One of the most common link-building strategies is creating broken links. According to Aira’s annual status of link building survey, which collects comments from more than 250 digital marketing experts, it ranks as the sixth most popular strategy.
However, it’s not completely infallible, and successfully using it requires some subtlety.
You’ll discover how to obtain backlinks via broken link building in this guide.
Let’s first talk about the fundamentals.
Does broken link building still work?
How to do broken link building
What is broken link building?
The reasoning behind this is that they don’t want to direct users to a resource that is no longer active.
Does broken link building still work?
It’s fair to say that opinions among SEOs on this matter are not quite unanimous.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a nearly meaningless strategy, and you shouldn’t waste your time with it, Authority Hacker’s Mark remarked in a video.
One stands out among the comments on the video, if you look through them:
Let’s clarify the situation:
Building broken links is difficult. It works well at times. Occasionally, it doesn’t.
Is this a sign that the strategy is flawed in some way?
No. It’s because link building is challenging to do properly, regardless of the strategy you employ.
How to do broken link building
Broken link building is a four-step process.
Find broken pages with backlinks
Vet the backlinks
Create a replacement page
1. Find broken pages with backlinks
Without SEO tools, it is impossible to detect heavily linked broken pages. Even if you manually locate defunct pages, you’ll still need a backlink analyzer to count the number of links they have. Although Ahrefs offers a free backlink checker for this purpose, full access makes life much simpler.
Remember this when we discuss the strategies below. For 3/4 of them, Ahrefs is required.
Here are the tactics:
Look for your competitors’ broken pages with backlinks
Look for broken pages about a topic
Look for broken links on competing websites
Look for broken links on resource pages (doable without paid Ahrefs)
a) Look for your competitors’ broken pages with backlinks
Because everyone moves, deletes, and reorganizes information over time, many of your competitors will have at least a few dead pages. When they do this, their backlinks will refer to broken pages if they forget to redirect old URLs.
Here’s how to find dead pages on your competitors’ websites:
Go to Site Explorer
Enter a competing domain
Go to the Best by links report
Filter for “404 not found” pages
Sort the report by Referring domains from highest to lowest
On the website of the Content Marketing Institute, for instance, there are 134 dead pages, some of which contain backlinks from more than 50 referring domains.
It’s your responsibility to search through these pages for subjects that make sense to write about.
Since we have a whole blog category dedicated to content marketing, for instance, the first page explaining “what is content marketing” makes sense for us. It is the kind of subject on which we wish to develop links.
Repeat the procedure for other competitors’ websites if you can’t locate a pertinent broken page on one of them.
Enter your domain into Site Explorer and navigate to the Competing Domains report to find out who your competitors are. This demonstrates how other websites performing for your keyword phrases on Google.
b) Look for broken pages about a topic
Broken link building has historically been focused on the aforementioned technique. The drawback of this approach is that you are only able to search a small number of websites for chances.
The best course of action for this issue would be to look for broken links on certain topics on the web. Ahrefs’ Content Explorer, a searchable database of billions of webpages, is the only program we are aware of that enables you to do this.
Here’s how to use it to find broken pages about a topic:
Enter a broad topic
Switch the search mode to “In title”
Filter for broken pages only
Filter for pages with at least 20 referring domains
The following illustration shows 188 broken pages concerning content marketing that have at least 20 backlinks:
Click the title to view the page in a new tab to verify a broken link.
Look for pages that are more likely to have high-quality backlinks by scanning the “Page traffic” column. The page’s backlinks may have helped it rank if it had previously experienced traffic.
The backlinks might not be beneficial if the page has never seen much traffic.
c) Look for broken links on competing websites
The majority of websites routinely connect to pages on other websites, and some of these links will eventually stop working. As a result, it is possible that your rivals may link to outdated content.
Here’s how to see broken pages your competitor is linking to:
Go to Site Explorer
Enter a competing domain
Go to the Broken Links report
For instance, 32 dead pages are linked from robbierichards.com:
Export the report, paste the broken URLs into Ahrefs’ Batch Analysis tool, and sort by total referring domains to see which have the most referring domains.
Here are a few potential broken link building opportunities in the screenshot above:
Google’s discontinued mobile-friendly test tool: 2,654 RDs
SEJ’s guide to the Google Hummingbird algorithm: 462 RDs
Chatmeter’s list of local SEO stats: 276 RDs
d) Look for broken links on resource pages
Resource pages curate and link to resources on a particular topic. They’re a good source of broken pages with backlinks for two reasons:
People rarely update them, so they often link to dead resources.
They list helpful resources, which often have links from many other sites.
To find resource pages in your industry, use one of these Google search operators:
Then you need to check for broken links on these pages, which you can do for free with Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar.
Visit the page
Click the toolbar icon
Go to the “Links” tab
Click “Check status”
Filter for broken links only
To see the total backlinks to these pages, export the list of URLs and paste them into Ahrefs’ Batch Analysis tool.
2. Vet the link prospects
Many people jump straight to creating a “similar” replacement page after finding a dead page with backlinks. This is a mistake for two reasons:
Your broken page may not have any good backlinks. In which case, there’s no point pursuing the opportunity or creating a replacement page.
You need to understand why people linked to the dead page to create a replacement page. This is how you keep your content and outreach in sync, which leads to higher success rates.
You can figure out both things by vetting the page’s link prospects.
Here’s the process in a nutshell:
a) Check link quality
It is futile to pursue a broken link building opportunity if it is not likely to result in high-quality links. In order to determine whether the dead page has desirable backlinks, the first step is to quickly spot-check it.
Here’s how to see a page’s live backlinks:
Go to Site Explorer
Enter the dead page’s URL
Go to the Backlinks report
Set the grouping mode to “One link per domain”
Set “Show history” to “Don’t show”
The report can then be skimmed to gain a feel of the backlink’s quality.
You could verify each link individually, but that is ineffective for a spot-check. Searching through the report for links with characteristics that are typically associated with quality is quicker.
Everyone’s criteria will differ slightly here, but these four filters are a helpful place to start:
“Dofollow” links only. This excludes most low-value links such as those from directories, forums, and blog comments.
Exclude subdomains. This excludes links from places like blogspot, which are often low-quality and spammy.
DR 5+. This excludes links from very low-authority websites.
Domain traffic: 20+. This excludes links from websites with little to no traffic.
For instance, the number of backlinks lowers from 100 to 29 if we apply these criteria to the Backlinks report for the page above:
This is due to the fact that the dead page contains a lot of appealing links, like this one from celebanswers.com:
But it also has a lot of spammy and low-quality links, such as this one:
You must determine whether a broken page has enough desirable links to make it viable to create a page and conduct outreach.
b) Check link reasons
Recognizing the reasons your broken page received links enables you to add arguments that enable you to develop persuasive outreach angles. Here are the two broad types of link reasons you’ll see:
General links are where people recommend the resource as a whole. You can’t see why they linked to that specific resource from the link’s context.
Deep links are where people recommend a resource for a specific reason. You can see what that reason is from the link’s context.
A broad link to a page about determining your net worth that isn’t working is shown here as an example:
You can see that even while they endorse the resource, the context of the link makes it impossible to infer why.
These kinds of links don’t teach you too much about how to make a “better” page.
Deep links like these can teach you more:
This time, it is clear why they suggested the source: How to increase your net worth is explained.
By examining the Wayback Machine version of the page, we can validate this:
Noting down deep links and how many other sites link to them for the same reasons will help you design a convincing substitute page. To locate this, look for relevant “footprints” in the anchor or nearby text in the Backlinks report.
To find out if this recommendation resulted in additional links, we may, for instance, search the backlinks of this website for the phrases “increase,” “grow,” or “improve.”
It appears that it did:
Here are some possible final notes for this page:
It’s possible that occasionally someone will link to a defunct page for obscure reasons. These opportunities definitely aren’t worthwhile to pursue, as the flowchart shows.
Here’s an example of a page with many hyperlinks pointing to original statistics and research:
In this instance, the page was an analysis of 1 million top-ranking pages by the author of a study. It won’t be simple to persuade link builders to replace the damaged link with ours until we do the same for our new page.
3. Create a replacement page
It’s time to build an appropriate alternative now that you are aware of the reasons why people connected to the defunct page.
Let’s go over the process in three steps.
a) Create a rough outline
You should make something that is comparable to the dead page even though you shouldn’t reproduce it word for word. This entails creating a piece that serves the same function and discusses related topics.
Using the Wayback Machine, you can get a better idea of what was covered on the dead page.
For instance, the following page provides instructions on how to calculate your net worth in three phases, examples of computations, and advice on how to gradually increase your net worth:
You would want to employ a similar outline if you were going after this broken link opportunity.
Here’s what that might look like:
H1: Net Worth Explained: How to Calculate and Improve It Over Time
H2: What Is Net Worth?
H2: How to Calculate Your Net Worth
H3: Step 1. Do x
H3: Step 2. Do y
H3: Step 3. Do z
H2: Example Net Worth Calculations
H3: Example 1: x
H3: Example 2: y
H3: Example 3: z
H2: How to Track and Improve Your Net Worth
H3: Tip 1: Do x
H3: Tip 2: Do y
H3: Tip 3: Do z
b) Bake in linkable points
Do you still recall the time you spent researching link prospects for in-depth recommendations? So that your outreach perspectives make sense, the moment has come to incorporate them into your material.
In this instance, the fundamental sketch encompassed the majority of these.
Verify the accuracy of everything you include. Include a more recent statistic, for instance, if a deep link refers to an old statistic.
c) Find other ways to improve it
Most of the links pointing to your dead page are probably broad links. In other words, they are individuals who are citing the material obliquely.
Since you don’t know what they loved about the original work, you can’t really adapt your material to them. However, you can always improve overall.
For instance, providing a template would likely enhance our article on determining net worth.
Improving the content allows you to strengthen your value proposition to general linkers by adding a “why”:
Without improvement: you have a dead link > here’s a replacement
With improvement: you have a dead link > here’s a replacement > here’s why it’s a good replacement
Here are a few simple ways to improve content:
Simplify: Make it more accessible and easier to understand
Visualize: Demonstrate concepts with graphics
Templatize: Add a plug-and-play template
Rectify: Fix issues with accuracy
4. Do outreach
When you reach out to people who are linked to the defunct page, you should promote your substitute resource.
This is usually done in one of two ways:
Shotgun outreach. You send the same email to everyone with no personalization.
Sniper outreach. You send unique, personalized emails to everyone.
Both of these strategies have advantages and disadvantages.
Shotgun outreach is purely a math exercise. Although conversion rates will be poor, you’ll still receive some links with sufficient potential. It’s also dangerous. Burning bridges and having your domain blacklisted may happen rapidly.
Sniper outreach requires more time and effort but converts better. A day may easily be spent sending a dozen emails.
Given the measures we’ve taken thus far, we advise using a hybrid strategy.
Here’s how it operates:
You segment prospects and make a customized template for each group rather than sending everyone the same or unique email. For this reason, we took our time locating both general and deep links. You ought to approach them differently.
Pitching deep linkers
Each segment of deep linkers deserves a unique template.
For example, we have three segments for the net worth page:
People referencing advice on growing your net worth
People referencing the definition of net worth
People referencing how to calculate net worth
Both of these strategies have benefits and drawbacks.
A pure numbers game is shotgun outreach. Although conversion rates will be low, some connections will have sufficient chances. And dangerous. Bridges can be easily burned, and your domain can be blocked.
Although it takes more time and effort, sniper outreach converts better. Sending a dozen emails might easily take up the entire day.
We advise a mixed strategy in light of the actions we’ve taken thus far.
The process is as follows:
You separate prospects and design a customized template for each group, as opposed to sending each person a unique or identical email. We took our time locating both general and deep linkages because of this. You should approach them differently when you do.
Pitching general linkers
You can only send these people a generic pitch because it’s unclear why they connected to the defunct page. The same principles that apply to deep linkers should apply here. The value proposition will be general, which is the difference.
The changes you made to the defunct page can be applied to this.
Here is an illustration of our page’s template:
It appears that page is no longer operational.
I don’t know if you’re still editing older posts, but if you are, my guide describes a similar procedure and offers a free template to make life simpler.
I discovered the link on your page at this location:
A few other reasons why I think my guide is better (completely biased, of course):
More details on estimating the value of assets and debts
Extra tips for growing net worth
Flowchart to create a custom growth plan
There’s no rush. I merely considered it might be helpful.
Given that we don’t know why they connected to the original page, this template is the best we can offer for general linkers.
Just more efficient techniques of locating link prospects with a good cause to connect are what link building tactics are. They have a dead link on their website, which is the cause of broken link building. You have a “better” page when using the skyscraper strategy. It takes a different form in various methods.
Without a compelling value proposition, no strategy will be successful. Because of this, we advise employing unique outreach templates for various groups of prospects who connect to the dead page.