How to Start a Broken Link Building Campaign

Published Oct 01, 2017 by Mike Juba in SEO
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Broken Link Building Illustration

If you haven’t tried it before, broken link building can be a surprisingly effective way to get good, high quality links pointing at your site. The process is pretty simple: find websites that link to a resource, where that resource no longer exist. Message the owner of that site and get them to use your link to a similar resource instead. When they change the link, you get that link, and it benefits your site SEO.

You can automate some parts of a broken link building campaign, but others will need to be done more manually. Let’s go over the whole process from start to finish, and see where we can fit in some automation.

Step 1: Find Content to Replace

Before you can go about broken link building, you need to figure out some kind of content that can be replaced. It does you no good to write a guide to something, then find out it’s relatively unique. It also does you no good to write a resource only to find that the resources you want to replace still exist.

The first thing to do is to find resource hubs. Run Google searches for phrases like “useful resources” and “top 10 tools for keyword” and other such phrases. The idea is to find articles – preferably articles that aren’t recent – that serve as general resource hubs for links. You might look for guides to keyword research, or tools for link prospecting, or any other form of link directory.

Find 404 Links Screaming Frog

What you’re looking for are the pages that link out to 10+ different pieces of content or tools. You want to find articles like these examples from our own site:

All three of these articles are heavily based on links to resources. You’re looking for these kinds of articles, because the next step is to check those links and see which ones work. You’re looking for broken links to resources that you might be able to replace.

Your criteria for a site you find should be that it’s a potentially valuable source for a link. You don’t want to try to broken link build on an out of service page or a spam site; they won’t have any value when they link to you, if they even do. An abandoned site might never be updated, and a spam site wouldn’t hold value.

You also want to make sure the link to the broken page is something you can replace. The list of 100 marketing blogs might not have a direct equivalent, but if you’re a marketing blog, you might earn a place. On the other hand, the list of SEO tools wouldn’t be a good place to target if you don’t provide an equivalent SEO tool.

How can you automate this step? You can use the Chrome extension Linkclump. Linkclump allows you to click and drag over a selection of links and copy each link individually into a document.

How is this useful? When you run your Google search for research pages, you can copy the entire first page in one motion instead of ten. Then, when you open up each page, you can copy all of the links on the page instead of just one.

This way you can keep a reference spreadsheet of your information. You have the source site and the potentially broken site list for that source site.

Once you have a list of URLs, you can use a broken link checker tool to check the status of all of the links. Get rid of any link that works and keep just the broken links; those are the valuable links.

You can also try a service that automates this step entirely, like I don’t know how valuable it is or how effective it is at finding dead pages, but it can be worth trying out.

Step 2: Qualify Your Broken Pages

Once you have a list of links that point to dead pages, you need to determine if those dead pages are worth replacing. There are a few ways you can do this.

  • Use the Bulk Backlink Checker tool from Majestic on the URL in question. This will give you an idea of how many links point at that page. More links means two things. First, that the page likely had a lot of value, because a lot of people linked to it. Second, that you have a lot of potential targets, since there are so many links that are now broken.
  • Use the Internet Archive (the Wayback Machine) on the URL to see what kind of content the page used to have. You can tell if it was a bad resource that a lot of people just linked to for the sake of controversy or something, versus an actual good resource that simply no longer exists. Unfortunately, I don’t know of a way to bulk check these pages for value. You might be able to pull them up all at once using the Wayback API, but you’ll still need to manually look them over to see how valuable they might have been.

The pages need to be of reasonable quality and with enough backlinks to make it worth your time to replace the content. You wouldn’t create an entirely new resource just for one link you aren’t even guaranteed to get, right?

Organizing Blog ArticlesPro tip: While you’re investigating the missing site, look for other resources that site used to have. You don’t need to stick with just one missing page. If that website is completely gone, but it used to have a dozen or more good resource posts on it, you have a dozen or more good opportunities to replace that content with content of your own.

The only caveat is that you probably want to spread this out over time so it’s a little less obvious what you’re doing, especially if it means you end up emailing the same website a dozen times about a dozen different links you want to replace. In those cases, it becomes obvious that you’re sending template emails – more on that later – and they might feel manipulated. Some web owners will even link to your competitors or another resource instead of you just out of spite.

Step 3: Find and Qualify Broken Links

Once you have the broken resource, you need to identify all of the links pointing to it. There are a lot of different ways to do this, but my favorite is actually a tool from MonitorBacklinks. This tool will, for free, show you the best 300 links pointing to that page. The only caveat is that it only works for free once per week. If you want to use it more often, you’ll need to register. On the other hand, you rarely need more than the top 300 links; you don’t want to be too aggressive with your emails, after all.

Monitor Backlinks Free Link Checker

When you find a link that points to your target broken page, you want to determine if that link is worth replacing. That means qualifying the site that hosts the link. What qualities do you want the site to possess?

  • Quality. If the linking site isn’t very good or doesn’t have any traffic, it doesn’t do you a lot of good to get your link on their page in replacement of the link that’s broken. Don’t set your sites too high, of course; a lot of the top-tier sites perform regular link audits and fix broken links on their own. Just don’t settle for one-step-above-spam sites.
  • Relevance. If you’re writing an SEO resource to replace a missing SEO resource on a page that no longer exists, you don’t want to try to replace the link they got from a fashion blog. The fashion blog was probably part of a purchased link scheme or a private blog network. They’re unlikely to replace the link for you, and even if they do, the irrelevant site isn’t going to be valuable as part of your new backlink profile.
  • Followed links. You don’t strictly need the link to be followed, but it helps. It doesn’t do you much good to get your link replaced on a page that nofollows it. Normally, I say that it’s fine to have a nofollowed link, but that assumes modern content; on an older post that likely doesn’t have much traffic, you don’t get the other benefits you normally would, like brand and name recognition.

Once again, there’s no great way to automate this audit; you just need to make sure the site is valuable enough based on your personal criteria.

Step 4: Create Replacement Content

Using the Wayback Machine to pull up the old content that no longer exists, you’ll be able to see exactly what kind of content it had. You should replace this content as best you can. If they recommend 10 tools, you should recommend 10 tools as well, with plenty of crossover if those tools still exist. If they write a long informative article, use it as a base or outline to write your own, better version.

Add a New Post WordPress

I use this same technique for normal content I produce as well, by the way. There’s no reason to limit yourself to only replacing content that no longer exists. You just can’t generally get someone to change a link if the original target still exists.

You can’t strictly automate the creation of content, at least not in a valuable way. You could use an article spinner on the old content, but then you’re just making a crappy replacement for the old content, and it’s not worth its weight as new content. Plus, you might run into issues like the tips they recommend or tools they promote no longer work.

What you CAN do is pay for replacement content. Hire a freelancer on a content mill like Writer Access, Constant Content, or Upwork. Link them to the Internet Archive version of the page, or copy and paste the missing content into a document to link to them. Ask them to create something similar, but updated for modern audiences. If you have specific additions or tips, add them as well.

It costs money to hire a freelance writer, but it technically “automates” the process, in that something else is doing it instead of you. If you would rather have your personal touch, you can do that as well. It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other.

Step 5: Pitch the Replacement

At this point you have everything you need. You have fresh, new, relevant content published on your site. You have a list of sites that link to the content you’re replacing, complete with the URL of the page that links to the broken page.

What you need to do now is harvest the contact information for whoever controls the blog that hosts the broken link. Some of them will require that you use contact forms, but most of them will have an email either available in their About Us section or in a Contact page. Some might only have Social Media available, but you may be able to stalk them to find their email address, or just look up the WhoIs information for their domain and find it there. Regardless, you want to have valid contact information for them.

Contact Page Example

At this point it’s a good idea to update that spreadsheet I mentioned. You want a column that lists the content you’re replacing, one that lists the content you replaced it with, and one that lists every page you want to reach out to for the replacement link. Make a new column; this one for contact information for those pages, so you have it on hand if you need to reach out to them again later. Finally, make a column you will fill in later called Outcomes.

Next, draft up a sample email you can send out to them. Approach it from the perspective of someone who was researching a topic and found the broken link. You’re offering your replacement out of concern for the broken link, not for benefit of yourself. Here’s an example:

Hey there <site owner>. I was recently doing some research on <X topic> and came across your page <their page link>. I noticed that one of the links on the page is broken (the one to <broken link>) and as it just so happens, I have a similar resource here <link to replacement content>. I just thought you might want to fix a broken link; feel free to use my resource as a replacement.

The final CTA can differ; I recommend testing different versions as you send out emails. You might try something like “Would you consider using my link instead?” Different variations on tone and askance can put a different perspective in the minds of the website owners. The goal is to get them to replace the link; if that means asking them directly, that’s fine. If you find that appealing to their desire to not have broken links is better, do that. It all varies.

You will get one of several outcomes. If the webmaster thanks you for pointing out the link and swaps to yours, it’s a success, and you should list that in your spreadsheet. If the webmaster doesn’t respond, but switches the link without notifying you, it’s still a success. If the webmaster simply removes the broken link and doesn’t replace it with your content, it’s a failure, and you can generally write off that site for future broken link opportunities.

If the webmaster doesn’t respond and doesn’t change the link, you can follow up with another email in about a week. Sometimes your initial email went to spam or they ignored it on a busy day, but your follow-up makes them curious.

Finally, if they send you a message declining to make the replacement, just write them off. It’s not worth fighting for one link.

Written by Mike Juba

Mike Juba

Michael Juba has been working in the internet marketing industry since 2011 after graduating from West Chester University. He works as a content marketing strategist at EZSolution in Lancaster, PA.

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