NOTE: This post originally appeared on webology.io, which was my first agency in Birmingham that I founded in 2016. It was one of our early attempts at outreach link building and it turned into a great success!
Guest posting is all the rage in the SEO world lately. Real sites with real traffic provide the best backlinks, there’s no arguing against that.
But guest posting is most definitely not the only way to get those links, and possibly not the most effective method.
After all, you must write a quality article, pitch it, and once it is successfully placed, you’ve earned 1-2 quality editorial links per piece of content. In this case study we wrote one article and earned SIX links. Each link was from a unique site.
As SEO’s, we’re always looking for ways to scale up and increase efficiency. That’s why we decided to see how much link-juice we could send to a single piece of content on our site using the broken link-building technique.
The results? We wrote a single article and sent 250 promotional emails targeting specific bloggers who mentioned our topic. Within 30 days we had six quality blogs linking to our article.
Here’s the metrics on those sites that are now linking to Webology:
As you can imagine, I took one look at the metrics for greenbiz.com and I was in SEO heaven. Clearly broken link building can bring in some powerful links from authority sites, if you know how to execute a proper outreach campaign.
So, how did we do it? Creativity, planning, SEO tools, and an off-topic blog post. In fact, this worked so well we decided to just create a new category in our blog for topics like this one. We’re calling it our “History of the Internet Series”.
Our Methodology: Broken Link Building Explained
Step one in our process was to look for opportunities. The Internet is full of articles on every topic imaginable. Some of them have earned powerful links over the years. But when an article gets taken down for one reason or another, what happens to those backlinks?
In some cases, sites continue to link out to the broken resource for months or even years. That is, until someone comes along and takes advantage of the opportunity by replacing the expired resource like we did. We found a page that was no longer available with thousands of sites still linking to it. We reached out to the most relevant sites in that list and asked them to link to our new page instead of the expired page.
Presenting exhibit A in our broken link-building experiment: Yahoo Site Explorer
It was a tool. A powerful tool that was basically the equivalent of Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools with one important difference. Yahoo Site Explorer had a feature absent from any similar free tool that I am aware of today. You could use the tool to view competitor backlinks. Cool huh? Today you must pay for a subscription to get this sort of data if you want it to be accurate.
If you want to learn more about this tool that was removed from the web on November 21, 2011 you can read our article that we based this case study on here: https://webology.io/2018/06/17/yahoo-site-explorer/
It turns out that even though it was taken offline in 2011, thousands of websites are still linking out to Yahoo Site Explorer. We used the Broken Link Building tool created by Citation Labs to identify these prospects. It’s a great tool in the sense that their crawler seems to do a very thorough job crawling all the available links that point to a particular page. If you need that capability for a one-off project and don’t want to pay for a subscription to a similar tool, check it out.
How We Convinced Webmasters to Link to Us
It’s simple really. Replace the expired resource with something better. In this case we could have possibly created a web tool that replaces Yahoo Site Explorer, but that would be extremely cost prohibitive.
Instead we chose to begin our History of the Internet series by providing a detailed explanation of what this tool was, and we offered up several modern replacements that do basically the same thing. The value-add proposition to our targeted webmasters was simple: Replace this broken link with an article that explains what the original tool was while offering alternatives that do exist today.
Our Outreach Pitch
I’ll admit this isn’t the best email pitch ever. We try to be creative with these and stand out, but sometimes that’s hard to do when you’re asking someone to edit a 5+ year old article. This was our template we used and whenever possible we personalized the message to the specific recipient:
As simple as this email was, the effectiveness cannot be denied here. Using the SEMrush link building tool, we were able to send out 250 emails in about 2 hours of work. Jessica spent about the same amount of time researching and writing the article placing our total time at 4 hours.
We’re stacking two different functions into one task here: link-building and on-site content creation are getting done simultaneously. It’s a very efficient process if you ask me, you just have to be willing to go slightly off-topic to take advantage of opportunities like this one.
Isn’t this sort of thing Black Hat SEO?
I guess that’s up for interpretation like everything else in SEO, but I don’t think so. Our post adds value by educating and informing. The outreach email addresses a serious problem these webmasters need to correct. The bottom line is that we’re adding value to the Internet by fixing broken links and creating unique content. Say what you will, but this method works, and the links are justly acquired according to Google’s own Webmaster Guidelines. I wouldn’t risk my own site or a client site if there were any risks associated with this strategy. It’s effective when you’re up against tough competition in a niche that commonly attracts a lot of links.
Are there Disadvantages to Broken Link Building?
Broken Link Building Versus Guest Posting
One important thing to note is that while we did secure more links for the time invested, they aren’t going to our homepage. Typically, a guest post will point to your homepage from an author bio and that’s okay but it is good to have links pointing to your inner pages as well.
It’s also important to note that it’s not impossible to secure links to your homepage with broken link building. The easiest way to do that would be to find a related site that went completely offline and then pitch yours to anyone that was linking to it.
Right now all I can say is that we built six links on quality domains with real traffic in four hours. I don’t know what this did to our ranking yet.
I’ll probably have to save that for part II or at least a later update to this post. Why? Because these links we earned are in some really aged posts.
Some of them were written as far back as 2009! Posts with that much age tend to have naturally acquired backlinks and plenty of authority. Some of that authority will pass to our site soon thanks to this campaign, but it will take a while for Google to reward us…
Google Search Console has not noticed any of these links yet. I suspect it will be a while before they crawl through to most of these but when they do, I’ll be sure to compare the dates they are indexed against our rank tracking in SEMrush to get a general idea of the effectiveness. Typically links added to older posts can take weeks or even months to be noticed by Google, but we’re patiently waiting.
My suspicion is that when they do index we will see a significant increase in rank visibility. Each link we built sits on a topically relevant site with real traffic and an authoritative backlink profile. Stay tuned for an update once Google awards us for cleaning up broken backlinks.