Broken link-building is the most effective SEO strategy I know but also one of the most intense
A good SEO strategy that includes link-building is what separates the amateur bloggers from the professionals, the hobby bloggers that wonder why they aren’t making money from those in the top 15% of earners.
But link-building is frustrating. We’ve all seen the spam emails that go something like, “Hey, I loved your article about XYZ. I wrote something like it here. Why not check it out and give me a link?”
That kind of link-building is annoying to the recipients and might get you all of one link in 100 emails.
So what’s a blogger to do? You need others to link to your content to rank on Google and you can’t wait for it to happen naturally. That is, unless you don’t mind watching everyone else zoom past you to take your search traffic.
There is one link-building strategy that is a benefit on both sides, a link for you and a helping hand for the person giving the link.
It is by far my favorite SEO technique and I typically get upwards of 15 links per 100 emails sent. That’s enough SEO power to boost just about any post to the first page of Google.
Talking about this link-building technique, most websites only give you the general overview. It’s a long process and they don’t want to make it seem too difficult.
I’m going to give you the complete process, everything you need to make broken link-building an amazing tool in your SEO toolbox.
What is Broken Link-Building?
So let’s break down broken link-building to better define it.
It’s a link-building technique, which means you are trying to get other websites to link to a page on your blog. That means creating a quality piece of content that earns a link and is worthy of being shared. It also means outreach to influencers and other bloggers to get attention for your article.
How it differs from other link-building techniques is that it focuses on existing links on other websites, ‘broken’ ones to be exact. You’ve seen these before. You click on a link and are redirect to a 404 Error, page not found.
Those 404 pages are bad news for everyone. Readers hate them and Google will punish your site if you have too many. Why would the search engine want to send its users to a site with a bunch of broken pages?
Broken link-building targets those useless links, offering an easy replacement with the same or similar information…your link.
Why is Broken Link-Building So Effective for Blogging SEO?
I generally get at least three-times more links on my broken link-building campaigns than I do with any other SEO strategy. It’s that effective.
It’s so effective because you’re offering something of real value to your target. They have a broken link on their site, that’s no good. You not only took the time to find their broken link but you’re going to make it easy for them to provide the same linked information to their readers.
It’s a win-win. If your content is truly link-worthy, there’s no reason they shouldn’t just switch out the broken link for your replacement.
So if broken link-building is so effective, why not just do it all the time? Why waste your time on other SEO techniques?
Because broken link-building is a long process, like “Holy Cow, I’ve been working on this for a week. I hope it pays off!” long.
The Complete Broken Link-Building Process
Search for ‘broken link-building’ on Google and one of the first posts you’ll see is, “Broken Link-Building Made Easy.”
Sorry but don’t expect any SEO strategy as effective as broken link-building to be easy. If it were easy then everyone would be doing it and it wouldn’t be worth your time.
Almost all the posts on broken link-building on the net give you a bird’s-eye view of the process. They generalize the steps so it doesn’t seem so tough or time-consuming even if the posts aren’t useful because they leave out so many details.
I would love to help you with link-building, to put my team on a campaign and work with you on the process…but that’s not going to stop me from giving you everything you need to do it yourself.
I want you to be successful. Successful bloggers make for a stronger community that helps everyone, including me!
So here it is, the entire broken link-building process in every detail.
I’m going to skip the usual advice that you create quality, link-worthy content. That’s obvious and annoying when bloggers suggest it as part of an SEO strategy.
1) You first need to find broken links on the internet. That means searching Google and using a tool that checks thousands of pages a second for 404 pages.
Start with a Google search…a lot of Google searches.
Brainstorm a list of five keywords related to your post. Then add that keyword to the 10 different phrases below.
Resources, tools, websites, sites, top articles, recommended resources, suggested resources, favorite resources, favorite sites, useful links
That’s going to give you at least 50 searches. You then want to copy the top 30 results for each search into a spreadsheet. If you’re using the Google Chrome MOZBar extension (free), you can just download your search results. Remove duplicate URLs from the list.
2) You’re then going to use a software tool called Screaming Frog to find all the 404 broken pages. Screaming Frog costs about $200 for an annual license but is absolutely worth it. I use it for site audits, broken link-building and a lot of other SEO techniques.
After you’ve changed these ‘Basic’ items, click through to ‘Limits’ and change the ‘Limit Crawl Depth’ to one. This means you’ll be checking all the URLs on your list to see if they are broken pages plus the links on each page to see if any are broken.
The idea is that your Google search probably found a lot of list posts about your keyword, huge lists of links that you can check for broken pages. You’re not just checking 1,500 pages for broken links but tens of thousands of pages all at once.
Copy the URLs from your spreadsheet into a txt file, then go to ‘Upload – From File’ on your Screaming Frog dashboard.
Screaming Frog will start checking all the URLs and all the links on each. When it completes, click on ‘Bulk Export – Response Codes – Client Error (4xx) Inlinks’ and export all the broken links to a spreadsheet.
- ‘Destination’ is the broken URL
- Remove duplicates from the ‘Destination’ column.
- Sort by ‘Status Code’ and remove all that are not 404
I ran a very limited search of just 40 URLs and found these 13 broken links in five minutes.
From this list, we delete pages that are obviously not going to be a broken link we can replace. That would include any forums and social media pages. Examples would be the broken itunes page and the Facebook page in the list above.
The broken link-building process is very long and the vast majority of the 404 pages you find aren't going to be useful. Find just a few though and it could mean SEO gold!
3) Now you’ll use another tool to find the broken links that are worth your time. Since the response rate for your outreach will probably only be 10% to 20%, there’s no sense going after broken pages that only have a couple of links pointing to them. You want to find pages with at least 20 links already pointing to them with the hope of maybe replacing a few of those links with yours.
Ahrefs is another subscription tool, starting at $99 a month. It might be a bit pricey for many bloggers if you’re not using it regularly but there are a lot of great features. My suggestion is to use the free trial and maybe pay for one month, cramming as much SEO work as you can in that time.
In Ahrefs, go to ‘More’ in the menu and click on ‘Batch Analysis’. Paste your broken 404 pages into the box and click ‘Start Analysis’. You can check up to 200 URLs at a time.
Export to a spreadsheet and sort it by ‘Domains’ which is the number of other websites linking to that broken page.
In my example list, there were two broken pages with a good amount of links pointing to them. One page, 13 SEO Copywriting Tips for Content that Ranks, on a site called Contentverve still has 54 domains pointing to it!
There are two ways you can approach broken link-building, for existing pages on your site or for new pages.
- If you already have a post that is similar to broken pages you find, you can use that as a suggested replacement assuming it’s a page you want to boost.
- You can also create new pages to match the information that was on the broken pages. This usually gets a slightly higher response during outreach because you are exactly matching the information the blogger wanted to share with their readers.
4) Check the URL to make sure it’s really broken and not a false error. If it is broken and just displays a 404 page, go to the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine is like a library of website pages, recording pages from years past. This is how you’ll be able to see what was on that broken page before it went dead.
Using the Wayback Machine on the broken page, we see that it was an infographic which is absolutely perfect. We can make a new post, a sharable infographic or just find an existing post with similar content.
5) Now that you know you have a broken page with lots of links and something you can replicate or that relates to a post already on your blog, it’s time to start finding those links.
Go back to Ahrefs (or your preferred SEO tool) and use the site explorer on the broken URL address. Then click on ‘Backlinks’ and change ‘Link Type’ to Dofollow. You’re only concerned with sites that gave the broken page a dofollow link because that’s what is going to give you the SEO juice.
Export the list to a spreadsheet and clean it up a little.
- Delete all the image links. These are the ones in ‘Type’ that say Dofollow, Image
- Sort by ‘Domain Rating’ and delete links from domains with a rating under 35. These are likely spammy sites that getting links from won’t help you anyway. *Understand, this isn’t the same as the Domain Authority measure.
- Remove any duplicates from the ‘Referring Page URL’ column
- Narrow your list to just one link from each website, i.e. some sites will be linking to the broken page more than once.
- Remove any forums, directories or pages in other languages you don’t want to target
Narrowing my list of 50 links to the broken page, I still had 32 legitimate links I could target for replacement.
6) Click through to each ‘Referring Page URL’ to get contact information and make one last check that it’s a link you want to point to your site.
7) You can do outreach manually through your email account or through a tool like BuzzStream. Buzzstream allows you to import a massive amount of contact information, create email templates and track your contacts. It starts at $24 a month but is another tool that’s well worth it if you’re serious about SEO.
Your first email to each website with a link pointing to the broken page might look something like this:
Send a reminder email you don’t get a response, positive or negative, within three or four days. Just ask them if they got the prior email and point out the broken link again. Don’t be pushy. If they don’t want to replace the broken link with your page, that’s fine. You’ve helped them out and maybe you can work together on something in the future.
And for God’s sake, don’t send more than one follow-up email!
Just one broken link-building campaign can take a week of research but it’s easily the most effective way to build links and authority for your blog. In part, because the process is so intensive, most bloggers and even SEO professionals avoid it. That means it remains a great strategy without being overused.
Don’t avoid broken link-building as part of your blogging SEO strategy. Even getting five or ten quality links to a post can rocket it to the first page of Google and improve your overall blog authority. Take the time to do the things other bloggers avoid and your blog will reward you for it.