Although Google’s algorithm is constantly reaching new heights, with the use of progressive machine learning and AI, a solid and effective link building strategy remains one of the most important ranking signals and a key pillar of any comprehensive SEO strategy.
There are many ways to build links for SEO and some people swear by one method and others by alternative methods. The truth is, every campaign requires a different combination of approaches to building links. More often than not, broken link building can be an incredibly powerful yet underutilized method.
In this article, I want to explore the art of building broken links. Before we get started, let’s remember why link building is still important.
Why link building is important
When determining content rank for a given search phrase or term, Google takes several things into consideration, but let’s take a moment to consider how it might differentiate between two high-quality websites in the same niche.
In other words, what distinguishes one website from another?
Both “Website A” and “Website B” contain frequently updated high-quality content. They also provide their audience with great user experiences and use engaging calls-to-action (CTAs), which encourage email list signups and user engagement.
However, where the two websites differ is that “Website A” has a more comprehensive link profile, having gained backlinks from many influential and respected websites. “Website A” also incorporates outbound links to equally influential and respected websites, which provide additional value to its audience and act as signals or relevance to Google’s ranking algorithm.
Google will therefore determine that “Website A” is likely to be a bigger player in the industry, thus giving it a higher ranking position.
Identify reliable link sources
The first rule to understanding how broken link building works is to understand and appreciate that not all links are created equal. Learning how to properly evaluate links and separate reliable sources from those that should be avoided is extremely important. Pursuing white hat approaches will also ensure you don’t incur a potentially damaging Google penalty.
Basically, the broken link building process involves identifying a broken link and contacting the webmaster of the website with said broken link to recommend replacement content that includes a link to an alternative website. While this is undoubtedly one of the most effective and scalable link building strategies, your ultimate success will depend on your ability to create genuinely valuable content that webmasters want to link to.
While there are a variety of link building tools out there, there is no substitute for manual assessment when it comes to broken link building. In my experience, the moment you try to automate the broken link building process is when you lose all control over quality.
Now let’s turn our attention to the broken link building process itself. I’ve broken this down into three steps.
First step: prospect
Identifying broken links to the target will always be your first step. There are several different prospecting methods you can use:
Direct URL targeting
As the least scalable method, you’ll typically only use this approach if you want to target a single website. Securing a link from a single industry-leading website can yield exceptional results, but it’s often difficult to open a dialogue without passing on hints of desperation. As a conversation starter, finding a broken link and bringing it to the attention of a website admin or blog editor is a great way to start that conversation and develop a mutually beneficial relationship.
After crawling sites to gather a list of broken links, select the best opportunities to achieve and approaching the subject in the right way is the next step.
Target resource pages with keywords
This simple method relies on accurate Google keyword searches that are hyper relevant to your website interests. You will first focus on identifying resource pages with links to keyword-relevant content. After extracting the links from these pieces of content, you will then turn your attention to the location of the broken content and actively pursue any opportunities that arise.
Link Prospector is a powerful tool for returning large numbers of resource pages and link pages based on keyword searches.
The keywords you use should be relatively broad and categorically relevant in some way, whether it’s to your brand, your product, your audience, or even your location. From there, you should focus on pairing your keywords with prospecting phrases to locate relevant pages.
Then comes the laborious task of extracting all the results of those searches before you can move on to extracting those all-important links. These links will need to be checked for errors before you can then establish the potential leads in each link you have left.
Target resource pages with URLs
This URL method should always start with an already recognized website. Mining the backlinks of this website will uncover resource pages that will ultimately lead to the successful identification of relevant link building opportunities.
There are a number of tools and techniques that can be used for broken link building. This excellent video tutorial does it using Ahrefs, BuzzStream and Screaming Frog SEO.
Website selection is the most crucial part of this strategy. The website you choose to target will generally be non-commercial and absolutely must be relevant and authoritative. From there, you then need to extract each external link, check them for errors, and identify the best prospect for you.
Second step: content creation
It is essential to provide or create content equal to or greater than that which your identified broken link pointed to. You should ensure that you understand the purpose of the original piece and use this information to help you create new content that fully meets the expectations of all sites that have previously chosen to link to this now redundant resource.
Of course, chances are you already have content that can be used or repurposed to accommodate the nature of the broken link you identified. The trick to scaling this tactic is to create content that can be used as an alternative to a relatively wide range of broken links. The more specific your content topic, the more likely you are to secure broken links, but the fewer of them you will find. It’s a catch 22 that will only become easier to navigate with time and experience.
A final note on content is that it’s highly likely that the website you want to secure a link from has more authority than yours, so if you want to ensure success and a good return on your time invested, you need to create high quality content. that these sites will really want to link to.
There are several tactics for creating engaging, linkable content when building broken links:
- Aim to improve the original content without fundamentally changing its original purpose.
- Make sure all relevant statistics and sources are updated.
- Include additional information and citations.
- Say something new or even controversial on the topic (although you always support it and never try to be sensationalist).
Step Three: Awareness
After getting the contact information for your target website owner or webmaster, spend some time crafting a clear, engaging email that won’t immediately end up in the recipient’s trashcan. There are several ways to approach this step, each with varying degrees of transparency. As a general rule, the more transparent you can afford to be immediately, the higher the quality of your content.
- Impersonate a user who came across the broken link.
- Include your link with several other related links.
- Describe your replacement content in a follow-up email.
The most important advice I can give you is that you need to tailor your outreach correspondence to each target individually. Copying and pasting the same general email will not have the same conversion rate as truly personalized correspondence. After spending so much time identifying these opportunities, don’t waste them. It may not be as scalable, but it’s much more likely to deliver results.
That being said, it will be helpful to have a template form that you can use and modify for each prospect. Anthony Nelson’s Guide to Building Broken Links for Moz has some great templates to get you started.
While broken link building is only one component of an effective link building strategy, it is inherently powerful and, if implemented carefully, correctly, and according to search engine guidelines, will yield a tangible boost to your website’s rankings.