I love link rot... and so should every marketer tasked with creating and/or promoting high-utility content. Link rot is a Force of Web-Nature that turns 30 percent of outbound links into real opportunities for you to promote high-quality content.
Recent link rot studies in the legal resources space show that in a static set of 1,266 resources, link rot claims 30 percent of them within 3 years. I found, in analyzing over 10,000 outbound resource links in a librarian-curated health resource collection, over 20 percent of the pages had a 404 status (in my survey I did not count any other 400 or 500-class statuses). Of these 404'd pages, 1,128 had links still pointing to them - many in the hundreds, a few in the thousands, according to Open Site Explorer.
Broken Link Building, Theoretically
It works like this, roughly. You find a links page and check the status of each outbound URL. If you find one that's dead you send an email to the webmaster to let him know.
In your email you suggest a replacement URL (if you have one on your site use that - if not, it's nice to suggest another good alternative). If you have no 1-to-1 replacement on your site you request that they add a link to your content while they're tweaking the code to fix their page.
If you want to include this approach in an ongoing manner it's best suited for sites with high quality, encyclopedic content and/or the ability to make and store it well.
What makes the broken link prospecting process different from, say, competitor backlink analysis or link building query-based campaigns is the manner in which prospects are discovered. In broken link building you typically start with a handful of potential links pages, scrape the outbound links, and then check each outbound link's status.
Once you have linkers to the broken pages, you should repeat the process one more time - pull all their outbounds and check them. The best place to find broken links is on pages with broken links. Here are three more starting points or discovering your initial set of broken pages.
- I've found the greatest success in building out lists of several hundred links pages, pulling down ~10,000 outbound links and checking the status for each. At this scale you can start to make more meaningful alignments with existing client content.
- Don't waste prospects or your time spent prospecting! If your content is genuinely of high quality you can also email links pages that don't have any broken links and request a link. Yes you will have 1 percent or lower conversions. The cost is a few hours sending emails.
BLB Prospect Qualification
Building out a prospect list is just the beginning - I typically plan for at least 4-5 hours of work after the initial processing of a batch of 10,000 outbound links. I spend this time qualifying and categorizing prospects in order to align client content with what's broken and/or what the page currently links to.
Qualification Points (aka Columns)
- Number of unique linking domains.
- Availability of content on your site (write new OR existing URL).
- Relevance of page to your content (if you're not writing new and don't have existing).
- Ready availability of contact info.
- Subject line of email.
There are two basic approaches in BLB outreach:
- Guile: Using guile typically means you're obscuring your personal interest in getting links placed, often through a persona and unrelated email.
- Guilelessness: In the guilelessness approach you outreach from your agency/site email address and work hard to help them make great linking decisions and hope that this includes your site.
I use whatever fits the (often complicated) circumstances, which I suppose puts me in the "guile" category.
- If you've kept organized then outreach will be a breeze. If you're like me you'll need at least one campaign of absolute cluster****ery in order to realize the importance of staying tightly organized.
- Track email subject lines, along with conversions of course!
BLB Practitioners + More Resources
I first heard of broken link building from Melanie Nathan. I spoke with Napoleon Suarez about it several times on the phone and then eagerly read his contributions to the practice. I conducted some interviews on the subject and discovered that Nick LeRoy is also a broken link builder and so interviewed him, too.
Here are the top broken link building resources:
- The Reciprocity Link Building Method
- Broken Link Building: Feast On Your Competitors This Thanksgiving
- Broken Link Building In Action: REAL Email Examples Inside!
- Fixing the Web's Lost Content: An 8 Step Guide for Link Builders
- 40 Broken Link Building Resources (includes tools)
Lastly - I'd love to read your thoughts, experiences and questions about broken link building. And if you've had experience, I'd love to interview you!