Reclaim & Replace Broken Links: Two Winning Link Building Strategies
If you’ve been working on a link building strategy, you know it takes time to gain quality backlinks to your website. But inevitably, some backlinks will become broken over time, either because the page doesn’t exist anymore, the URL has changed, or there are other technical issues.
SEO professionals often refer to this as “link rot.” Just like those bananas you forgot on your kitchen counter for weeks, if you leave links unattended, they will eventually go bad. This is a common issue across industries.
One study found that 12.2% of e-commerce site backlinks point to a 404 page (WooRank).
This indicates that the browser couldn’t find anything on this page. As time goes on, broken links grow exponentially, which not only creates a poor user experience, but it’s also a missed opportunity to capture potential customers.
Now for the good news: With a proactive broken link strategy, you can not only reclaim your own backlinks but also build new ones to replace your competitors’ broken links. Here’s how.
Reclaim Your Broken Links
Link reclamation is the process of finding broken links that should be pointing to your website and fixing them.
- Using a tool like Ahrefs’ Broken Link Checker or SEMrush’s Backlink Analytics, analyze all the links currently pointing to your website and find any broken links. (If you don’t use a paid SEO service, you can find an alternative on this list of free SEO tools.) These tools make it easy to quickly see which links are going to a 404 page, which are using redirects, and which are still working.
- For each broken link you find, determine where the issue lies. It could be:
- A matter of formatting, like a bracket placed in the wrong spot or a misspelled URL
- A page that no longer exists or has been moved to a new URL
- Next, decide which links you need to fix. Some broken links may be from spam or low-quality sites and not worth pursuing. Focus on the links from quality sites that would add authority to your own site or bring in qualified leads.
- Choose the page you want the backlink to point to, whether it’s the new URL for a page that you moved or a brand new page or blog post.
- Reach out to the site owner to let them know about the broken link and provide the new URL. Most site owners will be glad to update the link — no one wants broken links from their site. However, you won’t always hear back, in which case…
- Redirect the broken link to a new URL using a 301 redirect.
Build on Your Competitors’ Broken Links
While link reclamation focuses on your own backlinks, broken link building is about finding competitors’ broken backlinks and replacing them with your own content. There are two different ways to approach finding broken backlinks.
Target a specific competitor’s broken links:
- Choose a competitor whose broken links you want to target. (You can use our guide to SEO competitor analysis to find your top competitors.)
- Follow the process outlined above to analyze their links and find broken links you want to target.
- Reach out to the site managers on the websites with broken links and offer them your page or post as a replacement.
Target a website or blog in your niche that you’d like to get backlinks from:
- On the blog or website you want to target, find a page with backlinks related to your industry.
- Using a tool like Screaming Frog, Checkbot, or Check My Links, identify any broken links on the page and compile a list.
- Identify or create your own content that the site could link to. For example, if it’s a travel blog with a broken link to a guide to the best dive sites in your location, you might already have a page with this information that you could offer as a replacement.
- Reach out to the site owner to let them know you found a broken link on their site and have the perfect page they could link to instead.
Bonus: Outreach Email Template
Whether you’re doing one or both of these strategies, you’ll have to reach out to site managers or bloggers to notify them about the broken link and offer a replacement URL. Here’s a simple template to get you started, but be sure to customize each outreach email.
[Introduce yourself and your business]
I really enjoy your content and especially loved your post on [topic — take this opportunity to talk about specific information or tips from their page or post that you liked.]
I noticed that the link to [insert anchor text for the broken link] goes to a 404 page. I recently wrote a blog post that might be a good replacement: [link to your page].
Let me know if you’d like to link to this resource from your page.
Even though we tend to think of backlinks as a long-term SEO strategy, like most things on the web, you can’t just set it and forget it. Set aside some time once a year (maybe during your least busy season) to revisit your backlink strategy, search for any broken links that need to be addressed, and keep working on gaining new and relevant backlinks. Learn more in our guide to link building outreach.