Guide

Broken Link Building – A Handy Guide To Acquiring Broken Links Fast, Cheap & Easy

Tom Buckland 25 July 2019

Let me get straight to the point before I even make the introduction – broken link building is one of the cheapest, (relatively) easiest and fastest link building methods. Some agencies would call it a ‘link building hack’, but that really isn’t it – because I genuinely believe that building broken links makes the internet a better place.

Okay, so a quick introduction.

If you run a business website, you probably already have discovered that links don’t come easy, and they NEVER come cheap. You have to hire the right kind of agency to build links, because it’s very, very easy to screw things up and get pushed down the rabbit hole that never lets your content rise above the 20th page in Google.

If you are a link building professional yourself, this is a must-have skill to have at your disposal. You may already know a fair bit about broken links, but finding the right kind of broken links and then making them point to your client’s website is what really matters. And that’s exactly what we’ll discuss in this post.

What Is A Broken Link Or Dead Link? (Broken Link Definition)

Don’t split your hairs – a broken link is EXACTLY what it says it is. A link that is literally broken.

In other words, a link that takes you to nowhere, a non-existent page is a broken link. Most websites out there are full of all sorts of broken links. There are countless reasons as to why broken links exist. Think of expired domains, invalid URL structures, changed URL at the destination, faulty redirects and, something as common/simple as a typo.

In most cases, a broken link leads you to the dreaded 404 message at the destination. Something just like this:

404 Error Example - Error Page Not Found - Ghost Marketing - What Is Broken Link Dead or Link

404 isn’t something that’s inherently bad, unless it’s a result of your negligence. Many websites out there even try to be a little cheeky with it, and that’s absolutely fine.

So, what’s the point? Isn’t this something acceptable? Why should you worry about someone else’s problem?

Hmm, let’s see.

 

So, Broken Links Are Someone Else’s Problem. Why Should I Care?!

First, we need to establish that broken links are indeed a problem – because if they are not, our whole broken link building premise becomes absolutely meaningless.

Ask yourself a couple of questions as a webmaster:

  1. Do you value the User Experience?
  2. Are you willing to make minor tweaks to your pages to make sure that the UX stays on point?
  3. Do you like to see your users leave your website and end up on a dead page?

Most webmasters will says, YES, YES and NO!

Everybody cares about UX – and broken links mess it up. Literally.

I cannot say this loud enough – it’s NEVER worth having an active user bounce, just to end up on a page that doesn’t exist. It’s just ridiculous.

Long story short,  incoming as well as outgoing broken links are bad.  

But then again, it’s someone else’s website. What’s it to me?!

Broken Links Blog - Broken Link Building Service Ghost Marketing

Well, as some wise man once said, one man’s mistake is another man’s opportunity. So, you should care, because this is also about you, your website and your client.

 

Why Broken Link Building Needs To Be Taken Seriously

Building a great link profile is something that’s best left to experienced professionals, especially when you know that a well-heeled, SEO-ready website can fetch you an incredible amount of new leads and direct/indirect business. But as is the case with all digital marketing services, building links can cost you a LOT. (Most agencies will start with a $2,000 link audit, followed by regular, monthly expenses that can run into tens of thousands of dollars)

At Ghost Marketing, we believe in providing ample returns to our clients – something that our great track record of industry-leading ROIs indicates. Check out our link building process to learn more, and get in touch with us to request a free, customised proposal.)

Coming back to the point – each and every link you build helps make you money. At the same time, each and every link you build costs you some, too. So, link building ROI is what it all boils down to, at the end of the day. And this is where a good broken link building agency stands out.

Building broken links usually has only one bottleneck – outreach. And if you can conquer that, there’s no stopping you. That’s why, at Ghost Marketing, we make sure that our content and outreach efforts are perfectly in sync to create fast link turnarounds.

Note:

Broken link building tends to be just a touch less efficient than traditional, highly targeted campaigns like guest posting or cold email outreach. In most cases, you’ll get a success rate of around 6-7%, i.e. you’ll build 6-7 links per 100 broken link outreach emails you send. That’s not too bad – but it’s definitely not GREAT, either (unless handled by experienced pros). The key here is that you can personalise and send outreach emails to a host of webmasters, expecting to get a hundred backlinks in a matter of days. In other words, broken link building may be a bit inefficient, but its scalability makes sure that your efforts don’t go to waste.

In Short – 5 Reasons Why You Need To Take Broken Link Building Seriously

 

  1. It gives faster link turnarounds.
  2. It gives you a way of amping up new content as well as boosting existing pages.
  3. It’s cheaper – and gives you handsome ROIs on every link.
  4. Building links to authority sites becomes a reasonable and accessible prospect.
  5. A good broken link building service can scale such campaigns vertically. 

 

Broken Link Building Guide – Let’s Get Started!

Okay, now that we have established that broken links are indeed extremely important, let’s get to business. Our quick, handy and pretty much exhaustive broken link building guide starts here. So, bookmark this heading if you want to return later (we really want you to). Don’t forget to bookmark our link building blog too – it’s got some really useful, hands-on and practical link building guides.

Broken Link Building Guide - How To build Broken Links - Ghost Marketing - Broken Link Building Steps

I have decided to explain the whole process step by step, for better clarity. This includes the following steps:

  1. Zeroing in on your target websites
  2. Finding broken links on target websites
  3. Creating an outreach strategy
  4. Content creation discussion
  5. Results

 

Example:

This step by step broken link building guide is best understood with an example you can relate to. For now, let’s assume that our client is a handmade jewellery retailer who caters to customers in the US and UK.You can now guess the nature of the business (e-commerce business, focussing on UK/US delivery) and the possible link building directions (links to home page, category pages, products pages and blogs).Remember, broken link building RARELY allows you to build links to highly specific pages. In most cases, you’ll build links to content pieces, and not the home page (except links from resource pages). So, when you build such strategies, you need to make sure that your content efforts are on point.

 

Step 1: Identifying Your Targets

As is the case with most link building tactics, the success of your broken link building campaign will depend upon the direction you take. Therefore, it’s extremely important to identify your targets accurately.

 

What Makes A Good Broken Link Target?

  1. The website is an authority source of information. A good way to judge the authority, of course, is the domain authority metric (you can use Ahrefs/Moz for this, as per your preference).
  2. The website operates in your niche. If it doesn’t operate in your niche, it needs to have at least some contextual relevance to what you do.
  • A secondary criterion could be – the website links to your competitors.
  1. It attracts decent organic traffic. Huge organic traffic is good – but it also means building links will be very difficult. So, focus on moderately popular websites, at first.
  2. The website updates their pages frequently. If they don’t update regularly, it’s very likely that you’re going to get any response from them. You can check their blog/social media for confirmation. Or, more easily, use Google’s advanced search.
  3. The website has loads of pages. The more pages they have, the more broken links there will be.
  4. Moreover, the website, ideally, should NOT sell the same products/services that you sell. They will NEVER respond to your emails.
  5. Important: Make sure the website has low spam score. It also should NOT have an unreasonably high number of outgoing links – that would just be pointless. Other obvious red flags are applicable (for example, PBNs, adult websites, suspicious cTLDs, etc.)

 

How To Find Target Websites For Broken Link Building?

There are two main approaches for this:

  1. Find outgoing broken links for niche-specific websites that you already know are good.
  2. Find dead pages on your competitors’ websites and reverse engineer the backlinks that already point to those pages. This will also give you more entries for approach #1.

 

Part A – Listing Out Niche Specific Link Hosts (Generic Approach)

If you’re looking to build links to your own website, you probably already know the top publications/blogs in your niche. List them all in a sheet (the more, the better).

If you’re, on the other hand, working for a client, you need to talk to them about this. They will tell you the names (in most cases). But that’s not enough – you can and should run a quick search to find out more opportunities.

For our example, I googled “handmade jewellery”, “handmade jewelry US”, “customized jewellery” etc., and filtered the results based on recent entries. This is important – you don’t want to work with sites that update their content once every two months. (Use “Search Tools” that Google provides, and set the “Past Month” filter, as shown below)

how to build broken links - link building guide - Google search tools past month
You can also use blog aggregators like Feedspot to find blogs/authority websites in your niche.

Feedspot Blog Search For Broken Links In Your Niche/Industry - Ghost Marketing Broken Link Building Service
In this case, I shortlisted a few websites that fit the criteria discussed earlier. Please note that this is just for the sake of explanation – I’m sure there are better targets with higher authority out there.  Your target list should have a balance of high authority and medium authority websites.Here’s what my target list looks like: 

broken link building service - how to build broken backlinks

Notice that I have decided to ignore a target with very low authority (no point in prioritising links from them).

You can also find more targets through competition review. Here’s how it works:

  1. Prepare a list of your top 5 competitors.
  2. Check out their link profile (our link audit guide discusses this in detail).
  3. Find out domains that are linking back to them in bulk. These are what I call “fertile” targets – they can yield amazing response and success rates.

As far as our example website goes, one of the major competitors is Wolf And Moon – a leading handcrafted jewellery store the UK. A quick look at the domain overview tells us that this:

(Settings: Historical referring domains, dofollow links, sorted by “links to target” from high to low)

broken link guide ahrefs - Ghost Marketing

You don’t need to look at each and every referring domain – most will represent intentional link building efforts that will not give us too many broken link opportunities.

Just browse through the first 50 names and you’re bound to find 5-10 domains worth investigating. I have zeroed in on a few – Amelia’s Magazine (an independent lifestyle magazine, DR 57), Danielle Copperman (a lifestyle blog, DR 42) and Refinery 29 (a digital magazine aimed at women, DR 87). These will go into our target sheet for further action.

broken link building service Ghost Marketing - Identifying Dead Link Targets

This gives us good additions to our list of targets. Feel free to add this to the spreadsheet and make appropriate notes (the corresponding domain authority, type etc.).

 

Part B – Finding Target Websites Through Your Competitors

This is a more fine-tuned approach and is more likely to produce better results (if you follow the outreach process correctly).

Our aim here is to identify a few top competitors, scan their websites for broken links and then using a link analysis tool like Ahrefs, find links that are already pointing to those broken links.

We will consider another competitor here – Nashelle. Now, let’s scan this domain for broken links using Ahrefs. Here’s what I got:

(Dashboard > Best By Links > 404, sort by the number of referring domains)

Broken Link Building Service - Link Building Guide - Ghost Marketing

As can be seen, there are broken pages that already carry good backlinks. These will give us many entries for our target list. The third broken link (highlighted) looks like a page that either had a section for custom, design-your-own jewellery. Let’s see what sort of backlinks this dead link has:

what is a broken link - broken link finder - Ghost Marketing

Look at the first few backlinks –  all from authority/semi-authority domains. 

A perfect start, I’d say. Now, just to be sure, let’s try to find out what used to be there on this dead page. We already have the link – we’ll just use Archive.org to trace our steps back in time.

broken link definition - wayback machine archive.org broken links

So, this took us to a version of this link in 2016. As you can see, it’s just what we predicted. An guide to building your own custom necklace. This is just what we need because something like this is extremely easy to replicate. Even if our client doesn’t sell such a product, it’s still easy to create a page for time being.

 

Note:

Since we’re talking about an e-commerce business, things are just a touch different here. You’ll mostly get broken links for expired/discontinued products. So, to snatch these links away from dead pages, you’ll either need to have compatible products in your inventory – or create pages that host such products (and maybe show them out of stock).It’s not the most ideal thing to do – but it works.

For non e-commerce businesses, you’ll get broken links that usually correspond to pages that have been moved/trashed without proper redirects. These are easier to manage, because all you need to do is build better, more linkable content and ask the backlink host to give you a link (we’ll talk more about this in the next part of this broken link building guide).

Building a right set of targets is the key to a successful link building campaign. At Ghost Marketing, our broken link building service takes into account every aspect of your requirements to weed out non-useful targets. This has a great impact downstream – higher success rates, faster turnarounds, better links and higher overall ROI on every campaign. To know more, do go through our bespoke link building process. You can also request a free, no-obligation proposal by getting in touch with us.

 

Step 2: Finding Broken Link Building Opportunities For The Targets

At this point, we’ll have a nice list of target domains. As we discussed earlier, make sure you compile them all in a neat spreadsheet.

This will include at least two components:

  1. Targets you have identified manually
  2. Targets you have identified via broken link analysis of your competitors

Alright then. What do we now do with these targets?

The next logical step is to identify broken link building opportunities within these targets. Here’s how:

  1. Use your favourite link analysis tool (I’m using Ahrefs) and analyse the outgoing broken links.
  2. Export and sort these links in another spreadsheet.
  3. Shortlist outgoing broken links that are ‘viable’ for link building.

Let’s see how this works. For our example, let’s choose our top target with the highest DR first up: Jewelry Making Journal.

Here’s what Ahref’s broken outgoing link analysis returns for this domain:

(Dashboard > Outgoing Links > Broken Links, apply dofollow filter)

broken link finder ahrefs - link building agency UK - Ghost Marketing

A quick look and I’ve already found one great opportunity.

As the broken URL, context and anchor text tell us, this used to be a tutorial and template for a simple DIY pillow box.  It’s highly relevant for our handcrafted jewellery niche. 

I can have our content team recreate this page better, easier and more appealing in a matter of hours. Then, it’ll be ready for quick linking.

To make things more exciting, I can also have freelance graphic designers and animators create a short animation/graphic explaining how to use the pillow box template. With no more than $50 invested and no longer than an hour spent, you can make an outreach pitch that’ll be VERY hard to turn down. Expect at least 10 links from mid to high authority domains, in this case. 

But that’s not all. Let’s go a step further and see if this dead link has any other backlinks. These will all be our prospects for link building to the new content we’ll create.

Pro Tip:
Broken links are *somewhat* a sign of neglect from the webmaster. So, when you find a well-linked page is dead, you can be almost sure that the domain has dozens of other broken links as well.

For example, if we scan the domain we just discovered for more backlinks, this is what we get:

how to find broken links using ahrefs - Ghost Marketing Link Building Service

Perfect. Just as I suspected, it already has 10 referring domains (good authority, too) providing 19 backlinks. If the content we create is highly linkable, this one stretch will give us at least 15 of those high quality links. These all can be a part of your link building plan at some stage.

Trust me when I say broken link building pays for itself many times over, in no time!

 

Bonus Method: Using Expired Domains (Advanced)

Advance method. Beginners may skip. 

There’s a roundabout, slightly complicated and tedious way of finding target websites. This requires a lot of manual maneuvering and is time consuming.

There are many websites out there that let you find expired (or about to expire) domains (this one works well). You can find out the names of such domains using keywords that match your niche/industry. These expired domains are always likely to carry good backlinks (that now, obviously, are going to be broken).

For example, since I’m trying to find domains in the jewellery niche, here’s what the result looks like.

Remember to apply the relevant filters and sort the domains based on the number of backlinks and Alexa rating (the other filters are pretty self-explanatory).

expired domains broken link building service - Ghost Marketing

Note:

Remember that expired domains will rarely give you high-quality targets. It’s just that there are some domains out there that may just be equivalent of hitting a link building jackpot. So, it’s best to reserve this strategy when you know that your niche is extremely popular and is guaranteed to yield a ton of expired domains.

 A couple of important points about expired domains: 
  1. You’ll need to check these domains carefully. Most of these are abandoned by their owners for one reason or another. So, don’t go after backlinks pointing to them without due caution/assessment. Keep your eyes open and avoid reaching out to malicious targets.
  2. Since such domains are expired, all their pages are non-existent. Therefore, you’ll need to add some extra Ahrefs filters (corresponding to your keywords) to find pages that are relevant to your website. No point going after branded anchors, for example.

 

Step 3: Outreach

Outreach for broken links is pretty similar to outreach for any other link building campaigns. Just a small change: extra customisation/personalisation will be required. This shouldn’t be too difficult once you get a hang of it – it’s actually very similar to the outreach methods that are widely used for digital PR.

Outreach, as I said before, is the bottleneck for these campaigns. An efficient broken link building service provider will know how to overcome typical problems like low open rates, poor response rates and overall low success rates. Here, at Ghost Marketing, we have on our team specialist outreach experts who handle every campaign in sync with our other teams. To know how our broken link building services can help your website acquire dozens of high quality backlinks, feel free to contact us here to request a free proposal.

Let me demonstrate with an example.

We had identified Jewelry Making Journal as one of our top targets. To reach out to them, we’ll need to know their contact info. Obviously, this shouldn’t take much time. I won’t talk much about outreach techniques here since that’s not our main objective. Just keep in mind a few important points:

  1. Do NOT expect a response if you’re just rehashing generic info. If it’s not personalised enough, the webmaster wouldn’t take a moment before trashing your email.
  2. Make your point clearly – don’t spin a yarn.
  3. Let them know that you’re familiar with what they are doing.
  4. Make sure they know what you’re doing.

A bit like this:

broken link building outreach example - Ghost Marketing - Digital PR outreach
I’m pretty confident that this email will get me a positive response. Even if they don’t say yes right away, I can always fire up my back-up strategies and offer them guest posting and cross-posting offers. It helps that their business doesn’t interfere with my client’s business – and we can help each other grow. It’s all about symbiosis!

 

Note:

The usual outreach rules apply for broken link building as well. If you’re an agency, you’d probably use a tool like Pitchbox to streamline the entire process – that’s a whole different ball game altogether. If you want to know how we – here at Ghost Marketing – have perfected a well-oiled link building machine that relies more on quality than quantity of links, take a moment to check our link building process out. To request a free proposal, please get in touch with us here.

 

Can You Use Google To Find Broken Link Targets?

Yes, you can. In fact, many link building experts rely heavily on this strategy. This one, although, is NOT for beginners/individuals who don’t have access to the right set of tools. This link building tactic also revolves around resource pages.

Since this is a rather industrial approach, I’ll just paint the outline without going into the details.

  1. Use Google’s advanced search operators to find possible resource pages that may have broken outgoing links.
  2. Export these URLs to your scraping software.
  3. Find out ALL the outgoing links that these pages contain.
  4. Sort them all by their respective HTTP codes. We want all the outgoing links with 404.
  5. Export these broken links to Ahrefs’s batch analysis tool and sort them as per your preference. The number of referring domains works best.
  6. Then export these targets to your target sheet and follow the outreach procedure as discussed before.

Here’s an example.  I’ll be manually doing this – but that’s obviously not a scalable way  .

When we get down to this at our agency, we use a bespoke combo of tools and software that get the job done for us. Our experts then quickly go through thousands of possible targets to identify the right opportunities.

 

1. I’ll use the intitle search operator for this. Since we want resource pages, we will use the following command:

 

Google Search Operators Intitle Inurl - Broken Links Finder - Ghost Marketing
 

2. Ignore the obvious ones – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Wiki. Here, I can already notice a great opportunity. This domains has the DR score of 73 – a perfect prospect. You can use Ahref’s Chrome Extension to speed up the process.

 

Resource Pages Link Building - Broken Links - Ahrefs Toolbar
 

3. Now, I’ll quickly scan this particular URL for broken outgoing links. We’ve already seen how to do this. This is what Ahrefs returns:

 

Dead Links Guide For SEO - Ghost Marketing
 

4. Now we can reach out to indiemade.com to request a link from them. You can enhance your outreach efforts by reading the contents of the page thoroughly and seeing how your/your client’s website can fit in.

 

5. Moreover, both these broken links will give us more targets. We can add them all to our target sheet and go through all the steps we have discussed so far. 

 

Building Broken Links, As I Said, Pays Itself Off

Building links requires a great deal of skill, patience, experience and, of course, expertise. A good link building agency will never adopt dubious, underhand or non-scalable broken link building service practices, because they all bleed money.

At Ghost Marketing, our team of link building experts brings on board years’ worth of industry experience, with well-placed media and publications contacts that take all our link building efforts to a level that’s unmatched by other agencies.

Broken link building is a cost-effective and universal link building strategy, ideal for websites across all industry and business sectors. To know more, go through our industry-leading link building process. You can also request a free and customised link building proposal by getting in touch with us here.

About Tom

Hi, I'm Tom,
Founder & Director of Ghost Marketing. I live and breathe link building & digital PR. I hope you enjoy the content. Interested in digital PR? Let's Connect.

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