The more ways you can generate quality inbound links to your site, the better. Google has raised the bar and we all need to get the most from the link building work we do. ‘Broken Link Building’ is a white-hat technique that can really be done at scale. Yet it is a technique that is misunderstood and therefore many SEOs are not getting the results they could.
In this article I want to explain where many people go wrong in broken link building and outline a method that is likely to greatly improve results.
Broken Link Building as it is understood by many SEOs is a simple process. There are three steps:
- Step 1: Find quality resource or links pages
- Step 2: Check each page for broken links
- Step 3: When you find a broken link, tell the webmaster and suggest a resource of your own to replace it.
Let’s work through this process step by step, and then look at how it can be radically improved.
Step 1: Find links or resources pages in your industry - these are sites that list a long list of resources. Suppose we were promoting a website on organic foods and had designed a content marketing campaign around a guide on the nutritional benefits of organic food.
In our campaign, we’d want to get links from resources lists - lots of them - like this one published by nutrition consultant, Nicole Meadow.
You can easily find such resources by doing a clever search on Google - like [nutrition inurl:links].
This search has returned over 500,000 results - of which you can see up to 1000 in Google results.
You can do the same type of search for your own sites. Start the search phrase with your keyword followed by inurl:links.
This tells Google to return pages that are relevant to your keyword, and have the word ‘links’ in the URL.
So if you sold mountain bikes, you’d do this search:
mountain bikes inurl:links
Which would give you these results (with one of the resources pages inserted):
The links and resources pages such searches uncover can be extremely popular and attract a lot of links.
But sometimes, the links on the page can be broken - a reader clicks on one of the resources and gets a 404 page not found message. That’s bad news for the reader because they can’t find the resource that they’re interested in.
And it’s also bad news for the publisher because their readers are disappointed and therefore think less of the site.
So we’d be doing the webmaster a favor if we found such broken links and told them about it - and because we’ve done them a favor, they’ll be keener to give us a link in return.
Step 2: Next, we’ve got to find which links on the page are broken. Go to any of the resource pages and look for broken links by using a free link checker like this one Link Checker. We ran the check on the NutritionWise page and sure enough, we found a broken link pointing to a site called www.mypyramid.gov - the Link Checker highlights it on the page:
Step 3: Now that we’ve found a broken link, we can write to the publisher, tell them about the broken link on the page and hope that they’ll be grateful enough to list our site instead.
That’s it - a very simple process.
The bad news about this simple process
You’ll find many articles on the web telling you this is the way to do broken link building - and it does work - sometimes the webmaster will pay attention to your email, fix the link and give you a link as well.
But the bad news is that it takes so much time - and you’ve got to suggest a pretty good piece of content to get the site to correct the mistake and link to you as a reward for your good work.
So after trying to do it this way, many SEOs realise how much time it takes and that the relatively meagre rewards do not justify the effort. They decide that broken link building is not for them.
But this is not the way to do broken link building at scale.
The method sounds reasonable but a fantastic opportunity was missed at Step 3 and this is where most SEOs get it wrong.
How broken link building can be done at scale
So where was the missed opportunity?
What this process fails to recognize is the full potential of finding a resource like MyPyramid.gov.
Nicole Meadow linked to MyPyramid.gov because she thought it was a quality resource. She thought that visitors to her own site would find it useful and she’d get some kudos for pointing it out. That is why people create links and resources pages - to share great stuff.
So if Nicole thought MyPyramid.gov was a quality resource, then lots of other people would think so too - and link to it to share with their readers. And every link from those sites to MyPyramid.gov will also be broken. So if we collect all the domains pointing to MyPyramid.gov, we have multiple broken link building opportunities.
So how many domains link to MyPyramid.gov? Here’s an analysis of MyPyramid.gov using MajesticSEO.com - it shows that there are over 56,000 domains that link to the site - and each of these links will be broken! What a treasure trove of broken link building opportunities.
This means that when you find a broken link on a resource page, your first step should not be to rush off and send an email to the webmaster. Your first step should be to find other domains that link to the same broken resource.
So when working at scale the broken link building process becomes:
Step 1: Find multiple resource pages in your industry. Each of these will list multiple quality resources - a percentage of which will be broken (on average 10%). The more resource pages you find, the more broken link opportunities you will uncover.
Step 2: Scrape all the links from these resource pages and check their status to find broken links. The majority of these broken links will point to valuable resources that have moved or no longer exist.
Step 3: For each resource that has moved or no longer exists, do a link analysis to find other pages that link to the same broken resource. Concentrate your efforts on those that have around 100 linking domains or more.
Step 4: Create a customizable email pitch template for each broken resource and send a pitch to each linking domain.
This process dramatically increases the volume of broken links that you find for just a little extra effort. Follow these steps and you’re in a position to do broke link building at scale.
The importance of keywords in broken link building research
Fundamental to broken link building at scale is the need to find as many prospects as possible. To do that you’ve got to conduct multiple searches.
For example, we could do searches such as:
- [nutrition inurl:resources] or
- [nutrition inurl:links] or
- [nutrition inurl:websites] or
- [nutrition inurl:”recommended resources” and so on.
And the same, say on food health:
- [“food health” inurl:resources] or
- [“food health” inurl:links] or
- [“food health” inurl:websites] or
- [“food health” inurl:”recommended resources” and so on.
And organic food:
- [“organic food” inurl:resources] or
- [“organic food” inurl:links] or
- [“organic food” inurl:websites] or
- [“organic food” inurl:”recommended resources” and so on.
All of these searches will produce relevant resources pages.
The choice of keywords in these searches is important.
One common mistake is to use the keywords you are trying to optimize for to find resource pages. Say we were optimizing for the phrase “nutritional benefits of organic food” and used that in the search for resources. We’d not get many results:
We’d only find two resource pages.
Sites that are interested in nutrition per se, are likely to have some interest in the nutritional benefits of organic food.
And when we just use the word ‘nutrition in our search string, we find many more results:
Improving your creativity with Wordtracker’s Free Scout
When you’re buried deep in SEO, your optimization targets are sure to dominate your thinking. So you need some help in stretching your creativity.
One exercise I’ve been using for years is to take a few articles from top sites like the NYTimes.com or the BBC and then analyse them for phrases that I might not immediately spring to mind.
Now, there a new free Wordtracker tool to help you. It’s called Scout and it picks out the phrases on a page. Apply it to a quality articles and you’re sure to get some great ideas:
Repeat this process several times and the number of relevant concepts you gather will definitely expand.
Broken link building is one of the few white-hat link building techniques that can be done at scale. But the simple process most people use will not give you sufficient volume. However, concentrate on finding popular resources that are no longer live - and have many domains pointing to them - and you will find a wealth of opportunity.
Broken Link Building can be a fantastic source of quality, white-hat links. It's a strategy that fits easily into any campaign.