Broken Link Building 101: Identifying & Using Broken Links - DigitalWebProperties

In our previous guide we covered some of the basics regarding White Hat SEO strategies for 2015, to get you up to speed with the latest trends. Among the categories of techniques listed there was broken link-building, which we were meant to follow up on later. Therefore, today’s piece will go into greater detail about how to get started with broken link-building and how you can use this to generate greater traffic to your site.

What Is Broken Link-Building?

First of all, a short recap. Link building, in general, is the process of getting more and more sites to link to a page on your site. The better ranked those sites are in the first place, the better. A single link to your page from a reputable site is worth more than tens of links from less reputable sites. In SEO, as you’ll see, it’s not so much about quantity as it is about quality.

Besides this general approach in link building, broken link building in particular means looking for broken links on various sites and suggesting to their webmasters a fix that would also benefit you, since it links to your site. In other words, it means building a collection of links to your site while also fixing other site’s broken links, aka doing a lot of good for the web as well. It’s what they call a win-win situation for everyone involved; no wonder these techniques are also called white-hat SEO.

link building header

To keep things short, the process of broken link building is comprised of two stages. First of all, you need to look for the broken links relevant to your content niche and find as many of them as possible. This stage is called prospecting. Second of all, you need to contact the webmasters who manage those sites and persuade them to change their broken links into yours.

The first task may seem tedious or confusing if you haven’t done it yourself yet, while the second task may seem discouraging. Don’t fret; both activities are easier to do than you think, with the proper support and research. To make things easier for you and help you get started, we’ve compiled some basic info on both stages of broken link-building and will summarize them for you in what follows.

wiki seagram building

How to Find Broken Links

Casual searching for broken links while reading and researching content within your niche is an option, of course, but probably not the best one. Since you’re passionate about a certain domain, you obviously engage in reading within it when you have the change, and if you keep an eye out you will run into broken links sooner or later. But fun and probable as that may be, it’s not a good SEO strategy. You need a proper method in order to find a large number of broken links which you could try using. Casual browsing will come up with a few unexpected and perhaps valuable results, but those won’t be enough.

broken link search process diagram

A valid method for SEO prospecting for broken links can be constructed in two main ways: either keyword-based, or URL tool-based. Both methods are actually resource page targeting, either by keywords or by URL. There is also a third method of direct URL targeting, but that one is a bit too advanced for the moment and we will cover it in a future piece, after we clear out the basics.

#1 Keyword-Based Broken Link Prospecting

The first method means that you use a keyword-based search in order to identify the broken links. In order to do that, you need to define your prospective keywords. Those need to be obviously related to your content niche – whether that’s medical news or finances or baking recipes – and respect a general rule of thumb: they need to be broad enough to generate sufficient results, but also specific enough to be interesting and relevant. You’ll be the judge of that since you’re the one who knows your niche better.

broken links in resource lists

You can find broken links in resource lists.

After finding these keywords or at least a few good ones to get you started on some searches, you need to define your prospective phrases. These are some searches to use on Google, carefully paired with the previously selected keywords, in order to find the resource pages or link lists which you want to search through later. An example of such a prospective phrase is “resource lists” or “useful websites” and so on. After pairing them into Google’s search box in various combinations, you can generate a list of top 100 results for the keywords you defined.

linkchecker firefox add-on

The Linkchecker Firefox add-on.

Then, it’s time to move on to search results scraping. That means removing the duplicates or the irrelevant content from the search results you obtained, in order to come up with a final list. You can use a tool like Mozbar for this, or you can do it manually– though at larger scales it can get tedious. Then, you need to proceed to link extraction, which means getting rid of all external links in your list and just keeping the404 type of links (internal content ones). To help with link extraction, you can use another professional but easy to use tool like Check My Links.

#2 URL-Based Broken Link Prospecting

The second method, resource page targeting with a model URL tool, means that you start backwards compared to the prospecting done by keyword. This time, you start from a well-known and authoritative site in your niche, and you use another SEO tool to mine it for backlinks which can prove useful to you in your searches. There are multiple tools out there for backlink acquisition, but MajesticSEO is a bit easier for beginners to use, so you could start with this one. After acquiring those backlinks, you just proceed to link extracting just as you do when using the first method (of resource page targeting using keywords).

URL based broken link finding

After you discover a few broken links that match you content niche (or ideally even match an older post on your site), it’s time to generate content to fix those broken links. This is done by performing some minor adjustments to the content you already published, or even creating new content altogether to fill the holes you discovered. After you feel confident that you have a viable alternative to the broken link, you can move to stage two, of contacting those webmasters and promoting your content as a replacement.

Use the WayBackMachine to find out what was published on the page before it broke. You can immediately start to create your own content, better than the one that was there before, or you can contact the webmaster with the broken link and ask whether or not he would accept another link that is relevant for him.

wayback machine screenshot

Wayback Machine, the archive of Internet’s past.

#3 Additional Broken Link-Building Tips

domain hunter plus broken link building

Domain Hunter Plus and using it for broken links.

Another tool that you can use for identifying relevant dead links is Domain Hunter PlusSimply download the tool and confirm it as a Google Chrome extension. From now on, whenever you come across a page that you are interested in, clicking on the green crosshair will automatically prompt a search for broken links. For a larger-scale process you will want to use Xenu Link Sleuth. This tool will automatically check hundreds of pages at a time.

Xenu Link Sleuth: download link

broken link building with xenu link sleuth

How to Make the Broken Links into Yours – Outreach

– Proper Broken Link Building

You might feel anxious about contacting some strangers and engaging in shameless self-promotion, but don’t be. Remember, you’re doing those webmasters a favor by also signaling to them a problem (a broken link) and also offering them a solution (your link to replace the old broken one). Yes, it’s true that many of them will not answer at all and only a small fraction of the people you contact will actually take you up on the offer and add your links to your site.

But since we’re talking about broken link building done on quite a scale, this shouldn’t deter you. If you contact about 100 webmasters a week (it would seem like a reasonable amount of work for a week) and only 5-10% percent follow-up, the numbers are still huge. By generating around 5 new links to your site per week, you are encouraging a steady growth in your traffic that regular site owners don’t even dream of.

broken link building outreach email template

Example of outreach template.

Most site owners just stick to the post-and-wait strategy, thinking that simply posting well and often enough will boost their site by itself. While it’s true that quality content is a must if you want to get ahead, simply posting it isn’t enough. Employing some broken link building strategies, on the other hand, will generate a growth in the traffic to your site, which will continue even when you’re not actively working for it. This is why link building is so important, and broken link-building has distinguished itself over the past few years as the most efficient SEO tool currently available.

To speed up the process a bit, since you’ll need to contact lots and lots of site owners, you can obviously use an email template and just modify the relevant details in it. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to keep it short and straightforward. Don’t introduce or excuse yourself too much, just signal a problem and offer help with it.

Act polite and maybe insert your link within a group of 3-4 useful links on the subject, and propose your link as a replacement in a follow-up email. As long as you actually offer help, there’s nothing to be worried about. Keep calm and continue finding broken links to fix with your wonderful content! You’re helping both the web and your own site in the process. After all, this is why broken link-building has received so much attention lately and so many legitimate tools which support it: because it’s a win-win for everyone.

keep calm and carry on link building

If you want to increase the chances of success, you can create a list with multiple broken links on a website. Offer your unsolicited help, then propose replacing one of the broken links with one of your own. The webmaster will definitely appreciate you pointing out multiple issues, not just one. Keep in mind, though, that while some webmasters will care about broken link problems on their website, others might not be so eager to resolve the problem.

Additional Resources: MajesticSEO, Moz SEO Toolbar, The Broken Link Building Bible,Link Building by Backlinko,

How to Use Broken Link Building Strategy to Get Links.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

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Miriam Cihodariu

E-commerce Strategy Director at Digital Web Properties
Miriam was initially a copywriter in our power-team of 4 people, when we were just launching ourselves in business. She has a scholar academic background in social sciences, and a fascination with people and what drives them.
Her keen interest in narratives and digital worlds makes her learn new things quickly. The ever-changing SEO landscape and trends are part of what makes her so passionate about this field.
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