Link building, and broken link building in particular, is one of our favorite techniques for garnering search visibility for a client’s website. Through the years, we have perfected a method of broken link building that we’d like to share with you in the hopes that it brings you the same, if not more, success that it has brought us.
Broken link building is founded on the premise of doing something good for the world wide web, by fixing what is broken. This link building tactic has the highest average rate of return through outreach than any other form, and for good reason. You are actually doing the webmasters (and the web in general) a favor by locating broken content links and offering relevant fixes. Let’s explore the method in detail, shall we?
Know your competitors
You really can’t start anywhere else. If you haven’t already, hash out a list of at least 10 competitors that are doing well in terms of online visibility. We want these competitors to have lots of brand mentions and links pointing back to their site. If you can’t come up with 10, then fire up one of two sites on your trusty internet browser: SEMRush (paid) or Google (free).
With SEMRush, you can just enter in your root domain and they will give you a handy report on your top SERP competitors. SEMRush is not free, however, so if you’d rather go for the free option, just put some of your top “must rank for” search phrases in Google and look who shows up at the top (if you’re not there already!). Those sites are your competitors, even if you may not have heard of them or if you never thought of them in that way. They are your competitors because they rank for (and in some cases, better) the keywords that you want to rank for. Jot down at least 10 to get a good start.
Know your competitors’ (broken) pages
Now that you have your competitor list, it’s time to start running reports on them. What you’re looking for is the broken or 404’d pages on their domains. You can use either Majestic, AHREFS, or Screaming Frog to accomplish this. I prefer Majestic, but all are very good at accomplishing this.
In Majestic, enter the root domain of a competitor, like moz.com. Then, click the “Pages” tab and export it. While exporting, choose in the dropdown list “missing pages (404’s) only” option. There is a similar option in AHREFS as well. Now, pull up that export in Google Sheets or Excel, or your spreadsheet viewer of choice.
Sort the list by number of referring domains from greatest to least. Now, you have your outreach list. Go through line by line and verify that yes, the page on their site is still down or is returning a 404 error. Doing this step will save you time and hassle later, trust us.
Ok, now that you have your list of broken pages that are verified to still be down, it’s time to actually run a backlink report on that specific page alone. You can go back to Majestic, Moz, or AHREFS for this and just paste the exact URL of your competitor’s broken page in there and run the report. This will return a (hopefully) huge list of sites from around the web that are linking to your competitor’s broken page/content. These sites need your help! No self respecting webmaster wants to keep content on their site that is linking to dead pages. Let’s help them.
Know the broken content
Ok, now that you have the broken pages and the list of sites that are linking to them, you must be able to offer a proper substitute to those broken links AND that substitute must be on your (or your client’s) domain. If we’re lucky, the broken page is a product page and we have the same or very similar product on our site. That’s not always the case. If it is a blog or other piece of content, we may have to recreate that content on our site.
To find what was on your competitor’s broken pages, simply Google the url and see if Google has a cached version that will show the content, or you can pop the url into the Wayback Machine (Archive.org) and see if it has been archived. If it got a lot of inbound links, then chances are good it has been. Now, once you can see what was there before, you can more successfully recreate the content. We also recommend creating better, more updated and robust content, which will help webmasters want to link to it when you outreach to them.
Know your inbox
Now that you’ve created the content and it’s live on your site, start down the list of sites who are still linking to your competitor’s dead content and send them an email or direct message via social media. The email itself is easy as XYZ! Let them know that X article on their site contains a broken link to Y piece of content, and you have Z alternative. Then thank them for their time and go on down to the next site in your list.
Many times, webmasters or authors won’t get back to you, they will simply just make the change, so be certain to check back a week or two later and see if the new link is live. Otherwise, just follow up with them about once a week for a few weeks until they get back to you. Trust us, this has a very high rate of success! Before you know it, you can be securing all sorts of high value and relevant links to your site! The best part is that every one of those links once was pointing to your competitor, so it’s almost like a two for one.
We hope that you enjoyed this brief tutorial. May the inbox gods shine on you and bring you many happy responses!
Update for September 2018. We got an organic outreach from an SEO writer over at Medium.com named Erika Rykun. She found this article and asked for a link back to her article published on Medium that is a good supplement to this article. Please check out her article here and enjoy the read. The article is full of a lot of great information that will help make your link building journey more successful. See, link building works, ladies and gents!