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  • Broken Link Building: How to Exploit Broken Links for SEO

    Broken Link Building: How to Exploit Broken Links for SEO

    Backlinks 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.

    Scammers can also use them for negative SEO tactics.

    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 serve as a huge white-hat link building opportunity for expanding your SEO efforts through a strategic broken link building campaign.

    Why Links Break

    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 build links no longer work include:

    • A webpage was moved without a redirect being added
    • The webpage was deleted
    • The website is no longer available
    • The website has crashed and needs attention
    • The URL structure of the website has changed

    You’ll know a broken link/dead link when you encounter one. While the hyperlink will look the same, clicking on the broken link will take you to a 404 Page Error or broken page Not Found message. Some websites have even gotten clever with their 404 messages, saying things like:

    • Something’s wrong.
    • Oops! We made a mistake.
    • You’re in the wrong place.
    • Well, this is awkward!

    Pixar 404 Page

    Source: Pixar

    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.

    Link Rot

    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 your broken and dead links 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 post, 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.

    An Effective Broken Link Building Process

    An effective broken link building process

    Implementing a broken link building campaign sounds great in theory, but how do you actually get started? Here’s our step-by-step process for broken link building:

    1. Find Broken Links (The Premium Method)

    We call this the Premium Method, simply because it requires access to the Ahrefs SEO tool, which can be a little pricey for some small SEO budgets. (But if you want to use Ahrefs to test 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 opportunities to be effective, they 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 Checkers and filter for 404 error codes. You can do this by clicking:

    Site explorer > Pages > Best by Links > Filter for HTTP 404 Errors

    Ahrefs Broken Link Checker

    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 check my broken external link be an broken link opportunity for you to come in and replace the broken URL with your own functional URL.

    That’s one broken link building technique for finding broken backlinks you can snipe for your own website.

    Another broken link building 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 broken page for broken links/dead 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 find broken pages, 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.

    Find Broken Links (The Free Method)

    Find Broken Links

    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.

    2. Create Fresh Content

    Find broken links is just the start.

    Remember, you’ll probably swing and miss on 90 to 95 percent of these links & check my 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 building.

    Wayback Machine

    Here’s a step-by-step method of one process:

    • Find the broken link building that you’re hoping to replace and plug the URL into the Wayback Machine. This tool helps you see a web page as it previously appeared at other times. In most cases, you’ll be able to find a screenshot of what the page looked like when it was active.
    • Your objective is to create your own piece of original content to closely mirror or (ideally) improve upon the page that was previously being linked to. Don’t skimp on quality here. You want the content to be fresh, engaging, and relevant – both to the blogger or website owner that you’re pitching, as well as your own audience. (This page will be living on your website, after all.)
    • In most cases, the website for which you’re trying to replace content has better brand recognition, more authority, and other intangible benefits that your business lacks. In order to stand any chance of replacing their link, you have to blow the referring domain away with quality. Don’t just replace a 500-word text-based article with the same format. Create a 2,000-word resource with graphics, visuals, and relevant statistics. You need make your link as attractive as possible.

    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.

    3. Reach Out

    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:

    • Get in contact
    • Point out the broken link building
    • Offer a replacement
    • Get them to accept/follow-through

    It sounds simple in theory, but is much more challenging in practice.

    Getting in contact is often the toughest part of the link building process. 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:

    • Greeting
    • Problem
    • Solution
    • Action Step

    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 broken external links pointing. 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:

    Hey Carol,

    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 dead 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 to 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.

    Tools for Useful Broken Link Outreach

    Finding broken link building is 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: One Piece to the Larger Puzzle

    Broken link building is just one tactic. If you want to be successful with broken link building – and SEO in general – you’ll need to implement a variety of strategies and techniques for reclaiming backlinks. 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 growing your online business?

    Calibrate your mindset, cultivate patience, and the results will come. Combine these with your broader link building strategies and you’re certain to gain a competitive SEO advantage moving forward.

    Are you an SEO agency looking to for help with your client’s link building campaigns?

    Then, look no further than our white label link building service for agency partners.


    Chief Marketing Officer at SEO Company
    In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International. As a technical SEO strategist, Sam leads all paid and organic operations teams for client SEO services, link building services and white label SEO partnerships. He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building. Connect with Sam on Linkedin.
    Samuel Edwards