At Siege, we’ve collectively sent over 1 million outreach emails and evaluated several millions more prospects along the way.
It’s safe to say that we’ve learned a lot about the patterns and signals, both positive and negative, that indicate whether to pitch or skip a given site.
In this post, we divulge a few of the elements our team looks for when prospecting for backlinks — and our free prospecting scorecard Chrome extension that was previously reserved for internal use — so you can quickly assess whether a given site is worth pitching in your outreach efforts.
Positive Signals in Link Building
We’ll start with some of the things we look for that indicate whether a site is worth pitching our content. At a high level, we want to make sure the prospect is actively publishing and updating their site, would be willing to link to us, and has a clear way to contact them.
Find a Recent Timestamp
Is the site actively being maintained and publishing new content? One way to answer this is to look at the timestamp on the post. If the current year isn’t present anywhere on the page, it’s probably a good indication that the site is no longer active.
Although the year is not always a perfect metric (because an automated annual update to the copyright in the footer could trigger a positive signal), it’s still a worthy analysis, and one of the metrics highlighted on our prospecting scorecard.
If you do land on an outdated post, a more manual approach to evaluate recency is to navigate to the blog home and see if any posts have been published more recently.
Evaluate External Links
Does the prospect consistently cite external resources? If you find outbound links to external resources, you know the site isn’t fundamentally opposed to linking out — so pitching your content isn’t out of the question.
There are some other considerations regarding the types of outbound links and how to assess whether your site will be acceptable to the prospect. More on this later.
You can also check for broken links and add value in your pitch by helpfully pointing out the issue and suggesting your content as a natural replacement — this is known as broken link building.
Our tool surfaces the ratio of external to internal links as a good baseline metric for assessing whether the site would be open to sending a link your way.
Identify Contact Information
Is there an email address, contact form, or about us page that contains an email address? These are all good starting points for identifying whether or not an outreach email will even reach the prospect.
It’s always best to send a personalized email to the prospect’s direct address, as opposed to a general company email or form, but success can be had in all contact methods. If our tool identifies a hyperlinked mailto email address, it will call it to your attention with a black border:
While there are overall quality signals of a site that are obvious to the naked eye, they’re more difficult to quantify into an algorithm, which is why this list of positive signals is far from exhaustive.
Let’s shift gears and look for some of the things that might disqualify a site as a good outreach prospect.
Negative Signals for Link-Building Prospects
If we had a nickel for every outreach email that ended in rejection or failure, this article would likely be about philanthropy (because we’d be millionaires many times over).
The obvious question is: What led us to incorrectly believe the site would be receptive to our pitch, and more importantly, what could have alerted us to skip the prospect and move on to greener pastures?
Exclusively Authorized Domain Extensions
Above, we discussed the positive signals of external links on the prospect’s site, but not all external links are comparable. If a prospect exclusively links out to authorized domains like .gov or .edu, the probability that they would make an exception for your commercial domain is low.
If you find a page with nearly 100% of external links pointing toward sites with credible top-level domains, it’s worth navigating to other pages to see if this is a general principle of the publisher or an isolated instance.
In other words, don’t let this one metric discourage you from a potential pitch, but mentally log it as a negative signal (or let our scorecard log it for you).
Our tool will analyze the external links and metrics on the page you open the extension, but will not crawl the entire site to get a comprehensive view of the prospect’s citation policy.
Nofollow and Sponsored Outbound Links
Does the prospect mark their external links as nofollow or do they only include sponsored links in their posts? If so, this is a negative signal if you’re like us and rely on content quality to incentivize a link instead of paying for placements.
Our Chrome extension will call these links to your attention with a red border and text box identifying the link’s associated rel tag (i.e., sponsored, nofollow, etc.).
Solely Sponsored Posts and Advertising
As we mentioned earlier, we don’t pay for link placements, so it’s a helpful insight if we can identify sites that are likely to ask for money in exchange for a backlink.
Some of the most common words that indicate a site will charge for link insertions are:
- Affiliate Disclosure
- Work With Me
- Work With Us
- Sponsored Post
Our scorecard will highlight these words in red.
Taking a quick detour back to the positive signals, there are also some words that indicate intent to collaborate, such as:
- Submit a Tip
- Write for Us
These positive words will be highlighted green:
If you’re a content marketer, PR specialist, or outreach specialist or are otherwise sending outreach emails for the purposes of link-building, LQLs are your version of a sales qualified lead.
Outreach is hard, and it’s worth noting that our scorecard is not a perfect solution. Even if our scorecard greenlights a pitch, there are a number of factors that could cause a prospect to ignore or outright reject your pitch.
This is why we’ve made a major strategic shift in our link-building philosophy to focus on driving organic search traffic with high intent to build a link. This shift towards less manual link building is one reason we are open-sourcing our tool for you to quickly qualify your outreach prospects.
Good luck out there.