Broken Link Building – A Case Study

This guest post is by Ben Jackson, founder of SEO Discovery, an SEO blog with free tutorials, link building strategies, and more.

This is a case study of my broken link building campaign. These are the steps I took, the successes I had, and the mistakes I made.

What is broken link building?

In case you’re not familiar, broken link building is the process of finding an old resource that is now a 404 error page and rebuilding it. You then contact anyone still linking to this page and inform them that they have a broken link on their site and you have a similar, updated version of this resource on your site they can link to instead.

[Editor’s note: It’s like cloning expired sites for links.]

The Benefits of Broken Link Building

An advantage of broken link building is that the pages you recreate were already great link bait. Tons of people linked to it in the past so they will likely link to you now.

After your broken link building campaign you can also get more current links by sharing it through social media, social news sites, and any other outreach plan you have.

• It’s a great way to get in-content authority links.
An in-content, dofollow link on an authoritative page on an authoritative domain is arguably the best kind of link you can get.
• It bypasses most of the brainstorming involved with linkbait
The 404 page was already link bait, so you KNOW you’re going to get some links and the type of resource you’re going to recreate
• It’s an ever-green source of links
If you feel like you’re starting to run out of link sources, you can always get more links by doing some broken link building

Resources You’ll Need:

Xenu – for finding broken links
SEO Quake – for checking backlinks

There are a lot of ways to go about broken link building. Here’s the path that I took…

I started by finding some SEO and Internet Marketing blogs listed in Dmoz. I purposely selected a few sites that hadn’t been posted on for a year or longer. Current sites also have broken links, but I thought I would have a better picture of the sites of yester-year like this.

Once I gathered a list of about 5 sites, I ran each one through Xenu. Xenu is a site-wide broken link checker. My jaw drops every time I see someone checking for broken links page-by-page. There was just a post in SEO Moz about a plugin that checks one page at a time quickly. YAWN! Turn on Xenu, and walk away.

I had Xenu create a report for each site and then looked through the broken link section for any outgoing links leading to 404 pages.

Tip: You’ll find all kinds of links that won’t help you at all, but you can tell right away by the URL if a page is going to be good to recreate.

When you come across any link that could be a good page to rebuild, visit the page and check the backlinks it has with SEO Quake. If the link profile is good then you have a potential winner, save it in a notepad or other file. If it only has a few links then move on.

Tip: Don’t be discouraged if you go through a couple sites without luck at first. After your first time you can build a network of go-to sites in your niche.

Once you find a few broken URLs that have a good amount of backlinks, visit the Wayback Machine. Put in the URL and go back to when it was still online. This way you can see exactly what the resource was and how you can make the same thing, but much better and more modern.

Now this is a case study, so let me tell you exactly what I did…

One potential page to rebuild I found was a 404 page on a site called Dosh Dosh, you may remember it. The page had a good amount of backlinks, but it was very extensive and about a topic I didn’t feel particularly qualified to write about. What I then realized was that the site was still online, but every single page was a 404 error.

I then Googled “Dosh Dosh” and found a post listing 18 Must Read Posts at Dosh Dosh. I looked through this list and picked out the one I thought I could recreate with the most ease. The page also happened to have 690 backlinks.

Here’s the page I made on my site. I improved the Dosh Dosh version by including a few different metrics and putting the sites in one easy to use table.

While there were 690 links to the page at Dosh Dosh, the majority of them were repeat links from obscure and abandoned sites. However, I did find a good number of links with PR.

A lot of SEOs recommend developing a persona and building a relationship before requesting that the webmaster links to your page. Since I was emailing people mostly in the SEO industry I thought this would be annoying and I cut straight to the chase. I notified them of the broken link and also mentioned my similar and updated resource in my first email.

Who I emailed:

I emailed anyone who had a page with any PR. I also emailed a few who had 0 PR, but had decent Alexa rankings. I did this in hopes that the sites were still well-maintained and could potentially send traffic.

I ignored sites with 0 PR and very high Alexa rankings, and also pages that had tons of links on them.

Tip: Be careful not to email the same webmaster twice – that’s just awkward.

My Results:

I emailed about 40 different webmasters and got these results:

7 emailed me back and linked
3 emailed me back and didn’t link, 2 of them said they would
1 did not email me and linked
1 person emailed me back, linked to me, and wrote a blog post about how I was building links and linked to me again (an authoritative domain as well)

The PR break-down of the links:
PR 3 – 3
PR 1 -1
PR 0 – 5

It might seem like very little for a lot of effort, but there are many more benefits and potential links here.

• I emailed a lot of sites somewhat indiscriminately that haven’t been updated in a while – they might link eventually
• The post was a good addition to my site and easy to share and get traffic to since it was very useful
• Broken link building provides excellent insight for what makes for great link bait
• It can be a good way to make new contacts ie it’s why you’re reading this guest post now

Looking at my broken link page, you can easily discern a few of the keywords I was attempting to rank for. The only keyword that gained immediate traction was “social news sites“. My page is currently jumping between pages 2-3 for the keyword. Not bad for Keyword Difficulty score of “62% Highly Competitive” from SEO Moz.

Besides the links I got from my broken linking, I’ve linked to it once with partial match anchor text from a guest post I did for Business 2 Community, but I expect the ranking to increase relatively quickly once I begin building some exact match links.

What I Did Wrong

• I was not as organized as I should have been.

I didn’t copy down a list of URLs that I tried to get links from. This would have been especially helpful for the sites that I had to use an on-site contact form for. I would advise anyone doing this to copy down the URLs and email addresses of every single webmaster you contact, and what their response was.

• I didn’t have an outreach plan.

I got the links I could from the broken linking, but due to the nature of the page, I could have capitalized on my resource more as link bait. I shared the post on social sites, linked in a guest post, and also had a lot of “recent post” CommentLuv links from blog comments. This was okay, but not enough to get the linkerati on board.

• My page has a lot of outbound links

I could be getting more benefit to my site from the links I got if I didn’t have so many outbound links on the page. It’s a matter of SEO VS User Experience. Having the links clickable is draining the PR, but it also makes it easier for users.

[Editor’s note: I think this is a good thing: we know Google rewards good linking out.]

What do you think? Should I un-link the names of all the sites?
For now, I’m just building some exact match links and waiting to hear back from the busy webmasters at Copyblogger for a potential PR 5 link. Wish me luck ?