SEO Link-Building: Using Open Site Explorer To Find Link Prospects


Link-building can be a long and often frustrating task, but unfortunately it’s a necessary one and an integral part of good SEO. Whilst it can be tempting to abandon organic link-building in favour of less labour-intensive automated solutions, you should ensure you overcome this temptation – automated link-building is a poor replacement for a focused link-building campaign and the creation of link-worthy content.

So whilst using automated tools to build your links is less than advisable, using tools to find link prospects can be an effective and genuinely rewarding technique. One such tool is the Open Site Explorer, a tool designed and produced by the team at SEOMoz. Open Site Explorer (which I’ll refer to as OSE from now on to avoid monotony) is essentially a backlink checker, which also provides useful filtering tools and extremely pertinent information on each link, as well as the domain you’re checking. It’s probably worth noting that for unlimited use of the tool (and to see information on more than the first few links), you’ll need to sign up for a PRO account, which starts at $99 per month. However, you can use the tool for free, and the basic principles covered in this article still hold if you’re using the free version of OSE.

When you add a URL and hit search, you’re greeted with a results screen, at the top of which is basic information on the site you’re analysing:

This is immediately useful for a couple of reasons; firstly you can use this to compare the quality of your site (as well as number of backlinks) with a competitor site. You don’t even have to put in two URL’s to do this – the ‘Add a URL to Compare’ link (underneath the address bar in the image above) will allow you to compare the metrics of two sites side-by-side. This allows you to gauge how much work you need to do to outrank your competitors for the most sought-after terms. Secondly, the results give you a basis on which to analyse the quality of sites you’re looking to obtain links from – a pertinent consideration if you’re looking to build high quality links from reputable domains (which I imagine you will be). Not only can you see the overall quality of the page (and domain) you’re looking to have linking to you, but you can have a look at the sites’ link profile in detail, i.e. you can see what kind of sites are linking to your potential link prospect.

So let’s move on to finding link prospects using OSE, rather than just analysing them. Let’s take a random example, and say you’re looking to rank on page one for the term ‘Dog Toys’. A quick Google search reveals numerous competitors for your dog toy website, and a whole host of new link prospects. Let’s take one of those competitors, again at random, and use it to find some relevant links. I can see a site at no.6 called Just The Dog, so let’s begin with them.

First off, we can see the overall number of links the domain has, which will give you a good idea (when compared to yours), how much work you’ll need to do to outrank it. However, link quantity isn’t nearly as important as link quality, so that’s what we’re looking to improve.

OSE lists the domains linking to our competitor, showing the results in order of authority:

We can see not only the page and domain authority of each link (ordered by page authority), but the tool also shows you the type of link (dofollow, nofollow or image link), the URL of that link and the anchor text (or alt text) used. As well as displaying external links, OSE will show you internal links pointing to your selected page (I’ll cover making use of this later on in the post).

For now, we’re not interested in internal links, and we’re not looking for nofollow links, so let’s filter those out:

This will give us all the dofollow links pointing to our competitor page, allowing you to trawl through the strongest links looking for potential prospects. For example, I can immediately see a dofollow link from http://www.petssquare.com/dogs.html – titled ‘Dogs Directory’. We’re looking for links to our dog site selling dog toys, so this would be an extremely relevant link. This particular directory has a domain authority of 60 and that specific page has an authority of 45 – neither of which are bad. This would be a quality, relevant link, and one we should be investigating for our dog toys page.

So there we have our first link prospect, which can either be addressed there and then, or can be added to a list for action later. Just looking at the backlinks for this one competitor I can see three or four potentially excellent links, all of which should be obtainable. You can repeat this process for as many competitors as you like, targeting the highest quality dofollow links each time. It’s worth noting that some of the links you find will be unobtainable to you, in this case, just make a mental note of how you think the link might be obtainable in the future, note it down and move own.

Now I’m not suggesting you just go round stealing all the backlinks from your competitors, and simply use this as you’re only way of building links, but it’s well worth the exercise for informing your own link-building campaigns and coming up with some more ideas of where you can obtain links. It also gives you an idea of the link-building strategy of your competition – are they using directories, article marketing, press releases, content publication, etc – allowing you to tailor your own campaign in order to improve your rankings.

In some cases you’ll come across links that have clearly been paid for (I’m referring to dofollow text links here, not nofollow banner advertisements – you’ll learn to spot them). Some SEO’s might suggest you contact the site owner and see if you can buy a link too – don’t do this. Instead, report the site that’s selling the link via Google Webmaster Tools and continue on with your link-building campaign (don’t even try and get a link from that site). Yes, I’m absolutely advocating reporting sites that buy and sell dofollow text links – SEO should be about dedication, effort, talent, content and relevancy, not about who has the biggest budget.

So that’s a quick guide to using OSE to finding external link prospects for your SEO campaigns. However, the tool can also be used to help improve your internal linking and page rank distribution.

When using OSE you’ll notice that internal links show up amongst the high authority external links – this is because your internal links do make a difference when it comes to ranking. If you have a high authority domain, several pages on that domain will also have a high authority – you should be taking advantage of these pages to help other pages rank in the search engines.

You can improve the internal linking of a website by searching your own domain on OSE, and selecting ‘Top Pages’ at the top of the search results box:

This shows you a list of your own pages, in order of page authority. From here, you can have a look and see which pages on your site have the highest authority, and which internal pages they’re linking to. If you want to improve your ranking for ‘Dog Toys’ for example, find your highest authority pages and try adding a link to the page you want to rank, from the anchor text ‘dog toys’. You’d be surprised at the impact this can have, particularly on keywords with lower levels of competition.

So that’s about it for my overview of using OSE to improve your link-building campaigns – and before anyone asks, we’re not in any way affiliated with SEOMoz, I just think this is a cool and particularly useful tool.

4 comments

  • Good stuff J. I totally agree with you about the value of internal linking. It is really useful for e-commerce sites as this way not only you pass pagerank to the deeper page(s) but also link juice (anchor text value). Something to be careful though is when two or more pages link internally to the same page with different anchor text. In that case, just the first link will pass its anchor text value, all the rest will be ignored. Having said that, if the first link is an image link there isn’t any benefit really.

  • A very nice and helpful post it is! I’ve been using Open Site Explorer for quite a time but never thought it has such functions I’ve never even thought of.

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