14 min read
What’s the number one mistake most online creators make when trying to get traffic from search?
Thinking the job is done when the content is published.
In a way, this makes total sense! After all, once you’ve done your keyword research, and included your keyword in all the right places (without going overboard, of course!), you should just be able to sit back and watch the free traffic roll in, right?
What’s on the page matters, but it’s only step one. In order to publish a piece of content and reap those sweet, sweet free SEO traffic benefits for months and years to come, you'll need to also focus on off page SEO.
In short, this means your content is going to need links from other websites.
When a search engine like Google looks at a page and is deciding what search terms it should show that page for, it asks two main questions:
The reason that this alone isn’t enough is that Google’s index – the record of pages it crawls to possibly include in search results – has trillions of pages, and many of them are on these same topics and are following the same on-page SEO checklists.
So it needs another way to determine which of these pages should show up when a search takes place.
This is where links come in.
In order to answer question #2, not only does Google look at countless factors beyond what’s on the page itself, but it’s also constantly changing, adding, and removing which of these factors it looks at and how heavily it uses each one.
However, you don’t need to dig very deep into the latest SEO blog research to notice a trend in this area that has stood the test of time:
The number of links from other websites pointing to a page is one of the top ways Google determines how that page should rank among similar pages.
Google sees links from pages on other websites around your page’s topic as “votes” that your page is a great resource on that topic. The more of these votes you get, the better your chances of ranking above similar pages, and the less elusive that SEO traffic will become.
So how do you get these links?
That’s where we’re headed next.
Actually getting other websites to link to a page on your website can seem like a mystery. One approach – one that I don’t recommend for online creators – is the publish and pray method. This is a tempting approach!
After all, if I just create a page that blows someone’s mind, and that someone happens to have a website that could link to it, they will, right?
The truth is, unless you’re an incredibly well-known business or personal brand, website owners – those with the power to link to your new page – aren’t likely to ever see your page in the first place, no matter how mind-blowing it is.
But fear not! I’m here to show you one of my favorite ways to find opportunities to build links.
Now that you know that building links are important, you can use none other than Google itself to find dozens of ways to find opportunities to build links from other websites.
The problem is, if you’re just starting out, many of those can require lots of time, technical know-how, and expensive software – things that we’ve found most online creators don’t have.
If that’s you, I’d like to introduce you to your new best friend: Broken Link Building.
Broken link building is exactly what it sounds like.
You find links around the web that lead to dead pages that no longer exist, and for which your page could make sense as a replacement. Then, you reach out to that website owner and suggest your page as the replacement.
There are a few reasons I love this approach for those just getting started with link building:
So how many links should you be aiming for?
A great guideline for those just getting started with link building is to aim to get links from 10 different websites for each new piece of content you create.
The exact number you’ll need to rank on Google’s first page for your target term will vary from keyword to keyword, but aiming for 10 is a great minimum. From there, you can watch how it affects your rankings, and build even more links as needed.
It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t want links back to your page from just any other page. Search engines are looking for related pages that link to your page.
One trend that’s been the web around awhile is websites creating resource pages. These are usually fairly long lists of links to other resources that site owners think are great places to point visitors looking for more information.
These are a broken link builder’s dream because over time, some of the pages these links point to will inevitably break. Other website owners stop maintaining their site, or they move content from one place to another without properly redirecting the old URL, but those linking to those pages can't or don't bother to update these links.
So how do you find these resource pages without wasting hours wandering around the internet?
To shortcut this process, you’ll need two things: Google, and the keyword or phrase you created your content around.
As an example, let’s say you have a website all about learning to golf, and you’re trying to build links to a great page you’ve created about fixing a golf slice, and built around the keyword ‘golf slice’.
Run a Google search using your keyword, and something called a Google search operator. I’ll save the deep dive into these for another day, but if you’d like to learn more about other useful search operators, Neil Patel has a great article on the most useful ones.
Here we used the pattern:
You’ll just replace KEYWORD with the target keyword you focused your piece of content around.
Here’s what Google gives us:
Next, we’ll visit each page in the search one by one.
So far so good! The first result, a resource page on break80golf.com, is just what we’re looking for – a resource page with dozens of links. Remember, more links = higher chance of finding a broken link.
Now, you could sift through these links one by one to see if any lead to broken pages, but I promised you broken link building could be done without sucking up all your time.
Instead, you’re going to use a free browser extension called Check my links to do this for you.
Follow the prompts to install the free tool, then while you’re on the page you want to check for broken links, click the icon in the top right corner of your browser.
In seconds, the tool will check every single link on the page, and highlight the good links in green, and any broken links in red.
Check My Links found two broken links on the page, and one of them looks related to our keyword “golf slice”!
Checking out this link, it does give us an error, so it really is a broken link.
Even though this looks quite related according to the link text, it’s a good idea to check out what was originally on this broken page by plugging its URL into the Wayback Machine at archive.org, which keeps a snapshot of what much of the internet looked like at various points in time.
Here’s what we found for our example broken link:
The Wayback Machine tells us the last time the page wasn’t broken was in 2009, and it looks like it was a fairly simple page offering instruction on how to fix a slice.
So how do we go about convincing the original site that’s linking to this broken page, break80golf.com, to link to our new resource instead?
We send them a friendly email letting them know there’s a broken resource on their site, and then hand them a worthy replacement.
In this case, it looks like this site has a contact form, but I’d recommend only using those as a last resort if you’re unable to find an email address since a direct person-to-person email tends to get a better response rate.
It’s usually possible to find almost anyone’s email address with a little digging. Use the ideas in this article from ahrefs to speed up the process.
Once you find the email address of the person most likely to have the power to change out the link, I recommend using a two-step email outreach process.
First, you can send them a simple, friendly note like this:
Subject: Question about (insert site)
Today I came across your page about [quick description of the page].
Really nice list of resources!
I did notice that one of the links on your page is not working – let me know if you’re still updating this site and page, and I can pass the dead link along to be fixed.
Have a great day,
When the site owner or editor replies to your first email, reply back with the info on the broken link, and suggest your page as a replacement, like this:
The broken link I found is on [Resource Page URL].
Here’s the broken link: [Broken URL]
Also, I just posted a new resource all about [Your content topic].
[URL of your page]
Thinking this could make a nice replacement for your broken link if you’d like.
Either way, keep up what you’re doing on [Their website]!
By using this non-pushy two-step email approach, we’re keeping things very much like a normal human conversation. You’ll find much more success in your link building if you stay focused on this important factor.
Keep in mind that not every email you send will result in a link back to your page. Even great email outreach efforts may only result in 20% of your outreach targets nabbing a link. As a new link builder, you can probably expect closer to a 5 – 10% success rate.
This means you’ll need to reach out to quite a few website owners with broken links.
To find more broken link opportunities, you can repeat the process above by continuing through the Google results for your search string.
But before you do, make sure you squeeze everything you can out of every broken link you find.
After all, if you find a broken link on a page, there’s a chance other websites might have also linked to that broken resource. If you can track down all these websites, you can reach out to them for a link, too!
To see all the sites that link to your broken URL – like the one above from fixgolfslice.com – head over to Moz’s free Link Explorer tool, and pop the broken URL you found into the search bar.
Here’s what we got for our example:
Looks like only one website actually links to that page, and we already found it in our original resource page search: break80golf.com.
But before we give up and keep moving through the Google results, there’s one more thing we can try.
Sometimes a page is broken because that entire website no longer exists. In this case, this entire website is about our content topic – fixing a golf slice – so if that were the case here, any link to any page on that broken site would be a broken link opportunity for us!
Let's give it a whirl.
Would you look what we have here:
If this happens, curb your excitement as you head back to Moz’s Link Explorer and pop in the broken root domain to see if it has any links to it.
At this point, you have permission to quietly pump your fist.
That’s 71 broken links (remember, this whole site is broken) across 41 different websites, all pointing to something related to your page’s exact topic – fixing a golf slice.
In other words, that's 41 link-building opportunities!
You can click on the inbound links number and it will take you to a line-by-line list of all the pages that point to one of the now-removed-from-the-internet pages on this broken domain.
You know what to do next!
Find the contact information for each unique site owner and reach out to them using the two-step scripts above.
Once you’ve reached out to a handful of site owners, wait to see how many links you land and then rinse and repeat until you’ve landed the links to your page from 10 unique domains.
Then, keep an eye on your search ranking for your target keyword and rinse and repeat this broken link building process as needed to push you higher in the results!
Sometimes link building can be a grind, but if you keep your eyes open, you can often get lucky and stumble across gold mines of opportunities like the broken website in our example. With a bit of practice, you’ll get quicker with your research while staying personal in your outreach.
If you find off page SEO success through higher search traffic from your link building efforts, some great next steps could be to try the above process but with other Google search strings, look at paid SEO tools to speed up and scale up your research and outreach, and to try out more advanced link building tactics.
Give this broken link building process a try on your most recent (or next) piece of content, and let us know how it goes in the comments below!