Finding Potential Link Partners

In a recent search engine optimization (SEO) chat, someone said that the secret to link building is sources. Definitely a valid observation.

As much as it's helpful to discuss tips, techniques, tricks, and tactics, if you can't get directly to the potential linkers, then all you've got is a lot of really good ideas for how to get nowhere.

Now if this were really a shortcut, it would be a list of 50 people willing to give up links. But that would just be cruel.

Imagine you discover a green pasture that's ideal for grazing sheep. As soon as you tell all the other shepherds about this verdant nirvana it would be mowed bare by hundreds of livestock, effectively ruining it for everyone. And in the end, the list itself would become useless and obsolete.

So without destroying any specific sources, here are few ideas on finding sources to ask, beg, or barter for links.

Search Engines

It all starts here. Whether you're searching from scratch, using tools, or checking someone else's backlinks, search engines usually play into it somewhere.

The right search phrases will generate all kinds of useful results. The wrong search phrases, however, will get you almost nowhere.

There are some great free, or free with registration, tools that can help generate ideas for searches. SEOMoz's link finder or Solo SEO's link search tool give you a number of pre-linked Google searches. WebConfs backlink builder skips the middle man and gives you links directly to sites for a number search terms.

While these are all good tools (and only a tiny sample of the ones out there), the problem is that there are similarities across all of them in terms of the kinds of searches and phrases they use. And that means these results are probably as picked over as Walmart on the day after Christmas.

The frequent rankers for phrases like "keyword + suggest a link" and all of its variations, have likely been contacted for links a thousand times. So that means you need to get more creative in your request or your search.

Anyone who has asked the general population for "link suggestions" is probably at least fairly selective in what they choose to accept. So if you're thinking of sending a generic template touting your home page, think again.

While these tools are a really useful jumping off point, and can help generate ideas when the search well runs dry, just remember no tool is more powerful than your own creative mind.

Use multiple engines for the same search phrases to get different results and experiment with searching for phrases that are off the beaten path.

Look for pages on "Teaching kids about 'keyword'" (unless your keyword is Viagra) and you'll likely find some interesting sites with an educational approach to your topic -- places where your content could legitimately be an asset.

And these pages have even more to offer than just being potential linkers. They are a home of even more possible sources.

Other People's Links

Who's down with OPL? From what I hear, all the homies are.

One of the best and most productive ways to find new links is to mine other people's. There's nothing inspired about digging through your competitors backlinks to see which ones you can pillage; most link campaigns involve using that kind of intel.

But competitors aren't the only group whose backlinks hold possibilities.

Aside from just scrutinizing the competition, it's always worth looking at the backlinks of any website, or single page, that is relevant to your topic. There are multitudes of question-and-answer or informational sites online with backlinks that could prove viable.

A flourishing blog that is salient to your subject no doubt has backlinks from websites that could be useful. A highly successful article on Digg most likely has links from places of interest.

Any online entity that is relevant to you could have links from your future link partners. When you start to look at every page or site you find, that is congruous to your niche, as a source of potential linkers, you discover a whole new territory that hasn't been tread by your competitors.

The Rabbit Hole

One of my favorite ways of searching for link targets is by following other links, or as I like to call it, searching down the Rabbit Hole. You never know where you're going to land next or what you're going to find when you get there.

Blogrolls often lead to rabbit holes as do links pages (at least the good ones). Blogrolls are a great way to find other blogs that are considered valuable within a community and links pages give you a good idea of what someone considered link-worthy. Not only can you find potential link partners this way, you can also generate content ideas.

The thing with this kind of searching is that you have to keep an open and observant mind. It's not about looking for anything specific, it comes down to taking what you have to work with and finding an angle where what you have fits with what you find.

Directories and social media sites are another great way to fall into a search hole. People who tweet about certain subjects might also have websites where they would be willing to link to information on that subject.

Directories are basically a listing of websites broken down by topic, and all the sites in relevant, non-competitive categories may be worth a contact. Not only can you reach out to sites listed in directories, you can look at their backlinks.

Technorati is another helpful place where you can search for link targets in a specific topical area. If you sell shoes, for example, you may want to look though directories for sites and blogs about foot-related diseases, in an effort to promote your article on the health benefits of arch support.

The essence of this kind of searching is finding a thread and following it wherever it may lead, picking up the gems along the way and discarding the waste.

The most important thing you can gather from any of these search methods, aside from URLs and contact info, is insight into what people consider valuable enough to share. You can utilize that wisdom to create content of similar merit on your own site.

As with any link building strategy, the you more have to offer in terms of quality content, the better your odds will be of getting a link anywhere.

Join us for SES London 2011, the Leading Search & Social Marketing Event, taking place February 21-25! The conference offers sessions on topics including search engine optimization (SEO), keyword analysis, link building, local, mobile, video, analytics, social media, and more. Register now.