SEO

Broken Link Building: Feast On Your Competitors This Thanksgiving

A while back, I wrote a post about a link building strategy that brought me some success. After speaking with some of my colleagues, I decided that it would be a good idea to include all of my tools that I used for this strategy so that others in the SEO community could use (and improve upon) it. Let’s get into it…

The idea behind this strategy was born from a tool that was recommended by one of my coworkers, Brett Snyder. This link checker tool is a Firefox plugin that scans a webpage and highlight the links on the page using a color system – green for active links, yellow for forwarded or forbidden links, gray for skipped links and red for broken links.

Image Credit: Kevin Freitas

After playing around with this tool, I realized that the web is littered with broken links. One day while doing some link building for a client, I accidentally ran the tool and I found some broken links on a topical resource page with significant SEO value. An idea was born.

I was given some inspiration by Melanie Nathan who also mentions the reciprocity link building method. She says that sometimes these site owners “make mistakes, or slowly over time they just get too busy to keep updating.” By bringing these mistakes to the attention of the site owners, we are making the web a better place. If we are savvy enough, we may be able to capitalize off of this “act of kindness” and squeeze in a topical link of our own. So, to make this as easy as possible to follow, I will break this post into different sections:

  1. Example
  2. Method
  3. Advantages/Disadvantages
  4. Other Uses

Example

Let’s say that I am doing SEO for an online wheelchair distributor (I’ll go with www.wheelchairdepot.com) My only job is to build quality links to the site. The more quality links that are pointing to the site, the more ranking love that it will get from the search engines – which should lead to improved traffic and conversions.

Method

The basis of the broken link building method is as follows:

  1. Find opportunities in the form of resources/links pages that are linking out to other wheelchair sites
  2. Find the broken links
  3. Point these broken links out to the webmaster
  4. Offer my client’s site as a replacement to the broken link

Before I dive deeper into the method, I want to introduce the toolset that I am using to help make life easier:

The first thing that I want to do is find sites that are linking to other wheelchair resources. I can do this two different ways.

Using custom search queries: Search queries are a link builders keys to the web. Different keys open different doors and a subtle difference in a key can be the “secret” to opening a door that no other link builder has seen before. The more creative you are with these queries, the harder it will be for your competitors to replicate your link building efforts. It may seem like a tedious task, but what I would do is start clicking on each of the search engine results and recording the relevant ones in a spreadsheet. Once you start seeing sites that are lower in value (links/PR) you can stop there and start a new query or tweak one that you have been using to make it more effective. Some that I will be using for this method are (but not limited to):

Using Open Site Explorer (OSE): I will be using this tool to reverse engineer the links that the site who ranks #1 for the term wheelchairs has procured (in this case www.1800wheelchair.com.) I understand that only Pro (paid) members can gain full use of this tool, but even non-paying members can gain access to the top 1000 links that a competitor has received. What I find most useful about this tool is that you have the ability to export the data to CSV (excel) where you can do all types of neat things with the data (which I will explain.) I am attaching a spreadsheet where you we can really extract some very useful data.

Since I already know that 1800wheelchair ranks #1 for “wheelchairs,” I want to gather all of their backlinks. I do this by visiting http://www.opensiteexplorer.org and entering the 1800wheelchair URL. I want to filter by only external dofollowed links that are pointing to the entire root domain. See Mark Lavoritano’s post for more information on how to do that. After you have all of the links, drop them into the tab labeled “OSE” in the downloadable spreadsheet from above. The best thing to do will be to copy/paste everything into the OSE tab of the spreadsheet so that the formulas works properly – starting with the A1 cell.

After you have added all the OSE data to the spreadsheet, turn to the tab that reads “formula.” This is where all the “magic” happens. One common theme that I find when looking for broken link prospects is that there is normally a bunch of links listed in pages with either “resources” or “links” in the Title Tag or the same terms in the URL. So, by typing these keywords in the specified cells in the formula tab, we can easily pull a list of pages that are linking to different sites that have already been qualified (since they are linking to a competitor.) Be sure to sort the URL columns in alphabetical order after you have input a keyword, so that you won’t miss anything. Also, be sure to scroll down as initially, there may seem like there are no results, but they will appear as you make your way down the spreadsheet. Be creative with this as different industries link to different sites in different ways. Remember to add these to the links that you found by running the different search queries from earlier.

* Note: There is a second sheet within the spreadsheet labeled ‘lower.’ This sheet is used for formatting purposes and should be left untouched as altering it will negatively impact the functionality of the spreadsheet.

Okay, now that we have all of our prospects lined up, it is time for the all important outreach. While going through my list, one opportunity that I found was this page. The page is on a topical domain, has some links pointing to it and even has a nice PR of 4. Now that I have already installed the link checker plugin that I mentioned earlier, I can let it do its magic. After a few moments, here is part of what I see:

We can see here that there are a few links that are not working properly. There are actually a total of four broken links on this page, which should make my job a little easier. Before using this tool, my outreach message would have went something like “hey, I noticed that you were linking to XYZ. Would you mind taking the time out of your busy day to link to me.” I haven’t found this to be very effective. Now that I have found some broken links, I can add value to my message by saying something like “I noticed that you were mentioning XYZ. I also noticed that there were four broken links which took a little away from the resources that you had on your site. I am attaching a spreadsheet of the broken links along with my topical URL – in case you were looking for a replacement for the broken ones.”

My reasoning behind this is that the webmaster will probably be accessing the CMS to update these broken links anyway, so why not offer a replacement? I have already done them a service by pointing out broken links, so I am more likely to receive since I have already given. Make sense?

You can download the email template from above which should make it easier to start the conversation. Just be sure to tweak it a little to include some evidence that you have looked over the site where you are asking for a link. Once you have done this for one, just move right down the prioritized list. This will take some time, but your efforts will ensure that you will stay out of your competitors’ reach.

Advantages/Disadvantages

As I discussed in my previous post, this method is effective because it involves a level of reciprocation. You are offering two things of value – pointing out the broken link and a valuable replacement for it. What you may get in return is a valuable link back to your site from a topical URL with significant SEO value. I have noticed that my success rate has been higher when I used this strategy as opposed to “cold link building” where I am reaching out to a site and asking for a link back to my content directly. Since I have not been actively tracking the success rate of this strategy, I cannot offer exact figures (yet,) but I feel really confident saying that the success rate has been between 15-20%, which is significantly higher than any other method that I have used. Another advantage is that you have made the web a better place. You karma bank is slowly adding up.

An obvious disadvantage to this method is that the site will not link back to yours or even worse – they won’t even respond to your email with a “thank you.” This method can also be very time consuming. Spending an hour or so on this per day adds up. If you are getting quality links then that is great, but if not, you may want to tweak the template or the type of sites that you are targeting. Another disadvantage of using this strategy is that I can see people abusing it. Remember, this strategy should only be used for TOPICAL sites in your industry. Use common sense. Don’t reach out to a site that is listing out Adobe resources and ask for them to replace their broken Photoshop link with a link to your wine blog.

Other Uses

I believe that this Link Checker is an amazing tool. So amazing that it has other uses besides pointing out broken links on topical pages for link building opportunities. Does your site have a sitemap? If so, run this Link Checker on that page to be sure that you don’t have any broken links in there. Would you like to concentrate your linkjuice to the more important pages on your site? Find some links that you may have missed by running the Link Checker on a link heavy page. Sometimes, links are not as easy to spot if they are images. I have also found value in running the link checker in topical directory categories to see if any of the competitors’ sites are no longer working. I can reverse engineer these links and offer mine as a replacement to the sites linking to them.

Special thanks to Garrett French for the inspiration to publish this post. Check out his link building book for even more amazing link building ideas.

Did I miss something? Have any other uses for the Link Checker? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below. Also, feel free to sign up for the SEER Newsletter to have articles such as this one sent directly to your email.