When running a link building campaign, it can be extremely disheartening when you send hundreds of emails and get no responses.
Or worse, you’ve wasted your time with sites that ask you to pay for the link placement.
This is a challenge of any link building campaign. However, effectively screening your prospects to make sure they’re likely to respond to your offer can help resolve these issues.
While there’s no direct answer to which prospects you should reach out to, here are some questions you can ask yourself about your prospects before emailing them.
1. Is the site still active?
If a website is active and the owner is still taking care of it, they’re more likely to be open to updating old pages or adding new ones.
Here are some ways to check that the webmaster is still active.
Content publishing recency and frequency
One way to check this is to look for the section of the site where content is published, like their blog, to see if they’re still publishing content.
Don’t just look for recency, though. Look at the gaps.
For example, this site hasn’t published anything since October of last year.
However, if we look at the dates of the bottom two articles, we can see that huge gaps between publish dates is normal for this site.
Checking the social media feed of your prospects is a good way to see if they’re active.
For example, when I checked the Twitter account of the site above, I saw that they tweeted three hours ago.
This is a great way to check for webmaster activity. This site mainly uses Twitter, but websites in other niches might use other platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Pinterest, to talk to their audience.
2. Do the owners and writers at the site seem to care about the thing you’re reaching out about?
If you’re reaching out to update a page or pitch something that the website owner doesn’t care about, you’re wasting time.
Here are a few additional questions to ask depending on your specific scenario.
For content pitches…
If you’re pitching something like an infographic or guest post, “contributor” or “write for us” pages can be a good sign of interest.
However, many websites use these to bait link builders to reach out so they can sell backlinks to them.
Many sites don’t have any contributor pages, but for those that do, here are a few things to look for in websites that want legitimate contributors.
Do they pitch you as a writer by referencing their reach and brand value?
Websites that are looking for legitimate contributors are going to have the page written to persuade great writers to write for them.
This is often done by referencing the value of the brand or the potential to reach a large audience.
For example, BPlans references their audience size early in their contributor page.
This page from Women on Business sells more loosely to people who want to reach an audience of business readers.
If their page is written to sell to you as an amazing writer, that’s a sign that they’re actively seeking outside contributors.
Do their guidelines go deep?
When a site is specific about their needs, it’s because they’re trying to weed out people who are not a fit to contribute to their site.
This is a good sign that they’re looking for legitimate content contributions and aren’t just trying to sell them as sponsored posts or link placements.
The instructions on the “write for us” page from MicroStartups are a great example of this.
Pages with any mention of editorial fees or excessive discussion about the value of SEO and backlinks in the articles should be avoided.
How good is their other content from outside contributors?
This can be helpful to ask if the site doesn’t have any “write for us” or “contributor” pages.
If there is any content from outside and it looks like it’s written with the reader in mind, that’s a good sign.
Avoid reaching out to sites where many of their articles have one backlink with anchor text that clearly is a keyword. This is a sign that they sell links or place strict linking limits on their content, which isn’t good for readers or publishers.
For link pitches…
If you’re going to pitch a link to be added to a particular page, you want to make sure that the website owner cares about that page you’re pitching about and the thing you’re pitching.
Here’s how to check for each of these.
Do they care about the page?
Sometimes, websites are very upfront about whether or not they care about a page.
This site, for example, asks for a pitch.
Other times, you might find a blog post where this is less obvious.
The best way to know if they care about a page is to spot human effort. Read the content, and look for uniqueness.
If the author offers a unique perspective in their content rather than the same thing everyone else says online, this shows that they spend time thinking about their audience.
This isn’t hard to do. Just do a quick Google search of the primary keyword or title of the article and see what else is out there.
For example, UnboundB2B published this list of marketing tools for businesses.
We can see that they care about their content because they have unique design elements throughout, like custom bullet points and curated “key features” sections for each listed item.
If we do a Google search for their article title, it’s very obvious they didn’t just copy what everyone else was saying.
For example, this page that ranks in the snippet for “best marketing tools for businesses” at the time of writing has a pretty basic format.
This one from Campaign Monitor, which ranks #2, is even further simplified.
If the prospect’s content is clearly differentiated, it’s a good sign that they put real effort into it and care about it.
If they care about their content and the thing your pitching fits in, they’re more likely to be receptive to your outreach.
3. Does the site link out?
If the site links out to only large brands or .gov and .edu sites, they’re probably not going to be as open to linking out to a smaller blog or website.
A quick way to check this is with Ahrefs’ “Linked Domains” report.
Just put the domain you’re checking into Ahrefs, click “Linked Domains,” and sort by DR to see what sort of smaller sites this domain links to.
From here, you can open up the “links from target” menu to see how the site references these domains.
You can also filter this view to show only the dofollow outbound links.
From this information, you can get a better understanding of why the webmaster might link to external content.
If they link hoard or only link to large, well-known websites, they probably aren’t worth reaching out to.
4. Does the content on the site serve a purpose outside of SEO?
If a website is overly SEO savvy, they probably won’t be as open to publishing content for the value of the content itself.
When asked for backlinks, they’re also likely to turn the negotiation into one about a link exchange, which can be time-consuming to negotiate around.
You can tell if a site is overly SEO savvy if they link to things with keywords rather than descriptive text.
We can also see that their content is heavily optimized around more “best VPNs for” type of keywords, meaning they have an existing content plan they’re probably following for SEO.
Compare that with the content on a site like HubSpot, where much of it looks past SEO and serves an existing audience.
For HubSpot, their content serves their email list and works to help them generate leads, onboard customers, and help their audience solve problems related to their area of service.
The site above just published content to rank in Google and get traffic to their VPN pages.
Publishers who care about their audience over their SEO needs are usually great outreach targets who are open to external collaboration.
5. Does the site make money outside of affiliate links, advertising, and sponsored content?
Websites that make money from advertising and affiliate links are making very small amounts of money for lots of traffic. It’s usually a single dollar amount for every 1,000 visitors.
This, combined with how long it takes to see SEO results, puts lots of financial pressure on these types of sites.
So they start selling backlinks.
Here’s how to spot each of these website monetization strategies.
How to spot an affiliate site
Here are the main types of content that affiliate websites publish to make money from their website content:
- Product reviews
- Product comparisons
- Product roundups
- Product tutorials
- Gift guides
- Landing pages
- Buyer’s guides
The VPN site above is a perfect example. Their articles are all “best VPN” lists.
You can also tell a site makes affiliate money when the presence of an offer in their content is very obvious.
When the URLs to products don’t link directly to the referenced website, this is another sign. For example, this NordVPN link goes through an affiliate network before redirecting to the site.
Then when you land on the page, the URL will have tracking parameters (anything after the ? in a URL).
Affiliate sites aren’t always bad, but the types of people who build affiliate sites are often only in it for the money.
How to spot a website that makes money only from ads
Most websites run ads. However, if the site is small and building SEO content with ads as the only angle for monetization, this is unlikely to be a good link building target.
Large websites like CNET, for example, make money mostly from ads, but they’re large enough that monetization and content production are different departments.
Smaller websites do everything, so when smaller webmasters try to copy the approach of large publishers, they often end up with spray-and-pray domains where they publish everything they can just for traffic so they can get ad clicks.
Basically, lots of ads are a sign that the website is struggling to make money. If this is the case, they’re probably going to charge for links.
For example, Blog Tyrant found this Australian news site that littered their pages with ads in an attempt to monetize the traffic.
It’s not that ads are bad, it’s that the behavior of flooding a website with ads is a sign of monetary struggles.
How to spot a site that sells sponsored content
This is usually easy to check. You can do a site search in Google with the domain and the keyword “sponsored” in quotes.
For example, we can see that this site has a whole section for sponsored content with a quick Google search.
If sites are selling sponsored content and you pitch a guest post, for example, you’re probably going to be forwarded along to the advertising people who sell sponsored posts.