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5 Creative Broken Link Building Strategies

by Jon Cooper
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Broken link building is starting to get a bad rep. People think it’s a narrow, straightforward strategy, when in reality it’s not. You can get more creative with this strategy than any other link building technique out there.

Yes, you can stick to just finding broken links on links pages & blogrolls and asking the webmaster to replace one with a link to you, but you can go way further with this strategy. Not even I have begun to use it to its full potential.

Here are a few miscellaneous “outside of the box” strategies for broken link building you probably haven’t heard of before. 

1. Build links to other pages linking to you

Ever heard of secondary link building? You can use this strategy in combination with broken link building very nicely. If you’ve already gotten a link from that specific site you’re targeting or you feel the link is a bit shady and could possibly send spam signals, ask for a link to a site or post already linking to you instead. This still passes value to you and can take the risk out of some situations.

Best practice: Do this for in-content links, but only in situations in which a highly reputable site/post would act as the replacement link (of course, that highly reputable site/post would already be linking to you). Why? If I told half of my prospects to link to one of my SEOmoz posts and the other half to link to one of my posts hosted on my blog, I guarantee I’ll have much more success with the first half. Trust plays a huge role when asking for links.

2. You don’t have to find a broken link on the page you want to get a link from

You just need to find one or two broken links somewhere on the site to get their attention. A broken link is an “in”. An “in” is a value-adding reason for contacting someone. Another example of an “in” is fixing spelling or grammar. When you have one, this is just your chance to get someone’s attention, meaning it doesn’t have to be a broken link on the specific page you want a link from. Granted the success rate might not be as high, sometimes finding a broken link on that specific page isn’t an option.

3. Keep track of the URLs of the broken links you’ve corrected.

When you find broken URLs, plug them into OSE to find other places linking to that URL. Export the CSV for each and start building a master spreadsheet. Trust me, once you do this, you’re going to immediately tweet @ me showering me with Thank You’s.

For example, imagine you come across a links page with 10 broken links. You plug these into OSE to find who’s linking to them. You check out the 200 or so total pages linking to them, and you come across (on average) one additional broken link per page. Your list has now grown to 210 broken URLs. Rinse and repeat, build your spreadsheet, and never run out of prospects.

Link rot is beautiful.

4. Broken Link Building is much bigger than links.

Remember how I talked about finding an “in”? In’s aren’t necessarily used only to obtain links. Finding broken links can also be used to start relationships or to get in touch with someone with regards to other link opportunities, such as guest posting & crowdsource participation.

The sooner you start using broken links for more than just one-time links, the sooner you start taking advantage of these opportunities that yield much greater rewards.

5. Plug broken sites into OSE to find their Top Pages

Sometimes you’ll come across an entire site that’s broken. Jackpot. If it has a decent amount of link equity, then there’s much more to take advantage of here than just adding it to your master spreadsheet as talked about above.

Plug in the site to OSE to find their top pages to determine which ones yield the most link equity. Then go to the Wayback machine to find what was on those pages. The easier it is to reproduce this content, the better.

Pro tip: Get the Wayback machine bookmarklet to quickly see what was on those pages. Trust me, this can save you a ton of time. Just drag this link to your toolbar: Wayback. Now, whenever you come across a broken page, hit the bookmarklet instead of tediously going to the Wayback machine website.

Once you find something you can recreate, recreate it, but make it 10x better. I mean it. If it has worked in the past, imagine the success you could get if it’s even better. We’re not just using this to ask webmasters to update the old, broken link with a link to you, but also as linkbait; if the old content attracted links in the past, and if yours is even better, then there’s no reason you can’t too. I like to call this strategy Double Jeopardy (actually, I just came up with it. I thought it was catchy).

 

Hopefully you learned a lot from each of these strategies. The best part is that they’re completely actionable. Tell me one strategy above you can’t go & try right now.

Remember, creativity pays off. Link building is about being a pioneer; the first one to conquer a new frontier always reaps the greatest reward. Do you know who was the second person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean? I bet you don’t, but I bet you know Charles Lindbergh was the first (Note: the only acception to this rule is mice. As they say, the second mouse gets the cheese!).

 

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Thanks, and can’t wait to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

 Image attribution.

This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 121 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper+ is an SEO consultant based out of Gainesville, FL who specializes in link building. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter.

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38 Comments
  1. Hi there! nice post. I’m using a lot the broken link techniques, and they really work good! the best part of this is that you can create a true relationship with the owner of the site with the broken links, and then the link , at this point, is just natural. I received a lot of good responses from helping them to have a better site.
    isn’t this cool ?
    thanks for sharing!

  2. Another good post Jon with actionable content, you are quickly becoming a link building superstar by using what I would call the SEOmoz sharing model, more power to you is what I say.

    I’ve been aware of #5 for a long time but never really done anything about it, i guess maybe a little confusion causing a fear of failure yet for some reason your post has made this a priority for me.

    Keep up the good work and before you know it you will be seen in such positive light as Rand and other thought leaders in the SEO industry.

  3. Hi Jon, thanks for another awesome post. I’ve read a few of your posts (in various locations) on broken link building, and thought ‘yeah that is something I should get round to trying’. As I read through this one, I found myself thinking ‘this is something that I definitely need to do. Now’.

    Like you say it is still relationship building. It is still producing great content for people that want great content (or just directing them to it). Not spam at all.

    P.S. I think you have your ‘pioneer’ metaphor back to front. Surely, with broken link building (and certainly point #5), you are simply taking someone else’s work that has expired, and re-doing it for your own benefit? The person who made the content in the first place is the first mouse – you are the second, happy, cheese-full mouse!

  4. Casey says:

    Love the post Jon! Being creative is something every link builder needs to do more often. There are some great tips in here, while I haven’t yet practiced #5 I think it’s time to give it a shot – thanks for the tip on the way back machine toolbar!

  5. Marie says:

    Hi Jon, I just started reading your blog and I really like how you describe what you do. I was wondering if you have a basic post on linkbuilding using broken links? I’d love examples of what tools you use and what kind of things you say when you contact people. I’ve done a little bit of this and I’ve found lots of grateful webmasters but haven’t gained any links yet!

  6. Neil says:

    Another great post Jon. I’ve been following the newsletter advice you sent out last week, and it’s really great. Not only have I bagged a couple of top quality .edu links (and am gunning for a classy PR9 .gov page to boot) but I’ve also had a lot of fun. It’s like a little game, but it’s free to play and can potentially pay off with a boatload of traffic.

    So here’s my tip to add to the mix. Don’t just drop someone a note about their page having broken links. Imagine the email you send is actually a comment on a blog post. Say something unique and interesting about the page with the broken link on it. Suggest a few other things that you think are relevant to the discussion the page is having. Maybe point out something timely or newsworthy that the author hadn’t covered. And then once they respond, hit them with something useful from your site that they should link to about it. The success rate seems quite high – for the same reason a well thought out blog post comment will always get accepted. It seems more “real” than someone doing a public service by pointing out broken links.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      I love that idea Neil! I can tell you’re starting to become an awesome link builder :)

      As I say, the more personalized & unique the outreach email, the better. Coming off as human as possible makes a big difference.

      • Neil says:

        Yes. There’s also a lot to be said to understanding the motivations of the person behind the web page. You can gather so much from the site’s style and the author’s tone, as well as from their replies to your email. One guy was a semi-retired professor, so when I offered to re-build his old colleague’s lost page he jumped at the chance. One free link.

    • I’m damn glad I came down to the comments, thanks for your insights Neil, that was great.

  7. Giulia says:

    Great post! I have something I cannot figure out.
    Is there any tool that checks external broken links? I tried Xenu and other online stuff but what I get is about internal broken links. Any help? Consider that I have no access to Google Webmaster Tools not any web stats. Thank you,

    • Neil mentioned one below for Google Chrome, which I second.

      If you use Firefox, “Check My Links” is NOT available as a add-on, but I have found one called “LinkChecker” which works just as well.

      • Jon Cooper says:

        Great answer Michael – I was about to point the same thing out myself!

        Oh, by the way, I get really excited when you guys help each other out. Just wanted you to know Michael this didn’t go unnoticed :)

  8. Neil says:

    Giulia – get Google Chrome to browse the web with, then add in the app that’s called “check my links” – it goes through all links on a page and tells you which ones are broken (and the reasons they are broken).

  9. Definitely some actionable content here Jon. Another splendid post with some real strategy that is actually explained. Gotta love it!

    BTW, who is Charles Limburg? :-) Did you mean, Charles LINDBERGH. I couldn’t help but mention that mistake.

  10. Adam Henige says:

    Great overview for broken link building. I think what’s easy to overlook is the “butterfly effect” of following the links to broken links, the other broken links on old pages, etc. It really is a virtual goldmine for link prospecting. For those of you using Check My Links to discover backlinks I would love for you to take a look at our new Chrome plugin which integrates SEOmoz metrics to show you broken links, available domains and link counts into its results (and a few other cool features). http://domainhunterplus.com – completely free and SUPER handy for broken link building.

  11. Giulia says:

    Hi guys, thank you for your answers.
    I’ve installed Check My Links and it’s excellent but this is not what I need. :- (
    Let’s say I work for myclient.com and I have to search from websites that have linked to myclient.com/page1 that it is not working anymore or it has been wrong linked.
    Is there a way to find broken links on other websites? From your comments it seems it is super easy; I guess I’m missing something

    • I believe you are getting the plugins mentioned mixed up with what you are actually trying to accomplish. The plugins we are speaking of actually only check for broken links when visiting a specific web page. For example:
      - You are visiting example.com/blog/awesome-article (or any URL will work)
      - Run “Check My Links” extension
      - All links on page are checked
      - Red highlights = broken link (you also see HTML error code)
      - Green highlights = working link

      Now you have an opportunity to build a relationship with that domains owner. You could also use it on your own pages to make sure you don’t have any external links that are broken (or even internal if you don’t check or use Webmaster Tools).

      There really is no way to find domains that have broken links to your website, unless you had prior knowledge of said links to compare with a current list of backlinks that page has.

      • Giulia says:

        Hi Michael and thank you for your answer.
        I was quite sure there was no way to find domains having broken links to my website and your comment confirms my doubt. I have to give up then.

  12. Nick LeRoy says:

    I bit the bullet – I subscribed to your newsletter. I have been a huge proponent of BLB and outside of Garrett French promoting it I don’t see many others giving tips on it. Great job and I love the OSE tip. HIGHLY Valuable!

  13. Ross Hudgens says:

    I like recommending a secondary resource also in my vertical, so it lowers commercial intent to the webmaster. Using your tip in conjunction, you can also make this second resource a link to a site with your link already hosted – that way you can maximize linkjuice flow back to your site.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      I remember you saying this (I think on John Doherty’s gmail outreach post you mentioned this in your real life email template). I’ve started to do this, and I’m really liking the results. This would definitely make #6 on the list!

      Thanks Ross for the comment, really glad you took the chance to stop by :)

  14. Marie Haynes says:

    I’m finding it really addictive checking websites for broken links. It’s like playing a slot machine when you find a good site and BOOM it has 5 broken links! But I’ve yet to have anyone link back to me. (Granted, I’ve only written about 10 emails, so perhaps it is a numbers thing). Here is my general approach:

    “Hi ____,

    I was checking out your website and I noticed that you have a number of broken links. The following links give me a 404 error when I click on them…..[insert links].

    Just thought you should know. [Insert something personal or something about their site design, etc.]

    And here’s where I always feel awkward…how on earth do you ask for a link to your site without sounding like you’re using them?

    “By the way, if you’re looking for another good real estate site to link to, we would greatly appreciate the link at http://www.example.com
    “Would you be interested in trading links with our site? I think it would benefit both of us?” <—I'd rather not get a recip, but it's better than nothing.

    How on earth do you guys ask for links?

    A second question: I really like the idea of finding broken links that used to point to an important resource and then reproducing that resource and offering your site as a replacement link. But, how do you find these types of pages? For real estate link building, I have mostly found broken links that go to say, a lawyer's page or a home inspector's page. I can't really replace that info.

    What types of search queries would you use to find pages that link to content so that I can create the content on my site and offer then my site as an alternative to their broken link?

    Sorry for such a long question! I know some of the incredible brains that read (and write) this blog can help me!

    • Nick LeRoy says:

      Marie – you put too much effort into your e-mails. I typically send out an e-mail asking if this is the appropriate e-mail to report broken links which open ups the line of communication. Then you follow up after they respond with the broken links and you simply suggest an alternative source for some of the broken ones they will be removing. Don’t make your e-mails lengthy or request anything. Look at my post for a real life broken link building e-mail example. http://nickleroy.com/broken-link-building-in-action-real-email-examples-inside

      Hope you don’t mind me dropping the link Jon but I think it can help validate this post even more.

      • Nick LeRoy says:

        Also… “how on earth do you ask for a link to your site without sounding like you’re using them?”

        Don’t ask them. If your resource is valuable and you can get them to visit it and agree they will be more then happy to link to it. This is NOT a technique in which you should be focusing on anchor text etc.

        • Jon Cooper says:

          Nick, you’re awesome. Thanks so much for those comments – I would have said something along those lines if you didn’t!

          Marie, on your 2nd question – you can always keep searching to find relevant, broken content that gets linked to (you’ll never hit a wall), so keep on keeping on. If you still feel like you’re just getting stuck finding real estate websites linking out to content you won’t find on your site, consider making a section on your site dedicated to miscellaneous content. If that’s what it takes to get the link, then do it!

  15. Marie Haynes says:

    I can’t tell you how excited I was to find this in my inbox today:

    “Hi Marie:
    Thank you very much for alerting us to the broken link.
    I’ve added your blog to our blog roll.”

    Now I’m hooked. :)

  16. Jane Fox says:

    Thanks for this helpful strategies Jon. I tried it and really work for me. Another good web developing strategy that help me lot.

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