Going for broke


Dave Harrison

Technical SEO

In my previous blog post on PR for Link Building I scratched the surface of PR and gave a brief guide on how to write a press release. In this blog I will be offering an insight into another (often under-used) link building technique; broken link building. Now, I know at this point some of you will be asking yourself, “Why would anybody want to build broken links?” but bear with me, and I’ll explain everything, well maybe not everything, I wouldn’t want to give all our secrets away now would I?

What is broken link building?

Broken link building is a technique where you secure links to your site, by pointing out to webmasters a broken link on their site, often now showing a 404 page. Highlighting the broken link to a webmaster is also a good opportunity to ask for a link to your site either as well as, or as a replacement for the broken link.

There are a number of benefits of broken link building; firstly and most obviously you get a link. Secondly, the link will come from a page that already exists, and as such is more likely to have a Page Rank so you’ll benefit from higher quality link juice. Thirdly, you can be super specific with your hunt for broken links, and we all know the importance of securing links from relevant content. Finally, and perhaps most significantly for this particular technique, because you’re doing the webmaster a favour by pointing out a broken link, they are more likely to put a link to your site than any other SEO-er who just emails them out of blue.

Being a relatively new link building technique, it also means that it’s something your competitors might not have cottoned on to yet and as such could give you a real boost in your SERPs rankings.

What to do?

If, like me, your browser of choice is Google Chrome then the first thing you need to do is download the free Check My Links extension. You will also need access to SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer. If you don’t already have an account, then fear – not you can still have limited access to this great tool simply by registering for a free SEOmoz account. I’d also suggest you give Xenu’s Link Sleuth a try.

Once you’ve got these great tools then you are ready to go. And there are a number of different methods you can try. I’d suggest giving them all a go and see which works best for your niche.

  • Whenever you find a relevant site that you’d be keen to develop a relationship with then use the Check My Links extension. Relevant sites can be found by using search operators. One of the best types of sites to approach are ones that have a links page or similar.
  • Alternatively, those of you familiar with Open Site Explorer will know that you can use it to see which sites are linking to your competitors; as you can imagine, a really helpful feature. However, if you run OSE on a competitor’s page then use the ‘Top Pages’ tab, you will be able to see any 404 pages.
  • The final method is to run a single site, or a list of links through Xenu to find any 404 pages, and then run these through OSE.

Once you’ve found a broken link, contact the webmaster. But don’t stop there. Run the URL of the 404 page you’ve found through OSE so you can find other sites that are linking to the page, and in turn contact those websites, increasing your chance of getting a link.

Template for contact websites

At Search Laboratory we pride ourselves on our ethics, so you have to make it perfectly clear that you are working on behalf of a client.

As long as you are upfront about wanting a link and explain who you are working for you can gain the webmaster’s respect and trust. You are alerting to them the fact that they have some broken links, which they will want to either edit or remove. It would be a brave man who refused to give you your link, but still came back to ask you for the list of broken links.

What if the link to your site is broken?

A good question. I recently discovered a new client had over 16,000 broken links pointing at pages that no longer existed, some of which were really valuable for SEO. The solution was simple, rather than contacting all 16,000 sites individually I simply got the agency that hosts this particular client’s website to put a 301 redirect on the most valuable pages.

Similarly, if you find you have some good links pointing to a 302 page, then change this to a 301. A 302 is a temporary re-direct, and as it is only temporary no link juice is passed from this page. A 301 is a permanent re-direct and as such is the most SEO-friendly way of transferring links pointing to a broken page you have to a live one.

For more helpful SEO insights then follow me on twitter @dave_harrison. Apologies in advance for the sports tweets!