The internet is filled with web pages with broken links. While this primarily has poor SEO, and UX implications to these websites –  it also provides an opportunity for others to replace the broken link with their content.. making broken link building one of the most popular strategies in the industry.

Although the broken link-building strategy has nuances and isn’t foolproof, learning how to correctly execute the process can significantly help to efficiently generate links. That’s why we’ve created this comprehensive guide consisting of strategies we use at TLG.

In this article, we will break down finding broken links and the process of converting them into links pointing to your website.

Understanding Broken Link Building

Everyone has encountered a “web page does not exist” or “invalid URL” error at least once in their history of clicking on links across the internet; these links are examples of broken links.

An example of a custom 404 page

Broken link building involves finding dead links (404 pages) on other websites and replacing them with a link to relevant content on your website. While it may seem like you’re taking advantage of broken pages to improve your backlink profile, you’re often doing more good than harm.

When you ask a site owner to swap a dead link with working links from your page, you also help their website by improving its backlink profile and saving its audience the annoyance of visiting a resource that no longer exists (broken links = bad user experience) 

Having too many broken links also affects search engine rankings and the perceived quality of the referring domains. This is outlined in the Google Rater Guidelines Document, where 404/broken links are part of the assessment Google uses to assess the quality of a site.

So getting rid of a dead page and replacing it with a working link will benefit the target website’s SEO efforts. Plus, they now have an updated resource with information that supports their content, and serves the user.

All of this may sound simple, but the right broken link-building opportunities are hard to come by, especially when you’re in a very specific niche or industry. While finding broken links takes a lot of elbow grease, it’s also important to create worthwhile content to replace those dead pages and correctly reach out to your prospects with your fresh link – only then will you have a successful outcome.

Can You Scale Broken Link Building?

Before discussing its scalability, it’s important to understand that broken link building may work extremely well for some but poorly for other websites. Whether it works for you depends on how you find broken links, the type of content you create (i.e. your niche), and how you reach out to them.

Many complain that link building with broken links no longer works, but we’re here to teach you how to improve its scalability to make this type of outreach worthwhile. You will have to invest time and money in high-functioning tools, such as Ahrefs or Semrush. There are also plugins available like Check My Links, but manually checking pages one-by-one isn’t really practical if you’re trying to do it at scale. 

That said, broken link building is scalable, but has its limits. Below, we will discuss the steps to achieving potential success with this strategy.

TLG has years of experience with broken link building, and with a few adjustments, it can prove beneficial even in 2024. If you want to explore broken link building for your website, get in touch with our experts.

How To Do Broken Link Building?

Building broken links is a four-step process: 

  1. Finding the source of dead links.
  2. Vetting and selecting relevant ones.
  3. Creating replacement content.
  4. Reaching out to the targets.

The bulk of the work lies in finding and identifying broken links, so let’s explore and start with that and then proceed to the content and outreach.

Finding Broken Links

There are many ways to find broken pages, some requiring more time than others.

We will investigate these different methods to give you more options so you can choose which one works best for you.

Webpages Linking To Multiple Resources

This technique is about locating resource pages that have curated a large list of links, and then checking them for broken ones. Some examples of these include pages titled with phrases like:

  • “Useful link”
  • “Quick Links”
  • “Resources”

You can start with a simple Google search with phrases such as:

  • [Keyword] + inurl:resource
  • [Keyword] + useful resources
  • [Keyword] + intitle:links
  • [Keyword] + helpful resources

To identify these broken links, you must download a Chrome extension such as Broken Link Checker, Check My Links, or LinkMiner. When you visit your target resource pages, simply click on the extension to display the broken links on the specific page. Then, you can select the ones that you can replace with a comparable piece. 

As shown below, it’ll highlight the link in red, and display a “404” beside any broken links.

Some resource pages tend to have been on the net for a long time, so generally speaking, if you have suitable resource page strategies to execute, you’ll find a resource page at some point. 

You can then take that broken link, and put it into an SEO tool, to find the other pages linking to it. So in this particular example, we can see that the resource has 131 dofollow referring domains (after filtering out DR less than 10), which isn’t bad. 

To maximize your ability to find broken links with this method, I’d advise finding pages that you know have been around for a long time. You can use Google’s date feature to go back to at least 5 to 15 years ago.

Caveats:

  1. It’s a time-consuming and manual process, to use a plugin to check for dead links. It can take a while to find those broken links which are both relevant enough, and have plenty of referring domains.
  2. Plugins like CheckMyLinks are not 100% correct. Sometimes they’ll miss links, or misreport links as broken, which can be frustrating.
Scanning Niche-Relevant Websites (The Infinite Staircase method)

With this strategy, you can use tools such as Ahrefs Site Explorer or Semrush to find dead links on any popular website within your industry – be it your competitors’ websites, or just high authority sites that are in your niche. 

You can filter it further, and speed things up, by going to Ahrefs’ “Best By Link” report, finding “404 not found” pages, and sorting them from highest to lowest referring domains. This way, you can prioritize the ones with the most numbers and build links accordingly.

You can even take this a step further by continuing your research on these websites’ “Outgoing links” to find broken links. The logic here is that if the site is big enough, and has not kept on top of their broken inks – that they’ll likely have broken outbound links as well. 

Since there is no way currently to filter through the links on Ahrefs, you can export this list and deduplicate the list (since multiple pages may link to that same dead link).

However, you’ll end up with a pretty big list. To filter through the links further, search for a phrase either in the link URL column, or the anchor text column, to find topics that align with a page you have. 

Once you’ve picked out a block of links that align with your content, put it through batch analysis, and see which ones have a decent number of inbound links.

In this example above, we can see the top link has 60 dofollow referring domains, so could be a good one for us to analyze – if we have something that aligns. 

Since it’s now a dead page, plug it into Wayback Machine, and see what that page was about – to ensure we either have something comparable, or can replicate the idea. Just find a timeframe where some snapshots are taken, and click on that date, so you can see how the page looked.

In this example when I clicked through, I found it was a very outdated article about mass article submissions. Still not a complete loss, as this could be an opportunity to go through its backlinks, and pitch those sites something that talks about why such link building techniques are bad – but in an ideal situation we’d have something where the linker doesn’t have to stretch as much. 

Caveat: 

  • As you see above, this can be hit or miss. If you’re getting to the stage where you have to dig past the inbound links, into the outbound links – you may struggle to find anything relevant. I’ve used an SEO website example above, but you may see better success if your website covers a broad niche and therefore has a higher probability of overlapping with other dead content. 

      I talk about the “niche aspect of broken links” more in this segment of my interview on the Pitchbox Link Masters podcast.

      • A large, established site can tend to have a lot of irrelevant links that don’t really seed any ideas for a broken link strategy. For example, affiliate links, old ecommerce products, companies that have since folded, amongst other things. This just creates more noise, and gives you a larger dataset to sift through.

        Topic Search For Broken Pages

        Many think that broken link building means limited opportunities, but the actual caveat is not to think broader enough to find prospects beyond the obvious handful. This is a slightly reverse approach where you first decide on a topic, maybe one that you already published and had great responses from your audience.

        Next, you want to search the Internet for broken pages that serve the same purpose as your article. In Ahrefs’ Content Explorer, switch to the “In title” search mode, enter your topic name, and hit “Search.” Apply filters to segregate all the broken pages, and choose dead links with at least 20 referring domains to make an effort worthwhile.

        Similarly, you can use the “Page traffic” column to determine whether or not the old article had high-quality backlinks, and that the site ranked.

        If the page had good traffic, this could indicate that its backlinks were helping it rank, but if it doesn’t, then the backlinks may be poor quality. This comes with the caveat that a ‘linkable asset’ piece could have been made for the purpose of attracting links, but not for search rankings – so it may not necessarily be a deal breaker, if it didn’t have a lot of historical traffic. Take a judgment call based on the page’s link profile when you skim through it.

        Closed Domain/Business Backlinks

        The last way of finding broken links is a rather rare find, but one that does have a higher success rate. It’s not a daily occurrence that a reputable website or company shuts shop, so if you’re lucky to come across one, you’ve hit a goldmine, especially if it’s competing websites.

        It mostly happens in these situations:

        • An editorial news site in your industry closes up or is folded into another larger media group.
        • A business closes down.
        • A business moves to a new domain and lets the old domain drop without redirecting.

        When digging through the backlinks pointing to a closed website, you only have to ensure that their content and niches match yours. Once you have confirmed the relevance, it’s time to do some backlink analysis and identify every website linking to it, and see if it aligns with the content you have.

        After you get your list, the drill is the same. Find pages on that dead site that seemed to attract a lot of links, scrape those links, and then reach out and suggest your replacement piece.

        So how do you find these lucrative domains? There are a couple of ways. 

        1. Pick out a rough diamond from the techniques we shared above. 

        You won’t find them all the time, but sometimes, you’ll come across a dead page, and realize the entire site doesn’t exist anymore, and aligns with your sector. You then can plug that into your SEO tool, and look at its link profile. 

        But make sure you’re quick off the mark. If you haven’t found that dead site quick enough, you might find that the sites linking to them have either already noticed the broken link and removed it, or someone else has reached out to replace it. Just like this example below (Chowhound) , it closed down, it didn’t take long for the links to start to drop.

        However, the domain was later reacquired in Oct 2023, and then URLs started to get fixed and remaining links redirected, by the new owners. 

        1. Hunt for expired/dropped domains with backlinks

        There’s a few platforms you can use for this, but one example is ExpiredDomains.net. People tend to use these when they want to buy a domain, but we can use this to seed a broken link strategy. You have to use some intuition, and smart use of search filters, but you can sometimes come across a gem in these.

        Ideally, you want to be able to see the number of backlinks/referring domains, so you can quickly filter for the ones with a sizable backlink profile.

        Once you’ve collated a list of potential suitable targets, put these into an SEO tool and see the number of unique dofollow referring domains they still have, and some of these could be the source of some more broken link ideas. 

        Vetting Relevant Prospects

        Once you have collated a list of prospects, the process doesn’t end there; it’s time to evaluate and segregate the broken links based on which opportunities will actually benefit your backlink profile.

        At the basic level, you can use metrics from Ahrefs, or Majestic, to cut the lists of targets further, and to filter out the junk. DR greater than 10, and Domain Traffic greater than 100, will cut out most of the junk, so you have a smaller dataset to play with.

        After that, you need to review the context of the broken links, by clicking on the source URL. As we alluded to earlier, the context of the link is really important. It has to align with something existing that you have – if not the exact same topic, at least covering it from another perspective.

        Create Content for the Replacement Page

        If you haven’t published something relevant to replace the broken links, it’s time to create content that impresses your prospects.

        Before we discuss creating content, let’s understand what factors to consider to ensure the recipient accepts your broken link replacement:

        • Your replacement is akin to the broken link, if not better, making it useful and relevant in context to the prospect’s article.
        • Your content is the best one available, so they likely can’t find a better alternative to replace the broken link.
        • The specific page with the broken link has many visitors, so the website owner would rather their audience have a resource to refer to for a better user experience. (basically they won’t have much interest in updating a very old unused resource or an orphan page.)
        • Giving your site a backlink should not pose a conflict of interest with the prospect’s business, website, or audience.

        First, reference the broken link article using Wayback Machine’s internet archive tool to get a snapshot of the broken pages’ content structure, tone, research, etc. This will give you an idea of which direction to take with your fresh pieces and areas of improvement to make them better.

        After you’ve got a dose of inspiration from the original page, it’s time to start doing your own research and crafting a new and up-to-date replacement page. See if there are any inaccuracies or outdated info you can update. Simplify the content and use graphics or visuals to demonstrate difficult concepts, making it more attention-grabbing and reader-friendly.

        By making these minor adjustments, you also have a valid reason for why your replacement page is worth linking to and how it will benefit the prospect’s site.

        Crafting Your Outreach Strategy 

        The outreach strategy for your broken link-building opportunities is as crucial as creating content; this is a two-step process that includes:

        Identifying Contacts

        First, you need to find the right person to contact because if you randomly send an email to anyone working for the website, it could lead you to a dead end. Not everyone has the authority to conduct backend edits on websites, so you want to target the person who does.

        For example, some staff writers have permission to update in-article links, so check the “Author” page or their social media platforms to know your point of contact. You can also refer to the “Contact” or “Our Team” pages to get a specific contact. Choose a person’s email address over generic company emails like [email protected] because these are usually automated for limited queries.

        Once you land the email, ensure that the addresses are working instead of wasting your time contacting invalid or non-existent ones. That;s where email validation tools like ZeroBounce will help.

        Writing Your Pitch

        While many website owners appreciate a broken link-building email, they are selective about what they use as a replacement resource. Your approach also makes a huge difference, and you must aim for a concise, creative, and compelling proposal with a personal touch.

        To make it stand out from a generic campaign pitch, these are some best practices to keep in mind when writing your email:

        Personalized Subject Line and Greeting: Subject lines are the first phrases that catch the attention, so personalize them by including a name, asking a question, or mentioning something they can relate to. Even in your first line, greet them with enthusiasm to avoid sounding like a bot.

        Do Some Background Research: Review your prospect’s website and professional background to understand what piques their interest. Use this information in your pitch to show what you appreciate about their content.

        Keep It Crisp And Clear: Don’t beat around the bush by including “fluff” words or exaggerated flattery; this indicates you have an ulterior motive and may come off as needy. Keep the email friendly yet professional, and be upfront about the broken link and what you have to offer.

        Explain Your Value Proposition: This is where you explain why your content will benefit their article and audience. If you’ve made any major improvements to the content found on old URLs, don’t forget to mention that (even in a few bullet points) because it’ll give you a competitive edge over other sites with a similar resource.

        Include Reference Links: Include the broken link, the article on the website it’s on, and the link of your replacement so the website owner can easily identify what you’re talking about. I’d advise also mentioning the anchor text of the broken link, especially when it’s a large page. This will give them a quick overview of what you need. You can also use other content you’ve produced to give examples of your quality, if you’re trying to leverage it to write guest content as well.

        Always Follow-Up: Website owners’ inboxes are flooded with outreach emails so they may miss your email. If you don’t receive a reply within two to three days, send a casual follow-up with your initial email thread, asking whether they got the chance to read your proposal.

        We’re not going to share a template, because there isn’t really any one template to ‘rule them all’ – but the key thing to remember is that its better to not overcomplicate broken link building. They have a broken link, you have a relevant resource that could replace it, and you’re there to help. 

        At TLG, we’ve found even a simple email like this, has helped us get some pretty good links. (This one landed us a DR 83 link.)

        5 Reasons TLG can be the Best Broken Link Building Agency for you

        TLG takes pride in crafting link building strategies that not only meet industry standards but also bring in top-quality, valuable external links, and that also applies to our broken link building process.

        Plus, we’re always on top of Google’s ever-evolving policies and algorithms, so you don’t have to stress about the risk of a penalty.

        So, what sets our broken link building strategy apart from other link building agencies?

        #1 Analyzing Client Websites
        We strive to understand our client’s business, content, target audience, and what they wish to achieve through link building. This allows us to identify weak and strong points to work on and find the contextual broken link opportunities that will actually work, will improve their backlink profiles and maximize results.

        #2 Strategy and Competitor Analysis
        We don’t just find a list of websites and launch campaigns; we conduct backlink analysis on competitor websites and hand-pick opportunities that comfortably fit into our overarching strategy. Plus, we cater to our client’s specifications and encourage total transparency to ensure everyone is on the same page. So, our clients are informed throughout the process, whether it’s other manual outreach strategies, or broken link building.

        #3 Targeted Data Prospecting
        Our experts use rigorous data mining to find high-quality, niche-specific websites and their contacts. We have years of experience scraping large data sets, manually prospecting through Google, and even extracting specific lists from directories to create targeted websites. The same attention to detail applies when we build broken links.

        #4 Personalized Outreach Process
        Once we find the target websites with broken links, we leave no stone unturned to find the most appropriate contacts because we know how important it is to get the right person’s attention. Our experienced outreachers craft customized emails and understand the fine line between persuasion and adaptability when communicating with others. We evaluate each prospect to ensure we find common ground, which helps us build better links more effectively.

        #5 Calibrated Process
        Apart from simply strategizing, we also learn from our campaigns’ wins and mistakes to maintain the link flow. So, if a specific broken link building technique works or doesn’t, we will study the causes and implement our findings to improve future strategies. And, of course, our clients have complete access to what, how, and why we do what we do.

        Over To You 

        As we’ve seen through this guide, broken link building has its complexities, and when done correctly, it’s an effective way of improving your website’s backlink profile and SEO efforts.

        It’s all about finding the right opportunities, working on quality content, creating stellar outreach strategies, and providing value to the referring domains. Hence, they understand why your link fits their page perfectly.

        If you need help identifying broken link building opportunities for your website, you’ve come to the right place. At TLG, we focus on improving your backlinks while keeping you in the loop throughout the process.