Link building is an important part of SEO, since Google and other search engines look at the number of domains linking to your website. Broken link building is one of many link building tactics. Though it sounds like it could be a little black hat based on the name, it is actually an effective white hat strategy that is focused on creating quality content. it’s also a highly scalable operation, which makes it easier to implement as part of your overall strategy. And, it’s not a new approach – it’s something that’s been around for years, so you know it works.
Broken link building involves finding broken links, recreating the broken content, and helping webmasters replace the broken links with your corrected link. The success of your campaign depends on how much good you do for the web. You only stand to profit if you create high-quality content that replaces the lost or abandoned content that webmaster still want to link to. You cannot just churn out crap or hire freelancers who barely speak English and expect to be successful with broken link building.
Let’s break down the process from finding the broken links, to creating the stellar replacement content, to pitching webmasters to replace the broken link with your content.
Tools of the Trade
- Domain Hunter Plus: This Chrome extension allows you to scan the links on any page your visit. When you find broken links, add them to a spreadsheet.
- Check My Links: This is another Chrome extension. Any broken links on a page will be highlighted in red. When you see them, add them to your spreadsheet.
- Canned Responses (Gmail Feature): This is a useful tool for reaching out to webmasters with replacement content for a broken link. In your account, go to Settings >Labs and then click the radio button so it’s enabled. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click “Save Changes”. I’ll tell you more about how to use this in Step 5 below.
- Link Sleuth: This only works with Windows, from 95 up to 10. If you’re a Mac user, try using Integrity. You can use it to check a single URL, or a list of URLs at once. Using the list feature requires a text file with the list of URLs, one on each line. You can also use Screaming Frog to crawl sites to find duplicate content and 404 error pages.
- Link Research Tools Contact Finder: This premium tool ranges from $169/month to $1998/month and includes a number of SEO tools, link data sources, and more. Though it’s robust, it’s not meant for solopreneurs.
- BuzzStream: This tool lets you find and research influencers and bloggers, so you can focus on building relationships with people who matter in your industry. Pricing starts at $24/month for a single user after a free trial.
- Raven Tools Contact Finder: This is part of a larger collection of tools that includes automated marketing reports, data, and a site auditor. After a free trial, pricing starts at $99/month.
Step One: Find the Broken Links
Option 1: Choosing a Domain
Using the crawling tool of your choice, check the URL’s external links. It’ll run a report, so then you can check to make sure they are actually broken. You can also check the URLs properties to see which pages have the dead link on them.
Note the broken links on a spreadsheet. Your spreadsheet should include columns for the page URL where you found the broken link, the broken link, a contact name, and an email address or a contact form URL.
Make sure you’re targeting domains that are worth your time in terms of domain authority, and don’t have tons of outbound links. You want link juice and lots of eyes/potential clicks. If your link is one of thousands on the page, does it really matter? If the site has more than 10 broken links, skip it. It’s a sign the site is no longer properly maintained.
Option 2: Finding Sites in Your Niche
Use a variety of search queries to find potential links. Options include:
- keyword + “resources”
- keyword + “blogroll”
- keyword + intitle:resources
- site:.gov keyword + “links”
- keyword + intitle:blogroll
- keyword + “related links”
- site:.edu keyword + “recommended sites”
In each of these, click any results you think may be promising, and check each page for broken links using one of the extensions above. Check all pages and collect the broken links, recording each of them in the spreadsheet you started for option one.
Option 3: Searching by Keyword
Search in Google for a keyword you’re targeting. Visit all the top results. Choose any of those URLs and run it through Ahrefs. (You’ll need a paid account, starting at $99/month, to use this method.) Now, hover over “Inbound links” and then click “links” to bring up the list of websites that are linking to them. (The top results will have the highest number of inbound links.)
Next, scan the pages that link to that page for broken links, using your browser plugin. Add those to your spreadsheet, because you can reach out to them with a suggestion to link to your resource instead, and if it’s great quality, you could get a link.
Step Two: Getting Contact Information for Each Webmaster
You’ll want to be sure you can find a contact for each website you’re interested in reaching out to.
You should avoid sending emails to a generic email address, or a site that uses a generic contact form, because it’s harder to reach a real person. Even if there’s a real person there, there could be such a large influx of email that your message gets lost. If you want to see whether or not your email has been opened or read, you could install YesWare to track the message.
If you’re reaching out to a blog with a broken link, sign up for their email list. You’ll get an email from an email address that’s actively monitored. Look for signup forms in the blog’s sidebar. Note the email address in your spreadsheet.
In the case of .gov and .edu websites, this is a bit harder. Look for a department specific email, or consider making a phone call. You can also use staff directories to try to find contact information if you see names, but no other information. Consider trying to find the contact information for the webmaster, and only rely on general emails or contact forms as an absolute last resort.
Step Three: Generating the Quality Replacement Content and Publishing on Your Site
You can try looking the broken URL’s previous content on WayBack Machine, if you want to create something similar. Or, you can wing it on your own, by creating what you know to be a solid resource on the topic, based on what’s already out there.
You have the option of creating content based on your content creation schedule and then going to look for relevant broken links. All you have to do is email the person and say that you noticed a broken link on their site, and you have a similar topic posted on your website. Sounds great, right? While many will take for the bait since it makes since for them to save time not having to find a replacement, there’s always the chance that your article won’t be a good replacement.
So, there’s another method. Check to see how many sites are linking to that broken link. Then, using what you see on the WayBack machine, make your version of the content even better than what was on that now dead link. This way, you know your content not only fits the website, but also all the other websites that linked to it.
Yeah, I know it’s going to take more time, but this way you’ll get more webmasters converting to your link, which is worth it in the end.
Step Four: Reaching Out to Each Contact
Here’s where that handy Canned Responses thing comes into play. Instead of having to copy and paste the same email over and over, if you’ve followed the steps above, you’ll be able to type everything out once, and save it as a template in Gmail.
You have a few different ways you can approach this – and I recommend you have a canned response setup for each. You can either make it sound like you’re a user who found the broken link, or you can ask to mix your link into an existing resource list, or reach out to connect, then offer your replacement link in a follow-up email.
Step Five: Tracking Your Results
At this point, I hope you’ve gotten at least a few sites to agree to change out the link. Sometimes, you’ll find your link was added, but you won’t get a response. Other times, you’ll get an email saying your link was added, but it may or may not actually be added.
You can manually check the page that’s supposed to have your link on it. Just right click, choose “view source” and then use “Find” to see if your domain name is in the code. If it’s there at least once, you got the link. If not, you didn’t.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of time on this manually, simply run your domain through Ahrefs and look at the inbound links report – clicking on “New” after you hover over inbound links. You’ll be able to choose how far back you want the report to go. Then, collect the information on a spreadsheet – including the URL with the anchor text. You can remove it from your initial spreadsheet, or choose another organizational method to help you keep track of the ones you landed versus the ones you need to follow up with. This way, you’re not wasting time emailing the same sites again and again.
You should also be tracking which templates are getting the most responses, so you can quit wasting your time on ones that aren’t bringing in results.
Step Six: Calculating Your ROI
This part is easy. Take amount of time you’ve spent, and multiply it by your hourly rate. Then, divide the number of links you get by that.
If you earn $100 an hour and spent two hours gathering the information – and got two links, then each link cost you $100. But if you were able to get five links in those two hours, then each link cost you $40.
Part of – Not Your Entire Strategy
Broken link building should only be part of your overall SEO and link building strategy. It shouldn’t be the only think you’re doing in terms of building links, so start small until you can make sure it’s worth the ROI.
Have you ever had someone reach out asking you to link to their source instead of a current link on your site, broken or not? How often do you check for and replace broken external links on your website? Tell me in the comments below.