I wrote a blog post back in September of 2008 about using a link building method called “cherry picking,” and almost five years later it’s still a method that we use on a fairly regular basis. Cherry picking is a link-building method where you identify a few websites that are ranking well for a search term that you would like to rank for, and you then use a tool like Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer, or AHREFS to identify which backlinks from other websites that competitor may be getting some “juice” from. (The sites above have have replaced the now extinct Yahoo! Site Explorer referenced in my past blog post.)

While the anchor text diversity of a website’s inbound link profile is more important these days than the “more links, more rankings!” caveman theory from five years ago, cherry picking can still be a useful tactic because it will, at the very least, give you a better idea of what your competitors are doing. It will also allow you to think of additional ways to build your website’s link profile, and to stop relying on simply sending out press releases every month and guest blogging.

Each of the three tools that I mentioned–Majestic SEO ($49.99/month), OSE (free for 3 searches per day), and AHREFS (free but the results are limited)–have their own ways of ranking a website’s inbound links in terms of which are more valuable, but if you see common legal-related websites like:

  • lawyers.justia.com
  • washlaw.edu/lfirms/
  • superlawyers.com
  • pview.findlaw.com
  • hg.org
  • nolo.com

If these sites are coming up as the competing website’s top inbound links on all three tools, then there’s a high chance that they’re getting some “juice” from those law-related profile links–and you might want to look into the costs associated with doing the same. Most firms that we see ranking for some of the more competitive search terms (statewide keywords, personal injury keywords, and national mass tort-related keywords) also usually have a number of backlinks from additional blogs and/or practice area-specific websites that they have developed over the past few years using the “microsite” strategy. These are links that you obviously can’t obtain right away since building those microsites takes time, effort, money, and patience, but some common types of backlinks that we’ve been able to find for clients over the years using cherry-picking on a regular basis are:

  • Niche directory websites relevant to the client’s practice area and/or location.
  • Guest blogging opportunities in the medical field and other fields relevant to the client’s practice area(s).
  • Reciprocal/three-way link-building opportunities.
  • Sponsorship opportunities.
  • Ideas for website, guest contribution, and press release content topics.
  • Blog commenting opportunities (if the blog post’s topic is relevant, and if there aren’t already 2,000 spam comments).

Here are a few tips in terms of searching for websites that you can cherry pick links from:

  1. If you’re trying to rank for “Miami criminal defense attorney,” then you obviously want to take a look at what some of the websites that rank well for that search term are getting for backlinks, but also take a look at websites which rank for other practice areas in the same city/state as you’re more likely to find websites relevant to your area. Also search for county-specific search terms, and for other cities in the area (“Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney,” “Palm Beach DUI lawyer,” etc.).
  2. Also run searches for similar firms in other competitive markets, like “New York criminal defense attorney,” “Los Angeles DUI attorney,” “Chicago criminal lawyer,” etc., to see what practice area-specific websites law firms in other areas are getting some “juice” from.
  3. You’re almost always going to come across larger firms who are getting a boost from media coverage and other non-SEO-related resources which you won’t be able to replicate. So if you know of a law firm who uses a particular company for their SEO, or if you know of an SEO provider which lists some of their law firm clients’ case studies on their website, it may be good to “cherrypick” some of those links since you know it’s most likely a firm which invests in someone to proactively improve the website’s search engine visibility on a monthly basis.

The cherry-picking method of link building could probably be filed under “Basic SEO 101”, but sometimes you have to go back to the basics to make sure you have an idea of what is making your competitors successful.