Think of white hat link building strategies that can be done at scale and you'll immediately think of content marketing, quality guest posting and online PR. But broken link building won't usually feature in most people's thoughts. That might just be a huge missed opportunity.
For the last few months, I've been working on developing a training program with one of the masters of broken link building, Garrett French. French has moved the focus of his agency, CitationLabs.com, away from quality guest posting to concentrate on this underused strategy. He and his outreach manager Valerie Cecil explained the process to me.
Broken Link Building: The Basic Concept
The concept behind broken link building is a very simple one:
- Find resources pages within your relevant market sectors
- Check the links on those pages to identify any that are broken
- Contact the person behind the site, tell them about the broken link and suggest an alternative quality resource
- Piggyback a suggestion of one of your own resources on that suggestion.
You can use Google operators to find resources page using searches like ‘gourmet food inurl:resources' (see Advanced Search Operator Tactics for much more on this), use a link checker such as http://frayd.us/extensions/linkchecker/ to identify broken links on the page and then pitch a fix to the webmaster.
Test this basic concept and if it's right for your business, then learn to do it at scale – where you're finding thousands of broken link opportunities at a time.
More about working at scale later but first let's look at what makes broken link building attractive to in-house teams, solo consultants and agencies.
What's attractive about broken link building?
- It's a white hat technique that can be worked at scale
- Outreach is inherently useful - offering something of value immediately. When you spot and correct broken links, you're genuinely helping the people behind the sites. They can be incredibly grateful for suggestions to fix the problem - and are generous with links as a result.
- There's a constant supply of broken links - links get broken en masse every day - largely by human error so there's no shortage of opportunity. It's a fact of life on the web, and a great resource for link builders
- By definition, you know broken link prospects actively link to quality resources and they'll probably want to maintain high standards. They're genuinely concerned that links on their site are broken and are grateful when we spot the break and provide a suitable alternative.
- Another advantage is that you don't necessarily have to recreate the replacement content yourself. As you're doing research to find broken links, you come across fantastic resources and you can recommend these to people who have broken links on their site. Because you've gone to all that trouble for them, they're often amenable to giving you a link to your resources in return.
- If you do create content, you can use it in multiple ways.
Where broken link building gets really interesting is in finding valuable domains that were once popular but which are now dead. In the past such resources were valuable because they could be purchased and the link juice redirected to another domain - that door has been firmly closed, but such defunct domains are now a terrific opportunity for broken link builder.
If the URLs of pages that used to exist on the defunct domain have not been redirected, then by definition, all the links will be broken and if there are a substantial number of referring domains, they can be harvested as link building opportunities.
One example is MyPymamid.gov which was an extensive, authority site on nutrition but is no longer live. This shot from MajesticSEO.com shows that the site has well over 50,000 referring domains:
Once you find such defunct domains, explore their link profile and ask:
- Where do the links to this domain come from and what separate niches are represented within them? Content and pitches can then be tailored to each niche.
- How did the domain see to attract links? Which pages and content attracted the most links?
- What high quality content already exists that could be pitched as replacement resources?
- Have you sufficient resources to invest in creating fresh, unique content that could be pitched as replacement content?
- How can your site piggyback on suggesting replacement resources and gain links?
Such research really gives you an understanding of the market and within that you can find niches that can be relevant to many business sites. It's then a matter of reaching out to those sites.
Valerie Cecil is in charge of all outreach from CitationLabs.com and she's learned the value of a detailed process to do the job, “finding broken link opportunities is difficult and so you want to make the most of them and that means planning the outreach process carefully”.
Here are some important outreach tips:
- Develop a number of different personas attractive to the markets you're targeting and be sure to keep all persona communication consistent.
- Don't be too transactional in your approach - don't just say ‘this link is broken, here's a fix. A friendly, human approach works wonders so build a narrative that reflects that.
- In a typical project, you can identify thousands of opportunities of all kinds - from top notch authority sites to run of the mill opportunities. Pick the cream of the bunch - perhaps up to 50 and do highly crafted personal approaches to them. For the rest you can take a customized template approach.
- Follow up is crucial - if you send just one outreach email, you'll be missing a lot of opportunities. Cecil normally builds a series of three – and that's improved success rates by 60 percent.
- Spend time dealing with the responses you receive – each response indicates a hot prospect so it's worth spending some time to build the relationship and win a link.
Is Broken Link Building Suitable for all Sorts of Sites?
Broken link building can play a valuable part in most people's link building strategies. But it works best in markets where there is a tradition of good content, opinion and community. But it's not great for links to pure sales pages.
Doing it at Scale
French recommends that anyone starting broken link building for the first time, needs to spend time following this process ‘by hand' - in other words one page at a time, so that you get a feel for the whole process and the nature of the opportunity.
There are ‘less moving pieces' in broken link building as compared say, to quality guest posting and that makes it suitable for large scale operation.
Here are some tips for doing it at scale:
- A strategic person who understand the market, the client and what they're comfortable with is essential. This person needs to oversee the operation, the use of contractors and software tools.
- A clear methodology is essential. The steps might be simple but that can be deceptive as there are many steps where things can go wrong. Developing a detailed checklist that suits your company or agency is essential.
- You'll need a team of contact finders. Software will only pick up between 20-60% of contacts for your prospects. The only way to do that is to have a human do - these are the lowest skilled people and the least paid.
- You'll also need a similar team for web form submission.
- A good outreach manager is essential - to plan the email blasts, respond personally to replies and do everything required to make a link happen.
French has developed a number of tools that identify thousands of opportunities with a single keyword search – see http://www.brokenlinkbuilding.com/ and a training course in broken link building will shortly be available.