What is Broken Link Building?
Broken link building–AKA dead link building–involves building backlinks by finding 404 error pages on websites and swapping in working links to working pages.
A site–especially a big site with a lot of links pointing to other domains–will often find that, over time, those are dead links that take a user to 404 pages.
A link builder can identify those pages and, using an analysis tool like Ahrefs (among other tactics), send an outreach email to the websites and offer them functional pages to replace the bad links.
Very often the page in question is a resource page many thousands of words long and full of links.
In the sections below, we are going to walk you through all of the ways you can find broken links yourself–methods we use to target websites, find dead pages and get backlinks.
Why is Broken Link Building such an Effective Tactic?
Broken link building is very often a much better-converting link building strategy for the simple reason that you are actually offering a site something of value.
Typically, link builders reach out to a website, and the message is essentially asking for a favor–i.e., “give me links just because, OK. please?”
When you do broken link building, on the other hand, you aren’t just coming in with an ask; You’re offering something of value.
Not only are you providing the person with a list of broken links on their site (which they should want to address if they are concerned about UX), but you’re essentially doing free work for them. You’re helping them keep their site good quality and in Google’s good graces.
Here’s a good example of a Broken Link Building outreach strategy that could actually get you some positive responses:
The trick is to offer help and then ask for the link. This is how you get positive responses and make broken link building work.
Of course, there is a lot more that goes into developing and executing a broken link building strategy.
Whether you don’t have the time or the expertise to plan and carry out a broken link building campaign, consider reaching out to an experienced link building service that makes this tactic work all the time.
Best Practices for Broken Link Building
Broken link building requires some preliminary research skills and the ability to use your findings in a convincing outreach email. Below are some best practices for putting it all together.
Install Check My Links
Check my links is a free tool for finding broken links.
All you have to do is install the chrome extension.
When you click on the little icon in the right-hand corner when visiting a website, Check My Links automatically scans all the links on the page and will show you which are broken (404 error pages) or have other errors.
The idea is to use this tool as you research sites in your niche and look for broken link opportunities. You can usually find a handful of broken links this way.
If you really want to scale the process, you have to specifically target pages that are more likely to have a lot of broken links on them.
Find Pages With a Ton of Links
When it comes to finding broken links, the best tactic involves finding pages on websites with a lot of external links.
This is simply a numbers game. The more links to other domains on a page, the higher the odds one (or some) are going to be broken.
For instance, the page How to Build Internal Links for SEO on our blog only has 4 external links within the content:
It could have a broken link(s) on it. But it’s not that likely.
This article, on the other hand, has 10.
While that’s not a super high number, it’s still more than double that of the previous one. It’s more likely this page will have broken links.
The logic applies to pretty much any two pages you could care to compare.
The catch is, of course, how to find those link-heavy pages. It’s actually pretty easy, just search Google.
You use Google to uncover resource pages (i.e., pages that have synthesized a lot of useful information on a topic).
Here is an example of this strategy:
The Pacific Crest Trail is a massive through-hike that can take months and the complete list of all the stuff you might need to take without is huge.
That, of course, means it’s bound to be very link heavy.
A good way to find resource pages in Google is to use the following keyword string example:
- “Keyword” + inurl:resources
- “Keyword” + intitle:links
- “Keyword” + “helpful resources”
- “Keyword” + “useful resources”
Here is an example of a search:
This is the kind of page you can find using this method:
Once you’ve found a piece of content like this, you can then run check my links or, if you don’t like that method, you can put the URL into a tool like Broken Link Checker.
It’s not going to work every time, but if you are persistent, you are bound to find neglected pages that are hosting at least one dead link and directing users to broken pages.
Find All the Websites Linking to Broken Links
Once you’ve found your broken link, what do you do?
The obvious answer is to reach out to the sites, let them know they are linking to broken pages, and offer your link(s)as a replacement.
The more entrepreneurial answer is to not only contact the site but to find everyone else using that broken link and linking to the broken page. Reach out to them as well.
To do that, you will need an SEO tool like Ahrefs. Unfortunately, the broken backlinks checker is not available on the basic plan:
Once you have your list of URLs pointing to the dead link, you don’t even need to check each URL to see whether they are pointing to a 404 page. You already know.
Reach out to the webmasters for these sites en masse and you could end up with a lot of great backlinks.
The Wikipedia “Dead Link Approach”
Another really great place to discover 404 pages and broken link building opportunities is Wikipedia.
And these aren’t just any old 404 pages. These tend to be pages that a lot of people link to because if something is mentioned on Wikipedia, chances are a lot of people are linking to it.
This is how it works.
The first step is to perform a Google search with the following string: site:wikipedia.org “keyword” intext:”dead link”
Tip: Make sure you’re using a broad keyword in the search string (e.g., instead of something like “SEO” search for “marketing.”). SEO is a facet of marketing.
The search results will then populate with Wikipedia pages that contain at least one broken link.
Next, visit the Wikpedia page in question and navigate down to the reference section:
It’s not a good idea to try and replace the link on the Wikipedia page with your link because Wikipedia links are nofollow links that don’t pass on much (if any) SEO value.
What’s more, Wikipedia editors won’t like it, and unless your link is just that good, it will probably be removed in short order.
The better thing to do is to enter the link into a backlink analysis tool like Ahrefs or Semrush and find the other websites that are linking to that dead page.
(see screenshot of Ahrefs broken link tool above)
Offer Someone a Highly Similar Link
This is the first way to approach broken link building.
The first way is to find a broken link on someone’s website and notify them that it exists. This allows you to say, “here are some issues I’ve identified with your site, I can offer a free and easy fix.”
This tends to work much better than simply asking someone you don’t know and who most likely isn’t going to feel like they owe you anything for a favor.
Because of this, broken link building can be a great outreach method as long as you go about it the right way.
It’s essentially the approach outlined previously. We’ve gotten our clients linked to by some great domains using this method.
Going the extra mile
If, however, you want to dramatically increase your conversion rate, you should always try to replace the broken link.
This just eliminates one extra step for the website owner and makes it that much more of a no-brainer for them to include our link.
It makes sense.
They have a broken link on their page, and the link is clearly there for a reason.
But it has stopped working, and if they are concerned about user experience, they should want to get rid of broken links.
Here you come with fresh, completely live links that they can easily slot in and replace their broken links: dead simple. That’s how you do broken link building.
This is what we mean:
This approach can really work wonders, especially if you can add a sentence on why the link would not only be an easy replacement, but a good one too–perhaps your resource pages are simply better than the competition.
Telling someone why they should give you a backlink makes it more likely that you will get linked to.
Create the replacement content
If you really want to go above and beyond and do superstar broken link building, in addition to identifying broken links for a website, you can create the replacement content for them.
For instance, the below is a list of broken links found on the page: https://thetrek.co/how-to-thru-hike-appalachian-trail-101-guide/
Using the “recreate” method above (assuming I was a website in a related niche with related content), I would take one of the links that I think I could easily replace:
Enter it into Archive.org and see what it used to look like:
And recreate it (NOT simply copy and paste it) adding in helpful new/updated content that the site owner will find relevant.
You might also look at their site to see what kind of blog post would work well with their existing content and identify internal linking opportunities for them.
Use their site explorer to look for related content using related keywords. You might also uncover another resource page in the process that could potentially be mined for broken links.
The bottom line is to create content that is going to be helpful.
Be Outrageously Helpful With Your Outreach
Letting someone know about a broken link is fine, and it is definitely helpful, but if you want to really wow someone with your outreach, why not point out all of a page’s broken links instead.
Here’s what it looks like in action:
In our experience, this very often impresses someone so much that they are much more likely to use your link.
Yes, this involves more effort than just telling someone you’ve found a broken link and offering yours as a replacement.
But it pays off over time because of the increased conversion rate.
If the end result is a link from a high-quality site that you perhaps otherwise would not have gotten, showing them a list of broken links and broken pages is a good investment of your time.
Skip the Dead Sites: They’re bad prospects
Every so often, in the process of finding broken links, you find a broken link on a site that has been completely abandoned.
There isn’t really any point sending outreach to these websites because if they aren’t even interested in keeping their site current, why would they care about a few broken links?
When you find a site that looks like it hasn’t been touched for a long time, it’s probably best to just keep it moving. You likely aren’t getting a link from a site like that.
Spotting the dead sites and avoiding time wasting
There are a few different ways to tell when a domain is no longer worth reaching out to.
You can often tell that a site has stopped caring when the copyright is years out of date.
Another good way to tell when a site is no longer worth reaching out to is if their content is really old.
You can quickly check out a website’s blog to see when the last time they published a blog post was. If it was years ago, there’s a good chance they don’t care about the site that much any more.
They’re still paying for the domain, but they aren’t even doing basic stuff like changing the date at the bottom of the homepage.
Don’t be pushy when doing broken link building
Don’t be pushy when doing any of your outreach.
Webmasters and site owners get hassled all the time–often with requests to include very low quality resources–and are quick to ignore and block a link builder if they are being pushy.
The much better tactic is to gently nudge your prospects without asking (and certainly without begging) for a link.
Here’s an example of this strategy:
You’ve notified them of a broken page they are linking to.
If they get back to you and thank you but don’t reward you with the link, don’t feel discouraged, someone out there will appreciate the effort enough to help you out.
If your content is good enough, they will be helping themselves out as well. They’ll have gotten rid of dead pages (and improved their user experience) and will have a superior piece of content to link to.
Find the Right Contact
Exploiting broken link building opportunities is all about finding the right contact.
One of our main takeaways as an agency from sending out so many thousands of outreach emails is that they need to reach the right person.
If you aren’t reaching out to webmasters or prospects who actually makes content decisions, there is a very high chance your email is going straight to the trash (or spam).
The right person is always whoever is in charge of maintaining a page.
Determining who that is
If you want that link, then you need to know who the contact is–otherwise, you’re likely to be ignored.
Depending on the size of the company/website you’re dealing with, it’s usually quite easy to identify the correct person.
If it’s a DIY blog that is clearly being run by one person or a husband and wife team, then just using the site’s contact form is most likely going to be fine.
If you’re dealing with a blog that has over 100 authors or a big website with dozens of departments and decision makers, then you will need to poke around to find the right prospects.
The staff or “team” page is usually your best bet here.
The person in charge will normally have a title like “editor,” webmaster” or “blog manager.” This is the person that is going to be in charge of fixing broken links.
Yes, this involves more work than just firing out an email to the first “[email protected]” email, but you will increase your success rate if you go that extra mile.
To find broken links is an involved but worthwhile process
Broken link building opportunities are there for the taking but can be tough to exploit.
First, you have to find broken links. Then you have to do the outreach, letting the website owner know that there is a dead link (or multiple) taking their visitors to a broken page.
To really up your game, you should also consider notifying your prospects of as many of the dead links on their resources pages as you can.
Next, you need to already have the replacement resource content or blog post ready to be used as a replacement on these websites, and it needs to be quality.
If you are even more gung-ho about getting those backlinks, you might want to create the replacement content from scratch.
You’re going to need a tool like Ahrefs, in addition to Google, to make the process as efficient as possible.
Targeting Broken Pages is a Good Tactic
Broken link building, done right, is one of the best white hat link building tactics out there. Targeting broken links and notifying webmasters of broken pages is a great way to add value and get a link.
The catch is that to actually build relevant links at scale and make it worth your while, you have to create quality content.
Because the process is so involved, a lot of websites prefer to outsource broken link building to experienced link building agencies.
You can get in touch with dofollow.io any time to find out more about our transparent, performance-based, contract-free pricing.
Why Trust Us On SEO
Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.
Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.
While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.