Broken Link Building Bible: The New Testament

Posted by russvirante

It was a little over a year ago that I first wrote the “Broken Link Building Bible” and it seemed like it was time for an update. If you haven’t had a chance yet, please head over to the original, as most of it is still highly relevant today, and it contains the basics which will not be covered in this post. 

Today I present a New Testament, complete with ethical guidelines, new prospecting, content, and outreach techniques. Throughout this guide I will show you how to accomplish most of these tactics using a culmination of tools like Open Site ExplorerDomain Hunter Plus, or BrokenLinkBuilding.com. Let’s jump in.

Table of contents

  1. Ethical Guidelines
    1. Content Commandments
      1. Cloaking
      2. Plagiarizing
      3. Bait & Switch
      4. Identity Theft
    2. Outreach Commandments
      1. Automation
      2. Unrelated
      3. Misrepresentation
    3. Conclusions
  2. Advanced Prospecting
    1. Section Discovery
    2. Site Discovery
  3. Advanced Content
    1. Panda Guidelines
    2. Publish Date
    3. Be Thorough
    4. Citation Focus
  4. Advanced Outreach
    1. Short Form
    2. Long Form
    3. Double Tap
    4. Slow Play
    5. Bandwagon
  5. Revelation

Ethical guidelines: The BLB Commandments

I have mentioned many times before that I love broken link building because the success of the campaign is directly proportional to the good you do for the web. You aren’t attracting links unless you are fixing them. Not all campaigns are so unscrupulous, however: What is interesting is that even though none of these are traditional link violations like the anchor text manipulation which led to the downfall of guest posting, but they can nevertheless get you in trouble. Let’s run through the list.


Content commandments

  • Thou shalt not cloak: Cloaking with broken link building usually takes the form of recreating content and then using either the canonical tag or traditional IP delivery techniques to point Googlebot towards a more commercial site. You really aren’t going to get a huge boost out of using this technique, and more importantly, you are missing out on the opportunity to build a genuinely great site. If you are already creating content that’s good enough to form a successful BLB campaign, why not just expose that content on your site? It’s a big risk for a little reward.
  • Thou shalt not plagiarize: Sorry, folks, but you can’t just copy the old site or page off of Archive.org and expect to get away with it. You’re asking for a DMCA complaint. How hard is it to update content? Also, link to the original creator’s website for good measure!
  • Thou shalt not bait and switch: This is just like slow cloaking. Why kill really good content on your site that deserves links, only to redirect to a page that doesn’t? Use BLB as a platform for developing a great, content-rich website.
  • Thou shalt not commit identity theft: This one is really egregious. If you find a whole domain that is now expired, don’t simply recreate the whole site and then send emails from that site as if you are the original owner. Seriously, I can’t believe I have to write this, but I have seen it in the wild.


Outreach commandments

  • Thou shalt not automate sends: The fastest way to kill a campaign is to just send out thousands of automated emails. You will get terrible conversion rates, piss off webmasters, get your IP blacklisted, and waste good prospects. Take your time to hand-select your targets and customize your emails.
  • Thou shalt not send unrelated emails: Not all broken links are good opportunities. Only send emails to prospects whose sites have a good likelihood of playing ball. I have seen campaigns where success rates are 10%+ because the link builder was careful enough in the prospecting process. If you send too many requests to unrelated sites, your deliverability will suffer.
  • Thou shalt not misrepresent: There is no need to lie to your prospect. Don’t pretend to be some kid working on a project or say “I was visiting your site when…”. You will see in the outreach templates below that there are some really strong pitch emails that don’t require you lie. You’ll sleep better at night, and trust me, genuine-sounding emails do a lot better than disingenuous ones.
That is enough for the commandments for now, but let me be clear: You aren’t going to get the same performance bumps with the above techniques that you might have received out of paying for guest blog posts or using manipulated anchor text. There really is no good reason to bastardize the BLB process with these types of techniques. Be good.
Which leads me to the next section:

Advanced prospecting techniques


Section discovery

One of the most important additions to the Broken Link Building Bible is the proper methodology for finding sections within websites that are missing, rather than simply a single page. You can often double or even triple the number of relevant prospecting opportunities by simply using this discovery technique. It is fairly simple; here are the steps when not using BrokenLinkBuilding.com:
  1. Go through the normal procedures of identifying relevant BLB opportunities following the steps outlined in the BLB Bible.
  2. Use a backlink tool like Open Site Explorer to export the Top Pages from the site that has the broken link opportunity. For example, if you found a broken link to http://www.joesite.com/important-page.html, you would want to run a Top Pages report for the joesite.com domain.
  3. Export the results by setting “filter by status codes 400 or greater” (this will pick up both 404s and error pages). Finally, visit the archive.org versions of these pages to see if any are strong opportunities.

And, here are the steps using BrokenLinkBuilding.com:

  1. Click on the list icon next to the opportunity you want to examine for section 404s
  2. Click on the Archive link to look at the archive pages to see if it matches your campaign
  3. [Pro Tip] If you find a great opportunity, mine its backlinks for more broken link opportunities or use it as a URL campaign inside BrokenLinkBuilding.com

Site discovery

The above technique may sometimes reveal entire domains that are 404′d, but often rather than being 404′d they are simply no longer active. Because of this, the sites do not return any error code at all. If you find an entire domain that is 404′d, you have a huge opportunity to reclaim links.
First, a quick note on the ethics we discussed before. If the domain is no longer registered, you have every right to snatch it up. However, I would argue that it is probably not in your best interest to simply redirect this site to yours. I would recommend a different method – one that is likely to pay dividends in a couple of directions.
  1. Register the domain using your valid contact information
  2. Do not re-launch the site
  3. Begin reclaiming links through Broken Link Building like you always have
  4. If and when the original webmaster reaches out to ask why you now own the domain s/he accidentally dropped, offer to transfer it back to them and build a relationship that could earn you a link from that site as well.
This method allows you to protect the asset from others, potentially earn a link from the asset, continue the BLB process, and stay within the BLB commandments. You might be able to squeeze more authority out of it with a redirect, but I doubt Google will give you all the credit.
So, back to the prospecting side. How do we find these types of domains? Well, here we would want to enlist the help of Domain Hunter Plus, a fantastic Chrome Extension that helps you find not only broken links but unregistered domains. Instead of rehashing, a perfectly useful guide
can be found here at PointBlank SEO.

Advanced content creation

In the BLB Old Testament, I didn’t spend enough time talking through what type of content is most likely to succeed with broken link building. It seems straightforward enough that content similar to the broken resource is likely to do well, but is there anything else you can do to improve the success rate? Of course. I will run through a couple of them here…
  • Think Panda: If you have never read through the Panda Questionnaire before, take a look at it here in the section labeled “Briefly: What is the Panda Algorithm“. Your BLB content should try and hit these guidelines with perfect precision. Make sure your content is insightful, well written, thorough, and cleanly designed. Spending extra time with your content will make a huge difference in conversion rate.
  • Be obvious about the publish date: The last thing that a webmaster wants to do is replace one broken link with another. They need to feel confident that the replacement you are offering them won’t get outdated any time soon. The easiest way to do this is make it clear that the content has been updated by a certain date. In fact, I recommend including this in the outreach email, saying something like… “this one was updated recently and seems to cover the same content…”
  • Be thorough: The webmaster you reach out to may only be interested in a small part of the page they once linked to. A giant resource page on cancer may have a specific statistic they are citing, or a description of a particular treatment option. Make sure that your content covers all the bases. Once again, this ties into the outreach itself and explains why the one-to-one email campaigns do better than automated campaigns. If you look at your target’s site before emailing them, you know which sections to point out in the outreach email that show why the new link you propose meets her/his needs.
  • Citations: Unless your site is already a well known and respected brand, chances are you need to build up your credibility a bit before you start asking people to link to your content. Make sure your site is Wikipedia-esque in its outbound linking and citations. You will often find that many of the sites which you are reaching out to actually have great content that you can cite in your own work. Nothing increases the likelihood of a converted outreach email than the webmaster finding their own content properly cited as part of the body of research behind a strong content piece.

Advanced outreach

Short-form

This is often the go-to template for broken link building. It is quick, easy, and effective. However, I wouldn’t use it on your highest-value prospects. If there is a really good opportunity, jump to the long-form and spend some time crafting a thoughtful email. Here is what it looks like…
  • Subject: found a broken link on ##page##
  • Body: Just wanted to let you know there is a broken link to ##broken## on your page ##page##. Found this instead ##replacement##. Might want to fix it.
And that is it. Short and simple. Of course, you would want to replace the ##page##, ##broken## and ##replacement## with the page that has the broken link, the broken link, and your replacement link respectively.

Long-form

The long form is very effective for high value prospects and is worth your time and effort. Generally speaking, there are 3 parts to an effective long-form outreach template…
  1. Inbox justification
  2. Custom pitch
  3. Thank you
Let’s run through these really quickly…
  1. Inbox Justification: Go ahead and get out on the table why you are emailing the webmaster. They don’t know who you are and the least you can do is offer them early on a reason to read your email. Don’t lie. You don’t have to say “I was reading your website and I found…”. Just say something to the effect of: “Hi, I am ##name## and I noticed that you have a broken link to ##broken resource name## (##broken resource link##) on your ##page name## (##page url##).” No need to mention the replacement yet.
  2. Personal Touch: Here is where you explain why your replacement is a good fit and why you are personally invested in it. Go ahead and say if you are the business owner. If you created excellent content, there is nothing to be ashamed of! Tell them why you care about people finding the right content and how yours improves upon the one you are replacing. Give them a reason to believe if they add your link that it will stay updated for the long haul. Normally, you want to touch 3 main points: it’s new and improved, it’s here for the long run, and you are personally invested in guaranteeing that.
  3. Thank You: Finally, be cordial and grateful that someone took the time out of their day to read your email. Don’t just say “thanks,” but actually express some gratitude for not hitting the delete button the second it showed up in their inbox. You’d be surprised, but genuine thankfulness is so rare in emails these days that many people are shocked to just have someone be nice. Honestly, when is the last time you wrote an email where the send off was something more than “thx” or just your name?
Long story short, the long form can be far more effective, so use it for your top prospects every time. Once you get good at it, you will see your conversions jump dramatically.

Double tap

The double tap is the follow-up method for either the short form or long form. If you haven’t heard back from a webmaster (give it a week or so) and it is a high value prospect, send a second email from a different account but don’t make a recommendation for a replacement. Just point out that the link is broken. A lot of webmasters blow off the first email because one broken link doesn’t seem like a big problem. However, if multiple users indicate that it is a problem, it will draw their attention. Here is a quick pro-tip. In the follow-up email, don’t say the page that the broken link is on, just say they have a broken link pointing to ##brokenpage##. This will send them searching through their inbox for that email they ignored before which had all the information.

Slow play

The reverse of the double tap is the slow play. The slow play involves first sending an email that simply says “you have a broken link to ##page##”. These types of emails likely result in a response like… “what page did you find it on?”. You then have an in to say something like… “Hold on a second… yeah, the broken link to ##broken## is on ##page##, I actually just put up a replacement here ##replacement##”. This methodology is particularly good if you aren’t comfortable leading with the content pitch. Unfortunately, it does require more effort.

The bandwagon

Sometimes all a webmaster needs to hear is that their competitors are delivering when they are not. It can seem odd that you so easily found a replacement for their broken link, but if you explain to the webmaster that you found the replacement
on a competitor’s website, they will be more likely to add it so more of their users don’t end up with a better experience on the competitor’s resource page. Of course, make sure that you actually score a link from the competitor’s website first before you start using that in an email. Otherwise you are likely to get called out and, frankly, it would be a violation of the ethical guidelines we discussed earlier.

Revelation

I’d like to conclude with some thoughts on the future of Broken Link Building. The technique has been around in one form or another for over a decade now. It has slowly grown to become more scalable with improved prospecting and outreach tools. However, it has never exploded like other link building fads because…

  1. There is a limited, although renewable, supply of opportunities
  2. Content creation is often necessary for success
  3. Quality drives conversion rates

The shortcuts just aren’t the same; they’re the very shortcuts that tend to get us in trouble with Google. I want you to think about Broken Link Building just like you might think of a natural resource. Let’s use it wisely. There is plenty to go around.

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September 24, 2014  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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