A Simple (But Complete) Guide to Broken Link Building

Joshua Hardwick
Head of Content @ Ahrefs (or, in plain English, I'm the guy responsible for ensuring that every blog post we publish is EPIC). Founder @ The SEO Project.

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    Broken link building is one of the most scalable link building tactics around. Or is it?

    If you’ve ever tried doing this, you likely found that it’s not only time-consuming as heck, but the results are often less than impressive.

    Which leads to comments like this:

    reddit broken link building comment 1

    reddit broken link building comment 2

    reddit broken link building comment 3

    But here’s the thing:

    Broken link building does still work, and it’s still super scalable. You just need a process.

    In this guide, I’ll introduce you to exactly that: an efficient process for scaling broken link building.

    But first, let’s recap what broken link building is and what it usually entails.

    What is broken link building?

    Broken link building is a tactic whereby you find a broken (i.e., dead) link, recreate the dead content, then tell anyone linking to the dead resource to instead link to your recreated content.

    It works because nobody wants dead links on their website; they contribute to a poor user experience.

    So when you tell people about broken links on their site, they’ll happily replace them with working ones. (Or at least that’s the idea!)

    Let’s take a look at an example of how this process may work.

    Here’s a dead link I found in a post on Quicksprout:

    I’m sure you’ve all come across one of these at some point or another, right?

    They’re commonplace on the web.

    Let’s use the Wayback Machine to find out what used to be on this broken page.

    backlinko broken link 2016 wayback machine

    It looks like it used to be a guide to protecting your website from Google Penalties. But for some reason, Brian decided to delete it.

    Here’s how we—Ahrefs—could take advantage of this:

    1. publish a guide of our own about protecting your site against Google penalties;
    2. reach out to Neil (Quicksprout) and tell him about the broken link on his website;
    3. suggest that he might want to change the broken link to a working one (i.e., our resource).

    Simple. 🙂

    Here’s what happened when we tried this…

    As we already have a guide to recovering from Google penalties on our blog, we thought we’d give this tactic a shot.

    So, I reached out to Neil to request that he fix the link.

    Here’s the email I sent:

    Nice request, right!?

    I thought so, too. But unfortunately, he didn’t reply, and nor did he change the link. 🙁

    (No hard feelings, Neil… I know you’re a busy guy!)

    I felt it was important to include this in order to highlight an important point: this WILL NOT work every time.

    Broken link building is a numbers game; the more people you reach out to, the more links you’ll land.

    In all honesty, if you get a 5–10% conversion rate with this tactic, then you’re doing very well!

    Because we only reached out to one, very busy guy, the odds were never in our favor here!

    But here’s a neat hack:

    If we check the broken link in Site Explorer, we can see that 39 links are pointing to this broken resource, one of which is from Quicksprout.

    broken links site explorer backlinko example

    That means we have 38 more link prospects! I.e., 38 more people we can reach out to and suggest they replace their broken link with a link to our resource.

    If we were to do this 39 times, we’d be sure to land at least a few links.

    Sidenote.
    We are planning to do this once we publish an update to our post mentioned above on Google penalties. It will be more “link-worthy” once it’s updated.

    But how the heck do you find relevant broken links like this in the first place?

    This is the most time-consuming part of the process.

    It’s why so many people claim that “broken link building doesn’t work!”

    Here are a few ways to find such pages (starting with the easiest and quickest method):

    1. Find dead pages on the top sites in your niche (which have TONS of backlinks)

    I didn’t find the broken page above (i.e., the one with 39 links) by chance.

    I used Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

    Site Explorer has more than 2 Trillion external backlinks in its database (see our data), including many broken ones; this makes it super useful for discovering broken pages with tons of backlinks.

    Here’s the process:

    First off, you need to create a list of authoritative, competing websites in your niche. You will then analyze these in Ahrefs Site Explorer.

    Here’s my short list of websites and blogs that cover the topic of meditation:

    competing websites

    If you’re a regular Ahrefs user, you’re probably expecting me to show you how to use the Broken Backlinks report now, right? Well, not exactly.

    The best way to find broken link building opportunities is with Ahrefs’ Broken Link Checker. Here’s how:

    Site explorer -> Pages -> Best by Links -> filter for HTTP 404 errors.

    Let me demonstrate using one of the websites on my list.

    The most linked-to page that no longer exists on tinybuddha.com still has 31 referring domains! And the second most linked-to page has 29. The third has 26. And so forth.

    A quick check on Wayback Machine and I know that the URL used to point to an article about forgiveness.

    tiny buddha top 404 page

    QUICK TIP: HOW TO FIND OUT WHAT THE DEAD LINK WAS IF WAYBACK MACHINE FAILS

    Copy the dead link and paste it into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

    Go to Backlink Profile -> Anchors.

    Look at the anchor text (and the surrounding text) for each link.

    post about forgiveness anchor

    This will often give you some insight into what the page was about.

    Not bad. Considering it took me less than 10 minutes to find them. And that was only one article on one website! If you repeat this process for all the sites on your list and analyze all of their 404 pages, you will get dozens, if not hundreds of opportunities for your broken link building campaign.

    2. Find broken outlinks on those same websites (then see which of those links have a TON of backlinks)

    Zenhabits.net is a very reputable website in the niche I’m interested in (remember, we’re still in the niche of meditation and personal development).

    And I desperately want it to link to my website.

    Let’s check zenhabits.net’s broken outgoing links in Ahrefs Site Explorer.

    To do this, go to Outgoing links -> Broken links.

    zenhabits broken outbound links

    135 pages on this website have links to the external pages that are no longer available.

    I did a quick check and here’s a promising opportunity:

    broken outbound link opportunity zenhabits

    There’s a broken link to an article listing 30 ways to save $1 per day.

    I could write an article about that and suggest it as a fix to that broken link.

    But I can squeeze even more from that single broken link I found!

    I went ahead and analyzed the dead URL in Site Explorer. And guess what?

    frugalforlife broken link

    It has another 13 referring domains I can reach out to with my content!

    QUICK TIP: USE AHREFSBATCH ANALYSIS TO SPEED UP THIS PROCESS

    You could paste each broken outbound link into Site Explorer to check how many referring domains they each have.

    But that would be a slow process.

    Here’s a hack to speed this up:

    Export the full list of broken outlinks.

    broken outlinks export

    Open up the CSV, then copy the outlinks (200 at a time) into Ahrefs’ Batch Analysis tool.

    ahrefs batch analysis exported broken links

    Sort the results by ref. domains.

    broken links batch analysis

    You can now see which pages have a ton of ref. domains much more quickly.

    This method is much more efficient than scanning a whole website with tools like Screaming Frog or Xenu’s Link Sleuth in search of broken links.

    3. Find niche-relevant expired domains with backlinks

    Disclaimer: this tactic is a LOT more time-consuming that the two tactics I’ve shared already. It works, but it’s nowhere near as simple. There are lots of moving parts to the process and a lot of manual work involved.

    Let’s stick with our meditation and personal development example.

    Using ExpiredDomains.net (which lets you search for expired domains using keywords), we’ll search for domains related to yoga.

    Sidenote.
    I chose yoga because there are a lot of websites and blogs about this topic; it’s also pretty closely related to meditation.

    expired domains yoga

    160K+ expired domains—that’s a lot!

    Let’s add a filter, so we see only .com, .net, and .org domains. (This massively reduces the amount of junk in the results.)

    expired domains gtld filter

    Then we want to show 200 domains per page of results. (You’ll see why in a second.)

    domains per page expired domains

    And finally, let’s order the results by the number of backlinks.

    expired domains backlinks sort

    Sidenote.
    The number of reported backlinks here comes from Majestic and tends to be somewhat arguable. To illustrate this, take a look at balibumyoga.com in the screenshot above; it has 468K+ backlinks according to expireddomains.net. If you check this website in Ahrefs Site Explorer, you’ll see that it only has ~25K. This discrepancy comes down to the way Majestic handles “canonical” pages and URL parameters. Whenever a URL contains additional parameters (e.g., UTM parameters), Majestic sees it as a unique linking page, even though it’s canonicalized. Thus, the number of reported backlinks gets dramatically inflated and causes HUGE inaccuracies.

    Next, we’ll hit the “copy domains to clipboard” icon, paste the domains into Ahrefs Batch Analysis tool, and select the “domains with all subdomains” option for the mode.

    Sort the list by the number of ref. domains and this is what we get:

    expired domains ahrefs batch analysis

    That’s right! We now have a list of tons of expired (i.e., broken) domains with lots of backlinks.

    Let’s take a look at the backlinks for one of the domains on the list, annadoesyogachina.com.

    annadoesyogachina com

    This domain has 440+ links from 160 ref. domains.

    But all of them are total junk.

    No matter what search term you use on expireddomains.net, you’ll find that this is the case for most of the results. After all, most people don’t let sites with a ton of high-quality links expire.

    But with a bit of digging, you can usually find some gems.

    Here’s an example:

    backlink therealyoga com

    This DR 67 link points to a broken resource on therealyoga.com (one of the expired domains on our list).

    Wayback Machine doesn’t bring up any results for this page.

    But it’s clearly a blog post about doing yoga in bed.

    We can tell by looking at the linking anchor text (i.e., “practice yoga in bed”)

    If we look at the backlinks to this specific page, we can see that there are two other legit links, one of which is nofollow.

    practice yoga in bed backlinks

    Three links isn’t many.

    But if we already had a piece of content about practicing yoga in bed on our website, we could easily reach out to these three sites and steal these links.

    Sidenote.
    If the expired domain were available to purchase, another option would be to buy the domain and redirect it to the appropriate page(s) on your main website. But this isn’t always possible. Many of the domains listed on expireddomains.net cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.
    QUICK TIP: FIND EXPIRED DOMAINS WITH LINKS USING AHREFS SITE EXPLORER

    Paste your biggest competitor into Site Explorer, then go to Outgoing links -> Broken links -> filter for dofollow links ONLY.

    Export the results to a CSV.

    Copy and paste all the broken URLs (i.e., from the link URL column in the CSV export) into a URL to domain extraction tool, such as this one.

    Paste the extracted domains into this bulk domain availability tool, then hit search.

    This will reveal all expired domains to which your competitor links.

    namebright bulk domain search

    Export these domains to a CSV, then copy and paste them into Ahrefs Batch Analysis tool.

    batch analysis expired domains

    Follow the same process as outlined above to find broken link building opportunities.

    4. Find broken links by scraping resource/links pages in your niche

    This is the tactic most people use to find broken link building opportunities.

    Here’s the overall process:

    1. use advanced Google search operators to find resource pages in your niche;
    2. bulk scrape the search results;
    3. scrape all outbound links from each scraped resource page;
    4. check the HTTP status for each page (obviously, you’re looking for 404’s);
    5. use Ahrefs (or a similar tool) to see which pages have the most inbound links.

    OK; let’s go through this step-by-step.

    To find resource pages in your niche, you would Google terms like:

    • KEYWORD intitle:"resources"
    • KEYWORD inurl:"links"
    • KEYWORD intitle:"links" inurl:"/links"
    • KEYWORD blogs inurl:"resources" intitle:"resources"

    Here’s an example:

    You would then scrape all of these Google search results using something like Scrapebox, or this SERP scraping bookmarklet for Chrome.

    Then you would extract the outbound links from all of those pages.

    You would probably use Screaming Frog or Scrapebox for this. Both of these applications will check the HTTP status for every outbound link, so you can easily identify 404’s.

    screaming frog 404s

    If you don’t have Screaming Frog, you can extract all external links on a page using Google Sheets with this formula:

    =IMPORTXML("page url","//a[not(contains(@href, 'domain'))]/@href")

    You could then use a free tool like LinkMiner to check the HTTP status of all external links on each one, one-by-one.

    Either way, the final step would be to paste your list of 404’s into Ahrefs Batch Analysis tool to identify the best broken link building opportunities.

    404 resource page broken link

    I’ve highlighted an excellent opportunity in the screenshot above; this page has links from 173 ref. domains.

    You would then go through the same process as usual:

    1. replicate or replace the content (if you don’t have something similar already);
    2. reach out to all of the sites linking to the broken resource and suggest your link as a replacement.

    This process works, but it can be very time-consuming.

    QUICK TIP: USE CITATION LABS BROKEN LINK FINDER TO SPEED UP THE PROCESS OF FINDING BROKEN LINKS

    90% of the process outlined above can be automated using Citation Labs Broken Link Builder.

    It’s not a free tool, but it automates the entire process of scraping Google search results and extracting broken links.

    Just enter some keywords, and you’re good to go.

    broken link building citation labs

    It costs between $3.28-$7.50 to run a scrape (depending on your subscription level), but it’s well worth it.

    3 simple tips for successful “broken link building” outreach

    By this stage, you should have a spreadsheet full of potential broken link building opportunities.

    But your work isn’t done yet; you still need to reach out and build those links.

    That means doing email outreach.

    The good news? Broken link building outreach isn’t rocket science.

    Here is the basic process:

    1. find the contact details for the site you’re reaching out to;
    2. send them an email letting them know about the broken link on their site (and suggest your link as a replacement in the process).

    Pretty simple, right?

    But as with all forms of email outreach, there’s a fine line between outreach and “spamreach.”

    We already have two fantastic outreach guides on the Ahrefs’ blog. I highly recommend you read them.

    But as this post is about broken link building, specifically, here are three simple outreach tips to keep you on track when conducting broken link outreach:

    1. DON’T be LAZY; make an effort to reach out to the RIGHT person

    Here’s what most people do once they have a list of broken link prospects:

    1. upload the list of prospects to their outreach software (e.g., Buzzstream/Pitchbox/etc.);
    2. let the software scrape email addresses for all the sites;
    3. hit “send”.

    Seriously, this is why so many people fail with broken link building.

    This is NOT the right way to do things.

    You need to make sure you’re reaching out to the right person!

    Let me illustrate with an example.

    Here is the contact information Buzzstream finds for webris.org:

    webris buzzstream emails

    You can see we have two email addresses.

    Do you think it would make sense to reach out to either of these email addresses with information about a broken link?

    Probably not. It would make much more sense to reach out to the CEO, Ryan [Stewart].

    Given the fact that you can find Ryan’s personal email in <2 seconds with a simple Twitter search, I’d argue that you don’t even deserve a link if you fail to do this.

    ryan stewart email

    But you shouldn’t always reach out to the founder of the company.

    This is only appropriate for:

    1. small companies where the founder actively manages the blog;
    2. individual bloggers

    If you wanted to let the team at Ahrefs know about a broken link, it would hardly make sense to reach out to our CEO, Dmitry.

    You’d be much better reaching out to Tim [Soulo]. (Or even myself, these days.)

    Both he and I are responsible for the blog, and we’re the two people most likely to care about broken links on the site.

    2. Keep it short and sweet (and NEVER be “pushy”)

    Your broken link outreach email should always:

    1. address the recipient by name;
    2. mention the broken link;
    3. tell them exactly where it is;
    4. suggest an appropriate replacement;
    5. explain why it’s a suitable replacement (optional).

    Here’s an example of such an email (with all parts mentioned above clearly marked):

    broken link building email

    I used this exact email template for a recent broken link building campaign and got a 6.3% conversion rate. Oh, and credit for this template goes to Stewart Dunlop of linkbuilder.io—thanks, Stewart!

    Sidenote.
    Please don’t steal this exact template and spam the heck out of it. This leads to diminishing results for everyone (including you) as more people become aware of the template. I included the template to illustrate an example of such an email. You should ALWAYS add your own flair and customization to anything you find on the web.

    You’ll notice that this email is far from pushy.

    We’re simply telling the person about a broken link and suggesting a replacement—that’s it.

    NEVER say things like, “please replace the broken link with this link”, or “you should replace it with this link because it’s the best link out there and your audience will love it.”

    Nobody likes being told what to do!

    3. ALWAYS send 1–2 follow-ups

    Not received a reply to your original outreach email?

    Send a follow-up.

    Don’t be pushy; just remind the recipient about the issue.

    Here’s an example:

    follow up broken link

    You’d be surprised how effective follow-ups can be.

    In fact, the follow-up is often responsible for more links than the original outreach email.

    It truly is that important.

    But don’t follow-up more than 1–2 times.

    That’s a surefire way to end up being reported as spam and getting your email address (or entire domain) blacklisted.

    Final Thoughts

    Broken link building is far from dead—it still works exceptionally well.

    (I’m speaking from personal experience here.)

    Is the process somewhat time-consuming? Definitely.

    Can the process be streamlined and made easier? Absolutely!

    You can even hire a VA to find email addresses for you and speed up the process even further. Just send them our guide to finding email addresses, and they’ll be good to go!

    But here’s one final—super-important—piece of advice:

    You should ALWAYS make sure that your replacement link suggestion is genuinely a great replacement for the broken link.

    Do this, and your success rate will increase dramatically.

    What’s your recent experience broken link building? Let’s discuss experiences in the comments section below!

    Joshua Hardwick
    Head of Content @ Ahrefs (or, in plain English, I'm the guy responsible for ensuring that every blog post we publish is EPIC). Founder @ The SEO Project.

    Article stats

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    Shows estimated monthly search traffic to this article according to Ahrefs data. The actual search traffic (as reported in Google Analytics) is usually 3-5 times bigger.

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