Broken Link Building 101

Did you know that nearly two-thirds of web links over the last nine years have gone dead? 

Clearly, there’s a lot of missing content on the internet, but here’s the silver lining: it’s actually a hidden opportunity for savvy marketers like us. 

This is where broken link building comes into play. It’s about finding those dead links, especially in your niche, and offering a better, live resource.

Broken link building isn’t just another tactic; it’s among the top five most popular strategies for a reason. But, you need to know the ropes to really make it work.

In this guide, we’re cutting through the noise to show you exactly how to turn link rot into opportunities.

Understanding the Basics

Broken links are a common yet fixable issue in the world of digital media. Let’s take a look at the basics before we start learning all about broken link building.

Simply put, a broken link is a hyperlink that leads to a page or resource that doesn’t exist on the world wide web anymore.

When you click on a broken link, you might encounter a HTTP 404 (Not found) or 410 (Gone) error. Here are a few reasons why this happens:

  • The linked content was removed or moved without proper redirection.
  • The link was never set up correctly to begin with.
  • The URL for the linked page was changed.
  • The destination website is gone or has been updated.

It’s obvious that customers ending up on the ‘no man’s land’ of the internet is definitely not a good look for any brand. So, the most obvious downside is that dead links can tank your user experience. 

But more importantly, from a Search Engine Optimization perspective, broken links mean missed opportunities to transfer authority or what we call ‘link equity.’ And this can impact your site’s ability to rank well.

Broken pages also take up your crawl budget as they’re essentially dead ends for the Google Web Crawler that indexes pages for ranking.

Last but not the least, search engines like Google want to show the best possible results and a site full of broken links comes across as outdated or poorly maintained. That can make your site less likely to show up in organic search results.

As far as SEO advantages go, fixing those dead links can:

Improve Site Visibility: Fixing broken links helps search engines understand your site better, making it more likely for your content to rank higher in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

Boost Site Authority: By repairing or replacing broken external links with high-quality ones, you signal to search engines that your site is a reliable source of information, enhancing your site’s authority.

Improve User Engagement: A site without broken links provides a smoother experience for visitors, making them more likely to engage with your content, share it, or return in the future.

Apart from those SEO wins, replacing broken links is a chance to update your content, making it more useful and interesting. This could mean replacing old info with new facts, adding engaging videos or images, or improving CTAs.

We know we just described broken links as a problem. But what if we told you that they’re also opportunities?

Broken link building is all about finding these dead ends and offering a better alternative: your relevant, high-quality content.

Broken link building is straightforward—you find a problem and offer a solution. This creates a win-win scenario: they improve their site by replacing a broken link, and you gain a backlink that boosts your SEO.

Here are some other benefits of broken link building:

Ethical and Effective: Unlike black hat SEO tactics, broken link building is completely ethical and grounded in the creation of quality content. It also has a higher success rate than other link-building tactics since you’re helping webmasters solve an existing issue.

Boost Authority and Rankings: If the backlinks you acquire through broken link building come from established, relevant pages, and can significantly boost your site’s authority and search rankings. 

Potential for Growth: This approach allows you to potentially take over links that once pointed to competitors, increasing your reach. You also get to generate new ideas for creating more link-worthy content.

New Connections: Reaching out to different webmasters in the industry can help you build new valuable connections and put you on their radar for future collaboration.

Broken link building might sound a bit technical at first, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. You can easily divide the whole process into these 4 simple steps:

  1. Find broken pages with backlinks
  2. Evaluate whether the backlinks are worth pursuing
  3. Create content they can link to (if you don’t have it already)
  4. Do outreach to earn the link

Your first step is to play detective by finding web pages that are no longer active but still have other sites linking to them. 

This is way easier with SEO tools and extensions but we’ll discuss how to do it manually as well.

Find Opportunities Manually

When you’re combing through the internet for broken links manually, it’s best to target pages with a lot of links. That’s where web resource pages come in. 

These are gold mines for broken link building. They’re essentially lists of links on a particular topic, but because they’re rarely updated, many links end up broken over time. 

This is also known as resource page link building.

To find these pages, try combinations of search queries like:

  • [topic] + “resources”
  • [topic] + “useful resources”
  • [topic] + “links”
  • [topic] + “helpful links”

Or filter them by words that appear in the URL and title using:

  • [topic] + inurl:resources
  • [topic]  + intitle:resources
  • [topic] + inurl:links
  • [topic] + intitle:links

Once you’ve found a potential resource page, the next step is checking for broken links. You can also use Google Chrome extensions such as Check my Links or LinkMiner to identify them.

Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar is another free tool that allows you to quickly scan a page and identify any broken links by showing their HTTP status codes.

Use SEO Tools

Perhaps the most efficient way to find broken link building opportunities is through SEO tools like Ahrefs and Semrush. 

As with any good link building strategy, you first look toward your competitors. The websites in your niche are bound to have some dead pages. Identifying these can reveal opportunities for you to step in. 

Ahrefs’ Site Explorer can help you find these pages by entering a competitor’s domain, going to the “Best by links” report and filtering for “404 not found” pages. 

Ahrefs experts also recommend filtering these links by the number of referring domains (RDs). By replacing a broken link with a high number of RDs, you can inherit some of this trust and authority.

You can also use Semrush’s Backlink Analytics tool to catch broken competitor links.

Both these tools allow you to export all the link data into spreadsheets for further analysis.

So, you’ve gathered a whole database of broken links on a competitor’s site. Great start! But not every broken link is worth your time. 

Deciding if a broken link is worth chasing comes down to these two questions:

Are they quality links? And can you understand and match (or outdo) the original page’s appeal? 

If yes, you’ve got a green light. If not, it’s okay to skip it and look for better opportunities. Remember, the aim is to add value, both for the site linking out and for your own.

First things first, let’s talk about checking if those backlinks are actually good.

To do that, pop the dead page’s URL into a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and filter the backlinks report based on the following criteria:

  • Look for dofollow links; they’re the ones that really count.
  • Skip the subdomains – too many are just internet fluff.
  • Set a Domain Rating (DR) floor. Think of DR as a credibility score. We like to start at 5+.
  • Look for domains with a traffic minimum (e.g., 20+ visitors) to ensure the links come from active websites.

Why Was the Dead Page Linked?

Knowing why a page was initially linked guides you in creating content that’s not just a replacement but an improvement. 

Dive into the backlinks report to check out why the page was mentioned. Was it for a unique statistic, a comprehensive guide, or another reason? 

Also keep an eye on recurring patterns. If multiple sites linked to the page for the same reason, it’s a strong indicator of what made the content valuable.

Step #3: Create Linkable Content

Now that you’ve got a clear picture of why the original page attracted links, it’s your turn to whip up some even better content. 

But you shouldn’t jump into content creation blindly when you have a perfectly good template to start with. Yes, we’re talking about the dead page.

So, how do you access a page that’s nothing but a giant 404 error?

Simply pop your dead link into the Wayback Machine. This will show exactly what the page looked like once upon a time. Use this to get a sense of the content structure and what made it link-worthy. 

Finally, improve upon the original wherever possible. This could mean making the content more accessible, adding graphics for clarity, introducing templates, or correcting any inaccuracies.

Above all, use Google’s E-E-A-T standards to inform your content marketing strategy and create resources that websites can’t help but link to.

Step #4: Conduct Outreach

After all the hard work of finding broken links, vetting them and then creating content to match, it’s finally the moment of truth.

It’s time to reach out to website admins to suggest your content as the replacement for a broken link. 

That may sound daunting but don’t worry, admins usually appreciate these emails, as you’re helping them improve their site.

Needless to say, outreach is the most important part of this whole process. Here are some tips to land your pitch:

  1. Do your research

Look at the About Us or Contact page to find details such as an email or social media account for the site’s owner or editor.

Doing your research on the admin and the type of content they produce on their blog will help you craft a more personalized pitch.

  1. Make a good first impression 

The subject is the first chance you get to catch the webmaster’s attention—which is why it’s good to use a specific subject line that tells exactly what’s in the email. 

Also make sure to begin with a greeting that uses the recipient’s name to establish a personal connection right from the start.

  1. Be concise but convincing

It’s crucial that you look at the content they’ve published in the past and briefly explain why you think your article will add value to their audience.

You can also include links to other content you’ve produced so that the webmaster can see that your work is high quality and worthy of the backlink.

  1. Follow-Up

Most web admins receive multiple outreach and marketing messages every day. If you don’t get a reply, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested.

Always follow-up three to four days later to make sure they haven’t missed your email.

  1. Make it actionable

Include hyperlinks to both the broken link (so they can quickly verify) and your suggested replacement. This makes it easier for them to review your proposal.

If you start receiving replies then you know you’re doing a good job with outreach. But don’t be discouraged if you get radio silence instead. 

Outreach is a slow process that demands patience but it definitely pays off in the end!

Keeping all those tips in mind, here’s an outline for a potential pitch:

Subject: Quick Fix for a Broken Link on [Recipient’s Site Name]

Broken link building is straightforward: find broken links, create better content, and tell the right people about it. 

It’s a clear-cut strategy that benefits everyone involved. You get a valuable backlink, and website owners improve their site’s integrity and user experience. 

Not only that but broken link building is also a smart way to build relationships and enhance your online presence. 

All you have to do is provide value, be persistent, and watch as your efforts pay off in valuable backlinks and stronger SEO.

Article by

7+ years in the SEO industry, I’m an off-page optimization specialist with a track record of helping clients climb the search engine ladder. My focus? Building long-term client relationships founded on great results and customer satisfaction.Off the clock? You’ll find me behind the lens, capturing the world through photography, or catching NBA games (minus any recent All-Star debates) – or maybe even experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen! Let’s chat about SEO, strategy, or maybe even your favorite classic basketball moments.

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