A Guide to Broken Link Building: Tips for Finding and Replacing Broken Links

8 minute read

Broken link building is an effective off-page SEO strategy because it benefits both marketers and publishers. When a broken link is replaced with an updated URL, a marketer earns a link back to their website, and a publisher’s site becomes more user- and SEO-friendly.

Learn how to develop an effective link building strategy by creating this win-win situation.

This guide will cover:

  • What is broken link building?
  • What is link reclamation?
  • How to set up a broken link building strategy
  • Where to look for broken backlinks
  • How to find broken backlinks
  • Tips for creating replacement content for broken backlinks
  • How to create a broken link outreach strategy

What is Broken Link Building?

Broken link building is the process of finding dead outbound links on a website, notifying the publisher about the broken link, and providing them with a replacement link that leads back to your site.

Broken backlinks can happen for a few reasons:

  • The linked content has been removed
  • The page URL of the linked content was changed
  • The domain of the linked content was changed

Broken link building is effective and strategic because it benefits both publishers and marketers.

Publishers don’t want broken outbound links on their site because:

  • It provides a bad experience for users. Users click on a link and expect to find a valuable resource. Instead, they are met with a 404 page or error message.
  • It can negatively affect SEO. Search crawlers use links to understand the relevance and authority of a piece of content. When a link is broken, it fails to provide additional context to the linking page, which can negatively influence its long-term SEO results.

Marketers benefit when publishers update a broken link with a new link to their site.

The number of high-quality backlinks a website has is an important part of off-page SEO because it suggests to search engines that the content is valuable and authoritative. As a result, backlinks are essential signals that help improve a site’s ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs).

So when a marketer reaches out to a publisher, informs them about a broken link, and provides a new resource, both sides win. The publisher adds the new link, fixing their on-site error while providing a valuable backlink to the marketer.

Broken link building is effective and strategic because it benefits both publishers and marketers. Click To Tweet

What is Link Reclamation?

It’s worth noting that broken link building is similar to link reclamation, but they are not the same thing.

Link reclamation is the process of earning back the links that used to lead to your content. In this case, a website linked to your content at one time, but for whatever reason, they took down or broke the link.

Link reclamation is a form of broken link building. However, not all broken link building is link reclamation, as link reclamation implies that the broken or deleted links belonged to your brand in the first place.

How to Set Up a Broken Link Building Strategy

Now that you know what broken link building is and why it is an effective off-page SEO technique, let’s look at how you can develop this strategy for your brand.

There are three core components of broken link building:

  1. Find broken backlinks. Identify sites that fit two criteria: the site has a broken link, and the site is one that you would like to link back to yours.
  2. Create replacement content. Develop or repurpose content that matches the linked source. The content needs to be a natural and relevant replacement for the linked information.
  3. Reach out to the publishers. Find the best contact at the publication and reach out to them to propose your replacement content.

Here are tips for each stage of the process.

1. How to Find Broken Backlinks

There are two parts to this step of broken link building. First, you must know how to find and qualify sites that may have valuable backlink opportunities. Second, you should also know how to check for broken links on the sites you find.

Where to Look for Broken Backlinks

There are broken links all across the internet. But instead of trying to get as many links as you can, it’s better to focus your efforts on getting the right types of backlinks–those that will be most valuable to your marketing plan.

The best broken backlinks worth pursuing are:

  • On sites that your audience regularly visits
  • On sites that link to your competitors
  • On high-authority websites

Let’s review some tips for how to find broken links that meet one or more of these points.

How to find sites that your audience regularly visits

Getting links on sites that your audience regularly visits is beneficial because it creates an opportunity to reach and drive traffic from your target audience.

To find similar sites that your target audience regularly visits, use Alexa’s Audience Overlap Tool. Enter your website URL and/or the URLs of up to 10 competitors who have the audience you want to attract.

The tool will produce a map with dozens of sites that share a similar audience to the site(s) you entered. Use this data to identify top sites to target for broken link building, as you know your ideal audience uses these sites. 

Pro Tip: When using Alexa to create a list of sites that your audience regularly visits, save your list so that you can use it in the next step: finding broken competitor backlinks.

How to find competitor backlinks

Staying competitive with others in your industry requires knowing where competitor sites have earned links and also earning links on the same sites. When you know the sites that link to your competitors, you can add them to your broken link building research and overall link building strategy.

To find competitor backlinks, use Alexa’s Competitor Backlink Checker. Enter up to 10 of your competitors (or use the list you saved using the Audience Overlap Tool), and run the analysis.

The report shows the top sites linking to your competitors, as well as the exact URLs that point to competitor sites. This competitor backlink analysis helps you create a list of sites to target in your broken link building efforts. Start by checking backlinks on these sites and look to see if they have any opportunities for you to replace a broken link.

How to find high-authority websites

Before you start broken link building using sites that you find, check to see if the link is worth it. A link on a site with high authority will provide more SEO value than a link on a site with low online authority. So check each site’s authority before creating a link building strategy for it.

To understand a website’s authority, check its Alexa Rank. Alexa Rank is a measure of a website’s popularity, relative to other sites on the web. Sites with a high Alexa Rank (ex. 100,000) have less authority than sites with a low Alexa Rank (ex. 100). The site with an Alexa Rank of one is the most authoritative site online.

You can view a site’s Alexa Rank using the Site Overview Tool. Enter the site URL to see its Global Rank as well as its ranking in the United States.

You can also check a site’s Alexa Rank while using Alexa’s Competitive Backlink Checker. The report includes each site’s rank, which allows you to easily identify sites worth targeting in your broken link building strategy.

How to Check for Broken Backlinks

Once you identify sites that would be good places to build links, use a broken link checker to see if there are any dead links on each site.

To find broken backlinks, there are a variety of broken link checkers to use.

1. Dr. Link Check: Enter a website URL to produce a report on broken links across the entire website.

Screenshot via Dr. Link Check

2. Dead Link Checker: Enter multiple website URLs at one time to scan and identify broken links on many sites at once.

Screenshot via Dead Link Checker

3. Atomseo: Scan any website and search for broken links or use the Atomseo Chrome Extension to add a broken link checker to your browser. The extension highlights broken links as you browse the web, making it easy to identify broken link opportunities.

Screenshot via Atomseo

2. How to Create Replacement Content for Broken Backlinks

To get publishers to replace a broken link on their site with a link back to your content, you must have a valuable resource to link to. To create high-value replacement content that will lead to a link, use the following tips.

Create relevant content. Publishers aren’t going to link back to your site unless the page you direct them to is a relevant resource. Make sure the content you want the publisher to link to provides value to their readers and gives them the additional information they were looking for.

Review the content on the old link. If it’s difficult to tell what the original broken link led to, attempt to view the old content. Enter the broken link into the Wayback Machine, which saves screenshots of old web pages and posts. By seeing the old linked page, you can more accurately match your content to the content of the original link.

Link to internal pages on your site (instead of your homepage). Sites typically add outbound links on their site to provide additional information or cite sources. These pages are usually not homepages; they are internal landing pages or blog posts. To help increase the chances of getting a link back, offer an internal page as a replacement link. An exception to this best practice is if a page includes a list of company or brand homepages with links to each. If the link to one of your competitors is broken, you may be able to get a link back to your homepage instead.

Create valuable content. Linking to low-quality content can decrease a site’s online authority and SEO. So publishers will be far more likely to link back to your content if the quality is very high. Don’t quickly throw together a short, low-quality blog post for your replacement link content. Use this checklist for writing to create content that will impress publishers while also serving as strong SEO content for your site.

3. How to Create a Broken Link Outreach Strategy: Tips for Reaching Out to Publishers

Once you have a strong piece of replacement content for a site with a broken link, you need to catch the attention of the publisher and encourage them to make the switch.

In many ways, broken link building outreach is similar to guest blogging outreach. Here are some top tips for catching the attention of and securing links with publishers.

In many ways, broken link building outreach is similar to guest blogging outreach. Click To Tweet

Find the correct person to reach out to. When you find backlinks that are broken, don’t immediately go to a contact page or message the author. Find out who manages the website and try to locate their direct contact information. A few tools that help with research include:

  • LinkedIn: Search for the brand or company and look for the person most likely to manage the blog. This is usually a marketing or content manager.
  • VoilaNorbert: Enter the name and domain for the contact, and VoilaNorbert will find and provide their email address.
  • Email Permutator: Enter the name and domain for the contact, and Email Permutator will produce a list of possible email variations to try. 

Show the value to the publisher. Always keep the publisher’s perspective in mind while writing outreach emails. Explain how the link will help their site and put the value they will get at the forefront of the communication. Do not tell them how the link will benefit your brand.

Create a broken link building email template. To save time, create a few different templates for your broken link building emails. Each of your emails can follow a similar formula where you:

  • Address the contact by name
  • Highlight the broken link and its URL
  • Introduce your replacement link
  • Explain why it’s a good replacement

Don’t be spammy. Be personal. Using a broken link building email template doesn’t mean you should copy and paste the same email to every publisher. Publishers who get a lot of outreach emails can immediately identify what’s spam. So remember to be personal. Include specific notes about the website or blog to show that you are familiar with the content you’d like a link from, and that your message isn’t a templated email sent to dozens of sites.

Follow up, but don’t be pushy. Because publishers get many outreach emails, it is possible for your email to get lost. Don’t be afraid to follow up if you don’t hear back from a publisher – but only once or twice. Being pushy or spammy won’t increase your chances of earning a link.

Start Creating Your Broken Link Building Strategy

Broken link building is a mutually beneficial SEO tactic that allows you to gain a link back to your site while helping a publisher make their site more user- and SEO-friendly. If you’re looking for an effective approach for gaining links back to your site, incorporate this strategy into your marketing plan.

For more information on effective link building, read our post:  Link Building Strategies: 3 Powerful Link Opportunities [Tutorial]

To assist in your backlink research and broken link building strategy, use the tips in this post along with Alexa’s Competitor Backlink Checker and other SEO tools. Try them for free in Alexa’s Advanced plan today.

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Kim Kosaka: @http://twitter.com/fullymarketed Kim is Director of Marketing at Alexa. She has 15 years experience in demand generation, content marketing, and campaign management. Her expertise has helped grow user bases by as much as 7x year over year, and a startup from nothing to $1.2 million in revenue in just 3 years.