Whether you’re trying to get a brand-new site off the ground or just looking for a little extra juice for your , is one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal.
But the vast majority of campaigns take a lot of time, and the success rate can be minimal. Additionally, some tactics can seem disingenuous. If you actually have a better resource, that’s one thing, but some builders have been guilty of buying links in bulk. Black-hat tactics like that lower the quality of online .
And isn’t it our job as digital marketers to make the Internet a better place for everyone?
One of the best ways to accomplish both of those tasks — clean up the Internet and get – is with a . You fix a “rough patch” on the internet and get some extra traffic in the process. It’s a win-win.
It also boasts a much higher success rate than regular link building campaigns since you’re helping the webmaster out by improving the content on their site as well.
What is a “”?
As the name implies, a “” is a on a website that doesn’t go anywhere — it’s “broken.” It could be hyperlinked inside of a paragraph as , or it could be a citation at the end of the article. Either way, if you click on it, it’ll take you to an “error” page that says the can’t be found.
Often, these broken links come about innocently enough. Either a webmaster made a simple typo when they put the URL into the or the page itself has been shut down for whatever reason.
In other cases, the entire website might have been shut down such as for non-payment or if the just abandoned everything.
Security issues could also cause a 404 error. If the linked page has a firewall in place or if the SSL certificate has expired, Google might not finish the connection.
Get enough of these on your site, and it’ll start to suffer from “rot.” Broken links signal to Google that the owner has lost interest (no matter how true that is), and it may lower your site in the SERPs.
So how can you find these diamonds in the rough? Surprisingly, it’s not as hard as you may think. It will take a little bit of work — all campaigns do — but you should also see quicker results since it’s an easy switch for the webmaster.
Use a Chrome Extension
If you use Chrome, there’s a handy extension called “Check My Links” that you can install for free on your browser. Not only will it automatically check all the links on a given webpage, but it’ll even create a visual representation as well. Just scroll down the page and look for the red links — those are the ones that are broken.
For best results, try to target pages with a lot of external links. Resource pages, or “roundups” as they’re sometimes called, can be a gold-mine for a building campaign.
If you find a that doesn’t go anywhere, and you have an article with similar , reach out to the . They’re usually more than happy to swap out the defunct with yours. If not, at least you tried.
Use a Google Search String
If you have an article that you’re especially proud of, put the main in a Google search string to find in your niche. Here are some of the most common:
- “” + inurl:links
- “” + inurl:resources
- “” + intext:helpful resources
The list goes on and on. For a full rundown of all the available search strings, you can reference this list. Get creative with your combinations and start with the keywords you’re already ranking for on your site.
If you find a , you don’t just have one backlink. It’s possible you could have dozens of potential .
SEO is exponential by nature. The more a page is linked to, the more it will be linked to in the future. That means a particularly good article, especially if it’s old, could have a dozen more potential links.
What happens when that page goes down? That’s right, all those links go up for grabs.
Plug the into a backlink tool, and you’ll have a ready-made list of potential linking opportunities. Compile a list of email addresses, reach out to the webmasters and watch your domain authority take off.
Search on Wikipedia
Wikipedia is a veritable smorgasbord of . On every given page, there’s anywhere from a few links to a few hundred (depending on the length).
Wikipedia is aware of this problem. They even have an entire page dedicated to dead links so that you can replace them faster.
Best of all, you don’t even need any fancy software to find these broken links. Just hit command+F (or CTRL+F for you PC users), and search the page for the phrase “.” Most pages will turn up at least a few that look like the one below.
The problem with this method is that you generally need authoritative links to replace them with. Wikipedia is armed with an entire legion of editors, and chances are, they won’t accept yourif it takes them to a poorly researched page.
If you have a few definitive blog articles that are backed with research though, try to find pages based on that . Hit submit, and see if you can get lucky.
Use Screaming Frog
Most SEO software suites have some kind of backlink checker – Ahrefs, Ubersuggest, SEMRush, etc.
But arguably nobody does it better than Screaming Frog. ALL this software does is find broken links, and it does an excellent job of doing precisely that.
The main advantage here is that, instead of searching individual pages, Screaming Frog searches entire websites. Just plug in a major website in your niche, hit go, and within seconds, you’ll have an entire list of broken links on that website.
It’s free up to 500 URLs. However, in order to get all the advanced features, you’ll need to pay around $200 a year. It’s a good investment if you want to plan on performing building campaigns as a main part of your SEO strategy.
Reclaim Your Own Broken Links
If your site has gone through a major overhaul recently, it’s worth running an SEO audit on your own site to find any broken links you may have.
This mainly applies to any internal links that connect your site, but external links are also an issue too. Check your Google Search Console to see if you run into any errors and fix them ASAP.
Although not a per se, you can also use a site like Mention to find opportunities. Input your brand name, and Mention will show you all the times people are talking about you. Reach out to the webmaster and ask for a back to your site.
Benefits of a Building Campaign
The hardest part of any kind of campaign is getting links at scale. It’s easy to send one or two outreach emails, but since all of them need to be somewhat personalized, it can take a lot of time.
When you remember that cold backlink campaigns achieve a 6-7% success rate on average, it’s clear that it could take ages to get momentum.
Acampaign, on the other hand, can multiply your efforts exponentially. Since you’re doing the a favor, and they’ve already demonstrated the need for your type of information, it’s a no-brainer.
Furthermore, you also inherit the domain authority from the . If your page has a domain authority in the teens, and you’re able to acquire a from a page that is in the 50s, you’ll see a boost virtually overnight. You’ll also gain niche relevance as well.
A solid isn’t a silver bullet, but taking advantage of the opportunities over time will definitely begin to add up.
How to Ask For Links
Just because you’re fixing a webmaster’s problem doesn’t mean you can slack off on the . It’s imperative that you put a lot of thought into how you craft your emails or you’ll run into a line of brick walls.
We’ll skip the obvious – be polite, be direct, be honest — and jump right into the specifics.
Send Personalized Emails
Laziness is the great equalizer in life. As humans, we love to find quick wins and outsource anything that we can in order to save time.
Unfortunately, when it comes to manual , you can’t afford to cut corners. Emails to webmasters should be personable enough that they know it’s not a form letter but generic enough that you don’t seem invasive.
Here’s why most marketers fall short at this stage, even if they know what to do: They send emails in bulk.
Don’t get me wrong, I love some batch email services. Sites like SEMRush make it super convenient to upload a list of addresses, attach a letter to it, and send your note to the masses.
This will work initially, but it can also be a huge waste of time.
How do you know, for instance, which email address is appropriate? A scraper could find a dozen for every single company, only a fraction of which have anything to do with the online portion of the business. Bill from Accounting probably doesn’t care about a on a blog page, so don’t waste your breath.
Take the time to find actual email addresses for relevant humans, and address it to them personally. Include a brief note explaining what you like about their site, and then hit them with the request. It should be 100 words, at most, and take less than five minutes of your time.
I guarantee you’ll get better results.
Send Related Emails
In addition to finding dead links, you should also make sure they’re relevant to your industry. A on a pharmaceutical website is nice, but it doesn’t pass much niche authority if your business is in pet grooming.
It can be tempting to go into your search engine optimization software, find a batch of broken links on your competitors’ webpages, then dump them into a spreadsheet. Then, once you’ve crafted an email advertising your new article, send out the blast.
If you do that, most of those emails will fall short because you’ll be targeting sites that have nothing to do with your page. You’ll have to comb through them individually to sort out the pages that aren’t relevant to your niche.
Categorical relevance isn’t always that straightforward, though. Some pages can be relevant in several different categories, while only tangentially related to the overall website.
You may find a for your dog walking business on a site like PennyHoarder. Though the two don’t seem to be related on the surface, you’ll have to dig a little deeper to see if you can leverage the connection.
It’s a judgment call, but remember to make the decision that will benefit you in the long run.
Send a Follow-Up
Just because you struck out on your first email doesn’t mean you should give up entirely. Even webmasters that agree that their needs to be fixed and see yours as a replacement can forget to reply.
For that reason, it’s always a good idea to send a single follow-up email to each address, reminding them of the . Don’t send more than one or two follow-up emails at the most, but a gentle nudge can always help.
Send the first one a week after the initial email, and if you’re still jonesing for that , send a final email two weeks after that. Be shorter (and nicer) each time, emphasizing the “favor” aspect of the .
Best Practices for Campaigns
Before you start firing off emails, it’s important to consider two final notes about campaigns. Yes, they’re incredibly effective, but only if you follow a few simple rules.
Don’t Recreate Exact
Recreating online in any form is a huge no-no. Duplicate can destroy your SEO, but recreating dead pages exactly smacks of plagiarism.
Instead, use something like the “skyscraper technique” made famous by Brian Dean to create even better . Take the top pages on the topic, create a longer and more in-depth article, and send that to them.
Want bonus points? Create an infographic that they can share. Readers love visuals, and site owners love them even more.
If they turn it down, at least you’ll still have a great piece of for your own site. In that case, they may end up linking to you anyways without realizing it.
Don’t “Cloak” Your Links
“cloaking” is a form of black hat that masks your affiliate code inside of a URL. Most webmasters are into affiliate advertising themselves, so the last thing they want is to give away revenue.
But what’s worse than stealing revenue from site owners is the suspicion of malware. More than one site has been infected by cloaked links from hackers. If it’s bad enough, it can wreck a site completely.
Long story short, don’t cloak your links. Give the the regular straight from your site (shortened, if necessary), and maintain trust wherever possible.
isn’t just a good technique to do every once in a while, it’s a great technique to engage in regularly. Links break all the time for various reasons, so always be on the lookout for areas you can exploit.
And remember to keep your own links up-to-date to avoid anyone taking precious from you by using the same method!