When many digital marketing professionals think about link building, their minds jump to standard outreach processes. You may come up with a guide explaining how to create the best email subject line for a publication request, or consider how best to use HARO. While these methodologies are highly effective, the return on investment is largely uncontrollable. Not everyone responds positively to emails and pitches, so marketers are scrambling for new sources of information.
Luckily, there are some highly effective link building tactics that marketers have more control over and can benefit both users and website owners. These strategies rely specifically on broken backlinks.
What are Broken Backlinks?
Similar to broken internal links for sites displaying 4xx client code, broken backlinks occur when external links from your site point to non-existent pages on a different domain. This most often happens when the URL of the page has changed or the linking site has added the wrong URL.
In fact, Internet experts knew that links and pages tend not to exist for long periods of time. This phenomenon is often called “link rot” and many sites suffer from it. A study conducted by WooRank found that his 12.2% of backlinks on e-commerce sites lead users to her 404 page.
Although this study focuses only on e-commerce sites, it is likely that other industries will see similar trends. In fact, we see this being done in the academic realm. According to his 2014 study by Harvard Law Review, up to 20% of backlinks die in just one year, and that percentage increases over time.
If you’re shocked by the rate of link rot, you’re not alone. A huge amount of link equity is wasted due to the exponential speed at which backlinks drop.
Given the prevalence of such links, you might be surprised to see how infrequently these tactics are discussed among experienced marketers. over-focused on the “freshness” factor, choosing to focus solely on getting links from new content without considering missed opportunities from “old” backlinks. There is a possibility.
However, old backlinks are still valuable. Marketers can find treasure troves of value through link reuse and outreach efforts. All you need to do is pay close attention to broken links pointing to both your site and your competitor’s site.
Broken Link: Landfill and Construction
There are two important differences between reusing broken links and building broken links. Link reuse literally attempts to reclaim the value of broken links pointing to your site. Broken link building, on the other hand, is the process of recreating content to replace a competitor’s broken backlinks. .
They’re done in slightly different ways, but both give you more control than standard link building outreach tasks. And if implemented properly, it makes a world of difference.
One particularly successful broken backlink project involved my client Ultimate Whale Watch & Snorkel. After starting our reuse and outreach efforts, the level of organic traffic and ranked keywords (image below) grew at a much higher rate the following year than in recent years.
The important thing to note here is the client’s industry. Despite being in the tourism/travel sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, UWW saw a 171.2% increase in organic traffic and a 257.2% year-on-year increase for him ranked by organic keywords.
Combined with the other link-building tools in your belt, your efforts to rebuild and build broken links can be incredibly rewarding. Here are the recommended steps for both processes:
Reusing broken backlinks
step 1: Analyze your site’s backlinksFirst you need to determine how many (if any) backlinks pointing to your site are broken. Ahrefs is a great tool to analyze this data and see which backlinks are pointing to dead links.
Open Ahrefs, log in, and run an analysis on your domain.
step 2: Clean up broken backlinks. Navigate to and click the Broken Link icon under Backlinks in the left menu. Then you will see a list of all broken backlinks for your site.
It’s helpful to sort out the broken backlinks in this list using the “DR” (Domain Rating) column. This will put the most valuable links at the top of the list. These can then be exported to a spreadsheet for further review.
step 3: Select and track broken links. This handy table of data shows you where your backlinks come from, their anchor text, and the URL they’re pointing to. Analyze the listed external domains and decide if it’s worth pursuing backlinks. Some of them may be deemed irrelevant, less privileged, or pure spam. It’s best to look for backlinks from trusted sites that use relevant anchor text.
step 4: Get back the value of the broken link. Once you’ve compiled a list of broken backlinks you’d like to get back, review your site to determine which links would be the most ideal replacements.
There are two main ways to proceed from here.
- Option A: Contact the backlink site owner and tell them the link is broken. Provide relevant redemption links and ask them to update. Ideally the site manager would be happy to point out the broken links on the site and add the actual URL.
- Option B: The site owner may not respond. In this case, you can easily regain the lost link value due to the redirect. Set up a 301 (permanent) redirect to the relevant page on your site. Doing so restores the value of lost links and directs users to the actual page.
Are 301 redirects valid with broken backlinks? Marketers have long debated the exact amount of link equity (or page rank) passed through a 301 redirect. This is mostly due to confusion over how Google and other large search engines handle them.
To clarify the issue, Google’s John Mueller explained how Google’s search engine specifically uses 301 redirects as directives to canonical URLs. So if the redirect link you set isn’t sufficiently similar in topic to the original link, Google may treat the broken link as a soft 404. However, relevant redirects can receive almost 100% of the ranking benefits.
This is why it is so important to make sure redirects are appropriate for missing content. I want search engines to treat redirected URLs as canonical URLs.
Building Broken Links Using Competitor Data
step 1: Analyze your competitor’s backlinks. Select your competitors and analyze them with Ahrefs in the same way as above.
step 2: Find relevant broken backlinks. Categorize broken backlinks by relevance. Review your own site to determine if there is content similar to the topic of the link in question. This results in a broken link that the 3rd party site is trying to replace.
step 3: Offer perfect alternative content. Put together relevant replacement content here. If you’re starting from scratch, check the topic and anchor text of the landing site and use that as the starting point for your new page. If the content already exists, we can contact you immediately.
step 4: Contact the site owner. Once the replacement page is ready, contact the broken link site owner and let them know about the problem. Please provide articles as alternatives while doing your best to demonstrate how the article fits the topic of your content. You’d be surprised how many site owners pick you up on this — no one wants to pick an article with an error.
Watch out for broken links
The problem of broken backlinks, which affects nearly every site at some point, presents marketers with creative link building opportunities. Paying attention to these potential links can make a big difference to your campaign.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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