Like a prodigal family member, broken link building got re-embraced by SEOs after the series of Google algorithm updates known as Penguin.
Google Penguin and a slew of manual actions Google took against “unnatural” link builders cut the number of backlink methods SEOs had at their disposal at least by half, which lead to broken link building suddenly being in demand again.
That being said, let’s see what broken link building is, how it is done and what types of sites could use it effectively to reinforce their standing with Google and human users.
Broken Link Building: The Basic Model
In practice, broken link building may be carried out in a number of ways, but it essentially boils down to this: (A) you look for relevant sites that have broken links on them, (B) you determine which of the dead links could be replaced with links to your content, (C) you reach out to the site owner and ask him/her to make the swap.
What’s great about broken link building is that, any way you look at it, it’s a win-win situation. The site owner gets broken links fixed, and you get to get a relevant link to your content. Besides, no web spam gets produced in the process.
Who Would Benefit From Broken Link Building?
Broken link building may not be for all types of sites. For example, it’s hard to picture Forbes.com or NYTimes.com benefiting from it (think of the volume and the life cycle of the content they produce). Nor can I see how a site in a highly competitive niche (think payday loans) could use it to their advantage.
At the same time, there are categories of sites that are just right for this type of link building strategy. This is particularly true of any web property that uses content marketing as part of their promo campaign.
So, let’s see which types of sites could leverage broken link building and how.
Example 1: Blog
Let’s say you are the owner of NailNerd.Com, a nice little blog lightly sprinkled with AdSense (I’m not affiliated with them).
Imagine that you’d like to get some links to this blog through broken link building. What kind of sites would you search for? Most likely, these would be:
– sites relevant to the theme of your blog (manicure blogs, beauty blogs, etc.);
– sites with a blogroll, a “recommended sites” page, or similar.
Besides, it’s better if we first look into blogs that don’t look like they are set up for money-making purposes. We better first turn to amateur blogs, sites run by teenage girls, etc.
As a rule, a broken link building pro would use footprints to search for relevant sites. For instance, we could use the following queries (replace KEYWORD with any term that best describes your blog).
KEYWORD “useful pages”
KEYWORD “recommended pages”
KEYWORD “recommended reading”
To perform an experiment, let’s search for:
nail art “blogroll”
The first search result I got on Google for this query was this page. Voila, so to say, but unfortunately it’s in French – not so relevant for our NailNerd site.
However, the 7th result, Lucy’s Stash blogroll, looks more promising.
The next thing we’d want to do is (1) see if a link from this page would be profitable SEO-wise, and (2) check if any of these blogroll links are actually broken.
I explained at length how to assess a page’s SEO value for broken link building purposes in this article on my site. Basically, you’d need to use an SEO plugin (SEOquake would do) to check the page’s Google PageRank, age, incoming links, and other “telling” SEO metrics.
The next step would be to see if any of these links are broken. Instead of doing it by hand, you can use a plugin like Check My Links that will mark any broken links on a page red.
After we run the check, we can see that at least one link in the blogroll is pointing to a non-existent page.
So, the next thing you could do is to reach out to the blog’s owner, let them know about the broken link and see if they’d consider linking to NailNerd.com instead.
If you have a hard time finding the person’s contact details on the site, consider using the new gmail feature that lets you email virtually anyone with a Google+ account (provided you circle them before you do).
Example 2: E-commerce Site
For broken link building purposes, it’s better if your e-commerce site has a distinct area of specialization. If you sell a wide variety of products, it may be hard for you to execute the strategy.
As an example, let’s take GreenFingers.Com, a Scotland-based company that sells all things gardening, from garden tools, to garden furniture, to hunter socks.
If one were to search for broken link building opportunities for this site, what kind of sites would they look into? Perhaps landscape design sites or gardening enthusiasts? Let’s see.
The footprints we could use to search for niche sites in this case could be:
site:.co.uk KEYWORD “useful links”
site:.co.uk KEYWORD “links”
site:.co.uk KEYWORD “partners and links”
site:.co.uk KEYWORD “resources”
Let’s also specify that we’d like .co.uk sites in the results, because GreenFingers.com is UK-based.
So, if I search for:
garden furniture “recommended links” site:.co.uk
the top result I get is this PR-3 page from Garden Action, a gardening information site.
If you check the page with Check My Links, you’ll see that one of these links points to a 404 page:
Judging by the description of the page, it’s a site of some Bed and Breakfast place the site owner likes.
Technically, it cannot be replaced with a link to our site – this would be a poor match. However, it’s possible to still shoot the site owner an email and let them know this link is broken (which isn’t good in terms of both SEO and user experience), and ask if they’d be interested in featuring our store on their page (they do feature several other gardening product suppliers, so, there is a chance).
By the way, if you ever struggle to find the webmaster’s email address, you may like this article by Olga Filonchuk (my co-worker). Olga talks about how to find nearly anyone’s email address use without much hassle.
Example 3: Service Provider
Another category of sites that could do broken link building successfully is service providers (small and local business owners).
For a second, let’s pretend I own the Sweet Grace website (a cake design service in New Jersey).
Who would be my ideal link partner? Most likely, I’d need to look for wedding planners’ sites or DIY yourself blogs (since I have a few cake baking tutorials on my site).
And, the kind of footprints I’d search by could be:
KEYWORD “useful links”
KEYWORD “recommended sites”
KEYWORD “recommended pages”
Let’s search for:
cake decor tutorial “links”
Among the top 10 results, there is My Honeys Place – an AdSense site with “recipes, DIY projects, Amazing information”.
This page (which is PR 2 by the way) is dedicated to cake recipes. And – oh, no – the link to the Rainbow cake tutorial appears to be broken:
Perhaps our Photo Camera Cake Tutorial could be a good replacement for that page? So, let’s go ahead and tell the site’s owner about that in an email.
Example 4: Freelancer/Solo Consultant
Many freelancers struggle with link building, but, once you get a solid content marketing strategy, broken link building becomes quite easy to do – even if you run a one-man show.
It would be a piece of cake for me if I were Jordan Dick from Venturi Web. Jordan has a blog, a beautiful site and a legit-looking service. Convincing a webmaster to link to his site shouldn’t be much of a problem. But one needs to find the webmaster first, of course.
The footprints we could search by in this case could be:
site:.edu KEYWORD “useful links”
site:.edu KEYWORD “recommended”
site:.edu KEYWORD “recommended sites”
site:.edu KEYWORD “recommended reading”
Let’s search for .edu sites, since it’s often easy to get them to provide a link to a piece of educational content. For instance, if we search for:
site:.edu design basics “useful links”
One of the first results we get is this page from Web Network Technology.
Turns out, it has quite a few broken links on it (must have been around for a while then):
The first link looks like a good candidate. However, it’s not so obvious what kind of content used to be located at this Web address. But we can find this out with the help of the Internet’s WayBackMachine.
Here is a saved snippet of the now-missing page from April 12, 2012.
Looks like a simple guide to designing a website. Perhaps an article on Jordan’s blog would qualify as a replacement. Or maybe I could put together a similar blog post (brought up to date with the latest web design trends), and pitch it to the site’s webmaster.
Example 5: Intermediary Site
By intermediary sites I mean all sorts of platforms, comparison websites, communities, hubs, portals, and other resources, the value of which lies in aggregating or comparing data in a niche.
Let’s say you are relatively new presentation sharing website Speaker Deck.
When searching for prospective sites with broken links, you’d probably aim for review and rating sites, pages with top [something] lists, posts with best [something] articles, etc.
So, the footprints to use could be:
KEYWORD “top” 2014
For example, as you may know, bloggers love making “top 10/20/… presentation sharing sites” lists. So, we could go ahead and see if any of them have broken links we could use to our advantage.
If we search for:
presentation sharing sites “list”
one of the top 10 results we get is this article on Hello Bloggerz by Obaidul Haque.
Luckily (for us), one of the ten presentation sharing sites mentioned in the post is unavailable (SlideSix).
And here is a WayBackMachine snippet of it from October 1, 2012:
It does remind one of “our” site, Speaker Deck, doesn’t it? Then why not email the blog’s owner and inform him about the broken link. For once, I’m sure Obaidul Haque will see through my intent (which, in all honesty, is to build a link), but it’s OK, since he has nothing to lose: our replacement link is highly relevant and we’re going to help him fix a broken link, so we could try anyway.
These were just isolated examples. In reality, the directions in which you can search for relevant sites that may present broken link building opportunities would only be limited by your imagination.
And, although broken link building may be hard to implement for certain types of online businesses, if you run a blog, an e-commerce store, a local biz, a freelancer site, or an online platform, you can use this method effectively to develop some quality links to your site.
Do you know any other types of websites that could leverage the broken link building strategy? Do let us know in comments!
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!