Broken hyperlinks are found in even the best-maintained websites, greeting users with a “page not found” or “404 error” message. Since site owners aren’t alerted when the destination page for an external link is moved or deleted, these kinds of broken links can linger, making for a less-than-ideal user experience.
That’s why broken link building can be an effective strategy for expanding your link profile. You’re helping websites clean up dead links and ideally earning a backlink to your site, too.
In this guide, I’ll go over some broken link-building strategies that you can use right away to add more inbound links to your site. There’s some sweat equity involved in building link equity, but if you invest some time and effort, these proven tactics will help you build topical authority and rank accordingly.
What Is Broken Link Building?
Broken link building is an SEO strategy that involves identifying dead links on external websites and offering your own relevant content to replace the pages that have moved or been deleted.
When you engage in broken link building, you’re letting site owners know there’s a technical error on their page. By offering an appropriate replacement that benefits their readers, you make it easy for the webmaster to change the broken link to point your site.
And there’s the SEO benefit. Backlinks from external sites bring visitors to your web page and demonstrate authority to help you rank better in Google.
Is It OK to Do Broken Backlink Building?
You’ve probably heard that Google penalizes attempts to improve search engine rankings by building backlinks. And it’s wise to tread carefully in this area. Google Webmaster Guidelines warn against behavior to “manipulate links to your site,” such as the use of link farms and bulk purchasing of backlinks.
But while these bad links are a no-go, broken backlink building is considered an industry-standard SEO practice because it directs readers to useful content. It satisfies the spirit and intent of Google’s rules, which is to improve the user experience by providing worthwhile information to readers.
The short answer, then, is: yes, it’s safe to pursue broken backlink building because you’re not buying links. The site placing the backlink has evaluated your content and determined it’s valuable to their audience. You’ve earned it.
Your new link improves the user experience and cleans up a technical error on the referring domain while keeping Google’s mission firmly in view.
Why Does Broken Link Building Work?
Link building, as a general practice, involves contacting site owners to ask for a backlink. You might ask to write a guest blog or have your business added to a resource list. You’ll be most effective with these strategies if you approach them with care. You’re essentially asking for a favor, and there are likely many other businesses making the same request.
On the other hand, when you point out a broken link and propose content to replace it, you’re providing a tangible benefit instead of persuading the site to do something for you. Fixing broken links is a critical part of technical SEO, helping to enhance navigation and enabling search bots to crawl the web more efficiently. The impactful content you offer as a solution is a bonus for the webmaster.
Improving Your Chance of Successful Broken Link Building
Site owners will respond favorably to broken link building when the proposed replacement content fits seamlessly with their overall goal and purpose. As with all editorial backlinks, you have to prove you’re deserving of the endorsement the backlink represents.
Your content should be well-written, relevant, and useful.
Search bots are advanced enough that they can determine how well-earned a link is. If a reader finds it useful and valuable, the chances are high that Google will as well.
How to Do Broken Backlink Building in 4 Steps
The key to broken backlink building is to target relevant pages. The internet is pretty big, though. Finding the right pages — and ones with broken links — can seem like a mammoth task, but there are ways to make it manageable.
I’m going to walk you through the four main steps of broken backlink building:
- Build a list of target sites
- Find broken linking pages and build a list of prospects
- Develop replacement content
- Reach out to help
Before we get into the details, I’d like to clarify the first two steps. Broken backlink strategies involve identifying two separate groups of sites.
- Target sites. Target sites contain relevant content that other pages are linking to. You’re not reaching out to these sites directly but are using them to find prospects. Ideally, these sites are authoritative and have lots of pages linking to them, so you have a big pool of sites to sift through.
- Prospect sites. Your prospects are the pages that have broken links to your target sites. These are sites that you’re going to consider offering replacement content to.
Build a List of Target Sites
The first step is to develop a list of sites that you can mine for broken links. You can build this list using two different approaches.
- Resource site targeting. This method involves identifying well-known, authoritative sites relevant to your business and likely have plenty of links from other sites.
- Keyword targeting. This approach is based on keywords that you want to rank for. You use these keywords to find the sites in Google and focus on pages with broken links to those sites.
Resource Site Targeting
This backlinking strategy involves focusing on the sites your target audience is visiting. Begin by brainstorming sites that are relevant to yours or in a similar niche. Try to choose high-quality, non-commercial sites, so there’s no possibility of any confusion that a broken link was a paid one.
The more authoritative the site is, the better because there’s a better chance of other sites linking to it and more possibility that you’ll find a broken link among them.
When you’re shortlisting sites, remember page relevance is more important than domain relevance. The site can have an overall theme different from your site, as long as it publishes topically relevant pages.
A window company, for example, could target the website ApartmentTherapy.com. This home decor resource covers everything from cleaning and gardening to DIY repairs. It doesn’t focus solely on windows but features plenty of related articles, such as “What is a Bay Window, Anyway?” and “An Airy Country Coach House Has Some Seriously Stunning Windows.”
By focusing on page relevance instead of domain relevance, you can broaden your search range.
As you come up with potential sites, list them in a spreadsheet so you can systematically evaluate each one for broken links.
Find Broken Linking Pages
Now, make your way through the list of target sites. You’re going to input each site into an SEO tool such as Ahrefs to find broken links.
Our hypothetical window company, for example, can bring up Site Explorer and enter the domain apartmenttherapy.com to view its backlink profile.
When you click on “Best by Links,” you can see Apartment Therapy’s top pages by incoming links and filter them by HTTP code — specifically, “404 not found”.
This brings up plenty of broken link examples. Each one is a link from an external site resulting in a 404 error.
Scan through the URLs to find a dead link to a relevant page. Our window company zeroes in on a missing article about insulating windows for winter.
Now, run this link through Site Explorer. The insulating window piece has nearly 350 backlinks from more than 100 unique referring domains.
These are prospects that you can approach to replace the broken backlink.
At this point, feel free to skip ahead in this link-building guide to the step about developing replacement content or continue building prospects with keyword targeting.
You can also find target sites using keywords. Begin by making a list of the search terms you want to target. You may already have keywords that work well for your site. You can also:
- Brainstorm keywords. These should be relevant to your target audience and as broad as possible.
- Use a keyword research service. You can hire an agency to conduct a keyword analysis and identify terms that a customer might search for when looking for a product or service. Link building specialists can analyze user intent with keywords and better target them to your business.
Now take your keywords and enter them into Google to find sites that your target audience might visit. For example, a window company may decide to target sites that rank for the keywords “window replacement” or “energy-efficient windows.”
Here’s a tip. Pinpoint sites with a significant number of inbound links because there’s a better chance of finding a dead one. A promising site is an authority site that features plenty of resources and links. Not only are these types of sites popular to link to, but the volume of links on the site can make them time-consuming to maintain.
Authoritative sites often use language such as “related links” or “suggested resources.” The best way to find these resource sites is to combine your keywords with Google search operators, also called search strings.
How to Use Google Search Operators With Keyword Targeting
Most people input a few words into Google and hit enter to perform a search, but there’s a whole range of commands that deliver more precise results.
Here are some useful ones for marketers to know:
- Quotation marks. If you enter a search phrase without quotation marks, Google returns results containing the words, but not always consecutively. For example, searching for “replacement window” without quotation marks can generate results that contain “replacement” and “window” separately. You could end up with a site about replacement screens on windows. Putting quotation marks around the entire search phrase (“window replacement”) produces results that contain the entire key phrase.
- intitle: This command, followed by a search term, returns results that have that search term in the title of the page and not the meta tags. This can help you find a page with a header called “Window Replacement Resources.” Be sure that the command “intitle” is followed by a colon and the search term without spaces.
- inurl: This command, followed by a search term, gives you results that have that search term in the page URL. It can bring up pages such as example.com/resources. Be sure to follow the “inurl” command by a colon and then the search term without spaces.
- + The plus sign means to include. It comes in handy when you have different search strings and want your results to satisfy all of them.
Try using Google operators to search for phrases such as “useful links” and “more resources.” The targeted searches look like this:
- “Keyword” + inurl:resources
- “Keyword” + intitle:links
- “Keyword” + “helpful resources”
- “Keyword” + “useful resources”
Our sample window company can plug in its keyword as follows:
- “replacement windows” + intitle:links
Now, scroll through the results produced by your searches and add these target sites to your spreadsheet.
Find Broken Linking Pages
The process is the same as the steps described above in the resource site targeting section:
- Enter the URL of each target site from your spreadsheet into the SEO tool
- View the backlink profiles of the site
- View the top pages by incoming links
- Filter pages by HTTP code (404 error) to see which ones have broken links to your target page
These are your prospect sites that you can contact to replace the broken link. Add the sites to your spreadsheet.
Match Your Content to the Broken Link
Now you’re ready to find content for each prospect site. Make sure the site is relevant and publishes content related to your business. Simply locating a broken link doesn’t mean that the site owner will automatically link to your site; the content must be valuable to their readers.
What Kind of Content Do They Need?
The easiest way to match content is to examine the original destination. Is it an infographic, blog post, or video? What is the article about? You can use this information to guide the content that you provide. If you can’t locate the page on the existing site (sometimes it’s just moved to a new section), try Wayback Machine, a digital archive that has captured more than 600 billion web pages to date.
The Wayback Machine archive isn’t exhaustive, so run a Google search for the domain if there isn’t a snapshot of the page you’re looking for. You can also look at the original URL, which may have part of the article’s title or the anchor text in the referring domain.
Match the Link to Your Existing Content
Once you’ve determined the angle of the content, look through your archives to find a similar page. You don’t want to suggest a link to your home page or a sales page — the content has to be useful.
Improve the Quality of Content
Read through your content with a critical eye. If it’s a recent, well-written article, you may be able to offer the page link as is. But if it dates back to 2013, refers to old research, or has a short word count, you should spend time updating it. You need to present your best side and make a good impression when contacting a prospective site for a backlink.
- Focus on quality.
- Rewrite content if necessary.
- Update statistics.
- Check that all internal links work.
- Add sections to make the article more in-depth.
Create New Content
It’s easier to use or adapt existing content than create new content, but sometimes, you won’t have the right kind of article available. At this point, you have to weigh the reward. Is it a coveted site for a backlink? Is the topic interesting enough that it’s worth creating the piece anyway? If so, maybe it’s worthwhile to start from scratch and fill the need. At the very least, you have a valuable piece to add to your own website.
There is a risk you won’t see a reward, but you can make the most of your time by:
- Targeting sites with many inbound links to increase the potential number of pages you can offer new content to.
- Optimizing new content with keywords to boost your site’s authority and bring organic traffic to your site.
Send an Outreach Email
When you’ve matched your prospect to some great content, it’s time to reach out. In most cases, you’re going to have to do some sleuthing to determine who to contact. Ideally, you should find a person in charge of web content or marketing.
- Look on the website. Check the about us, contact us, and staff pages to find an appropriate contact person. Contact forms and generic email addresses are less likely to be fruitful. Do your best to find a specific contact person so you can personalize your email.
- Ask. If the website only has a generic email, get in touch and ask for a contact. Be sure to include your full name, title, and business for credibility.
- Check social media. Not all people put contact information on social media bios, but it’s worth checking Twitter and LinkedIn.
- Use email discovery tools. Try an email finder tool such as Clearbit, Name2Email, or Snov.io. Depending on the tool, you can either enter the name of the person you’re looking for and their company’s domain name (Find That Email) or see a list of all available email addresses associated with that domain (Hunter).
- Make a guess based on the email format. Most businesses have a format for email addresses, such as first initial-last name or first name-dot-last name. If you know the format, you can predict what your contact’s email address is. Use a tool such as Zero Bounce to validate the email before sending it. You can also try Google to see if you can get a result.
Finding the person to reach out to is labor-intensive, but you need to get your offer of help into the right hands. If competing priorities are vying for your time, consider outsourcing your backlink efforts to an organic link building service like Victorious.
Once you’ve found the correct contact information, you can use a broken link email template to offer your content.
While you want to make sure all your outreach is personalized and personable, starting with a template will help you streamline the process.
Leveraging Link Building Expertise
Broken links are scattered all over the internet. Using the steps in this link-building guide, you can transform some of them into an active link to your site.