The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Broken link building is one of those link building tactics that is difficult to execute, as it’s time-consuming and the results can often be disappointing.
If you ask link building experts about their experience with this strategy, their responses will vary. While some say that it’s a waste of time, others insist that it still works for them.
This leads to comments such as these on public forums:
Truth is, a broken link building campaign will be effective and get you great results if you approach it the right way. Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting time and resources.
In this post, I’ll show you the exact process you can use to get results with broken link building, including:
How to find resource pages at scale
How to get broken link building opportunities from resource pages
How to analyze your competitors’ link profiles for broken links
Best practices that help you succeed with broken link building
What is broken link building?
Broken link building is the process of finding broken or dead outbound links on another website, informing the website owners/managers about them, and recommending a similar article you’ve written as a replacement for that broken link.
For instance, in this blog post on Mention about building an email list, I found a link to Neil Patel’s blog:
When I clicked on the link, I was redirected to this 404 page:
As you can see, the page no longer exists, but a reputable publication still links to it.
In this instance, this was a case study that was published on the blog about how their team increased Tech Crunch’s organic traffic by 30% within 60 days.
If you’re a marketing agency and have a similar case study you’ve published recently, you can reach out to websites still linking to this post and offer yours as a replacement. That way, you help them fix an issue on their website and get a backlink in return.
Broken link building is effective because it’s focused on adding value and reciprocity. You’re not just asking the other person to link to you, rather you’re giving them value upfront and even suggesting how they can make the user experience on their website better.
Even if they decide not to link to you, they’ll appreciate the help identifying broken links they may have missed.
Take this email I got recently as an example:
As you can see, they came across a post on my blog about conversational marketing and found a broken link in it. They reached out to inform me about it and suggested one of their articles as a replacement.
If I decide to link to them, it’s a win-win for both parties. From my end, I’m able to fix the broken link, which helps with a better user experience, and they’ve successfully secured a backlink.
How to find broken link opportunities at scale
Your ability to find broken link opportunities at scale will determine whether you’ll succeed with this strategy. The reason is simple: Broken link building is a numbers game. The more opportunities you can find, the higher your chances of getting backlinks in return.
1. Scraping resource pages
A resource page is usually a static page on a website that curates different resources on specific topics with links to the original sources.
Here’s a good example from Learning SEO, where Aleyda Solis curated the top resources and guides about SEO:
As you can see, she’s linking to other relevant articles about keyword research from this section of the resource page.
How exactly do you discover resource pages at scale?
To discover resource pages, you can make use of Google search operators. These help you uncover lots of resource page opportunities faster by extending the capabilities of a regular Google search. For reference, here’s a comprehensive list of 67 Google search operators.
Let’s use the intitle operator as an example. By typing “broken link building intitle:resources” into the search bar, the SERP shows pages that have “resources” in their title and are related to broken link building.
Here’s what that looks like:
How can you find broken link building opportunities from these resource pages?
Let’s assume that you want to explore the broken link opportunities from the Citation Labs broken link building resource page.
All you need to do is open the page and start checking the links one after the other. Once you identify any broken link, you can note it down. Using that strategy definitely works, but it takes time.
With Link Miner, I was able to spot these three opportunities on the page above:
When I clicked on one of those red links shown above, here’s what I found:
If you have a page that’s a match or similar in topic, you can reach out to Citation Labs, inform them about the broken link, and suggest your page as a replacement.
Here’s where it gets more interesting.
If there are other websites linking to that broken link page, you can reach out to them using the same process above. All you need to do is use any of the SEO tools such as Moz, SEMrush, Ahrefs, etc., to identify other websites linking to the page.
When I checked one of the broken links in the resource page on Moz, here’s what I found:
As you can see, there are about 15 other websites linking to this broken link. I’ve now unlocked 15 more opportunities from one broken link alone.
2. Competitor link profile analysis
Using SEO tools, you can easily analyze a competitor’s link profile to identify the broken links they have. Once you do, you can create a similar page, then reach out to all the websites linking to the broken page to notify them about the broken link, and ask them to link to you instead.
This is what the process looks like on Moz: Link research > Top pages > Enter root domain or specific URL > Change status code to “4xx – broken”.
For example, if you’re a prospecting tool, one of your competitors is Ontolo.
Using the process above on Moz, you can easily identify some of the broken links on the website:
As you can see, one of the broken links has more than 100 websites still linking to it. You can identify these links by clicking on “View Links”. Once done, you can use Wayback Machine to find out exactly what the page looked like in the past, and then recreate it.
Using the Wayback machine, I discovered one of the broken links above was a free tool to check duplicate URLs in a list.
So, let’s say this is your niche and you want to take advantage of the links to this dead page. All you need to do is recreate a similar tool, and follow the process outlined above.
Best practices to help you succeed with broken link building
Reach out to the right person
If you contact the wrong person, getting a response will be difficult. For a broken link building campaign, you want to reach out to someone who’s in charge of inbound marketing or manages the content publishing process in a company.
Reaching out to someone in a more senior role such as VP Marketing, Director of Marketing, Head of Content, etc., in a large company almost guarantees that you won’t get a response.
To identify the right person to contact, you can check the company’s About Us or team page on their website. Alternatively, you can check the company’s LinkedIn page.
When sending a cold email, make sure you comply with the ethical requirements of the CAN-SPAM Act. This means that your cold emails:
Shouldn’t use a misleading subject line
Should have an accurate sender information
Should include your company’s physical address
Should make it easy for recipients to opt-out from receiving your emails
Send a great outreach email
Many outreach emails get marked as spam. So, sending an amazing, personalized outreach email that adds value for the recipient will make you stand out instantly and will put you in a better position to land that broken link.
To make your emails stand, you should:
Use a clear and click worthy subject line.
Address the recipient by their first name.
Mention something unique which you found about them on social media or elsewhere .
Compliment them if possible, but make sure it doesn’t sound generic.
Keep your outreach emails short and straight to the point.
Use the inverted pyramid style of writing. Begin your email with the most important points.
Be explicit about what you want.
Here’s an example email template you can use to acquire broken links from resource pages:
Subject line: Found this broken link on [website name]
Hey [First Name],
Just found out that the link on your website to [Mention website name with 404 page] doesn’t work anymore:
[insert URL of the broken link]
Here’s a screenshot of the page: [Insert link to a screenshot]
Came across this while going through some of the links you mentioned on [topic of their resource page]:
[insert URL of their resources page]
So, I recently created a comprehensive guide on [mention your website] that will be a perfect replacement for the 404 page. [Include additional comment on why your content deserves to make it on their list of resources].
[insert URL to your page]
I believe that your visitors will find it useful.
Either way, keep up the amazing job you’re doing curating the best resources on the internet about [topic of their resource page].
Let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with.
Thanks, [First Name]!
Offer similar content as a replacement
The mistake most people make with broken link building campaigns is suggesting content that isn’t a good replacement for the dead page. If you do this, most people won’t bother responding to your email outreach, and even if they do respond, they most likely won’t link to you.
Before you begin that broken link campaign, make sure you find out what content was existing on the dead page. If you have something similar, you can send it to them as a replacement. Else, you should consider creating an amazing piece of content from scratch.
That way, you’re adding more value upfront, and stand a better chance of getting more website owners to link to you.
To figure out the exact content to recreate, you can use the Wayback machine.
All you need to do is enter the URL of the 404 page on the search bar in the tool, and click on “Browse History”:
Once you do, it’ll show you exactly what was existing on the dead page previously.
For example, this screenshot below is a 404 page on Drift’s website.
I found the broken link from this article.
To know what was existing on this page, I searched for its previous history using the Wayback machine and this is what I discovered:
As you can see, the post is an in-depth guide on “Demand Generation” covering the following sub-topics:
What is demand generation?
Why is demand generation important?
Who’s responsible for demand generation?
How to do demand generation
Implement strategic demand generation tactics
Demand generation vs. Lead generation
Demand generation metrics: how to measure your efforts
Demand gen benchmarking: how are companies like yours generating demand?
Demand generation tools & technologies
To recreate this page, you’ll need to write an in-depth piece of content on demand generation covering these sub-topics and more. That way, the website(s) linking to the broken link will be happy to link to yours instead. This is because you’ve provided a replacement that’ll add value to their audience.
In contrast, if you reach out to these websites and suggest your service page as a replacement for the broken link, they’d most likely not link to it.
Send follow-up emails
Don’t send one email and call it a day. Rather, you should have a follow-up sequence (think two to four emails) in place to remind the people you’ve reached out to previously about your email, and why a broken link on their page isn’t great for user experience.
Doing this helps you land more links. This is because the person you reached out to has a lot going on in their life, and might have skipped responding to your initial email. By following up with them, you’ll be top of mind, and if your pitch is a good fit, they’ll be more likely to respond to you.
It’s rare to find a website without a broken link. The reason is simple: most website owners and blog managers link to external content from their pages and don’t really monitor the content they linked to months and years ago.
In some cases, these pieces of content no longer exist online because they were created for a short-term purpose, or perhaps are no longer relevant.
This is a goldmine you can tap into as a marketer. By finding these broken link opportunities the right way, you can build relevant links for your website and pages to help you rank higher in the SERPs.