9 Search Query Combos for Scalable Link Building

by Cleo Kirkland

This is a guest post by Cleo Kirkland from Blue Fountain Media.

What’s your link building process?  Do you spend hours upon hours searching for bloggers, emailing bloggers, and writing blog posts for bloggers—all in the desperate hope that someday those bloggers will publish your blog post?  Or do you spend your time doing actual link building?

Link building is more than just submitting guest blog posts.  And to join the ranks of the Justin Briggs and Ross Hudgens of the world, you need to know a vast array of scalable strategies, tactics, and hacks.  You need to know what WP-cache can do, and you need to know how to use abandoned domains.  You need to know how to start a broken link building campaign, and you need to know what Chrome Scrape Similar can be used for.

And, most importantly—most unequivocally—you need to have a set of “tried and true” search query combinations.  The following is my set.  Please add your favorites in the comments section below. 


1. “keyword” site:.edu intitle:careers

1st Query

Tactic: Use this combo to find .edu job listsing (e.g. Princeton’s job board). Many of these boards do reside behind no-follow barriers, but it’s still a phenomenal tactic—you get a great link and a potential, high quality job candidate.

Search Explanation: This search query combo is a favorite of link builders in non-profit and environmentally friendly industries.  The site:.edu or inurl:.edu query will help you find any school (.Edu) program related to your keywords, and the intitle:careers will help you find universities that are likely to accept job postings from your company. Also, add the “OR” operator to widen your search.

E.G. “keyword” site:.edu intitle:careers OR intitle:jobs OR intitle:opportunities

And don’t forget about the regional variations, such as ac.uk.

E.G. “keyword” site:.edu OR site:.ac.uk intitle:careers



2. “keyword” site:.org intitle:”other resources” -inurl:pdf -inurl:ppt -inurl:doc

2nd Query

Tactic: Find resource pages for authority sites.  Spider the “resources list” for competitor links or broken links.

Search Explanation: This search query combo is the starting place for most broken link building campaigns.  Resource pages tend to have titles such as “Other Resources”, “Resources”, or “Link List.”  In my experience, the title “Other Resources” is most common for pages that will allow others to contribute to the list.  Add the –inurl:pdf, -inurl:ppt, and –inurl:doc to make sure that only HTML pages are returned.  If you don’t know what to do with this, read about it in my blog post, entitled A Tactical Guide to Broken Link Building.

Also, there are ton of different ways (and tools) to find broken links.  I use this query combo to find broken links when using the Check My Links Chrome extension.  When using Xenu, however, I exclude the “intitle:” portion.  It returns a more general list.  Not as accurate, but it’s easier to scale.  If Martin McDonald is reading, I’d be interested in hearing what tools and queries he uses to find broken links on MSN.com.



3. “keyword” & “title=”CommentLuv Enabled””

3rd Query

Tactic: Used for finding Do-follow blogs to comment on. This tactic, known as comment marketing, is one of the quickest ways to get a link.  And although these links aren’t as strong as a proper in-context link, you can get hundreds of these guys in a fraction of the time.

If abused, however, this form of link building can get you into serious trouble.  So make sure to monitor your competitors’ link profiles to determine the appropriate amount to use.

On a side note, some SEOs use this tactic to demote competitive sites or negative pages about their client’s brand—a tactic known as Google Bowling.  Doesn’t work as well as it use too, but some have claimed it still works, especially against pages that have been abandoned. Nonetheless it’s an interesting tactic for Online Reputation Management campaigns.

Search Explanation:  Do-follow blogs often have the CommentLuv Enabled plugin installed.  This is how we find them.  There are a number of other ways to find do-follow blogs, but in my opinion, this is the most consistent way, as all blog formats are different.

Here are a few more ways to find do-follow blogs: Use a do-follow blog commenter like Scrape Box or Market Samurai; join do-follow finding platforms such as Comluv.com or InLineSEO.com; subscribe to do-follow memberships such as ActuallyRank.com; or you can get lucky and stumble across  a do-follow list – but that’s rare.

Also, here are a few other search queries combos worth trying in Google’s image search:

  • “keyword” ifollow*.gif
  • “keyword” inurl: ifollow*.gif
  •  “keyword” “U Comment – I Follow”

Also, by adding intext:”red widget” or intext:”powered by Comment Plugin” to all search queries, you may stumble upon a few more comment sources.  These search queries, however, were much more effective in the past—before everyone caught on.



4. “keyword” site:.org intitle:”in-kind donations”

4th Query

Tactic: Find authority sites that have a donation page.

Search Explanation: This is a small trick I picked up from Wil Reynolds at SEER Interactive, but if you put intitle:“in-kind donations” vs intitle:donations, the resulting SERPs will be far less cluttered.  A number of .org sites are non-profits, and a number of their pages have the term “donations” in the title.  “In-kind donations” is used less in articles, and more frequently on the page to submit donations. Try various versions of “in-kind donations”, such as “in kind donors” or “in kind contributions” as well.



5. “related keyword” “testimonials” site:.org

5th Query

Tactic: Find sites related to your business that feature have testimonials.  Some testimonials may even be site-wides.

Search Explanation: Don’t waste too much time searching for your exact match term and “testimonials”.  The SERPS will be cluttered with testimonials for your competitors’ products.  Instead, search for terms related to your industry.  For instance, if I worked for a company that sold solar panels, I’d enter the following command “wind-energy” “testimonials” site:.org

And for those that didn’t know, the “+” command has been retired by Google.  So if you’re using Google, use “keyword 1” ”keyword 2” instead of “keyword” + “keyword”.



6. “keyword” inurl:.php intitle:directory OR resources

6th Query

Tactic: Find niche blog directories, forums, reviews, and other “submit” type sites.

Search Explanation: If you haven’t noticed, most directory pages that allow you to submit your site instantly have a “Submit URL” type wording in their titles.  Try adding different variations of this to your search query combination, such as “Suggest a URL” or “Submit a site” or “Add *URL” or “Submit *Review”, or try all of them at the same time!

E.g. “Keyword” intitle:directory OR intitle:”submit URL” OR intitle:”Submit a site” OR intitle:”Add *URL” OR intitle:”submit *review”

Remember, Google limits each search to 32 words.  So as long as your total words come in under that amount, you can add as many query additions or restrictions as you want.

PRO TIP:  To filter the results even further, try adding inurl:.php.  Most of the “submit” type pages are powered by PHP. Putting the inurl:.php restriction on your search query combo will help you find the instant directory submissions.

E.g. “Keyword” intitle:directory inurl:php



7. “keyword” “alumni discount” inurl:.edu OR inurl:sponsor

7th Query

Tactic: Find paid link opportunities, particularly from universities that accept discount codes.

Search Explanation:  Some universities will allow you to send them discount codes to your products, and they’ll post these codes (with a nice link) on their website.  Often the phrase “alumni discount” or “student discount” or “sponsors’ page” or even “student discounts for” will be in the title.  Again, you can check for all four popular forms at the same time by using the OR operator.  Google will limit any query for 32 words long.  By doing this, you might find a page like this or even this.



8. “keyword” link:competitor1.com link:competitor2.com -link:mysite.com

8th Query

Tactic: Find sites that are linking to your competition, but not your site (also known as “Link partner sites”).  Great for finding the low hanging link opportunities.

Search Explanation:  Often if 3 or more of your competitors are getting a link from the same source, you can get that link as well.  This is a quick way of finding this information out.  You could also use SEOMoz’s link competition tool, but I’ve found that using these search queries is just as accurate—and much quicker.

The only issue with the link: query is volume. Google only shows a very limited amount of results for these queries, so although you will find a few quality prospects (if you get any), that’s all you get with this one.



9. “keyword” AND “allowed HTML tags: <a>”

9th Query

Tactic: Foot print tracking.  Find blogs that allow anchor text in their comments section.  Often the resulting pages are Do-follow links.

Search Explanation: Sites that allow anchor text in their comments section have a few common foot prints.  One of them is the text “Allowed HTML tags: <a>”.  Other common foot prints include “Notify me of follow-up comments?” or “Powered by WordPress” or “Powered by TypePad”.

E.g. “keyword” AND “Allowed HTML tags:<a>” “Powered by WordPress”

I use the “Powered by WordPress” footprint to find WordPress blogs so I can scrape their comments for frequent commenters.  We’ll offer frequent commenters on sites of our competitors the chance to write for our blog, or maybe we’ll exchange articles with them.  The goal is to get these contributors to join our community.

PRO TIP: Remember that because most blogs have different formats, scraping blog comments at scale can be next to impossible to do programmatically.  However, most scrapers that you can buy—such as ScrapeBox—have the ability to scrape WordPress and TypePad based blogs with some consistency.  They’re not 100% accurate, but it’s a great tool for scalable link building.



Bonus: site:competition.com inurl:”*.competitor.com -inurl:www.competitor

Bonus query

Tactic: Great combo to find associated subdomains for each site.  This is used more for link profile research rather than for link building.

Search Explanation: In case you haven’t noticed, there is a difference between the inurl: and site: operators.  In short, the inurl: operator will search subdomains much more easily than the site: operator.  Include them both in one search query to find your competitions’ subdomains.  By doing this I’ve stumbled upon subdomains such as dev.competition.com or staging.competition.com.  This will give you a heads up on your competition—helping you beat them out in content marketing or website planning.


What to do with your list?


After running these queries, you’ll want to quickly scrape them into excel.  How do you do that?  First, before running each query combination, expand Google’s search result settings to 100 results.  Next, if you understand XPath, download Neil Bosma’s SEOTools and use that to scrape the search results into Excel.  If not, check out the Chrome’s Scrape Similar, or my favorite, Google Results Bookmarklet.

Either way, you’ll scrape all the URLs into excel and mash them up with SEOMoz’s API to get some metrics.  If you already have an SEOMoz API key, then you can download Business Hut’s excel spreadsheet. Once you have metrics on each URL (e.g. Domain Authority, number of inbound links, page authority, etc), sort the list and start contacting the URLs at the top of your list.  It’s that simple J

Are there any other favorite search query combinations that I missed?  Please let me know in the comments section.  Also, just wanted to give a shout out to two articles that helped a lot for this post: one post by Search Engine Land and another post by SmugGecko.

This post was written by...

Cleo Kirkland – who has written 1 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Cleosie Kirkland+ is a digital strategist at Blue Fountain Media. Follow him on Twitter and check out Digital Nino, his personal blog, when it's live.

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  1. seoteky says:

    Great collection of query combos for massive link prospecting assignment. Love it Cleo, specially the CommentLuv part. I’ve been doing that but on a good way of course, leaving sensible comments 🙂

  2. Neil says:

    Nice list – I’m very new to this link hunting opportunity (just hitting the .edu domains at the moment) but this list will definitely help.

  3. What a comprehensive list! These are some ideas I have not thought of yet. Thank you for the great post Cleo. Looking forward to reading more guest blogs from you after this one.

  4. Thank you all for the warm comments. Glad to contribute to such a high quality blog. Also, Dan Petrovic had these to add:
    1) filetype:csv inurl:backlinks 2) pagerank filetype:csv 3) alexa pagerank filetype:csv 4) filetype:csv backlinks pagerank

    I’ve never played around with the filetype: operator for link building, so I’m very intrigued. Will definitely be spending some time playing with these combos later today.

  5. A nice list, but I want to warn people about overusing technique #7. This technique is one of the primary reasons Overstock was penalized.


    Getting a few links by offering discounts is probably fine, but you might want to use caution and space out the acquisition. The idea of getting a .edu link is very nice, but you may want to look for sponsorships or guest speaking at the school as an alternative.

  6. wobblyi's says:

    Great lb power search tips! I am always amazed when I come across new and creative uses for search operators. Thanks for sharing the great, actionable info…

  7. Sameer Khan says:

    Awesome search query list….

  8. Max Holloway says:

    Great, absolutely-astounding, list!

    However, after using a few of these I got re-directed to the “Google thinks you’re a spambot so enter this CAPTCHA please” page. Will this happen often?

    Cleo, clicked through to your Twitter and looks like I’m already following you 🙂

  9. ruben says:

    hey good stuff. click on my name to find out the secret to my success

  10. @Anthony, thanks for adding. Great warning.

    @Max, yeah those CAPTCHA can get annoying. I should also say that when running all these queries, turn off the MozBar or SEOquake tool. There automated checking + irregular searching = more CAPTCHA. Sometimes even a ban, apparently. Happened to a co-worker, but not me.

    Also, Martin MacDonald got back to me. He says the easiest (most scalable) way to find 404s on MSN is to scrape the urls and then re-scrape/spider 45 days later. You should be looking for uniques, new 404s. At least I think I interpreted his suggestion correctly? Either way I’m going to give it a go.

    Thanks all for the great feedback and love.

  11. Useful information for link building.

    Thanks for sharing

  12. Great information and tips for search engine optimizers.

  13. nice list
    I just got a pr6 backling thanks to one of the above mentioned queries

  14. Thank you!
    Now I can search good sites for putting my links.
    Good job 🙂

  15. Adam says:

    I’m not getting great results from No.8
    In fact it’s almost giving me the opposite results.
    The first site it finds is an industry directory that I know features ourselves and all our major competitors so not sure why this would be showing?

  16. james hogen says:


    try typing this: “keyword” link:www.competitor1.com link:www.competitor2.com -site:www.yoursite.com

  17. james hogen says:

    did my last post go through?


    replace the -link:www.mysite.com with -site:www.mysite.com

    that should work. let me know how it goes for you

  18. adam says:

    Nope still exactly the same. Brings back a page that all of our my competitors and my site ranks on?

    • Interesting, I probably should have put the following disclaimer on rule 8:

      Over the past several months, I’ve noticed that the link: command (using a variety of combinations) has been less and less effective. Of course, as Rand and Matt Cutts both pointed out, this operator will never give you all of the links for a site, and the links they give you aren’t ranked in terms of link weight. Henceforth, often times you’ll have to dig to find the right links.

      One way to do this at scale would be to scrape the SERPs using the plugins I’ve outlined above (or better, SEOMoz’s SERP extractor). Then sort for quality. That way you won’t have to dig through the low quality link targets.

      Also, as of recent, I’ve found that this operator combo is barely working. I’d recommend using SEO Moz’s Competitive Link Finder http://www.seomoz.org/labs/link-intersect, though I’ve reached nearly the same amount of diminishing returns with this tactics as well.

      Does anyone else have further suggestions or queries that could solve this problem?

  19. Jerome says:

    Merci pour cette liste qui viendra compléter mes requêtes

  20. Lorenzo says:

    Cleo, amazing post, I bookmarked it.
    I have a couple of questions:

    1) in query number 3 you say that Google Bowling is interesting for ORM, what do you mean with that?
    2) How can I verify if a blog is follow or no follow? Do you know any chrome tool?

    Btw tactic #7 is my favorite, so smart since some companies already have discounts for students, so really what you need to do is let the university know that you have that promotion.

  21. Thomas says:

    Special Search Queries are DA BOMB! I use them all the time every day. Thanks for this list as I will be making myself a little chart.

  22. company seo says:

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  23. Vince says:

    That was an interesting article on how to make quality back links. I am still trying to build up my site. You should check out my blog called Beginners Exercise.

  24. very useful information on 9 Search Query Combos for Scalable Link Building
    thanks for sharing this post, really interesting post

  25. I believe that the post has perfect collection of words and a well research. on 9 Search Query Combos for Scalable Link Building

  26. jessica says:

    Thanks for listing down search strings. I often used this “keyword” & “title=”CommentLuv Enabled””. Commentluv enabled blog is a great opportunity to leave comments and get quality and natural backlinks. It has also setting to confirm that you are not a spammer..

  27. SEO says:

    Wow…Awesome post dude….i’m really very like your post……this all tips are very helpful for everyone… thank you so much for sharing with us.

  28. Thanks again and looking forward for your post on making more. This looks like a great resource. I’m very interesting to read your blog. Thanks for posting this.

  29. Corey Neal says:

    This is exactly the information I was looking for. Who knew that you could gain so much information through the search box. This will give my website the boost it needs. I will refer my customers to you.

  30. ghani says:

    hey Awesome Post dude.. i really like your Post.. thanks you so much to share with as.. 🙂

  31. Sooooper Content….made my task easirt

  32. Chandigarh says:

    great list of queries…

    really impressive..
    great post love to look more post from your side…

9 Search Query Combos for Scalable Link Building - Point Blank SEO