I’m not going to lie to you: ranking sites in Google was very easy a few years ago. In fact, it was so easy that you could guarantee top 3 rankings in Google for almost any keyword. If your competitor had 50 spammy, PageRank 5 backlinks pointing to his website, it was easy to outrank him by pointing 70 spammy, PR5 backlinks to your site. And if that wasn’t enough, a few extra PR6 backlinks would have fixed the problem for good!
Everything changed with the Google Penguin update; many SEO consultants all over the world went from being online heroes to being broke, with clients refusing to pay for search engine optimization that wasn’t working anymore. Not only that, but many client websites were penalized by Google, and sometimes they were completely removed from their search results! Ouch!
Several years have passed since the mighty Penguin reconfigured the search engine optimization world. And the clever SEOs have adapted, learning to promote their clients’ sites trough clean, 100% white hat methods that stood the test of time.
One of these methods that has always worked and will always work, regardless of Google’s future search algorithm updates, is broken link building. “How do you have the nerve to make this bold claim?”, I hear you asking.
First of all, broken link building helps make the web a better place by eliminating the broken links that plague millions of websites, and Google simply loves that. Then, it is a website traffic generation method that will continue to work even if Google decides to shut down its business tomorrow morning. Who needs search engines, when you can get plenty of visitors from industry-related, highly trafficked websites that are linking to your site?
Take a look at the picture above; it’s from one of my clients’ accounts, and his website is getting 90.1% referral traffic. If Google disappeared tomorrow, he’d still get his 10,000+ highly targeted, monthly website visitors. This is the ideal traffic generation method for your business.
A link from a popular website can send you dozens of visitors per day, each day. Multiply that by 100 links and you will understand the huge power of broken link building.
Here’s how the process works in a nutshell:
a) Find high quality resource pages that have one or more broken links on them. In plain English, these are backlinks that lead to inexistent resources;
b) Create a resource that’s similar with and better than the defunct resource;
c) Contact the webmaster, telling him about the broken link and suggesting an alternative – your much better resource.
Now let’s break down the entire process into detailed, easy to follow steps.
1. Find industry-related resource pages
The Internet is a very dynamic medium, with many sites being created and disappearing on a daily basis. If a website links to a defunct web property, that link is broken. This is exactly what we want to fix, by creating a similar resource and asking the webmaster to update the page, replacing the broken link with a link to our website.
So how do you find high quality, industry related websites?
Everything starts with a few Google searches. We want to find reputable websites that have already created good resource pages. Here’s a good list of search strings that will help you get started.
“keyword” + inurl:links
“keyword” + “helpful links”
“keyword” + “useful links”
“keyword” + “resources”
“keyword” + inurl:resources
“keyword” + “helpful resources”
“keyword” + “other resources”
“keyword” + “useful resources”
“keyword” + “resource” + “email us”
As an example, if you work in the travel industry, your Google search strings will look like this:
Yes, keep the quotes, because they will help filter many unrelated, irrelevant sites.
How many results should you gather for your list? Try to limit your searches to the top three Google pages for each search string; otherwise, you will never get the job done.
In addition to this, if a website ranks in Google’s top 30 for a particular keyword, it should be a high quality website. This means that a link coming from it will be beneficial, also helping your website move closer to the top.
It is true that there are also a few sites that use spammy tactics and manage to crawl to the first Google page. We don’t want to get links from them, of course! Don’t worry, I’ll show you how to determine if a site is good or bad. But first, let me show you a tiny piece of code that will greatly simplify your work: Google Results Bookmarklet.
Open the link above in Firefox, and then drag the big green “Simple Google Results” button to the browser toolbar. The result should look like this:
Run a Google search, and then press “Simple Google Results”; you will notice that the returned URLs are nicely formatted, so you can easily copy them to the clipboard.
Scroll down a bit; the 100% clean results, without any extraneous html, can be found in the “Plain Listing” section.
Copy the plain text results, and then paste them in a spreadsheet.
Once you are done with the first keyword, running it through the 10 search strings and grabbing the URLs, move on to the second one and repeat the process.
Remove the duplicates at the end. You don’t want to evaluate the quality of a site several times just because slightly different search strings have brought it up more than once, and you have forgotten that you’ve already checked it.
If this looks like a lot of work, well… it is! That’s another reason why you should limit your research to the top 30 results.
Use relevant keywords for your research, including industry slang, etc.
As always, there are tools that can simplify the URL gathering process, and one of the best is… Scrapebox!
It’s too bad that this fantastic SEO tool has gotten such a bad reputation in the past, because many people have used it as an automated blog comment spammer. And while Scrapebox continues to incorporate its infamous blog comment poster, it is also jam-packed with tools that will simplify your white hat SEO life.
You can use Scrapebox to automatically gather URLs for resource pages not only from Google, but from dozens of other search engines in the entire world by simply selecting their check boxes. That is exactly what I did, and I have gotten a list of over 35,000 travel resource pages.
Scrapebox has a built-in data deduplication tool as well, so you won’t need Excel to get rid of duplicates.
Of course, not all these resource pages will have the desired quality. Some of them may not be actual resource pages, others may belong to spammy sites, and so on. It’s time to filter the bad ones!
2. Evaluate the quality of your target websites
So how do you determine if a website is going to help your SEO efforts, rather than harm them?
PageRank was a key quality indicator for many years, but now that Google has stopped showing us its value, there are a few other metrics that need to be taken into consideration.
First of all, we aren’t interested in getting links from dead sites. We want links from real websites, which receive lots of real visitors, people who can be funneled to our own website.
But how can we determine if a website is dead or well and alive? A simple indicator is provided by Alexa, a company owned by Amazon. Paste the desired URL into the “Enter a site” field, and then press the “Find” button.
We only want links from websites that have an Alexa rank below 5,000,000. Lower values are always better, of course; as an example, CNN’s website has an Alexa rank of 75 – this means that it is the 75th most visited website in the entire world.
Get the Alexa rank for the websites in your resource list, and then dump the ones that have values greater than five million.
If you don’t mind sharing some of your info with Alexa Internet, you can use the Alexa Toolbar for Firefox to display the Alexa value while you are visiting a particular website page.
It’s time to evaluate the last, and yet one of the most important website quality indicators: Majestic’s Trust Flow. Go to https://majestic.com/ and create a free account. Paste a URL, and then click the magnifying glass button.
Majestic displays two key indicators: Citation Flow (CF) and Trust Flow (TF).
Citation Flow is proportional with the number of links going to a certain URL. In other words, if a site has lots of links pointing to it, its CF value will be big.
Trust Flow is proportional with the quality of the links pointing to a particular URL. In other words, if a site has links coming from reputable websites, its TF will be big.
Good quality, non-spammy sites have similar CF and TF values, with Trust Flow values that are greater than 15. As an example, CNN’s website has CF = 77 and TF = 84.
On the other hand, a spammy website will have a low TF and a much bigger CF value. Here’s an example of a spammy SEO services website that happens to rank on the first page of Google for several keywords.
We need to avoid getting links from websites like these; they are obviously spamming their way to the top, and a future Google algorithm update will destroy them, affecting our website as well. So run your targets through Majestic’s service, and then discard the results that have TF values below 15.
Of course, Majestic wants you to upgrade to one of their paid accounts, so they will limit your access to a few URLs per day with a free account. Nevertheless, if you plan to promote your website regularly, a paid Majestic account may be a wise investment.
Your target URLs list should now be 99% clean. Of course, if you are happy with a lower percentage, you can limit the tests to the 100% free Alexa criterion.
3. Find resource pages that have broken links
It’s time to find the actual broken links on our target pages. Begin by installing the Check My Links browser plug-in for Chrome. Then, open the browser and load the target URLs, one at a time.
Hit the plug-in button, and then give it time to verify all the links on the page. Meanwhile, check out the actual resource page; evaluate its relevance and quality.
Would you proudly show this page to a Google engineer, telling him that it links to your website as well? Also, take a good look at the other sites listed on the page; would your site be in a good company? Do you see any potentially spammy sites in the resource list? These are a few of the key questions that you should ask yourself.
Meanwhile, the plug-in should have done its job, unless that resource page has links to thousands of resources. I try to stay away from these pages; often times, a huge number of outbound links is a clear indicator of spam.
If the page contains broken links, they will be displayed straight in your browser.
Paste the URLs that have broken links into a new sheet; we will contact the webmasters that run these sites, asking them to replace one of the broken links with a link to our website.
If you discover a great target URL that doesn’t have any broken links, try to contact the webmaster and suggest one of your resources that complements (and shouldn’t necessarily replace) the existing resources on that page. The success rate will be lower under these circumstances, but still well worth the effort
Finding the broken links manually can be a time consuming task. However, you can speed up the process by making use of Screaming Frog SEO Spider, one of my favorite applications.
The free version allows you to load one URL at a time, while the full version gives you the ability to load all your URLs at once. There are a few more limitations, so I strongly encourage you to invest in the full version of the product if you plan to promote your website regularly.
Wait until the URLs are parsed, and then click the “External” tab. Sort the outbound links according to their status code, and then check the 404 (Not Found) links – these are the needed broken links, and they can be easily exported from within the application.
If your budget is limited, a 100% free, but less robust solution can be found here: Xenu Link Sleuth
The application may freeze every now and then, especially when it has to crawl huge sites. Still, it should do its job fine for small and medium sized websites.
4. Finding contact info
OK, so now we have gotten our high quality, relevant target URL list. We need to contact the webmasters, but how can we find their contact information?
a) Check the website header, footer or “Contact” page.
b) Use these search strings:
“email us” site:targetsite.com
“contact us” site:targetsite.com
“contact information” site:targetsite.com
“write us” site:targetsite.com
“call us” site:targetsite.com
“get support” site:targetsite.com
“live chat” site:targetsite.com
c) Contact the webmasters using their social media profiles.
d) Utilize a Whois service
e) Make use of a good contact scraper application or service.
Gather the webmasters’ names, email addresses and phone numbers, and then paste them into the same spreadsheet, using the columns at the right side of their associated URLs.
5. Create a better resource
It’s time to create the fantastic resource that’s supposed to replace the broken links on those high quality targets.
You may already have a good resource on your website; if this is the case, it’s time to make it much better. Resist the temptation to create or use a resource that’s just OK; if it isn’t fantastic, nobody will want to link to it, so you will waste your time.
Start by examining the content of the dead resource that has been linked to on the target pages. How is that possible? Well, that dead resource may continue to be well and alive on https://archive.org, a project that aims to preserve the old web properties for future generations.
Believe it or not, this is how Yahoo’s website looked back in 1996, and the page was pulled from archive.org. So make sure to use its power to determine how the defunct resource looked like, and then create one that’s even better. Don’t simply copy the old content; otherwise, you may run into legal trouble.
In addition to this, tools like BuzzSumo can help you find the most shared content that’s similar with what you are trying to create. Type in your keywords, read the returned articles and you will discover new ideas that can be incorporated into your content piece, making it even better.
Did you know that Google’s Keyword Planner Tool can be used as an article idea generator as well? Log into your Google AdWords account (it’s free to create one if you don’t have it) and then choose Tools -> Keyword Planner from the top menu.
Paste the first URL in your target list in the “Your landing page” field, and then press the “Get ideas” button; Google’s tool will return a list of keywords that are relevant for that particular URL. Examine them, gather the best ideas, and then move on to the next URL in your list.
You can also use the URLs of your competitors, relevant industry related pages, etc.
All these ideas should help you write a great piece of content from scratch, or make an existing article much better. Of course, if you don’t have the time do it, you can always outsource the task.
6. Contacting the webmasters
At this point, we have got a list of great resource pages that have at least a broken link. We have also got the webmasters’ contact info and a great resource (article, video, etc) that can successfully replace the dead piece of content. It’s time to send out some emails!
So how do you contact a total stranger? First of all, find out his or her name! If you’ve done your job, you should have access to this precious info. Sure, you can start your email with a “Hi,” but the response rate will be significantly bigger when you know the person’s name.
The shorter your email, the better. Here’s a quick, effective template:
This simple email achieves several important goals:
– Helps you determine which webmasters are responding to your emails;
– Tells the webmasters that you have visited their sites and you have read their articles;
– Allows you to connect with the webmasters on a personal level;
– Promises valuable information (broken links URLs) without asking for anything in return (for now).
Send the emails, and then wait for responses. Send another email after 3-4 days if you don’t get a response. Don’t insist if you don’t hear from them.
The response rate should be somewhere in the 3%…20% range, depending on the actual industry that you are targeting.
Send a new email that includes the broken links URLs and a link to your resource as soon as you get a reply.
That’s pretty much it. At this point, some of the webmasters will add your resource to their page (and thank you for it!) while others will simply ignore your request. Don’t worry, though; if you have created a high quality, evergreen content piece, you will have the ability to promote it over and over.
Use backlinks discovery tools like Ahrefs or Majestic to determine what other sites link to the dead resource. Email those webmasters as well, asking them to replace the defunct resource with your content piece
As you can see, broken link building it is a time consuming process. This means that very few people will take the time to do it properly, and this means more high quality backlinks for hard workers like you and me.
It’s been a long ride, but now you have got all the needed info to start a successful broken link building campaign. Gather a list of high quality URL targets, create an impressive content piece, and then confidently send out your outreach emails. Many webmasters will appreciate the effort, and your website traffic and rankings will improve for sure.