Link building is an arduous and difficult process but it’s also one that SEO professionals know is necessary to rank decently in organic search. It’s something that is not going away, regardless of all the changes we are expecting to hit SEO now that search engines and algorithms are getting smarter by the minute.
If anything, quality link building will become even more important. As I’ve written previously, algorithms judge the importance of your page based on a numerous number of things, but one of those things is the votes you get from other pages – in a nutshell, links that point out to your content.
However, the Internet is full of content – and sometimes it is crappy content to boot – and webmasters are reluctant to link out to just anybody. To get a link from a reputable site you have to invest a lot of time and effort into building a relationship with someone and nurturing that relationship.
Trying to get a link from an influencer or authority can be like pulling teeth. It often involves time-consuming negotiations, and a lot of the time people won’t link to you unless you already have a decent following and great content – something not all websites and business have when they’re just starting out. Heck, that’s why you’re trying to link build in the first place, right?
Enter broken link building.
Broken link building is a tactic that can in some cases help you bypass all that hard work. It provides you with an ‘in’ so to speak and this is how it works. You find broken links on a web page – you contact the owner and let them now that their site is pointing to non-existent content in some cases. After that, you’re in their good graces.
People are thankful when you point out dead links to them. This is because those dead links are hurting their page. They need to be replaced. Now that you have an ‘in’ you can confidently ask for a favor and see if they would be interested in including a link to your site somewhere on their page.
- You can ask for a link that has nothing to do with the broken link you’ve discovered. The webmaster might have an idea where to include it on their page.
- Or, alternatively, and better for you, you can create and publish a piece of content that perfectly substitutes the dead one. This approach will definitely get you more links than the first one because you’re approaching the webmaster with a tailor-made solution to their problem.
So the process is rather simple:
- Fish for links that no longer exist – try to scale this so you don’t have to write different content for a ton of different keywords and sites.
- Write replacement content that will fill the gap
- Contact the webmasters and point out the broken links
- Ask them to instead link to your piece of content
This is a win-win situation that benefits you, the webmaster and the users in the long-run:
- You will get a link – or probably a bunch of links – on a site that is relevant to your business and your content
- The webmaster will save a lot of time searching for replacement content – not to mention the fact that they will be alerted that they actually have broken links on their page, which is something that a lot of webmasters struggle with in the first place
- The overall user experience will be improved – in fact, you’re helping to create a better Internet for all while at the same time helping yourself rank better.
As you can see, broken link building is not in and of itself a selfish endeavor. Sure, there is something there for you, otherwise, you wouldn’t be doing it but at the same time that you’re helping yourself, you’re helping a bunch of other people as well.
The Internet is full of dead links and their number is growing by the day. Sometimes the content is on sites whose hosting has expired, sometimes those sites migrate and get messed up, and sometimes people make typing mistakes and the link never goes live in the first place. Whatever the reason, this provides ample opportunities for the savvy SEO. Broken links are probably always going to exist, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try to learn how to get the most out of them.
Targeting the Right Keywords
This is the first step in your search for broken links. Before you set out to find them you have to know what you’re looking for, right? Your keywords have to be:
- Categorically relevant – you want to find keywords that are linked to your page or your business – something that makes sense to you and that you can create content around.
- Relatively broad – the point is that you’re casting a wide net. Find broad phrases that fit your company profile and don’t get too tied up with searching for specific terms.
One of the best tools you can use for finding relevant phrases and alternatives for your seed keywords is LongTailPro. It is a keyword research tool that will help you find long tails that you can then use to find relevant pages with broken links on them.
Prospecting for Broken Links
There are a couple of ways you can go about finding broken links that are relevant to you but I’ll show you one that I find to be the most straightforward and easy.
Firstly, you will want to search for resource sites – sites that contain lists of resources that link to other sites. Why? Because the more links a site has, the higher the possibility that you will find broken links on it.
Also, it’s a smart idea to focus on specific domains. For example, .edu and .gov sites are pretty authoritative in every respect but their webmasters are often not all that diligent when it comes to site maintenance so there is a pretty good chance you will find plenty of broken links there.
There are just some of the search strings you can use:
- site:.gov keyword + “links”
- site:.edu keyword + “recommended sites”
Of course, make sure you type in your keyword at the beginning of the search string. To learn more about Google search operators visit Google Guide. Knowing more about them definitely won’t hurt and it can give you a few alternative ideas on how to find what you’re looking for.
You can then check the sites with either Check My Links or Domain hunter plus tool to see if, and how many, broken links there are on them.
Either immediately email the webmaster about the broken link or alternatively put those broken links in a spreadsheet.
Creating Content for Broken Links
Of course, finding broken links is just the first part of your job. Those links have to be replaced somehow and that is where you get your golden ticket to shine.
There are two ways you can approach this.
- You can create content according to your content schedule. Once you have it, you start scouring the web, looking for pages that might be interested in it and have broken links that your content can replace.
This is not a bad way of going about it but it’s not the best one, either. It’s very rare that your content will be a perfect fit for a broken link in this case. All that you’re saying is: ‘Hey, I found a broken link on your page. You can probably substitute it with something I’ve recently published.
This approach will get you some results – but it’s probably not what you’re after and it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of content for it to have any significant impact on your ranking.
- This method is way better. When you find a broken link, check out how many sites are pointing to it. Simply use Domain hunter pro to find that out. If the number is above 50, that’s good enough – though over a hundred would be better. This is because not all webmasters will be easy to reach and other might not even be interested in changing the link.
Then simply plug that broken URL into Ahrefs and check out what sites are linking to it. If you judge it to be worthy of your attention, go to Wayback machine and take a look at how the page looked like when it was active.
The trick is to create something that is immeasurably better than what you’re replacing! It has to be stellar content so the webmaster can take a look at it and see that it’s perfect for replacing the link that they’ve lost. If it’s just mediocre and a rehash they will think that they can do better – and they’ll probably be right!
Of course, creating stellar content for every broken link will not be doable so just focus on the dead ones that appear on a large number of sites. If you manage to get 15 – 20 backlinks from the first try, it means it was well worth your time.
This manual process can be tiresome and excruciatingly long at times. If you’re tech-savvy then I suggest you take a look at this post from Moz – it contains some really advanced techniques on broken link building and some instructions on how to do all this in bulk.
Reaching Out to Webmasters
This is a very important step in the process and, like everything else here, it can also be time-consuming. Once you’ve found the broken links you were searching for and the sites that they appear on; once you’ve invested time to create killer content to substitute those dead links – then it’s time to contact people responsible for making the swap.
Keep in mind that you will not be able to find everyone’s contact info and that’s OK. These are acceptable losses. Blogs and authority sites you will be able to contact without a hitch – .edu and .gov sites might prove to be a slight problem and you will have to dig in to find webmaster’s information.
To be really successful in this outreach endeavor you will have to keep a couple of things in mind when you write up your email:
- Customization – try to personalize your email as much as possible without losing too much time. No one likes getting bulk emails, including webmasters. Try to include some info about their page and why you think your content would be a great fit.
- Pitch your link – you’re basically soft-selling your link. Have a clear pitch inviting them to incorporate your link instead of the broken one. Don’t beat around the bush.
- Stay professional – Follow up if you don’t get an answer but don’t spam. Learn to let things go regardless of how badly you want a link from that site.
What I would definitely recommend is having some sort of an email template that you can quickly edit and make relevant to the webmaster you’re addressing. This will significantly lower the time you spend on emailing people.
Also, look at that email as a sales pitch. Add your link and a call to action urging webmasters to take action or they might start losing traffic. Luckily for them, your piece of excellent content is easily accessible.
List of Broken Link Tools
The process of looking for broken links is not simple. It’s going to require a lot of digging and a lot of work. Luckily, there are tools that are going to help you get there faster. These are all the ones I’ve mentioned in this article:
LongTailPro – A great keyword finder that will help you pinpoint keywords and phrases you need to search for broken links connected to your business and your industry.
Check My Links – Check My Links scans all the links on a page and highlights the broken ones in read. It is a simple tool to use but it’s labor intensive and just gives you the number of broken links on a page, without going that extra mile you need.
Domain hunter plus – This one does pretty much the same thing but the upside is that it tells you how many links point to that specific broken domain.
Ahrefs – aHrefs is a tool that allows you to track keywords and backlinks. Extremely useful when you’re trying to figure out how many sites are pointing to a broken link and what those sites are. Can be a little expensive if you want to run more than the free quota of reports.
In a nutshell, broken link building is a powerful technique and anybody who’s trying to get good at SEO should know about it. It has the potential to become one of the most effective link building techniques in your SEO arsenal. Make sure to use it in conjunction with your other SEO link building strategies in order to get the best possible results.
How about you? Do you have any tools you prefer to use for broken link building? Leave a comment!