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Case Study | Feb 26
Belynda Cianci on February 18, 2021 • 29 minute read
As marketers and SEO specialists, we’re always looking for ways to keep the link juice flowing. That being said, in the increasingly noisy world of content, getting noticed is becoming more difficult. Getting backlinked is even more challenging.
What’s a marketer to do?
While there are many ways to increase your rank and your traffic, we suggest taking a new spin on an old adage: “If it IS broken, DO fix it.”
And by that, we mean – fix those broken backlinks!
Implementing a broken backlink process, while it does take some time and commitment, can be a beneficial long-term strategy.
If you’re not familiar with this traffic-building, rank-improving SEO strategy, here’s a quick overview:
Broken links or dead links are links on a website that are no longer available or are inactive. When you try to access a webpage/link that no longer exists, you will typically receive an error message, such as 404 page not found, bad URL, bad host, timeout, reset, and so on.
A broken link can be caused by the following:
Broken backlink building (BLB) is a strategy by which you do one of the following:
Each side of this strategy is aimed at improving your site authority through high-quality inbound links.
Both types of link-building have a lot of value to offer in terms of traffic, but the process of doing so requires time and attention; depending on your niche and content, your mileage and conversion rate may vary.
Broken Backlink checking is a time-consuming process, but there are great tools out there to make the process faster.
Levi Olmstead of LeviOlmstead.com likes Ahrefs’ Broken Link Building Tool. “Instead of running pages or sites through an SEO tool to find 404s, you can use Ahrefs’ broken link building feature to search the entire web for keywords. This helps find content you’ve already produced that has broken link building potential.”
Another tool our experts liked was a Google Chrome plugin called “Check My Links. “Tino Jaimes of Sunrise House Buyers TX says “Once installed, you can run a search on any webpage and in seconds will identify any broken link (if there are any).”
Kerry Sherin of North Star Inbound likes Pitchbox for BLB management. Sherin recommends BLB strategists use the outreach tool to “manage and run your campaigns with little to no management.”
Among the most popular broken link building tools mentioned were also SEMrush, MOZ, Linkminer, Hunter.io, Screaming Frog, Majestic, Sitechecker, Scrapebox, and so on.
Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles recommends using a link checker and the Wayback Machine in tandem to generate great replacement content based on competitors one at a time. “Enter your domain then select competing domains and pick one that shares high common keywords.” You can now look to create content assets that surpass the original content and reach out to all the sites linking to the 404 page offering your new content as a better resource to link to and replace.
Maggie Simmons of Max Effect Marketing also loves the Wayback Machine “to check out how the content was before it got 404.” Simmons uses that info to “create content similar to that content and make it better than the original one. Then, reach out to the webmaster with the best pitch you have and you have a good chance of having your content submitted. Happy broken link Building!”
If you’re interested in learning how to do broken link building the right way, then establishing a solid process (and sticking to it!) becomes essential to your success. With this in mind, we asked 60 marketing professionals for their number one tip for creating a solid broken link building strategy that delivers results.
First, let’s take a look at the internal approach to broken link-building: ensuring that all your referring domains have the most updated version of your pages. This approach is helpful for everyone, as broken links on a domain can damage the domain’s reputation with Google, and broken links can’t send you traffic and authority.
In most cases, you’ll be empowered to make a warm approach to your referrers, because they’ve already found your content valuable by linking to it in the first place.
Largely, you’re helping them out by offering better links and building their site reputation back up with a quick fix. Max Falb of Fueled believes this process can be a light lift if approached correctly. “It actually can be quite easy to convince people to replace a broken link with your newer ones.
I would simply use a tool like SEMrush to find broken backlinks and then reach out to them letting them know exactly where it is and offering them your link to them.”
Falb’s one caveat: “Just make sure whatever you’re offering is relevant and has up-to-date information.”
Editor’s note: Want to get visibility into your organic search strength, traffic, and visibility? Check out the SEMRush Keyword & Organic Search Traffic dashboard to see it all in one place.
Demonstrate the value of the link to your contact, suggests Emily Banks of Inseev Interactive “Reach out to each webmaster and provide them with a new link and ask if they can replace the broken one. Since Google does not like seeing broken links on sites, webmasters may feel more inclined to add your new proposed link in instances of fixing these broken links more than they might if you were pitching your link as a brand new resource to be added.”
Matthew Edgar likes this strategy not just for SEO, but traffic. Broken links can’t get eyes on your site, after all. “Go back to prior years in your analytics tool and find referral sources that are no longer delivering as much traffic as they used to deliver. Some of those referral sources might have been sending traffic to pages that are no longer on your website.”
Says Edgar, “By reaching out to the webmaster of that referral source, you can hopefully get the link back. Or, you might find the site is still linking to the broken page – all you need to do is add a redirect pointing that broken page somewhere else on your website, and you’ll get the link + the traffic back.”
Not all inbound links are created equal, as Andrew Becks of 301 Digital Media reminds us. Becks recommends that link strategists “identify all of your broken links and prioritize the effort based on the page authority and number of inbound links to a broken URL. The longer a site has existed, the more likely there will be broken links to focus on.” Good longevity is key. “For new sites, this tactic will likely be ineffective or, at the least, less effective than for a site with 5+, 10+ years of history.”
Jason Yau of CanvasPeople reminds us that BLB is about much more than just “page not found.” Yau offered this advice: “Dig much deeper than most common broken link tools will give you. Most tools will simply show you 404 type pages, but look much closer than that. You may have a ton of opportunities that are hiding right in plain sight.” Yau recommends that by using a tool like SEMrush, “you can review your website’s top pages (actually all of your pages) and see if those are properly linking back to your site.”
Using this method allows you to see more than the binary condition of “broken” or “working.” In this case, Yau says, “The link is not technically broken, but if it’s going to an incorrect page or resource, it’s not giving you any value. Have those links changed to a new and relevant backlink to your site.”
Sam Wheeler at Inseev Interactive’s Linking Team also reminds us to dig into the old structure of your site to dig up every possible link-repair opportunity. “Understand your previous site’s structure. There are great crawlers out there that can help with broken link building, but it is very important to understand how older versions of your site were set up and where the link equity was pointing to.”
Wheeler asks these questions. “What happened when products went out of stock? What did the old sitemaps look like? What does the current 301 structure look like? With this data, you can usually find far more broken link opportunities.”
The other side of BLB involves getting your links onto high-authority sites by finding broken links on other domains and offering to fill those spaces with working, relevant content. This is a great way to get visibility on high-traffic and high authority sites, boosting your own domain authority and potentially increasing your traffic.
To do this, you need to reach out to domain owners and webmasters, and essentially point out the gap, and offer a solution.
What’s the best way to achieve good conversion for your efforts? Our experts had a few tips to share.
But, what’s the best way to achieve good conversion for your efforts?
Our experts had a few tips to share for successful link building outreach:
When we asked our experts about maximizing returns for your BLB time investment, the overwhelming sentiment was this: It’s not just that you do it, it’s how you do it. In other words, there’s an art to the practice that extends far beyond a “numbers game” (although outreach numbers do play a part, as we will see.)
Outreach doesn’t have to be limited to just the email itself, according to a few of our experts. Many go the extra mile to create rapport, including Jared Carrizales of Heroic Search. “Getting a link via BLB is always easier when there has been a genuine connection created. Because of this, when I prospect for BLB specifically, I follow/connect with my prospect on social media so that I have something to point back to in my initial email.”
This well-rounded approach makes the rest of the process easier. “That way the ice is already broken, and some rapport is already there. This makes the ‘ask’ somewhat frictionless and drastically increases the likelihood that a link will get placed.”
Jaroslaw Siekierski of jsiekierski.com and Allan Dib of Successwise also focus on the blog content the target has on offer. “Focus on the outreach!” says Siekierski. “Finding the targets is easy, getting the emails from the blog owners even easier but the hardest thing is to make them interested in your email. So don’t be too straightforward and pushy. Spend some time reading their blog and give some feedback about the content. They will appreciate it and the whole collaboration can go much smoother.”
Dib puts it to us straight. “If I don’t know you— If I haven’t built a relationship with you, a cold email asking my business to link to your content won’t fly. So how do you get around this? Ask yourself if you’ve got a piece of content that would be a stellar replacement for the broken link?”
Dib continues. “Figure out what’s in it for the company you’re contacting. Then craft your email. Start by mentioning how much you enjoyed their article and that you want to share it with your email database and social channels. Don’t be afraid to drop in some impressive numbers—this will help to influence their decision.”
Once you establish your knowledge of their content and your authority within the space, then you can move on. “Mention the broken link and see if they can fix it or whether they’d consider linking to an article that you’ve written, which covers the same topic. Ask if they’d like to review the content piece, don’t assume and attach it. Close off by mentioning any notable publications that you’ve written for—this helps to establish authority and credibility.”
This isn’t one and done, says Dib. “Make an effort to engage with their content in the coming weeks. Leave insightful comments. Share their articles on your social channels. Doing this builds goodwill and goes a long way to winning those all-important links.”
Setting the tone as an authority and educator first is important, according to Juliane Sunshine of Tandem Interactive. “One tip I recommended as an organic search specialist is starting by introducing your name and that you are an SEO specialist to the company with the broken link.
Explain that you have noticed a broken link on their website. Kindly say to the company with broken links ‘Google and users do not like broken links.’ This is when during the broken link building process, you want to send the company a link (yours or the client’s link) to replace the broken link on their website instead. Simple, fast, and effective.”
This is when during the broken link building process, you want to send the company a link (yours or the client’s link) to replace the broken link on their website instead. Simple, fast and effective.”
Brian Jensen Congruent Digital also believes in sweetening the deal with extra value. “In your outreach, in addition to providing a relevant replacement for the broken link you’ve identified, also offer something else of value.”
For example, Jensen suggests, “if the page is a list of resources and you’ve identified multiple broken links on the page, let them know about all of them and suggest suitable replacements. It’s extra work, but it shows you care and can positively impact your acquisition rates.”
Akshay Joshi of Amoolya Digital Solutions offered a few tips on how to provide more value to your pitch and reduce the number of negative or non-responses: “Be valuable. Research the broken link with Web Archive and create better content than them to increase your chances of replacing that broken link.
Never send your link in the first email. Always ask the website owner if he would like to see your link. Always follow up.
You can send them a first email reporting the broken link and offering your link instead (ask first). The second email can include your link if they agree, or you can follow up, if you receive no response from them.”
Taking this light-handed approach may increase your response rates over time, according to Joshi.
Aristide Basque of SH1FT concludes by reminding us that content fit is one of the key aspects of warm outreach. “Only outreach if you can bring value with a piece of content that is actually a perfect fit. Your success rate depends on how good of a fit it is and how friendly you are in your outreach, don’t be salesy.” While you may already have something in your content library that fits the bill, creating a piece of content can best hit the mark.
Patricio Quiroz of Code Authority also sees the resources page as a good opportunity, and a great place to begin the process. “I would recommend starting with the resource page link building method because it is the easiest way to collect backlinks immediately. Since resource pages are literally designed to display hundreds of informative links on a certain category or industry, it is a great way to get your feet wet into broken link building.”
Quiroz breaks down the process they use to hunt and replace quality links. “You will first want to run a Google search using search strings such as “Keyword” intitle: links or “Keyword” inurl: resources. You can play with this according to your topic for better results. Once you have found a promising resource page, you can install the Check my links chrome plugin which is free. Then simply run the plugin and check for any broken links on the page, you can rinse and repeat this process until you find a sweet broken link.”
Once you’ve found a good target, “simply send the webmaster or editor of the website your pitch. Include the broken link you have found and then propose your link within the email to make it easier for the webmaster to locate it. Quiroz also recommends “inserting a couple of sentences on the value that your piece of content could bring to their audience to ensure your snag that broken link.”
Louis Watton of Shiply recognizes the psychological impact of our mistakes and weights their approach carefully in email outreach. Said Watton, “pointing out something ‘broken’ on someone’s website can either come across as incredibly helpful or quite rude. At the end of the day you are emailing someone out of the blue to point out their mistake, so you just need to be considerate of that fact! Position yourself as someone just hoping to offer assistance and you should be okay.”
Good habits are hard to build, but invaluable over time, according to Bettina Clark of Prospected. The number one tip from this expert had to offer on BLB was “to integrate it into your everyday outreach work. Don’t think of broken link building as a separate method that you need to do on its own.”
Said Clark of the process, “Whenever I’m doing any kind of research, whether it’s for outreach or content writing purposes, I simply keep an eye out for broken links. If the broken link happens to be relevant to my client’s project, I come up with a highly personalized email for the website owner and offer to fix that for them. This way, I’m never just doing broken link building. I’m doing digital marketing, which happens to include broken link building.” This batching mentality isn’t just useful for BLB.
Said Clark, “We do similar things with other methods, and I believe this holistic approach has greatly improved our outreach campaigns.”
Matt Janaway of Marketing Labs points out that it has to be “a win-win for both sides, as most website owners can now see the benefit of changing a link URL to your site, but what’s in it for them?”
Janaway suggests being specific in the value-add. “Tactics in the past that have worked well include offering to improve the article or post by adding new high-quality content, offering new content for another post, or even sharing the article with your social audience. The more creative your approach is, the higher the chance they will reply to your request!”
Ease of use is one of the best ways to improve your conversion rate on pitching broken link replacement, according to Axel DeAngelis of NameBounce. “Make it easy for the webmaster to update the page. In the email, include the anchor text, the link itself, and detail on what the page was previously (using archive.org to find out). If you do all of this, there’s little reason for them not to take a few minutes to update the link!”
With the solid tips above in play, it helps to remember that like any kind of outbound prospecting, hunting BLB opportunities is a numbers game.
Said Stevens, “When starting your outreach efforts, this is one of the times where quantity is more important than quality. Most editors are savvy to broken link building efforts and the majority of editors that haven’t updated a broken link are neglecting their webpages.
When implementing this strategy you need to target a lot of websites to find one with an editor who will appreciate your email.”
Smith echoed this advice. “Start with a big list! If you’re pitching to less than 100 prospects you run the risk of lots of wasted effort.
To combat this, plug big sites from your industry into Ahrefs (for example, if you’re in software, go for BIG sites like Toptal, not small personal blogs) and sort the broken pages by number of links and then find relevant topics – broken link building is a numbers game and with a conversion rate of 1-3% the more prospects you have the more links you’ll build.”
Janja Jovanovic of Vacation Tracker advises digging into your niche using Ahrefs’ Broken Link Checker to get the best sample. It will let you “find dead pages on the authoritative sites in your niche. The more people you reach out to, the more links you’ll get. It is a numbers game and you need to do research and outreach properly.”
Editor’s Note: Get a comprehensive look at your backlink strength and referring domains using the Ahrefs Website Audit dashboard. You’ll see how backlinks perform over time and get real-time ranking on your overall strategy from their trusted algorithm.
Though the impact of big numbers can work in your favor, many of our experts highlighted the need to prioritize how you dig into your list, taking advantage of the 80/20 rule (the idea that 80% of your success comes from 20% of your efforts.)
How do you know where the quality link opportunities are hiding? You have to do the research, says Lynell Ross of Test Prep Insight. “My biggest recommendation would be to conduct about 2-3 minutes of research on every website prior to sending a broken link alert email. In other words, don’t just blindly send generic emails out to every website you come across. Instead, look at traffic trends for the site over the past year, its backlink profile, whether it’s actively posting new content, etc.”
Says Ross, “At the end of the day, you don’t want links from websites that have diminishing traffic, stale content, or weak backlink profiles. By doing just a couple minutes of research before, you’ll be able to save yourself valuable time and ensure you’re not getting backlinks from low authority sites.”
There is something telling in the research, adds Andrew Dennis of Page One Power. “Conversion rates for broken link building can be lower since sites that have a lot of broken links often have site owners that are less engaged and less responsive to outreach. It’s critical to establish there is a large pool of link prospects associated with a broken link building opportunity before you start contacting websites.”
Borislav Ivanov of Best Response Media also analyzes the numbers before outreach to ensure the best impact. “Before redirecting these pages, check out their Google Analytics metrics. It sometimes turns out that these pages did not have enough value and their metrics were too low to waste resources for a redirect.”
“Get off the beaten path,” when hunting opportunities, offers Irina Nica of HubSpot. Nica reminds us that we may not be the only one providing content in our niche.
With this competition and the increase in BLB practices, Nica recommends prioritizing links where you already have the perfect content in hand. “You can look for different broken outbound links, on different websites, and offer an alternative from your existing bank of content. It requires no new content on your side and it’s a great opportunity for other websites to fix their broken outbound links and give their readers a better experience.”
Ivan Palii of Sitechecker also asks us to view the problem from another angle: that of the webmaster. “Try to understand what pages are the most valuable (by sales, conversions, or traffic) for the website owners. And try to find broken links on these pages at first. Thus, the website owner really will be grateful for you and it increases your chances to get a backlink.”
Once you’ve done this, make sure that the link you’re chasing has ROI to back up your efforts. Joshua Ballard of Paradox Marketing says, “If you think of this in terms of a funnel, then you are investing in the top of the funnel (with staff time) to find opportunities that will help your outreach team close the opportunity later on. If however, you keep digging into sites that are: not authoritative enough, not related enough or generally unattainable then it is a waste of time and will make your cost per link acquisition untenable.”
Ballard offered an example from personal experience. “I once spoke to someone who tried to replace a USDA page about mold legislation, for a furniture movers website. Even though they built a great resource that was in every right probably as good as the version they had found on the Wayback Machine, no one they reached out to was going to replace a link that was to a government website to a small business website.”
With a growing world of websites out there, where do you begin to compile a list? The answer is closer than you think: right within your own niche. Says Cedrick Capati of Spiralytics, “Know your competitors and check whether they have broken links if they have the fill that gap for their linkers.” Zalan Taller of Morningscore also likes this approach and the ease of using a tool for comparing your web offerings. “Start using a backlink checker tool that gives a complete overview of both your and your competitor’s full backlink profile.”
Irena Zobniów of Insightland recommends the Ahrefs “site explorer” tool for this purpose. “Throw in the address of your competitor’s website or service with similar themes. Then use the 404 filter. This way you will find potential sources of links that you can get for your website.”
One other way to organize your competitor searches, says Stuart Cooke of Levity Digital, is for those who have made changes. “Look for competitors who have recently rebranded. They are likely to have made 301 redirects from their old domain to the new one. If there were any errors made during this process there will be broken link opportunities. Look for pages/posts that you have relevant content for that can replace the broken link.”
Olivian-Claudiu Stoica of 123FormBuilder reminds us that while competitors are ripe for the picking, you still need to add value. “Analyze your competitor’s broken backlinks, and where applicable, prepare a (better) content piece that those site owners can use instead.”
How many competitors should you research? The sphere might be larger than you think, says Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hacker. “Start by creating a list in a spreadsheet of the 20 or 50 blogs/websites in your industry where you’d like to get a link from. Then, with an online broken link checker, find the broken links in these websites and write them all down in your spreadsheet.” Now that you’ve produced a large enough sample, organize for impact. “Prioritize the anchor texts with relevant keywords for your website. Find content within your site related to these anchor texts.”
Editor’s note: Want to get an idea of where you stand in your niche? Use this Moz’s Competitor Overview dashboard to get granular data on how your rank and domain authority stack up.
Good tips and good tools then come together in helping you build good processes for the long haul. To get started, Yoav Bernstein of YB Marketing says, “I’d start with going over it and implement the strategy in one campaign that you run, as you’ll learn mainly from experience, so the best thing to do is to start implementing it right away.” Bernstein recommended this Backlinko guide for developing a solid strategy.
McCall Robison of Best Company suggests taking the long view of this tactic. “Don’t get discouraged broken link building doesn’t work right away. Just like with any outreach tactic, you’re not going to have a high conversion rate. For broken link building, a 5-10% conversion rate is typically a great success. You can’t try broken link building once or twice and wait for responses, thinking those sites will follow through. Broken link building is better when done on a larger scale so you have a better chance of success.”
Building out a schedule for this process is a good way to stay on track, says Robison. “One way I like to build broken links is to schedule one week each quarter to dedicate to broken link building.
Because broken link building requires some research and likely some content writing, dedicating specific time for it each quarter ensures you are doing quality broken link building.”
The benefits are in the commitment, according to Robison. “Since going about broken backlink building the way I have, I have had more success with this method than I have with outreach, unlinked mentions, and a few other link building strategies combined.”
Robison summed it up best: “Like with most SEO strategies, broken link building is a marathon, not a race. Be patient, do your research, and create quality content people will want to link to. If you’re doing that, then that 5-10% conversion rate is likely doable.”
Getting and staying on target can feel overwhelming when you first start digging for BLB opportunities. To bring your efforts into focus, a few of our experts reminded us to get back to basics – keywords and content.
Says Minuca Elena, keeping it relevant within your niche and within the original content can pay better dividends: “For example, if they are linking to a post about Facebook ads and you ask them to link instead to a post about Twitter ads, although both posts are about social media ads, your conversion rate will drop because people tend to be consistent. They will just search for a top post that talks about the same topic as the previous article they recommended.” Like many, Elena recommends focusing on relevant content, in order to obtain as many links as possible.
Jacob Phillips of Intuitive Digital also suggests keeping content close to home. “For example, if your landing page content is about pet insurance, try to find broken links about pet insurance. The webmaster is much more likely to replace an old broken link with your link if your content is similar to the content the broken link was pointing toward originally.”
Stay as close to the particulars of the original content as possible, says Brooks Manley. “Make sure your replacement content is hyper-relevant. For instance, though they’re in the same field, very few people will be willing to link to a post on Oak trees when they were previously linking to content on Maples.”
Bart van der Meer of Klik Proces says, when taking care with your targeting, BLB “is a great tactic to get backlinks from major websites that normally would never link to you. If you find a link, make sure your content matches the broken link perfectly before you reach out and point out why your content is the perfect replacement.”
Venchito Tampon of SharpRocket asks us to consider the audience when conducting outreach and planning replacement content “Target your content assets to a linkable audience to get the most number of backlinks acquired every month. Linkable audiences include veterans, ‘going green’ enthusiasts, parents, students, people with disabilities, and teachers.” This can drive traffic and engagement.
For Aditya Sheth of Venngage, it largely comes down to quality. “Make sure you’re pitching a piece of content that’s 10x better than the broken link if you want to improve your success rate with broken link replacement.”
However, if you have a small niche, and there isn’t enough to go around, Amit Raj of Amitdigitalmarketing.com suggests you “niche up” to find better linking opportunities. Raj also recommends researchers “go a level deeper. i.e. each broken link may have a bunch of URLs linking to it. Some of those URLs may be broken, and have its link profiles and so on. You could sometimes continue several levels deeper.”
If it’s linkable and evergreen, it’s very likely to get better attention from webmasters and domain owners, say some of our experts, including Nathan Wade of WealthFit, who says, “You’ll need to ensure the page you want to replace it with is evergreen and will not become a 404 page in the future.” Nick Schäferhoff of WebsiteSetup.org instructs us to focus on creating “useful and ‘linkable’ content before you even think about outreach.” says Schäferhoff, “Once you have the best piece of content on the selected topic, it will be way easier to get links without feeling pushy. Statistics, case studies, tutorials, and expert opinions can make your content more link-worthy.”
While the beginning of your BLB journey can feel overwhelming at times, breaking the process down to its essential elements, and employing the great tips offered by our experts can make the process feel far more manageable.
Plus, you’ll be getting guidance from excellent data that can help you refine and build your own content library with pieces your audience will take great value from.
Combine this with the power of BLB to increase your reputation and traffic, and you have a lot of reasons to commit to this viable strategy as you improve your offering.
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