Adopt a Broken Windows policy.
According to author Malcolm Gladwell, the Broken Windows policy operates on the idea that property neglect is often a precursor to crime.
Broken backlinks are the broken windows of the web.
They’re a sign of digital property neglect.
By cleaning up these broken windows of the web, you can gain backlinks and make the web better at the same time.
Why Should You Care About Broken Backlinks?
Anybody can complain about broken backlinks. It takes a concerned web citizen and skilled marketer to do something about the problem.
There are four main reasons you should care about broken backlinks. By caring about—and taking action on—this issue, you can:
- Improve user experience. Clicking on broken backlinks creates a bad user experience. If visitors are sent to a broken link on your site, that’s a bad reflection on you. Every broken backlink you fix delivers new visitors to your site and makes the web a better place.
- Grow your network. Website owners may not have the time or resources to monitor their websites in detail. They might not even know that they have broken links floating around. Identifying a broken backlink and suggesting a functioning URL to fix it is an excellent way to add value to their pages—they’ll be happy you reached out, which builds your reputation.
- Take advantage of missed opportunities. Converting broken backlinks into links for your website requires work. You need to find the broken backlinks, do the outreach and follow up. As a result, some people will not bother to reach out when their backlinks break. Some people might not even know or care that their backlinks have broken. Give yourself an advantage by caring about your backlinks.
- Seize easy opportunities. It’s not always easy to work with broken backlinks. When it’s manual work, it’s almost not worth the effort. By using Monitor Backlinks, you can find backlinks quickly and easily. This is a considerable time-saver, meaning that broken backlink building will be a breeze for you, where it’s a challenge for others. You can scoop up tons of new backlinks by spotting dead links to your site and to competitor sites.
The Broken Backlinks Policy: 7 Steps to Identify and Fix Busted Links
1. Decide which keywords to target with your broken backlink campaign
Every broken backlink campaign should work to improve your site’s ranking for a particular keyword.
So, start with the end in mind when you choose keywords to research. Here are three criteria I recommend to develop your initial keyword research strategy:
- Write your initial keyword list. Come up with at least three keywords that relate to your website. If you sell physical products, look for keywords related to your category (e.g., “runner shoes” vs. “Nike shoes”).
- Check your Google accounts. Do you have a list of highly-converting keywords in your AdWords account already? Add those keywords to your list. What if you don’t have AdWords? I suggest using Google’s Webmaster Tools instead. You’ll be able to spot which search terms are leading the most people to your site.
- Keyword competition. How many other websites are competing for your chosen keywords? In the car industry, there’s extremely high competition for “cars” (e., over 2,160,000,000 search results in Google). However, if you specialize in “vintage Mustangs” (i.e., 203,000 Google search results), it will be easier to stand out.
- Keyword intent. Keywords that signal buying intent (e.g. “shoe sale” is better than “shoes”) are more valuable. Targeting keywords related to reviews and comparisons is also well worth the effort, since people looking for reviews are usually close to buying something.
Keep using the steps above until you have at least 10 keywords. Advanced marketers, keep going until you have 50 keywords.
Resource: Want to develop content ideas around your keywords? I suggest using Answer The Public. I usually get three or four solid ideas there even when I’m working on very specialized topics.
2. Decide which content you want to get links to when broken backlinks are fixed
It’s time to look critically at your website content. Imagine you only had one shot to impress somebody else in your market. What would you send them? Look through your top-performing content.
Use the following tips to identify your best content:
- Think about the keywords. What are people looking for when they search for those terms? What content can best answer their questions?
- Avoid the home page. Why? Your homepage likely lacks the focus and content of an in-depth content page.
- Total pageviews. Use this metric to create a short list of your top performing content.
- Time on site. How do you know if website visitors are engaging with your content? This metric is a good one to consider. As a guideline, I like to see time on site for content pages that’s over the one minute marker.
- Social shares. Using a tool like Shares Count, you can identify the blog posts that have performed well online. This data point is also helpful to include in your outreach (e.g. “X article had 2,000 Facebook shares”)
- Relevance to the recipient. This is where you must apply your judgment. If you can’t see an obvious connection between your content and a recipient, move on to the next person on your list.
Keep working on this step until you have at least five high-quality URLs. If you come up empty, it’s time to put in the hard work on content. If you have design skills, use this approach: How To Build Quality Backlinks With Infographics.
3. Find broken backlinks with Monitor Backlinks and other tools
Start by creating a backlink list in Monitor Backlinks using keywords or competitor URLs. Create a list of five competitors. For example, let’s say you’re working on marketing Slack, the messaging and collaboration tool.
Using SimilarWeb, I found the following competitors: Yammer, Campfire, Hipchat and Basecamp. You can also let Monitor Backlinks suggest likely competitors for your site if you’re at a loss.
With these competitor companies in mind, run searches in Monitor Backlinks to come up with their backlinks (e.g. a backlink report for Yammer, another for Hipchat and so forth). Keep pulling reports on competitors until you have at least 100 unique domains. You can do this with the Monitor Backlinks Free Backlink Checker, but the full tool is recommended for this purpose.
With the full tool, you’ll have unlimited searches with the Free Backlink Checker, and can also save sites to the dashboard of your Monitor Backlinks account as competitors for long-term monitoring. (If you don’t have an account yet, go ahead and try the 30-day free trial to see what this looks like.)
Once you have that backlink report, you’ll need to find which of the links are broken. You’ll often see broken backlinks on pages with a large number of outbound links, such as resource pages (e.g. “21 Resources For Mastering Online Marketing”). As a general rule, pages published over two years ago are more likely to have broken backlinks.
Using Monitor Backlinks, you can filter your backlink report to show only broken backlink types, as seen below:
And you’ll always see the most-recently-updated backlinks right on your home page, so you’ll know when backlinks break (or when a webmaster has repaired a broken backlink per your request).
Anytime you need more data, you can dive into your complete changelog:
Let’s break down the different broken link types so you can understand them:
- Server down. This result suggests an entire website is offline. These type of links tend to be less helpful for outreach because when the entire website is down, it’s difficult to carry out further research. You can return to these in the future.
- 521 Unknown. Similar to the “server down” status noted above, this is a less valuable link opportunity. You may want to come back to this link in a week and see if it’s online again.
- 404 Not Found. This is the classic broken backlink type that simply tells you that a given link is broken. These are high-value backlinks that are worthy to note and investigate for outreach, as we’ll discuss later in this article.
- 302 Moved Temporarily. This error message suggests that the website owner has moved content to a new location but the moving process didn’t quite work properly. Letting the website owner know about the problem is helpful because they may have missed some of the details during their website move.
- 503 Service Unavailable. According to W3, this error message indicates that “the server is currently unable to handle the request due to a temporary overloading or maintenance of the server.” The website may be down because it was flooded with too many visitors (e.g. the Slashdot effect) or it is under attack by hackers. We recommend noting these types of links as “promising and worth following up in the future.” Come back to these in a week and see the link’s status then.
4. Build a contact list (DIY or outsourced)
With your list of broken backlinks in the hat, it’s time to get down to work.
If you’re new to outreach, start by opening a blank spreadsheet. Add the following column headings in the top row:
- Count. This column will merely show 1, 2, 3, 4 and up to however many websites you plan to contact.
- Broken backlink URL. List the URL that has a broken link. For example, you might point out that two links on a resource guide are broken.
- Suggested link. Enter the URL that you suggest as a resource for the recipient.
- Website owner. Enter the recipient’s name.
- Recipient’s title. It’s helpful to know if the person is the “blog editor” vs. the owner of the website.
- Email address. The person’s email address. Avoid using generic email addresses like “email@example.com” or firstname.lastname@example.org as these email addresses are rarely monitored by decision makers.
- Outreach date. Note the date you contacted the person. Steli Efti, the founder of Close.io, recommends following up five to seven times. If you’re committed to getting those backlinks, follow his advice.
Already experienced in outreach? In that case, you can get faster results by investing in tools and talent. You can even hire a virtual assistant to carry out the whole process.
I’ve had good results by paying $1 per contact with a freelancer on Upwork. As an alternative, you can sign up for a paid account on Hunter.io or Anymail to automate your outreach as much as possible.
5. Start your broken backlink update outreach
Send emails to website owners who have broken backlinks.
For more information on outreach strategies, check out our related post, “How to Ask for Backlinks Without Begging (Plus Outreach Email Templates)”.
6. Monitor your broken backlinks
What happens on the other end of your broken backlink outreach strategy? There are two ultimate outcomes. First, the person adds your link. Second, the person doesn’t add your link.
Here’s the bad news. You can’t always expect people to take the trouble to let you know they’ve made the change. To solve that problem, use Monitor Backlinks to see if you’re gaining new or fixed backlinks over time.
Here’s an example of how you can get started with this process:
1. Every Monday, run a backlink report for the domain you’re monitoring. (You can also choose to receive notifications from Monitor Backlinks if you prefer an automated approach.)
2. Take note of any new or updated backlinks and compare this against your outreach list. If you gained a new backlink, email the website owner to thank them. If you haven’t gained the backlink, make a note to follow up.
3. Adjust your outreach approach based on the patterns you see. For example, you may find that certain types of websites (e.g. tech blogs) are more interested in linking to you. If you see that pattern, repeat the steps in this broken backlink campaign procedure and focus on that category.
The above steps would be hard without the right tool to give you insights. Keeping track of backlink changes—including new, updated and lost links—is easy in Monitor Backlinks.
Use the “History” screen and look at look how backlinks are changed. Keep an eye on the “New Status” column—if it turns to a red status, your backlink may be in danger.
If you include this information in your client reporting, click the “Export Changelog.” Your data will be downloaded in a CSV file which you can easily import into Excel or Google Sheets.
7. Use CRM to follow up periodically
Once you get your backlink from a website owner, you’re done!
That’s the beginner mindset at play. True SEO professionals look for opportunities to build relationships. Using a CRM tool—I recommend Pipedrive or Hubspot Sales—set a reminder to stay in touch with website owners every few months.
What should you say in these staying-in-touch emails?
Here are a couple of resources to get you started:
- “4 Email Templates to Keep in Touch” — Note the focus on adding value to each message.
- “Crafting the Perfect Keep in Touch Email for Prospects” — Aimed at freelancers, this article certainly applies to SEO professionals of all kinds.
Final Thoughts on Broken Backlinks
The website owner gets an improved website. Web browsers have an enhanced browsing experience because they encounter fewer dead links.
Your business thrives because you receive a backlink that’s likely to stay for the long term.
Fixing broken backlinks is a classic example of win-win-win marketing.
What’s not to like about that? I’d recommend you take advantage of this insider knowledge and get started with broken backlink building right away!
Bruce Harpham provides content marketing for software as a service companies so they can get high quality leads. He is also the author of “Project Managers At Work.” His work has appeared on CIO.com, InfoWorld and Profit Guide. His blog includes interviews with leading companies like ClickFunnels, Prosperworks CRM, and Megaventory.