Experimenting with Custom Reports in Citation Labs’ Link Prospector

As much as I enjoy link prospect­ing, in my heart of hearts, I know it’s not where my time is best spent.

I work in an agency and my time is bet­ter served on the out­reach and acqui­si­tion phase of link build­ing than it is drum­ming up lists of prospects.

I know the less time I have to spend link prospect­ing, the more time I can spend on the work that cre­ates value. The 20% that gives 80% of the results.

One thing I love about Cita­tion Labs link prospec­tor is that it dras­ti­cally reduces the time I need to spend link gath­er­ing link prospects.

Crudely bro­ken down, here is how I used to break up my time spent link build­ing for indi­vid­ual campaigns.

This is how it looked when I was doing a lot of man­ual link prospecting:

Com­pared to now, with a large part of the link prospect­ing automated…

Less time prospect­ing means more time spent mak­ing con­tact and fol­low­ing up, which increases the chance of build­ing more links.

Tools like Cita­tion Labs link prospec­torBuz­zStream and Ontolo are only ever as good as the peo­ple using them.

It is impor­tant to strive to find ways of mak­ing them work for you. A good tool lets you work smarter, as well as quicker.

It is good to be cre­ative in their appli­ca­tion and chal­lenge them to com­plete tasks that would be impos­si­ble, or highly time con­sum­ing, to com­plete manually.

With this then, I’ve been exper­i­ment­ing and test­ing new ways of using Cita­tion Labs using cus­tom, advanced search operators.

Here’s what happened:

Related searches

I blogged recently about my love for ‘related:’ search oper­a­tor.

Usu­ally, I just man­u­ally run these queries one site at a time, scrape the results and then qual­ify them.

It is par­tic­u­larly use­ful at the begin­ning at cam­paigns when you’re research­ing com­peti­tors. I like to make sure I’m aware of every con­ceiv­able com­peti­tor to the site I’m work­ing on.

Usu­ally, the more obscure, the bet­ter, as they’ll have back­link pro­files that haven’t been mined by other SEOs.

I was curi­ous to see what would hap­pen then if I run these queries in bulk.

First then, I set up a cus­tom report…

For the sake of this exper­i­ment, the niche I was research­ing was box­ing and the key­word I chose was box­ing gloves.

I’ll start by tak­ing 10 com­peti­tors and putting them next to the related search query for my search:

My hunch was that the related sites here wouldn’t tell me much I didn’t already know, as I was see­ing sim­i­lar results in all the dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions of ‘box­ing gloves’ I searched for.

I took a sam­ple of urls from dif­fer­ent search queries here, as opposed to just the 10 that appear for the term box­ing gloves, to try make sure I got a bit of diver­sity, whilst still being relevant.

I also think it is impor­tant to find out who your client iden­ti­fies as their com­peti­tors, as they may not actively be opti­mis­ing their site for the search engines.

If they do come up with some­one I’ve not already found, I’ll always throw that site in.

My trep­i­da­tion here was def­i­nitely a bit mis­placed, the search yielded 225 domains. As you would expect, there was a bit of junk in here (MySpace, Face­book etc.), on the whole though, the sites it brought back were rel­e­vant and useful.

Although they weren’t the crème de la crème of the com­pe­ti­tion but this was a good thing. They were decay­ing web­sites but, the point is, they have rel­e­vant back­links I oth­er­wise wouldn’t have found.

If I was being thor­ough here, I’d run another cus­tom related report on the new sites the pre­vi­ous report had identified.

I’d then com­pare the two lists using Ontolo’s Fil­ter Prospects tool to see if there were any more new related domains.

I would then have a com­pre­hen­sive list of sites com­pet­ing with my own. I’d down­load every back­link these sites have and then review to see which might be worth try­ing to accrue.

If you want to pull out all the stops in com­peti­tor link analy­sis, then run­ning a cus­tom related search in link prospec­tor should def­i­nitely be part of your process.

Using tildes

Next up I exper­i­mented by using tildes. Tildes (~) is the syn­onym operator.


(If you want to read more, Gar­rett French’s Guide to the Tilde is a good place to start.)

Again, I used box­ing in my exper­i­ment, just because I like boxing.

First of all I defined the oppor­tu­nity I was look­ing for. In this case, it was guest posting.

To keep this exper­i­ment sim­ple, I’m just used the head term ‘fitness’.

One thing Gar­rett under­lines in his post on tildes is that the impact on using them is diver­sity.

If you con­struct your queries to include all vari­a­tions (which I would advise at least test­ing) and aggre­gate your SERP results, you clearly get a far greater diver­sity of domains. This obvi­ously doesn’t mean that the results are more qual­i­fied, just that there’s more diver­sity with less think­ing on your part about what prospect­ing phrases to use.

What I want then, is for link prospec­tor to run the tilde oper­a­tion quickly and bring me a diverse set of domains, with

My three oper­a­tors were:

~fit­ness –fitness

I popped these into Ontolo’s Query Gen­er­a­tor, which shows 132 foot­print queries that could yield good results.

Nor­mally my next step would be to go through these indi­vid­u­ally and use the scraper tool. Need­less to say, this is tedious time con­sum­ing. With the link prospec­tor tool, I just down­load these queries as a csv and copy and pasted them into a cus­tom report.

When it came back I’ve got the results from the 132 tilde queries above in about, 4 min­utes, mean­ing I could move quickly onto the qual­i­fi­ca­tion stage and more impor­tantly, the out­reach :D

My process from here on in is this:

  • Export the paths to csv (I like to see the path, rather than the domain, so I can work out why it has been identified)
  • Next I want to trim the fat. I order the results by PageR­ank and cut out any­thing above 5. These are nor­mally too high pro­file or sites like Face­book and Twitter
  • Then it is just a case of going through the nor­mal qual­i­fi­ca­tion process using Ontolo’s prospect reviewer


Ulti­mately, the Link Prospec­tor is a time sav­ing device that runs mul­ti­ple search queries for you . It allows you to weight your time onto the business-end of get­ting links.

The point of these exper­i­ments was not so much to show the qual­ity of results, but the ease of which run com­plex search query com­bi­na­tions. It feels like a math­e­mati­cian being given a cal­cu­la­tor to use when you’ve been pre­vi­ously laboured with an abacus.

I’ve only really tipped the ice berg here. Would like to see other peo­ple exper­i­ment­ing with cus­tom reports, see their process and see what kind of results they get.