The Beginners Guide to Qualifying a Link Prospect

by Melanie Nathan March 23rd, 2009 

As a professional link builder, I have one mission to accomplish and I don’t want to waste valuable time and energy on link prospects that won’t help me get any closer to my goal; search engine rankings. As a site owner, neither should you.

In theory, the purpose of getting a backlink is so that Google will visit the page you’re linked from and follow the link back to your site. The more Google runs into your links while crawling the web, and follows them back to your site, the more popular your site will become and the higher your rankings will be in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

In order to build links for the intention of ranking though, there are 3 basic principles or practices that you must be aware of. I therefore recommend that you qualify your link prospects by doing the research and answering, “yes” to the following three questions before deciding to pursue any backlink prospect.

Is the page themed to my content?

It’s true that the number of sites that link to yours is crucial for helping the search engines determine your popularity. It’s not only the amount of links that matter though. The link also needs to make sense.

A link from a page about adorable kittens, when your site is about herbal supplements, isn’t exactly useful. This is because the search engines know that a page about kittens isn’t an authority on supplements. A link to the same herbal supplement site, from a pharmacy on the other hand, would make more sense and thus be more valuable.

When weeding through link prospects, don’t even consider pages or sites that don’t logically fit in with your theme or industry. Always think quality over quantity for maximum impact.

Is the page indexed in Google?

One of the most common mistakes I see regarding link building, is valuable time being wasted going after backlinks from a page that isn’t even indexed in Google. Not being “indexed” means that Google has never visited the page. If Google has never visited the page it can’t count your link. I cannot stress enough that if you’re building links for ranking purposes, it makes no sense to go after a link that Google won’t even see.

In order to determine if a certain page has been indexed, simply plug the URL into the Google search box. If Google knows about it and has visited the page, it should be the very first result returned. Also use your tools, such as the Google toolbar. If a page has Pagerank, you automatically know it has been included in Google’s index.

There could be many reasons why a page wouldn’t be included in Google’s index. The page could be brand new. It could be “orphaned” (no other pages link to it from anywhere on the web). Or the site owner could have chosen to “noindex” the page via a meta tag or robots.txt file. This basically means, the search engines are being told to ignore the page completely.

Keep in mind that a brand new or orphaned page can still have some backlink potential (just point a link or two towards them), whereas a page, which has been noindexed, is a lost cause and should be disregarded.

To find out for sure, view the source code and use “ctrl+f” to search for any “noindex” meta tags. Also type “robots.txt” after the “/” on the homepage paying special attention to any “disallowed” pages or directories.

Is the link followed?

Sometimes, even when a page is appropriately themed and is indexed in Google it still may not be a worthy link prospect due to the outbound links having the “nofollow” link attribute. This means that when Google visits the page, it’s being told not to follow the links thereby giving them no ranking value. Many savvy site owners will do this in order to keep their hard earned Pagerank from leaking to other sites.

There are a few ways to tell if a link has been nofollowed. You can either install a nofollow highlighter browser plug-in which will highlight all the nofollowed links on any given webpage while you surf, or you can “view source” on any webpage and search for “nofollow” using “ctrl+f”. If you’re considering a certain page for a backlink request, it would definitely be worth your while to investigate.

Do keep in mind the traffic potential of a nofollowed link though, as not all backlinks are targeted for ranking.

Bonus Question: Can I use custom anchor text?

If you’ve found a link prospect that meets all of the above criteria AND they’re willing to let you use custom anchor text well then you’ve pretty much struck gold, as these types of links are NOT easy to come by. Don’t waste the opportunity! Make sure the text you choose is precisely what you want to rank for.

The most important thing, you as a site owner can do though, to facilitate your own success, is to provide intelligent, well-written content that appeals to your target audience. And by that I mean, you can qualify link prospects until the cows come home, but if your site is garbage, then you’re literally just wasting your time, as no quality site will even consider linking to you.

Which brings me to one last question you should probably ask yourself before you even start making link requests to other sites, and that is… would I link to my site?? But that's a whole other post in itself 😉

Melanie Nathan is a Canada SEO consultant, specializing in link building. Follow Melanie on Twitter to learn more about her and the work she does.

Melanie Nathan

Melanie Nathan is a veteran SEO consultant and founder of CanadianSEO. She has a particular passion for authority link building and the use of authoritative content to attract links.

SEO Canada

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13 Responses to “The Beginners Guide to Qualifying a Link Prospect”

  1. mattew says:

    Thank you for excellent insight about link building. I have one question.

    Does same anchor text to the same url hurt ?

  2. BlogFluence says:

    This is a great article about link building. I see a lot of people waste their time linking to sites that do not make sense at all. I rather take a little more time and find related sites to link to.

  3. ika says:

    i've been wasting time by doing link exchange with sites that don't match my content topic.. mmm after reading your useful article, i think i'm gonna delete the useless links and try to find related links.. thanks

  4. Great post on link building. It's true. Quality and Quantity is the key to maximizing your backlinks.

  5. Jen Ohs says:

    Great Post! Quality over quantity is really the key. Too many web designers don't understand this and need to read your article. Take the time to make sure that the link is worthwhile, otherwise you're wasting your time.

  6. Kai Lo says:

    Top Commentator plugin works great to get backlinks. Most of the greatest backlinks come from the main page of the site you wanted to get backlinks from, and the plugin will let you get on the main page.

  7. I agree – to a point.

    If it comes to a choice of getting a link from an unrelated site, or getting no link at all, I'll take the unrelated link every time.

    We hear the search engines talk about "Link popularity" a lot, and I've seen unrelated links from sites with high domain trust and authority give a significant boost in the rankings too often to discount them completely.

  8. Great post.

    I think it's important to notice the quality of the link also. How much juice will the link pass.There are tools you can use for evaluating the pages as Google Pagerank not always tell the whole story. That being said I would prefer a link from a PR6 page to a link from a PR1 page (all other things being equal).

    I use SEOmoz sometimes to evaulate link quality …

  9. Re the above comment:

    The "All things being equal" bit is important. I'd rather a link from a PR1 page which had only a couple of outbound links, than a link from a PR6 page with hundreds of outbounds.

  10. I would prefer the the link from the Pr6 depending on how many links it had. Building links on quality related sites is the way to get better SERPS along with targeted anchor text. Look at me i just made a backlink with a custom anchor text on a related site.

  11. I 100% agree with with all you said about in finding a good quality link! I hate when people contact you to exchange links and what they offer is a resource page full of non relating links!! I like my web page and the ones I link with all to relate to one another and of course have a follow and Google recognized, otherwise what's the point?

  12. I agree with your list to a point, but in my experience, when link building full time, you don't have the time to check all the variables you mention. By the time you've done all the checks you mention for one link, you could have gained 5 more links elsewhere…

  13. Monika says:

    You've got som great advice in your posts (I've just been through all of them). Thank you! I've just started up with link building inhouse, and it seems lika daunting task!

    Have you had any experience with calling prospective sites for requesting links? if so, do you have any tips?? Would be super appreciative of any advice!