Broken link building is a clever tactic that few small businesses or agencies make use of. Yet it is a white hat link building technique that can be done at great scale and can attract some fantastic links from high quality sites. Indeed if you're not doing broken link building, then you're leaving lots of link opportunities on the table. In this article (and video), I take you through the process of broken link building and point out some free tools that can get your started on this classic link building strategy right away!

So what is broken link building?

We probably all know the frustration of coming across a broken link on the web. You find a great list of resources, click on the link and then find that the link doesn't work or the page is not found. So either the person who put the page together made a mistake when they were writing the code, or that the page the link points to no longer exists. That's not good for you because you can't get what you wanted, and its not good for the owner of the site you're on because the broken link weakens your trust in their brand.

So what if some kind individual pointed on the dead link on the site? And even better, what if they suggested a high quality alternative or additional resource? Well you'd probably be pretty pleased, you'd fix the link and you'd probably link to the suggested resource!

So you'd be pleased if someone did that for you. So let's switch positions and see how you can turn this into an effective link building strategy.

Here's the process:

1. You look for resource lists on sites relevant to your business.

2. You check the links on those resource lists and identify any broken links.

3. You approach those sites, tell them where the broken links are and suggest a resource from your own site as an alternative.

4. The grateful webmaster thanks you for pointing out the error and promptly links to your site.

Broken links happen all the time – especially when a site is being completely rebuilt – like I'm doing at the moment with Linking Matters. And it's inevitable that some broken links will appear – usally becuase the resource I linked to years ago is no longer in place.

So it's helpful when someone points out the broken links and suggests an alternative resource.

A broken link pitch I received

Here's an email I received from Brian Dean:

So I checked out and the resource Brian suggested is pretty decent and I think that my readers – that's you – will find it useful so I'm very happy to link the guide Brian suggested. And here's the link: The Definitive Guide to Guest Blogging.

So Brian's helpful broken links pitch has been successful – that's broken link building in action!

The process is simple and you really are leaving great link opportunities on the table if you don't give it a try.

Getting started on broken link building – the video!

Now on to the video and transcript, "How broken links on external sites can bring you a ton of links" which is part of the course I'm running with Garrett French Get Links: 7 Weeks To Link Building Mastery).  

Tools mentioned in the video:

Google search

Here's a search to find links pages in the 'heart health' market:

Here's the patter to use in your market:

[popular keyword] intitle:links’ OR  [popular keyword] intitle:resources

You need to use a popular keyword in this search – which is different for a keyword that you're trying to optimize for.

Using a popular keyword will uncover the highest number of potential opportunities.

And here's another search using 'intitle:resources' instead of 'intitle:links'

As you can see, the second search produces completely different results from the first. Experiment with different types of searches and you'll find the widest collection of pages that potentially contain broken links.

Garrett's Link Building Tool

Garrett has also created a tool that helps you do broken link building at scale. You can find it at

Link Checker

You can easily find broken links in a resource list using the Link Checker addon.

Here's the video transcript:

KMG:  So I found a list of resources on the web and because web pages disappear or are taken down then a certain percentage of those links are going to be dead. Broken link building is really about contacting the Webmaster that’s compiled the resource and saying one of your resources is dead. Here’s a great substitute.

GF: That’s the whole concept in a nutshell Ken. I found an old, I think it was done in 2005 or 6, list created by medical librarians of medical related websites. There were over 10,000 links that they had. I analyzed them and 2000 of them were dead – gone 20%. It was an old resource granted but the point here is if you are working in a space where there is good content created regularly and if you’re not doing broken link building then you’re leaving lots and lots of opportunities on the table and I’ll tell you that the beauty of broken link building, well it’s two-fold; one is you already know that these pages want to link to content and if you use you can find out what that content was. You know what they want to link to because they’ve already linked to it.

KMG:  Just to clarify for people is sometimes called the way back machine. It lets you look at older versions of websites and so they keep a record of all the changes and it’s a fantastic resource. So you’re saying use and look at that page as it used to be.

GF: Let me talk a little bit about the people that inspired me to go into broken link building. It definitely goes back to Melanie Nathan. She is, as far as I know, the pioneer of writing clearly about broken link building. She certainly got me excited about using it as a tactic for clients and then another link builder at Seer Interact, Napoleon Suarez. He was writing about it quite a bit. I read him closely and all the time thinking how can we make a tool that can really help with this. And then another practitioner, Nick LeRoy also has been a big inspiration for me. In particular on the outreach side of it because there’s different levels of transparency that we sometimes as practitioners use when we’re outreaching to try and get links on these pages. “Oh I happened to be researching on your website” Well no actually I was crawling the web and looking profusely for dead pages and I found that you are linking to one that’s now dead. But that’s not real inspiring or very warm so I usually try to phrase outreaching in a little it more of an [appealing way].

KMG: So outreach is really the process of reaching out to the Webmaster behind the site, doing the Webmaster a favor. So the Webmaster doesn’t really care if you’ve been hunting the web for these opportunities. What you’re offering to them is value because there’s a dead resource on a page. I hate having dead resources on my pages…

GF: Who really hates it Ken is your visitors and this often how we lead in an outreach email. “Hey we found this resource was dead. I’m sure this must bother you or your site visitors” and certainly in the medical space this must cause a lot of alarm for someone who’s looking for help or more information about let’s just say drug addiction for example.

KMG: And the other great thing about finding prospects in this way, as you’ve said before, is you know that they actually want to link out to a particular type of resource. So it’s an open goal, as we would call it in the UK!

GF:  So the process Ken, it can get a little bit complicated. Let me talk a little bit about how people do it by hand first and then I’ll talk a little bit about how we’re scaling it. So, by hand you’re going to look for a links page so lets look at ‘heart health’ for example. So you’re a medical site and you have a heart health resource which you’re trying to build traffic to because you’re selling ads for whatever and so you want to build more links to your heart health resources. So you’re going to search [on Google]:

‘heart health intitle:links’ OR  ‘heart health intitle:resources’ 

…to create a seed set of pages to check and that’s a search in Google to be clear. Then you’re going to go visit the pages that you find and there are plug ins. Click the plug in and it shows you the links on the page that are dead and now you can send one email to that site and say “Hey here are four or five links that are dead on your heart health resources page and while you’re fixing them would you also add ours?” or “ours is a great replacement for this one that’s dead”. So that’s at the one person doing it for a few hours a day scale that’s how you do it.

If you want to do it larger scale you find hundreds of links pages.  You’re a little less discriminate about specific resources on the pages. You scrape all the outbound links on those pages.  We discussed doing that for lists. You can certainly use the same tool for both purposes. Then I have a URL status checker and what that does is I input all the outbound links, usually in the thousands, and this tool goes to each and every page and checks the header status. I also check www and non-www because a lot of sites simply don’t have the non-www redirected. For example, they have thousands of links pointed to instead of and it doesn’t redirect. So the government is the best. There are so many poorly redirected sites by the US government its kind of wonderful especially in the health space or any kind of human health related areas.

KMG: So there are a couple of reasons for it. It might just be that the resource no longer exists. In other words it might be out of date but another thing is that the person who was compiling the list was just working too quickly, made a mistake and didn’t put the link on the page properly and so it’s dead. So both of those are opportunities.

GF: A case recently we found was a site that is dead and they were a non-profit related in the pain management space and they had thousands and thousands of links and then they just built a new site. They got a new domain name. They built an entirely new site and didn’t create one redirect. They just didn’t do it. They didn’t care. They don’t care about back links. OK we do but that’s just the sort of thing that happens. Not everyone knows about the value that links have either from just a straight referral traffic perspective or from a Google perspective, a rankings perspective.

Any space where there’s lots of great content created there’s also lots of great content that’s dead now or has just moved and hasn’t been properly redirected.

KMG:  So lets say for a small business, no matter what their niche is, one of the things they should consider doing is looking at what are the published lists of resources in this industry and then just check them and as you said before you can do that very simply with a plug in – we’ll give the reference below – then you’ve got some really great link opportunities.

GF:  What you’ve got is this beautiful foot in the door. You’re also asking them to link to your site so make sure it’s quality as well or at least in the range of the other sites you’re linking to. But this works! Broken link building just works. So to be clear you’re typically either doing a one-to-one replacement, which I find to be quite rare. In about the year or so I’ve been doing this. Or you’re helping them fix it and you’re also suggesting your resource. So you’re saying, “oh you just need to add www to this” and while you’re fixing that would you also be open to adding ours. We did an email fix for the pain non-profit I was referring to earlier. We said “Oh they changed their website. Now they’re over here. Would you also be open to linking to us?” There’s better results when you do a replacement, when you do a one-to-one replacement. Where their site or their page is dead and you have something that’s an exact replacement for it but I find it to be fairly rare for those opportunities to exist. Now if you’re completely recreating the now dead content that’s different. You don’t have to be a rocket science or link building genius to do broken link building. It just works because you’re helping the Webmaster improve the quality of their website.

If you're interested in Ken and Garrett's course, read more at Get Links: 7 Weeks To Link Building Mastery).


Author: Ken McGaffin

I’ve been working online since studying entrepreneurship at Boston College, MA since the early 90s. I now consult and provide training in digital marketing, public relations and link building. If you’d like to have a chat, give me a call on +44 (0)1292 263801 or drop me a line to ken @