Link Building 101: How to Capture Broken Links

These days, finding good quality links for SEO purposes is as challenging as it’s ever been.  Not only should your links appear within the editorial content of a page, they should be naturally acquired and placed on pages that are relevant to your own website’s content.

But because of Google’s recent Penguin updates, fewer and fewer opportunities exist to obtain backlinks that meet these criteria.  If you’ve exhausted your email link building and guest posting efforts, another option to consider is broken link building.

The process of broken link building involves seeking out pages on websites within your industry that have broken links within their content and then contacting webmasters to identify these dead URLs and offer your own content or link as a replacement.  If you’ve struggled to find new link building opportunities in the past, read on to find out exactly how this useful process can be implemented on your own website:

1 – Identify web pages with broken links

If you’re going to contact webmasters with broken links and recommend that your own URL replace the dead references you’ve identified, the obvious first step in this process is to find web pages that contain these outdated links.  There are a few different ways you can do this…

If you’re short on time and long on extra cash, CitationLab’s Broken Link Finder tool will automate the entire process of identifying dead links on pages throughout your industry.  Depending on your marketing budget, investing in a program like this can be a great way to build the largest possible number of links in the smallest amount of time.

However, if you’re working on a shoestring budget, the entire process of finding broken links on relevant web pages can be carried out by hand as well.

To start, generate a list of broad industry keywords.  If, for example, you run a dog training tips website, the phrases “pet training” or “dog training” could be useful to this process, while long-tail keywords like “dog training classes San Francisco” should be avoided.

Next up, you’ll need to pair your broad keyword phrases with broken link prospecting phrases and enter them into Google in order to identify potential sites that could offer dead URL link building opportunities.  Possible prospecting phrases could include (among hundreds of other variations):

  • “Suggested sites”
  • “Recommended links”
  • “Resources list”
  • “Favorite links”

So, to complete this search, you’d enter a combination like “pet training suggested sites” into Google and then extract the top 100 results using a tool like the SEOMoz MozBar.  In general, the best place to find broken links is in the “recommended links” section that many sites have, so carrying out these search variations using different combinations of your generic keywords and prospecting phrases should turn up a number of websites that host link lists on their pages.

Keep in mind, though, that these aren’t the only broken link building opportunities that exist.  You may also find dead URLs within the editorial content of other sites within your industry, which presents you with the chance to re-write outdated content that the sites you contact can use freely in exchange for a link back to your website.

The final part of this process is to run each web page on your list through a tool like Check My Links, which will allow you to automatically identify and broken links (as distinguished by their “404” status) for use in the next step.

2 – Evaluate linking opportunities

Once you’ve completed Step #1 in this process, you should have a list of individual web pages within your industry that contain at least one outgoing dead link.  However, be aware that not all of these links are created equally.

The best broken link building opportunities are those that:

  • Are still actively managed by their webmasters
  • Are relevant to your website’s subject
  • Have backlinks pointing at them

Seeing evidence that a webmaster still updates his link page increases the likelihood that your broken link building request will be responded to, compared to pages that have long since been abandoned.  To get a feel for whether or not your prospective link building opportunities are still actively managed, take a look around the site in general.  If you can’t find any recent blog posts, news articles or other “dated” changes, consider pursuing other broken link building opportunities first.

At the same time, ensuring that the broken links you choose to target are found on pages that relate to your own website’s content will increase the overall SEO value of any links that you’re able to create.  For the most part, this is a judgment call that’s up to you – though you should keep in mind that links don’t need to be perfectly related to be useful.  As an example, a broken link found on a dog breeding website still generally relates to your dog training tips content, even if your subject matter isn’t exactly the same.

Finally, as a link from a page with several external links pointing back to it will serve your own site’s SEO better than a link from a page without any inbound links, it’s a good idea to filter out you broken link building opportunities to pursue those that offer the greatest possible benefit to your site.  Any SEO tool should be able to give you this information, though the Majestic SEO Bulk Backlink Checker is a lightweight, easy to use option for identifying this data.

3 – Find webmaster contact information

Once you’ve prioritized the broken link building opportunities you identified in Step #1, you’ll need to find the webmaster’s contact information in order to send your request that your own link be added to the pages you’ve found.

If you’re lucky, the websites on which you’ve identified pages with broken links will have separate “Contact” pages that enable you to reach out to site owners or managers directly.  However, you can also use products like Link Research Tool’s Contact Finder in order to scrape this information automatically.

As soon as you’ve compiled your webmaster contact information, you can move on to the next step…

4 – Create your broken link building offer

Now, when it comes to contacting the owners of the pages you’ve identified as hosting broken links, you have a number of different options.  For example, you can:

  • Alert the webmaster to the presence of dead links to external resources and request that your own URL be substituted in its place.
  • Point out outdated content on the webmasters website and offer to re-write it or provide better text in exchange for the inclusion of your website’s URL.
  • Tell the webmaster that you’ve found broken links on his site, but will only reveal them if he agrees to post your link instead.

Obviously, the path you decide to take will be up to you, based on both your own desire to be helpful and the type of broken link you’ve identified.  Once you’ve made this decision, you’ll need to compose a message to your target webmaster, as described in the next step of this process:

5 – Contact webmasters

When it comes to sending out broken link notifications to the webmasters you’ve identified throughout this process, you’ll find that it’s easy to have a series of templates on hand that enable you to compose and send your messages as quickly as possible.

For example, the following script could be used to let webmasters know that you’ve identified broken links on their “Resources” pages:

Hi [webmaster name],

My name is Sujan and I’m the owner of a site called  I love your website and I think it’s a great resource for our community, but I wanted to let you know that one of the sites listed on your “Resources” page doesn’t appear to be active anymore.

Specifically, I tried to visit the page and it doesn’t look like it’s still live.  I thought you might want to know so that your readers don’t waste time visiting sites that aren’t there anymore.

When you go to change this link, would you consider including my website in its place?  I think your readers would really benefit from the information on my website, and I’ve included both a link and description below to make things as easy as possible for you: [include HTML code pointing to your website]

Dog Training Tips is a website that provides high-quality information to fellow dog lovers who want to improve their relationships with their prized pets.  Check out our site today for free information on the dog training tips that work!

I really appreciate it and wish you the best of luck with your website!


Sujan Patel

As you send out these messages, be sure to log every one of your contact attempts in a spreadsheet.  Then, revisit your list every so often and either mark the links on your list as having been added to your target site or send a follow-up email to webmasters that haven’t yet responded to your requests.  You won’t get a positive response from every person you contact, but you should be able to acquire enough new links through this process to make your efforts worth your while.

Any questions on the broken link building process?  Ask them in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to help make this technique a success for your website.

Image: Joybot

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