gem in the rough

4 Ways to Find “Gem in the Rough” SEO Clients

As freelance SEOs, our success is more beholden to the quality of our clients than we’d like to admit.

Prospects that actively want your service, and want it delivered the way that you do it, are not only easier to close, but will generally have a greater lifetime value than those who have taken some convincing to sign up with you.

Because of this, I’d like to share four techniques that allow me to identify prospects who are likely to:

  • Want to increase their organic traffic enough to part with money for it
  • Understand and appreciate high-quality SEO
  • Be able to afford to work with you
  • Not already be marketed close to their full potential

Although these processes have been built around finding content marketing and link building clients (as that’s what I have experience in selling), I’d like to hope that the principles behind them can be applied to prospecting for any digital service.

Before we begin, I’d just like to give a quick shout-out to Daniel Rosehill’s prospecting article on this website as it was the inspiration for this. It’s fantastic and I implore you to read it after this.

  1. Take a note of any outstanding pieces of content you find while working

Companies that already have the capacity and desire to create high-quality content tend to make excellent SEO clients for two reasons:

  1. They probably value organic traffic as a channel. (Why else would they invest in the content in the first place?)
  2. If the industry experts in a business are happy to lend a hand with content creation then this opens the door to providing thought leadership and expert commentary as link-building tactics.

Whenever I’m doing research for an angle or content piece, I keep a Google sheet of any content that I find particularly impressive. 

At the end of each month, I run through all these posts and qualify the companies behind them based on three criteria:

  1. They need to not have a large in-house digital marketing team
  2. The quality of their link profile needs to be relatively paltry relative to the quality of their on-site content (I use Ahrefs for this – if you have a lot of sites to go through then domain rating (DR) can measure this reasonably well at scale.)
  3. I still need to think that the content is top-notch even after “the time test”

The beauty of this is that when it comes to outreach I already have a nice “hook” for my sales pitch – namely that they can get a greater return on their content investments by getting more eyes on it.

2) Look for websites that are punching above their weight links-wise

This is a slightly more advanced tactic that builds upon the principle of prospecting for clients based on the strength of their content. You will need an Ahrefs subscription and their chrome extension to do this.

An indicator of strong content is that it ranks well despite having a relative lack of links compared to its SERP competitors.

By looking at the relative domain rating (DR) of pages ranking for informational keywords, you can actively search for articles that are ranking better than their link profile should allow.

The process runs as follows:

  1. Pick an industry that you want to target
  2. Identify the higher volume informational keywords in that industry
  3. Using the Ahrefs chrome extension look at the DR of the top-ranking sites for these keywords (run through them one by one)
  4. Check out any pages that are ranking with unusually low DR – pay attention to the quality of the post
  5. If the post quality is high then look at more articles on the site to see if there is quality content throughout – if this is the case then add them to your prospecting list.

Here is a video showing me run through this process:

Again, part of the magic of this strategy is that your identification of these content pieces gives you an immediate hook to open your outreach with. 

Often the lowest DR page that ranks on the first page of Google should be ranking nearer to the top if we are ranking content based on its quality alone.

The people who create these content pieces may be painfully aware of this fact, and framing yourself as somone who can “put this right” can quickly establish you as someone who is worthy of their business.

3) Use Ahrefs Content Explorer to find sites that have a content budget but a relatively poor link profile

If a company is creating long-form blog posts then they are likely to both have a marketing budget and be pursuing organic traffic as a channel.

I therefore like to use Ahrefs content explorer to “flush out” long-form blog posts and build prospect lists based on who is publishing these types of content.

While I’m not stating that long content equates to high-quality content, there is undeniably a popular principle in SEO lore that longer posts tend to rank better than shorter ones. This goes a long way to explain the rise in popularity of the “ultimate guide” as a blog format.

Ahrefs Content Wxplorer is essentially a mini search engine with additional filters. What makes it such a handy tool for finding this type of content is that you can filter results by word count.

You can surface long-form blog posts on Content Explorer by using operators like “ultimate guide” or “in-depth guide”, anything that signifies that the article in question is trying to be the go-to resource on a relatively meaty topic.

The two filters you want to use when doing this are word count (over 2,000 words) and DR (under 60). This maximizes the chances that the websites being surfaced are both putting resources to content and need some help with the link building side of things.

For the websites that you find, you can further qualify them by checking:

  1. That the website in question is well monetized rather than just being a personal blog-type site (Ahrefs’s database seems to be skewed towards these types of sites)
  1. That the article in question is not just a padded out piece of fluff.

Here is a video of me going through this process:

Again, outreach to these types of sites writes itself. They’ve put money and effort on the table to create these posts; links that you build can help them get the most out of that investment.

4) Bait outreach with a write for us page

This method is a bit different – it’s something that I really love, partially because it’s very passive but mainly because it appeals to my sense of mischief.

One of the best indicators that a client values your service is that they are already paying for it.

You can try and poach clients from other providers by disguising a site that you own as a typical “guest posting site” and building a prospect list based on companies that are outreaching to you.

Disguising a website as a “guest posting site” can be as simple as adding a page with “write for us” as the title and “write-for-us” as the URL slug. Given the massed outreach approach that a lot of link builders take, adding this element to a website should be enough to get you a steady flow of incoming guest post requests.

A site with better domain metrics and that looks more “legit” will get outreached to more but don’t put too much resource into this – you just need to look like a blog, not actually be one.

Many of these outreach emails will name-check the company who the outreach is for – usually in the first sentence of the email: “I am x person from y company” for example.

What you want to look for is outreach that has clearly been cheaply outsourced (poor quality English, terrible content ideas, etc) but that is being done on behalf of a company that can likely afford better quality work. The latter can be ascertained by looking at:

  • The size of the company
  • Their industry profitability 
  • Their SERP competitors’ link profiles

Anything that makes you think: “this work just ain’t gonna cut it”, is reason enough to contact the company in question and offer yourself as someone who can do the job properly. If the company in question has a digital marketing lead who may appreciate quality outreach for its own sake, then all the better.

Using your skills to identify clients spending on complimentary services

Although the techniques that I’ve explained here are specific to finding content marketing clients I have little doubt that they can be modified to prospect for any digital service.

The underlying principle behind all of them is to look for indicators that a client is already spending money on services that are similar to or that compliment yours (in my case content and mass outreach are the complimentary services).

As digital service providers we are often adept at spying on, getting inspiration from, and reverse engineering what competitors are doing. The tools and skills we use to do this can often (with a little creativity) be used to identify prospects that are spending money on these complimentary services.

Oli Baise is a freelance link builder at Oli Baise Digital.


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