Links break on the internet all the time.
For any number of reasons, a broken link will typically direct the user to a 404 error page that says something to the effect of, “Oops! We can’t seem to find the page you were looking for!”
Internally, broken links can have a negative impact on your site visitors’ collective experience. If you have broken links on your website, they need to be cleaned up, replaced, and/or revitalized.
But broken links can also occur offsite. And the right type of broken links can actually become huge white-hat link building opportunity for expanding your SEO efforts through strategic link building.
By definition, a broken link – or a dead link, as some may call it – is a hyperlink on an internet web page that no longer works or functions as intended.
Some of the reasons why links no longer work include:
You’ll know a broken link when you encounter one. While the hyperlink will look the same, clicking on the link will take you to a 404 Page Error or Page Not Found message. Some websites have even gotten clever with their 404 messages, saying things like:
But as much as websites might make fun of their broken URLs, they can actually be quite problematic.
Link rot – which is the tendency for links to eventually break down – is a significant issue in the industry. According to one analysis, you can expect to lose roughly 25 percent of all links every seven years.
Search engines see links as votes of confidence. They speak volumes about a website’s quality and the value it provides to visitors. Because of this, it’s considered a good practice to clean up broken links and to ensure all URLs are functional and intact.
For bloggers and businesses with hundreds or thousands of website pages, this isn’t as easy as it seems. Trying to track down and replace broken links in articles, blog posts, and web resources requires a lot of time and manual effort.
Yet, it’s becoming increasingly important.
Broken links can cause a website to lose visitors and, ultimately, paying customers. They frustrate the end user, create unnecessary friction, and negatively impact conversion rates.
A visitor might excuse one broken link every now and then, but a string of broken links erodes trust in the brand and turns people away. It can also damage search rankings and put a squeeze on organic inbound traffic.
Broken link building sounds great in theory, but how do you actually get started? Here’s our step-by-step process for broken link building:
We call this the Premium Method, simply because it requires access to the Ahrefs SEO tool, which can be a little pricey for some budgets. (But if you want to test out the waters, they’re currently offering a seven-day trial for $7.)
You can’t do anything without an arsenal of broken links to work with. And unlike most areas of marketing and business, quantity is more important than quality.
In order for broken link building to be effective, it must be scaled. And in order for it to be scaled, you have to pursue a ton of different leads.
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll get roughly 5 to 10 links for every 100 emails you send. That means you have to find somewhere between 10 and 20 broken links just to capitalize on one!
This means you’ll need to find hundreds – potentially thousands – of broken links that are somewhat relevant to your website, industry, or subject matter. There are a few tools that can help with this.
Ahrefs’ Broken Link Checker is definitely considered one of the better options out there. Not only does it have a powerful engine inside of it – more than 2 trillion external backlinks in the database – but it’s also very intuitive.
Start by making a list of the top competing websites in your niche. If you run a content marketing blog for small businesses, competing sites may include Convince and Convert, TopRank Blog, Copyblogger, etc.
Armed with a list of 5 to 10 competing websites, you’ll want to enter them into the Broken Link Checker and filter for 404 error codes. You can do this by clicking:
Site explorer > Pages > Best by Links > Filter for HTTP 404 Errors
This will give you a snapshot overview of every broken link on the website and how many referring domains each has. This latter number tells you how many other websites are linking to the broken page. Each one of these links could be an opportunity for you to come in and replace the broken URL with your own functional URL.
That’s one technique for finding broken links.
Another technique involves looking for relevant expired domains that have backlinks. You can do this by using a platform like ExpiredDomains.net and running a search related to your niche or target keywords. This will give you a massive list of domains that you can filter by backlink volume.
The next step is to copy these domains to your clipboard and paste them into the Ahrefs’ Batch Analysis tool.
Bam! You have tons of expired domains with broken backlinks. From here, you simply have to filter out the junk to find any valuable opportunities.
Another favorite tool is the Check My Links Chrome extension.
This plugin works in the background and allows you to quickly check any page for broken links. It puts a little checkmark icon next to your address bar and runs automatically as you browse the web. If a link is broken on the page, it’ll highlight it in red for you.
You probably aren’t going to run your entire broken link building strategy through this tool, but it’s nice to have on hand. It’ll help you identify possible links, even when you aren’t actively searching for them.
The Free Method works much like the Premium Method does – but without the expensive Ahrefs Site Explorer tool. Instead, you can use one of a handful of free Chrome plugins – like Check My Links.
Using the same spreadsheet of domain targets that you created in the other method, head over to the first website on your list. Now manually dig into their blog archives and start reviewing individual posts. As you click on different posts and pages, any invalid or dead links will show up in red.
Much like the previous strategy, paste these links into the Wayback Machine, and review what the content used to look like. Recreate the content in your own words, pitch the author, rinse, and repeat.
Finding broken links is just the start.
Remember, you’ll probably swing and miss on 90 to 95 percent of these links. However, your goal is to connect on as many of them as possible. You do this by establishing a link – or content – that replaces the broken link.
Here’s a step-by-step method of one process:
If content creation isn’t your strong suit, hire a professional copywriter to do the heavy lifting for you. The worst thing that can happen is that you end up with a piece of quality content on your website. Even if the intended target doesn’t accept your offer, you’ll likely acquire backlinks from other sites.
The final step of this three-stage process is to reach out to the individuals who control the pages that refer people to broken backlinks. Your mission is four-fold:
It sounds simple in theory, but is much more challenging in practice.
Getting in contact is often the toughest part. Finding the right contact information can be challenging. You’ll often get generic or inaccurate email addresses, which means all your effort is for naught.
The best places to look for contact information include the About Us page, the footer, the contact page, blog bylines, and/or social media profiles of company members.
Once you’re confident that you’ve found a valid/active email address for the appropriate party, you’re ready to send a message. This message should follow a pretty simple progression:
The goal is to be transparent and succinct without coming across as being rude or condescending. You want to let the recipient know that you care about their website/readership and have a mutually beneficial solution that’s easy and takes no time to implement.
Make it sound like you’re giving them a gift!
It’s also important that you get straight to the point. A recipient is going to read the first few words and then scan the rest. If you don’t get your message across immediately, they’ll drag your email to the trash folder.
Here’s one sample template you can use:
My name is Phillip and I run a popular home improvement blog called “My House is Awesome.”
When I was browsing your website the other day – which has become a regular habit of mine – I happened to notice that your blog post titled “The 17 Benefits of a Clean Kitchen” links to a page on replacing refrigerator water filters that’s no longer active.
I actually have a super informative post on my blog about this very topic – you can see it here.
I think your readers would find it helpful. (It may also improve the SEO of your post!)
Would you be willing to swap out the broken URL with this one?
Let me know your thoughts!
All the best,
Don’t just copy and paste this template. If everyone starts using the same template, then it loses its originality factor. Take the time to write up three to five of your own templates that you can use interchangeably in your broken link building outreach. Then all you have to do is personalize the underlined parts with each message and you’re ready to go.
Despite how much time and effort you’ve put into finding these links, creating content, gathering contact information, and reaching out, you’re only going to hear back from a small percentage of people.
Don’t lose hope.
Stick out the process and wait.
You’ll eventually hear back from some of your targets and could pick up some pretty authoritative backlinks.
If you send out hundreds of requests over a period of multiple weeks and don’t get any positive responses, then feel free to tweak your approach. Use common sense – but don’t get too hung up on any one link. Keep the big picture in mind.
Finding broken links is the dirty work. It requires hours of time mining pages, reviewing content, and crafting fresh content. But for this time and effort to yield benefits, you have to be effective with your link building outreach.
The easiest option is to use a tool like Ninja Outreach, which automatically mines contact information from the websites you input. This includes names and email addresses. You can then send bulk emails that are personalized to the recipient. The tool even lets you input your own templates, which you can use for different types of contact.
The other option is more time-intensive but doesn’t require a subscription fee. You can simply use your Gmail account and a tool like FindThatLead. (Or you can manually search for contact information on your own.)
Broken link building is just one tactic. If you want to be successful with link building – and SEO in general – you’ll need to implement a variety of strategies and techniques. You’ll also need to be prepared to pivot and evolve over time.
Link building isn’t static. It’s fluid and adaptable. The more you perfect the underlying principles, the longer you’ll be able to rely on this method to generate backlinks and strengthen your underlying SEO.
It’s your move.
Are you ready to get started?
Calibrate your mindset, cultivate patience, and the results will come. Combine these with your larger link building strategies and you’re certain to gain a competitive SEO advantage moving forward.