chosen prospect of directories, but it's important to note that querying for [project management software comparison] could lead you to more opportunities. Note this potential direction, but then come back to directories – that's our core target for this exercise.

Know Your Category Keywords for More Prospects

There are a few project management software directories, but some of the results that came back look like category pages within larger software directories. It's highly probable that most broad software directories have these PM sections. Yes this is highly obvious, but it's important to remember that your site almost always fits in a broader category.

If you look for targets using the broader category keyword – in this case, "software" – you'll find still more prospects.

Try searching for [software directory]. You'll probably note there near the top the "Nerd's Heaven: The Software Directory Directory." This single result – a huge list of software directories could keep you busy for days.

You can find more of these kinds of sites by searching for [list of software directories]. Always remember to add "list" to your queries at some point!

Finding Footprints for Prequalified Prospects

We have one more task though, before we leave off searching for directories – we have to find a "footprint." They're best explained by example.

Go back to Google and type in [software directory]. The third result I see is www.thesoftwarenetwork.com. Visit that URL and look closely at the page. We're looking for any bit of text on the page that might be common amongst other software directories.

Now, clearly the phrase "software directory" will be on most, if not all, software directories, but they could also be on articles that mention software directories. We're looking for something specific to the function of directories, a phrase or bit of text that directories have that no other sites are likely to have. I see two potential footprints on the page that I'd like to test in Google: "Request a Listing" and "Submit Your Company."

Try these searches in Google: [software "request a listing"] and [software "submit your company"]. You'll start to see some new potential directories there for submitting your project management software site.

Now try this one: [project management "submit your site"]. The following are "footprints" for directories: "request a listing," "submit your company," and "submit your site."

But... why search for the footprints instead of just searching for directories? Footprints often bring you the prospects that would otherwise get lost in the SERPs. Further, if you find the right footprints, you can spend less time sifting through results. Footprints enable you to prequalify a website.

Important Takeaways for Begining Link Prospectors:

  • Stay Alert in the SERPs. The snippets Google returns will provide you with a wealth of potential new directions.
  • Stay Focused. Write the new directions down – don't start chasing after them immediately or you'll never finish your first task. Search for one prospect type at a time.
  • Know Your "Category." Think like a directory – your website fits in at least one category, and it's usually several folders or categories deep. Know as many of them as possible as these category words will be your most important research tools and enable you to find far more prospects than if you remained focused only on your target SEO keywords.
  • Love the List. Lists are your friends. Once you know all of your category keywords you can start poking around to see what kinds of lists are out there.
  • Look for footprints. Especially on definite-yes prospects. Footprints are "prequalifiers" that strongly indicate that a particular page or site is a definite yes for outreach or submission. Understand that your prospects aren't always found by looking for them directly and you'll be able to find more of them.

Image credit: Mark Hillary/Flickr 


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