For anyone new to SEO who will be working on link building and content marketing projects, one of the trickiest and most important things to learn as you get started is how to evaluate a link prospect. Understanding the value of a link is a foundational element of not only link building, but also content strategy – many times when you’re creating a piece of content designed to target certain types of linkers, you’ll need to understand how to value a potential link to be able to determine if creating the content and actually getting the link will even be worth the effort.

Getting Started

The first thing I find helpful in explaining how to evaluate a link prospect is to get used to hearing the phrase “it depends” in your internal dialog. Does page rank matter? If site A has more links in Yahoo! Site Explorer but site B has a higher Moz Rank, which is better? How important is the cache date if I’m evaluating a resource link?

It Depends

It depends on your backlink profile, your competitors’ backlink profiles, the competitiveness of the keyword and keyword set you’re attempting to rank for, and a number of other factors. Consider that your blanket disclaimer: you’re evaluating the impact of a link on an algorithm you can’t ever have full knowledge of and you’re attempting to take into account a tremendous number of different factors. It always depends, and it’s probably impossible to know with 100% certainty all the time which links will be the most impactful.

Resources

All of that said, as SEOs we still need to prioritize our actions, so we need to be able to decide which sites to reach out to and which sites to design content for. And there are some great resources to get a wet-behind-the-ears link builder started, such as:

An Example

If you set a new link builder loose on those resources they would, in all likelihood, come back with a pretty solid understanding of the value of a link. But a lot of people get more value out of a hard and fast, real world example, so I thought we’d work through one here.

Let’s imagine we’re promoting some content having to do with the environmental impact that results from the bottled water industry.

We start with a fairly standard search query operator to try to identify link prospects (we won’t get into link prospecting here, as that’s another post altogether, but obviously we’ll want to help them understand the process and introduce them to our favorite tools for prospecting – I like BuzzStream’s link prospecting tools, Ontolo’s toolset, and of course good old fashioned advanced query operators):

https://www.google.com/search?q=intitle:resources+bottled+water

 

Now, walk through the SERP with the newbie. This will give you a chance to not only help them understand “industry best practices”, but also to infuse them with a firm understanding of how you value links even amongst relatively like-minded SEOs not everyone will have exactly the same interpretation of which factors to focus on when, and why. (There’s a good discussion of the importance of this sort of dialog and how to execute this in this Whiteboard Friday video on SEO Moz between Ross Hudgeons and Tom Critchlow).

Anyway, we now want to take our link builder through this SERP and help them to understand how we see a list of potential prospects like this. Looking quickly we see a lot of authoritative sites with resource pages. Help them understand that while a lot of these actually won’t link to us, that’s OK because some of the results here may.

Recommendations

Since I want my link builders to be able to very quickly analyze quality of these potential link partners, I’ll recommend they use SEO for FireFox and the