Link Building for Startups – Find Unlinked Brand Mentions at Scale

When you start working with a new client, sometimes you have to educate their internal marketing teams about the value of link building. If done correctly, there is potential to create a link building machine inside the core of a savvy marketing department.

It’s key to educate your clients moving forward, but what about all that press from before SEO became a priority? There may be sites out there that have interviewed your clients, hosted them for events, written about their products – and they aren’t all linking over.

old chains
Image via Flickr User DavidShutter
This methodology, although intricate, will allow you to:
    • Automate prospecting for all unlinked brand mentions and any C-level write ups.
    • Automate determining which prospects are most likely to link over.
    • Track high level influencers who have featured your client before and are likely to do it again. 
    • Reach out to mid level sites that are likely to link over. 

If you’ve ever picked up a client that has previously earned press coverage you’ve probably used this advanced query:

“brand name”

This is the exact same tactic, but automated.

Image via Flckr User timlewisnm

Step 1) Create Campaign Exclusions in Link Prospector


Block all social networks, it cuts down on the signal versus noise ratio.

You can find campaign level exclusions in the top right hand of the screen under the “Exclusions” tab:


Step 2) Create the branded advanced query & advanced queries for leadership.

For this example, I am going to use a company that I am a huge fan of: Uber. Although their leadership isn’t listed on their site, it’s easy to find on CrunchBase.

Just because someone wrote about one of these executives doesn’t mean it’s worth asking editors and webmasters. These guys get written up all the time. If you are working with a similar start up – try to only look for relevant and recent opportunities that mention the brand to ask for links – that’s where I’ve seen the most success.

Branded Advanced Queries:

  • Uber AND car OR service
  • Garrett Camp AND uber
  • Travis Kalanick AND uber
  • Rob Hayes AND uber
  • Oscar Salazar AND uber
  • Steve Jang AND uber
  • Timothy Ferriss AND uber
  • Stephen (Steve) Russell AND uber
  • Ryan Graves AND uber

Step 3) Throw these into a Link Prospector Custom Report


In the Advanced Options of Link Prospector you can select “Depth,”  meaning how many results you want the app to scrape for you. You can also direct Link Prospector to scrape from regular Google results, Blog Search Google results, or both.

Depending on how much press your client has received in the past, you may not need to go very deep, but Uber has been written about by everyone and anyone, so I am going to go all the way to 1000 and use web and blog results.

Step 4) Isolate Blogs

Depending on how much press your client has received in the past, it may be a better use of your time to only prospect with sites that have an RSS feed. Could this possibly cause you to miss out on a few link opps? Yes, but what’s that compared to the amount of time you will be saving by not trudging through irrelevant sites? Blogs are easy to update, hard coded sites that don’t have an RSS feed usually aren’t.

This is a slight twist on my process for finding blogs that link to competitors.

Step 4.1) Concatenate the LP export
  • Take the full list of links from your Link Prospector Paths Export
  • Paste them into a new excel sheet and concatenate a “http://” infront of the URL

Screaming Frog needs the “http://” and Link Prospector exports don’t have them.

  • Save this new list of full URLs into a .txt file or a new .csv file.
Step 4.2) Upload the new file into Screaming Frog using “List Mode”


Step 4.3) Create the following custom filters:


Save Custom Filter Export 1.

Step 5) Find Unlinked Mentions

Open the export and copy and paste just the URLs into a .txt or .csv file.

Upload that file as a list into Screaming Frog and create the following custom filters:


So for this example I am using


Save Custom Filter Export 2.

Now you have a list of (mainly) blogs that have not linked to your client but written about them and their c-suite.

Step 6) Get Title Tags and Meta Descriptions from Screaming Frog

Open the most recent export, once again, copy and paste just the URLs into a .csv file, or a .txt file. Run those URLs through Screaming Frog again (no custom filters this time) and save the export as a .csv.

Step 7) Getting the Root Domain

Open this .csv file and delete every column but the URL, Title Tag and Meta Description column.

Copy all the URLs and paste them into a different excel sheet.

Use [Text to Columns > Delimited] in excel to get the root domain.


Paste the root domain into the main data set.


Step 8) Get Page Rank

Use the =GooglePageRank function from SEO Tools for Excel on all of the root domains of your link prospects in column E…. this could take awhile.

If you are partial to Domain Authority, feel free to use NetPeak, it’s free and quick.

Step 9) Follow the Link Prospecting Pivot Table Process to Eliminate and Prioritize your Link Building Prospects

how to scale link building

Example Opportunities Found with this Process

These were found after 20 minutes of prospecting.

Step 10) Track long term opportunities in BuzzStream.

Image via Flickr USer susivinh

Step 11) Reach out to the smaller and medium sized blogs

If you have a bunch on unlinked write ups from decent sites – reach out to them and ask for a link. Here’s an outreach template that has worked for me:


Get a good feel for the site before you send any outreach, you don’t want to rub the blogger/editor the wrong way. Sometimes it’s better to try and create a connection and offer yourself as a future resource rather than asking for a link, especially if they publish frequently.

This is a quick quick win strategy for startups. It’s for the very beginning of a campaign, when a client may be skeptical of the value your services can provide. This process takes almost no investment from their side – so it’s a great tactic to help build trust and showcase the value that you bring to the table.

Author: jhtscherck

John-Henry Scherck is the owner of Growth Plays, a B2B content strategy and SEO consultancy based in Los Angeles. He works with founders, marketers, and investors to plan, build and refine growth marketing initiatives using a common sense approach.

17 thoughts on “Link Building for Startups – Find Unlinked Brand Mentions at Scale”

  1. This is gold. Great quick wins for popular businesses like Uber, but also sites that are traditionally difficult to build links for like banks, hospitals, etc. Great post JH.

  2. Killer post dude – this is exactly the kind of process I wanted to try with a client of mine. Thanks!

      1. JHTScherck ahh sadly not … very head down this year. I’ll definitely be hitting conferences next year though 😉

  3. I haven’t used Screaming Frog as I’m more of a home grown crawler guy but aren’t the filters in step 5 just nullifying one another?  Perhaps it was meant to be :
    Contains:  [C-SUITE NAME] 
    Does not contain:

    1. notsleepy Hey, thanks for stopping by. 
      The purpose of step 5 is to find unlinked mentions. Since the company is Uber and not it’s unlikely that someone would write “” in an article and not link over. The custom filters seperate pages with /without in their code into two different exports. Does this answer your question?

      1. JHTScherck notsleepy Yeah I get the premise.  We have similar tool for finding those citations. Yet I don’t see how that filter works given the screenshot which just says contain(“”) and !contain(“”) but I take it there is another interface in Screaming Frog where you some how dictate “no href contains”.

        1. notsleepy unfortuantely, no other interface exists that dictates “no href contains” I am sure I am losing a few opps with this process – but the efficiency makes up for the lost opps IMO

        2. JHTScherck notsleepy No problem. I just don’t get how you don’t end up with an empty set.  I’ll buy a license and then I’m sure it’ll be clear.

  4. Today has been a freakin monsoon of killer link building content. This post is exactly what I need for a hotel chain client I’ve been riding on fumes with.
    Good job playing around with screaming frog and finding this feature. I use SF a lot and never thought of using source filters like that.

  5. Great blog – thanks so much (and to Jon Cooper for tweeting which was how I found it). Agree with the conclusion that this could be very helpful in proving value and gaining client trust early on. Doing tech audits and finding some issues seems pretty standard and so limited compared to actually creating great links without needing new content. Using this method up to step 9 – and just generating a qualified prospect list may also be a way of differentiating and winning a competitive pitch

    1. davidgross Hi David, I just saw your comment – thanks for reading. I have never thought to use this in a pitch before – but I think that’s a great idea. TY

  6. John, it is such a great article and most useful for the startups and I agree with what you have written here this process have worth for the link builder to get the best domains to target and it will definitely provide you the best results that you do not expect from any other processes.

  7. Awesome Post! For our product we use a ton of link prospecting and HARO ( so far they have been our best bet for do-it-yourself quality backlinks. If you are going the paid route what most startups need are editorial links i.e Techcrunch, Gizmodo, Mashable etc products/Services like Primelinks ( are probably your best bet. They sort of slot in that space between a PR/SEO.

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