Link building: Preliminary research and analysis

Columnist Andrew Dennis outlines the research necessary to provide a solid foundation for your link-building strategy.

Research is critical to securing the links your site needs. Research is necessary to work intelligently and strategically.

A few months back, I published a post here on Search Engine Land that outlined the philosophies behind a sound link strategy. Today, I want to build on that post and show the execution of the advice I offered. I want to give you a clear example of how to execute introductory link-building research, which guides strategy development.

In this post, I’ll walk through preliminary link-building research and analysis, including:

  1. finding search opportunities.

  2. identifying linkable assets.

  3. locating link prospects.

  4. competitor research and comparable pages.

To provide tangible takeaways, I’ll use a real example site: Twproject (not a Page One Power client).

I’m always looking to improve my efficiency, foster collaboration and better manage projects; so I decided to explore the project management niche for this post. Twproject jumped out as a potential candidate for link building, as they offer a good product and have a decent site but are struggling with search visibility.

Without further ado, let’s dive in!

Finding search opportunities

If you want your link-building efforts to have maximum impact, you need to build your strategy around the opportunities available within your niche.

Evaluating search opportunity means keyword research to find where your site has potential rankings for terms with high search volume.

Ranking potential + High search volume = potential to capture relevant organic traffic.

Using SEMrush’s “Top Organic Keywords” function, I can analyze Twproject’s keywords for potential opportunities.

Note: SEMrush is reporting a massive traffic drop for Twproject around September 2015. If I were launching a link-building project for Twproject, I would verify this drop in Google Analytics, and if the drop is accurate, I’d recommend a full site audit before link building begins.

Looking at SEMrush’s data, I see there are some potential opportunities in search for Twproject to make ranking improvements and perhaps capture relevant traffic:

(Note: The decision to put their “gantt chart” tool on a subdomain is an interesting one, and that is something I would discuss with Twproject at the start of this campaign. But for this post, I’m going to focus on pages on Twproject’s domain.)

The search volumes here aren’t massive, but they are decent — and the traffic from these queries would be relevant for Twproject’s services. Also worth noting is that search volumes are relative; these volumes might be large by comparison in this particular niche.

This quick search for opportunities will guide asset discovery, and it’s a good start to identify future content opportunities and areas where Twproject is missing the mark.

Identifying linkable assets

To build links, you need linkworthy pages.

Product and conversion pages aren’t typically linkable. Basically, most sites aren’t ever going to want to link to your product and converting pages. They have no audience value outside of your own site.

The goal of these pages is to drive conversions, which doesn’t usually translate to other sites linking. However, sites will link to pages that offer some form of value (linkable assets), and internal links from these pages can funnel authority to your converting pages.

Finding linkworthy pages informs link building in a few ways:

  • Viable tactics.

  • Audience interests, problems, questions.

  • Opportunities for future asset development.

For Twproject, I’ll do a search of their blog for the head term [project management] to get a quick idea of what types of assets they have.

Searching Twproject’s blog turns up this potential asset (an infographic):

However, upon further investigation, it turns out the infographic page is actually a short write-up about an infographic created by Entrepreneur:

While this is typical, as blogs routinely promote relevant infographics, it negates this post as a linkable asset because prospective sites would more likely want to link to the original source (Entrepreneur).

If Twproject built their own infographic, they could gain traction (and links) to their own resource. As proof of concept, here is an infographic a competitor created about project planning, which secured links from 46 referring domains.

The opportunity exists for Twproject, but they’re lacking the assets.

Further investigation into Twproject’s blog reveals a dearth of linkworthy pages. I would recommend Twproject invest in creating high-quality resources (blog posts, infographics, videos, case studies and so on) based around topics relevant to their services.

A good place to start with asset ideation is the search results.

Analyzing the search results for [project planning], I see a wealth of opportunity for Twproject to build content that ranks well. Using Brian Dean’s skyscraper technique, Twproject could easily create better versions of these currently ranking pages:

Something to this level would have a good chance to rank in this SERP.

Another useful strategy for asset planning is to analyze how competitors are driving traffic.

For example, Wrike is driving a substantial amount of traffic with content based around the theme of team building:

This is further evidence that Twproject could earn significantly more search traffic by building (and promoting) some quality resources on their site.

Since Twproject doesn’t have content assets, I will have to use their brand/product as my linkable asset, which isn’t ideal. However, Twproject offers free trials of their tool, which adds a layer of linkability to their product pages.

Of course, manual exploration is not the only way to find assets. If your site has a library of resources, you can use BuzzSumo and Majestic to identify linkworthy pages.

Locating link prospects

Finding actual link prospects — websites that would be willing to link — is the next step in developing an actionable link-building plan.

For my research, I’m going to focus on finding prospects with the following focus pages:

  1. Project Management — Twproject’s core product.

  2. Team Management — An important page with high search opportunity (as demonstrated by competitor Wrike).

  3. Time Tracking — Converting page providing a solution to a universal pain point.

  4. Home Page — Building overall authority of the home page will help lift all pages.

Note: More exhaustive keyword research should be executed as part of strategy development. Because I don’t have access to long-term client goals, future content plans or Google Analytics, I’ll focus on these pages, because initial research indicates they offer opportunity for ranking (and potentially relevant traffic) gains.

If this were a real project, I would have access to all of the above, enabling me to create a better, more customized strategy.

Resource pages:

Focus page: Project Management (

Focus page: Team Management (

Focus page: Time Tracking (

Unlinked mentions:

Focus page: Home Page

Although Twproject’s open source Gantt editor is on a subdomain, there are still likely opportunities for home page links from unlinked brand mentions surrounding the tool.


Focus page: Project Management

This is all preliminary research, and I would still need to vet these sites for quality assurance.

From this initial research, it looks as if some link opportunities are available to Twproject simply through promoting their website and product. However, without proper linkable assets, sustaining the project will be difficult.

I recommend Twproject invest in building some strong resources for their audience on their site, and I’d pursue the link prospects currently available via brand promotion.

Identifying competitors

Effective link building requires ongoing competitor analysis: if you want to beat your competitors in search, you need to know what strategies and tactics they’re implementing. Similarly, you’ll want to examine the pages currently ranking for important keyword themes and search results. These pages occupy the space you want, and you need to understand how they’re ranking.

For Twproject, I’d conduct a more thorough competitive analysis after the campaign launches that reveals:

  • competitor strategies.

  • link opportunities.

  • content gaps.

  • niche linking environment.

  • and so on.

For the purpose of this post, and precursory research, I’ll simply identify the top five search competitors for Twproject. After some quick research (comparable products, common keywords, shared audience and so on), I found these top five competitors and reviewed their link profiles in Majestic to determine competition level:

Twproject is lagging behind the competition in terms of referring domains (733).

Further analysis of these competitors (e.g., the SEMrush research I did for Wrike) would influence strategy moving forward.

Comparable and competing pages

In regard to comparable pages, I’ve already determined that Twproject doesn’t have any linkable assets to compare. So instead, I can research which pages have been historically successful in their niche. If Twproject were to invest in creating content with high search opportunity, these would be the competing pages.

Simply analyzing what’s ranking for “team management” will provide direction. The number four result is a blog post from MindTools that covers team management skills:

This is a great content idea for Twproject. Furthermore, Majestic reports this post only has 20 referring domains.

It’s reasonable to expect that Twproject could create content that ranks competitively for this search term if the content were high-quality and promoted (for links) appropriately.

As I work to secure links for Twproject, I will need to continuously evaluate competitors and comparable content to keep my strategy fresh.

Putting it all together

My preliminary research of Twproject revealed information that will guide strategy development for their project. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Search opportunities exist for Twproject to make modest gains in the short term.

  • Twproject has a dearth of linkable assets.

  • Asset creation is necessary to sustain a long-term campaign, with long-term results.

  • Current search results and competitor strategies should guide asset creation.

  • Relevant (but limited) link opportunities exist for Twproject to secure links to service pages and home page.

  • Twproject has an uphill battle to catch the competition in search.

  • Twproject’s competitors prove search can be a powerful channel for Twproject.

Using these takeaways, I have the beginnings of a comprehensive link campaign strategy for Twproject.

I hope that you can apply this research to your own site, clients and projects, and that this example helps you develop and execute your own successful link-building strategy.


[Article on Search Engine Land.]

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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