“Is there an outreach market for this keyword?”

Being able to realistically answer that question with a high degree of accuracy is one of the small tests that separates a good marketer from a great one.

When it comes to SEO, one of the toughest parts of content marketing is definitely knowing whether or not a given keyword has an outreach market. Subsequently, it’s also one of the hardest skills to pass on and teach.

As a content marketing agency, one of the most powerful things we do is create content that not only ranks for a top of the funnel term, but also generates “outreach links”. These are the links that the lift domain as a whole and really move the needle.

However, not every top-of-the-funnel keyword has that opportunity. It’s a special, especially powerful subset that not only has significant volume, but also has a receptive outreach market that enables its own expedited ranking.

You see, just because there are links to pages that rank…doesn’t mean we can generate similar links just as easily. In fact, it’s very possible that a page with 30 linking root domains (LRDs) has zero links that are similarly replicable—or at least replicable through outreach.

What’s the difference? As it turns out, plenty. And that’s exactly what I’m going to show you in this post.

The Most Important Context – Commerciality

As an immediate qualifier, if a keyword has buying intent—such as “laptop computers,” there’s a strong chance you can’t just reach out to people and get links.

Those pages probably have lots of links to them, but most of them probably came from junk pickups or are fallouts from 2004 when guest posting and paid links were the norm.

Building natural links to landing pages with commerciality built in is pretty close to impossible with cold outreach.

Unless you have an absolutely amazing or ridiculous product, or have a page that targets a commercial keyword but is not actually trying to monetize, you’re likely to find it extremely tough sledding.

For more reading on how you actually can build links to commercial pages, I wrote about the topic late last year.

For the purposes of this post, though, the keywords I talk about will be top of the funnel– awareness-driven content that can build brand affinity and move customers through the buying process.

Are The Ranking Pages Generating Their Own LRDs?

It is very, very possible that a competitive keyword has lots of results on page one with high page authority (PA), but not actually have many links pointing to the several different pages ranking. This is due to domain authority (DA) fueling the ranking, not the actual pages themselves.

For example, let’s look at a keyword like ham recipes. Ham recipes has 27,100 searches per month, and is highly competitive in the recipe space. When we pull up the SERP, the first thing we should do is evaluate the PA and LRDs of the pages surfacing.

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Looking at the top two results from AllRecipes, it looks like Moz has actually not even calculated the PA. While it’s possible this is a new page, it’s also something I see frequently on SERPs without many outside links—likely making it harder for Moz to pick up the page and assign a PA to them.

The third result is from Food Network (another super authoritative site) yet still, the page itself seems to have no external links—the one link being internal. Clearly, this is not a keyword that is generating many page-level links.

Many keywords exist like this. High volume, but something about the context of the intent means that there is no real linking audience online—and ranking must be powered through DA or otherwise manipulative methods of generating links at the page level.

If you see a SERP where there are very few pages with 10+ LRDs, it may not have a strong outreach market.

If I was an up-and-comer offering a new ham product without much domain authority, it would behoove me to avoid a keyword like this at a surface level.

There aren’t many pages in the top 10 that have generated links, which is a strong signal that there is not a big outreach market for the term—even if we can generate irregular buzz for the content we create.

Example High-Volume Low-LRD Keywords: [Christmas Card Sayings], [Yo Mama Jokes], [Printable Gift Tags], [DIY Picture Frame]

That’s not to say we should give up, or assume we can’t generate links to our page—we’ll get into more context about that situation shortly. But first, let’s talk about the next most common situation—keywords where many of the results in the top 10 have 20+ LRDs.

Teased by the Filthy Linking Rich

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On certain SERPs, several pages in the top 10 have 20+ LRDs. Gold, right? Huge search volume, an audience that links—this means outstanding content will reward our site with the glory of increased domain authority and a sliver of 90,500 searches monthly that ranking page one for cookie recipes represents.

Actually, not really.

You see, even though many pages on page one of that SERP have 20+ LRDs—very few of them have an outreach market. That is, very few will enable you to reach out cold and immediately generate links—that’s just not how they work.

Cookie recipes is an example of a SERP that primarily generates links through inbound discovery—and has very few contexts where outbound, cold outreach is received well.

Why is that? What about cookie recipes makes it a term with “inbound” link intent? Context. There are many ways of linking, and only a certain subset of those occurs in an outbound context.

Outbound means you are being told about something great. Inbound means you need to find something great in the context that informs a situation where you may link.

And how does this apply to cookies?

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If observing the linking profile of the 64 linking root domains of Martha Stewart’s chocolate chip cookies recipe, we see some commonalities. These are people searching for a cookie recipe, not being told about one. Some examples:

  • A roundup showing many unique chocolate chip cookie recipes. You couldn’t pitch someone a chocolate chip cookie recipe and have them write a roundup—it doesn’t make sense. People decide to do a roundup and then search for recipes. More examples: [1], [2].
  • A reproduction of the recipe with unique photographs. In cold outreach, the more friction you introduce, the less likely it is you get a link. That is, if someone needs 3+ hours to create your content, you will rarely, if ever get a link. However, if someone wants cookies and finds your recipe, the context changes—suddenly 3+ hours is fine, and your link is enabled. More examples: [1], [2].

In short, these links occur through someone needing the content—not being told about it. Most keywords are need based for linking audiences.

By nature, the search audience implies it. But not every linking audience shares the same commonalities as the search audience—and therein lies the rub.

That’s not to say that it’s impossible to generate links to a single recipe through cold outreach. For example, the StartPage UK URL shown above is essentially a links page. But these type of opportunities are fewer and farther between for this kind of content.

How do You Evaluate an Outreach Market?

So, how do you know if your keyword has a strong outreach market? In general, follow the same process as mentioned previously. First, evaluate the linking profile of three of the sites ranking in the top 10 with 20+ LRDs—if they exist.

By looking at a sample of 50+ LRDs for a given keyword, you’ll have a solid sample size for the type of links that exist to pages for the keyword.

(And as a note, this process is most accurate on long-existing SERPs. Cookie recipes have been around as long as I’ve been alive, but you might not find lots of links for a SERP on some new musician’s lyrics—that’s just the nature of the game.)

Characteristics of an Outbound Linking Keyword

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Once you’ve established a solid number of sources, open the links and evaluate the percentage that fall into one of the following categories:

1. Content exclusivity with low friction. If the links to your competition’s content is exclusively covered in a way that realistically requires less than an hour—two at most—to write what is linked, there is a strong outbound linking audience.

If the content requires 2+ hours to cover, there’s a strong chance that your content can only be linked to in an inbound context—that is, if they are feeling a strong pain point and/or have an editorial ask that requires them to do it. The categories that this generally falls into are news, and also, things like infographics or other content with shareability built in.

Examples: [1][2][3]

2. Evergreen pages with multiple external links. Links pages perform well for a reason – they are evergreen pages that are constantly updated and in under a minute, can be updated with a new link. Many prominent keywords frequently leverage links from link pages and if you find keywords like this, you’ve got a great opportunity.

Examples: [1][2][3]

3. Roundups in blog posts that reoccur. It’s possible to get links in a non-exclusive context, but to do so, you need to identify the sources being linked to are getting those links in a post series that are reoccurring. For example, a “links of the week” roundup might not be evergreen, but if it keeps happening there’s a good chance you can reach out to those people and get your content placed as well.

Examples: [1][2][3]

Example Outbound Linking Keywords: [Military Scholarships], [Birthday Calculator],  [IQ Test], [Mortgage Calculator], [Math Worksheets for Kids]

If a high percentage (>50%) of the 50+ links fall into one of the above bullets, that’s a strong suggestion that you are capable of building incredibly effective content that not only allows you to rank, but lifts the domain as a whole.

Of course, this assumes you have above average cold outreach skills and the ability to create skyscraper content better than what exists currently – which is easier said than done.

Characteristics of an Inbound Linking Keyword

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On the converse, the common characteristics inbound linking keywords share are listed below. The more of these that exist, the harder it’ll be to replicate the success of your competitors and/or outrank them—because you won’t be able to match the type of links they’ve generated simply from ranking for a longer duration than you.

1. They are linked to in context of a much larger subject and aren’t the primary focus. For example, there are several resources under the keyword “how to melt chocolate” with 10+ LRDs. However, most of these are linked to in a larger context—such as when someone is writing a recipe that requires you melt chocolate. You couldn’t in a million years pitch someone content around this topic and expect them to immediately cover it for that reason. They look for it, then mention it.

Examples: [1][2][3]

2. They have links that take 3+ hours to write/create. Many great recipes result in other bloggers recreating the recipe and then doing their own post on it. This in-depth process is really unlikely to happen if you cold pitch someone, even if your recipe is amazing. The person has to be in the right mood, they need to have discovered the content.

Similarly, many “wedding inspiration” posts show which items/vendors were used in the wedding. Given weddings take months and months to plan, you probably can’t cold pitch and get in the next one.

Examples: [1][2][3]

3. They are linked to in a post topic that will only be published once. A roundup of 30 pumpkin cookie recipes will probably not be published again on the same site. Therefore, pitching your pumpkin cookie recipe to them is unlikely to get a link. However, there is a possibility they might share because they’ve shown interest in the past. That matters too, but the reality is that you need page links in order to rank for many KWs. Seeing links like this will not show a clear path to getting them.

Examples: [1][2][3]

Example Inbound Linking Keywords: [Baby Girl Names], [Business Quotes], [Oatmeal Cookie Recipe], [Software Engineer Salary], [Small Business Ideas]

The Gamechanger: 10x Content

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The suggestions above are generally pretty strong for content you create that would rate as “slightly better” than what’s ranking #1. However, there is a possibility you can break the rule of the SERP with something amazing—10x content.

For example, on a SERP like “fall wedding colors“, there’s lots of roundups of color ideas, and most of them come from high authority sites with very few links on the page level. In essence, most of them are pretty basic blog posts.

However, if you were to create a resource with interactivity, ability to copy and paste the Pantones for each color and 100+ custom Pinterest boards for each, you might be able to break this analysis.

You’re able to break the analysis because you created 10x what currently exists, changing the standard of what’s possible through outreach because of the sheer impressiveness of the resource.

However, that doesn’t mean it’ll work every time—for example, I still don’t think the most amazing yo momma jokes resource in the world would be able to generate many links.

Top-of-Funnel KWs With Multiple 50+ LRD Pages

The second piece that breaks this analysis is when we see keywords with multiple pages with 50+ LRDs, such as birthday calculator. In these situations, normally high volume keywords, we almost never even look at the competitive backlink profile as a mode of assessment until we’re actually doing outreach.

These are the “money” top of funnel keywords that are the ideal alignment of interest+industry that definitely have outbound linking audiences due to the sheer number of links they are generating.

There’s clearly demand for these kind of keywords, and even if we can’t generate 50 LRDs, if we grab somewhere between 20-30, there’s a good chance that we’ll at least be on page one.

And even if not, we also will have considerably moved the needle in terms of overall domain authority, which can help the rest of the site. Not many of these keywords exist – and the ones that do sometimes require big investment in order to have a good result – but if they do in your space they should be #1 on your list to build.

Example “Instant-Yes” Keywords: [Printable Coloring Pages][Scientific Calculator], [Wallpapers], [Free Games], [Worksheets for Kids]

This Isn’t Black and White

For the content where 10x isn’t possible and in spaces where there aren’t 50+ LRD keywords (which realistically is likely most of the content and spaces you work in) the above analysis is a requirement.

Even then, this still isn’t black and white of “you can rank” or not. There is a possibility you can find a keyword that is primarily inbound linking and still generate outbound links.

However, it’s likely to be harder. If you have a big set of keywords and are considering where to invest time and money, it’s probably best to start with one you have strong evidence will be receptive to the outreach you do. Or, you better have a big enough existing audience through social/email and etc that will be able to naturally generate the links for you to get you to the top.

Regardless of audience size, if you do this research, map it against a great top-of-the-funnel term, and execute effectively, you can blow your business metrics out of the water. It’s our favorite thing to do, and if your vertical has the same opportunity, it should be yours, too.

Secret recipes sold here.

Fresh out of the oven.