If you aren’t careful, you’ll gravitate towards one extreme or another. You’ll either embrace everything – which will rapidly deplete your time, energy, and budget – or you’ll feel paralyzed and do nothing.
Neither outcome is good.
Ideally, you should land somewhere in the middle.
Discerning. Thoughtful. Strategic. For successful link builders and SEOs, these are the operative words.
And while the digital marketing and SEO spaces are certainly fluid, there are a handful of link building tactics that continue to work over time – regardless of tweaks, changes, and flashing trends. In this article, we’re going to discuss one of them: broken link building.
Learn to leverage it wisely and it could take your link building strategy to the next level.
What Are Broken Links?
Let’s start by laying a solid foundation.
By definition, a broken link – or a dead link, as some may call it – is a hyperlink on an internet web page that no longer works or functions as intended.
Some of the reasons why links no longer work include:
A webpage was moved without a redirect being added
The webpage was deleted
The website is no longer available
The website has crashed and needs attention
The URL structure of the website has changed
You’ll know a broken link when you encounter one. While the hyperlink will look the same, clicking on the link will take you to a 404 Page Error or Page Not Found message. Some websites have even gotten clever with their 404 messages, saying things like:
But as much as websites might make fun of their broken URLs, they can actually be quite problematic.
Link rot – which is the tendency for links to eventually break down – is a significant issue in the industry. According to one analysis, you can expect to lose roughly 25 percent of all links every seven years.
Search engines see links as votes of confidence. They speak volumes about a website’s quality and the value it provides to visitors. Because of this, it’s considered a good practice to clean up broken links and to ensure all URLs are functional and intact.
For bloggers and businesses with hundreds or thousands of website pages, this isn’t as easy as it seems. Trying to track down and replace broken links in articles, blog posts, and web resources requires a lot of time and manual effort.
Yet, it’s becoming increasingly important.
Broken links can cause a website to lose visitors and, ultimately, paying customers. They frustrate the end user, create unnecessary friction, and negatively impact conversion rates.
A visitor might excuse one broken link every now and then, but a string of broken links erodes trust in the brand and turns people away. It can also damage search rankings and put a squeeze on organic inbound traffic.
What is Broken Link Building?
Okay, so now that we have a clear picture of what broken links are and why they matter so much, let’s see how you can use it to your advantage to advance your own link building efforts.
Broken link building is a strategy/tactic by which you find a broken link, create your own piece of content to replace the information or value that the dead link offered, and then offer your new URL as a replacement for the inactive one.
In other words, you’re identifying a problem bloggers and business owners have on their websites – broken links that hurt SEO and create unnecessary friction and frustration for visitors – and offering them a quick and easy solution.
If the strategy sounds simple, that’s because it is. But don’t let the simplicity of the strategy mislead you into thinking it’s an easy process.
Broken link building requires a very strategic and disciplined approach – otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time and energy chasing down opportunities that never come to fruition.
You need a plan.
Like a really good plan.
And that’s where we’re going to help you out.
We’ve performed and observed a lot of broken link building over the years and have formulated a strategy that we believe you’ll find useful and effective in your own SEO pursuits.
Your Step-By-Step Guide to Broken Link Building
Let’s be clear about one thing up front: Broken link building takes time, effort, patience, and discipline.
This isn’t a get-rich-quick link building scheme. (Be sure to let us know if you find any!) It’s a methodical strategy that produces steady, proven results over time.
Here’s how we recommend approaching it:
1. Find Broken Links
You can’t do anything without an arsenal of broken links to work with. And unlike most areas of marketing and business, quantity is more important than quality.
In order for broken link building to be effective, it must be scaled. And in order for it to be scaled, you have to pursue a ton of different leads.
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll get roughly 5 to 10 links for every 100 emails you send. That means you have to find somewhere between 10 and 20 broken links just to capitalize on one!
This means you’ll need to find hundreds – potentially thousands – of broken links that are somewhat relevant to your website, industry, or subject matter. There are a few tools that can help with this.
Ahrefs’ Broken Link Checker is definitely considered one of the better options out there. Not only does it have a powerful engine inside of it – more than 2 trillion external backlinks in the database – but it’s also very intuitive.
Start by making a list of the top competing websites in your niche. If you run a content marketing blog for small businesses, competing sites may include Convince and Convert, TopRank Blog, Copyblogger, etc.
Armed with a list of 5 to 10 competing websites, you’ll want to enter them into the Broken Link Checker and filter for 404 error codes. You can do this by clicking:
Site explorer > Pages > Best by Links > Filter for HTTP 404 Errors
This will give you a snapshot overview of every broken link on the website and how many referring domains each has. This latter number tells you how many other websites are linking to the broken page. Each one of these links could be an opportunity for you to come in and replace the broken URL with your own functional URL.
That’s one technique for finding broken links.
Another technique involves looking for relevant expired domains that have backlinks. You can do this by using a platform like ExpiredDomains.net and running a search related to your niche or target keywords. This will give you a massive list of domains that you can filter by backlink volume.
This plugin works in the background and allows you to quickly check any page for broken links. It puts a little checkmark icon next to your address bar and runs automatically as you browse the web. If a link is broken on the page, it’ll highlight it in red for you.
You probably aren’t going to run your entire broken link building strategy through this tool, but it’s nice to have on hand. It’ll help you identify possible links, even when you aren’t actively searching for them.
2. Create Fresh Content
Finding broken links is just the start.
Remember, you’ll probably swing and miss on 90 to 95 percent of these links. However, your goal is to connect on as many of them as possible. You do this by establishing a link – or content – that replaces the broken link.
Here’s a step-by-step method of one process:
Find the broken link that you’re hoping to replace and plug the URL into the Wayback Machine. This tool helps you see a web page as it previously appeared at other times. In most cases, you’ll be able to find a screenshot of what the page looked like when it was active.
Your objective is to create your own piece of original content to closely mirror or (ideally) improve upon the page that was previously being linked to. Don’t skimp on quality here. You want the content to be fresh, engaging, and relevant – both to the blogger or website owner that you’re pitching, as well as your own audience. (This page will be living on your website, after all.)
In most cases, the website for which you’re trying to replace content has better brand recognition, more authority, and other intangible benefits that your business lacks. In order to stand any chance of replacing their link, you have to blow the referring domain away with quality. Don’t just replace a 500-word text-based article with the same format. Create a 2,000-word resource with graphics, visuals, and relevant statistics. You need make your link as attractive as possible.
If content creation isn’t your strong suit, hire a professional copywriter to do the heavy lifting for you. The worst thing that can happen is that you end up with a piece of quality content on your website. Even if the intended target doesn’t accept your offer, you’ll likely acquire backlinks from other sites.
3. Reach Out
The final step of this three-stage process is to reach out to the individuals who control the pages that refer people to broken backlinks. Your mission is four-fold:
Get in contact
Point out the broken link
Offer a replacement
Get them to accept/follow-through
It sounds simple in theory, but is much more challenging in practice.
Getting in contact is often the toughest part. Finding the right contact information can be challenging. You’ll often get generic or inaccurate email addresses, which means all your effort is for naught.
The best places to look for contact information include the About Us page, the footer, the contact page, blog bylines, and/or social media profiles of company members.
Once you’re confident that you’ve found a valid/active email address for the appropriate party, you’re ready to send a message. This message should follow a pretty simple progression:
The goal is to be transparent and succinct without coming across as being rude or condescending. You want to let the recipient know that you care about their website/readership and have a mutually beneficial solution that’s easy and takes no time to implement.
Make it sound like you’re giving them a gift!
It’s also important that you get straight to the point. A recipient is going to read the first few words and then scan the rest. If you don’t get your message across immediately, they’ll drag your email to the trash folder.
Here’s one sample template you can use:
My name is Phillip and I run a popular home improvement blog called “My House is Awesome.”
When I was browsing your website the other day – which has become a regular habit of mine – I happened to notice that your blog post titled “The 17 Benefits of a Clean Kitchen” links to a page on replacing refrigerator water filters that’s no longer active.
I actually have a super informative post on my blog about this very topic – you can see it here.
I think your readers would find it helpful. (It may also improve the SEO of your post!)
Would you be willing to swap out the broken URL with this one?
Let me know your thoughts!
All the best,
Don’t just copy and paste this template. If everyone starts using the same template, then it loses its originality factor. Take the time to write up three to five of your own templates that you can use interchangeably in your broken link building outreach. Then all you have to do is personalize the underlined parts with each message and you’re ready to go.
Despite how much time and effort you’ve put into finding these links, creating content, gathering contact information, and reaching out, you’re only going to hear back from a small percentage of people.
Don’t lose hope.
Stick out the process and wait.
You’ll eventually hear back from some of your targets and could pick up some pretty authoritative backlinks.
If you send out hundreds of requests over a period of multiple weeks and don’t get any positive responses, then feel free to tweak your approach. Use common sense – but don’t get too hung up on any one link. Keep the big picture in mind.
Broken Link Building: One Piece to the Larger Puzzle
Broken link building is just one tactic. If you want to be successful with link building – and SEO in general – you’ll need to implement a variety of strategies and techniques. You’ll also need to be prepared to pivot and evolve over time.
Link building isn’t static. It’s fluid and adaptable. The more you perfect the underlying principles, the longer you’ll be able to rely on this method to generate backlinks and strengthen your underlying SEO.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International.
He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building. Connect with Sam on Linkedin.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International. He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building. Connect with Sam on Linkedin.