1. The Problem of Broken Links.
a) The Internet is a Dynamic Place, and Most Websites Change Over Time – Sometimes Quite Frequently.
It almost goes without saying that the Internet is very dynamic. Not only do new blogs and websites come online every day, but entirely new services and concepts can arise and take people’s web surfing habits in entirely new (and often unexpected) directions. Pinterest is just a few years old, for example, and Facebook only recently celebrated its tenth birthday (and it’s been available to the general public for less than those 10 years). And both of those sites are now part of many people’s daily routines.
b) As Pages Change or are Deleted, the Links to Those Pages Become Broken.
Because people are often interested in the “latest and greatest” thing, the individuals and companies that operate websites often feel the need to update them in order to keep pace. These website updates often take the form of cosmetic or visual changes, but they can also occur in the form of a restructuring of the website content. Web pages are combined, split, and moved around – and each time this occurs, there’s likely a change in the URLs of those pages.
Another way that the restructuring can occur is by moving from one publishing or website administration platform to another. For example, over the past few years WordPress has become one of the most popular ways to publish and manage a website. (It’s estimated that almost 20% of the websites on the Internet are powered by WordPress.) Websites may start out as a collection of flat HTML files, or using some other publishing platform, and then switch to WordPress in order to take advantage of its popularity and ease of use. These types of restructurings also can result in new URLs for the site’s pages.
In fact, there are even settings within WordPress that lets the site administrator change page URLs site-wide with just a few keystrokes.
Websites might also simply purge certain pages if they feel the content is out of date. The reasoning may be that simply focusing on current topics of interest to their customers is a better use of the site administrator’s resources than trying to update an out-of-date page.
Finally, links can also break because a business owner or individual abandons their site. This might happen because they move on to new businesses or interests, or because they’ve purchased a new domain name under which they now operate their business. A widely circulated statistic is that up to 95% of all blogs are eventually abandoned.
The feature that made the Internet so powerful in the first place – the ease with which websites and web pages can link and refer to one another – can also lead to frustration.
Besides, after you link to another website or page from your own website, chances are you probably don’t pay much attention to that link anymore. You used that link to make a point to your readers or to provide a resource. Once you’ve done that you move on to the next blog post or article or topic, right?
c) Broken Links Cause Problems for the Linking Page, as well as the Page Being Linked to.
So what happens as a result of all these broken links? In short, it can cause problems for the site that contains the broken link, as well as the site that’s being linked to. Let’s take a moment to consider the following:
- Broken links can damage the linking website’s reputation. Website visitors need to be confident that the site they’re visiting is current in all respects. If you sell products on your website, then your customers obviously expect to see your current product lineup, up-to-date pricing, return policies, and the like. Current information obviously makes the shopping and purchasing process go more smoothly, and it also demonstrates to a potential customer that you care about their time. Broken links can come across as an indication that the business is somewhat indifferent, and can’t be bothered to keep their website current and error-free.
- Make no mistake about it, the linking website will be held responsible in the visitor’s eyes for a broken link. The visitor understands that the linking site might not have control over the pages they’re linking to, but they certainly have control over the links they post on their own site.
- Broken links can cause a significant amount of visitor frustration. Consider someone who comes to your site looking for a solution to a problem they have. They’re trying to research a particular topic, and they’re excited to find a page on your site that has information about that topic. Unfortunately, that page links to a great resource that… no longer exists. Now the visitor feels as if they’ve been cheated out of their time, and there’s a good chance they’ll click away from your site, and never come back.
At the end of the day it’s difficult to know exactly what the negative implications will be of having broken links on your page, because no one will tell you. As noted above, visitors who find these broken links will rarely make the effort to tell you – they’ll just take their attention (and their business) elsewhere.
2. Email Outreach can Solve the Broken Links Problem.
So who’s going to solve this problem?
Think about the website that now has those dead links. It’s likely that they don’t even know that they have an issue. A website visitor clicks on a broken link isn’t likely to take the extra time to get a website about it – they’ll either ignore it, or get frustrated and click away to another site.
And the website operators themselves aren’t likely to take any time to periodically comb through their own links – a large website will have dozens, if not hundreds, of links that go offsite to third party websites. Verifying that all these links are still live, and then finding new places for those links to go, is a big task. They’re likely too busy trying to service their existing customers and getting new content up on the site.
One way to bridge this gap is for you to conduct a program of e-mail outreach for broken links. You can assist and improve these sites while generating new and valuable links to your own website.
a) What is Email Outreach for Broken Links?
In general, and in its most basic form, “outreach” is the process of identifying websites that you want to get a link from, then reaching out to them and asking for the link. Obviously the success of outreach will depend on what you’re offering that site, or whether you’re able to solve a problem for them. E-mail outreach for broken links is a great example of solving a problem.
E-mail outreach for broken links (also known as “outreach link building” or “broken link building”) is a process whereby you identify pages or websites that are no longer working, identify websites that link to those dead pages and sites, then contact those websites and propose a new place for them to link to.
Let’s examine each of these steps in greater detail.
b) The Basics of Outreach Link Building.
All of this happens within a particular industry that you’re targeting, and possibly related or ancillary industries as well. For example, if you run a business that creates and sells information products (such as e-books) to businesses and consumers in the budget travel industry, then these are the types of sites you’re going to spend most of your time targeting.
c) Identifying “Dead” Pages.
The first step for broken link building is to identify pages on the Internet that no longer work. Let’s take a moment and make a quick technical detour into what exactly it means for a link to be “broken” or “dead.”
When you click on a link, or type a URL into your browser’s address bar, your browser makes a request to the computer server that hosts that site, asking for whatever page is located at that particular URL.
If the host server has a copy of that page, then they’ll return it to your browser and everything will be fine. But if that page doesn’t exist, and there are no other instructions for what to do instead, the server will return an error. This is the infamous “404” error that you’ve no doubt experienced countless times yourself while surfing the Internet.
The problem with a 404 error (or “The page cannot be found” error) is that it’s effectively a dead end for the person who clicked the link. While it’s possible for a site owner to create custom 404 pages that integrate better with their overall site look and feel, this really doesn’t solve the core problem of someone clicking a link expecting to find certain content, but then being taken to some other page without the information they were looking for.
Just to add another twist to things, not all broken links will truly show up as “dead.” Sometimes a website that’s undergone a significant reorganization will redirect all of its old URLs to their homepage, or perhaps a page that discusses the organization generally. Sometimes the redirects may be to the site’s “search” page.
These options might be better than a blank 404 page, but again there’s a significant frustration in the visitor’s intent. The visitor clicked the link expecting to find certain content, and now they’re being asked to search for it again and expend additional effort on a new site? In many cases that’s just not going to happen.
Now that we have a better idea of what he’s dead or broken link pages may look like, and why they’re such a significant problem, we can get into the nitty-gritty of how to find them so that we can generate new e-mail outreach backlinks. In general, you can manually search for these dead links, or you can use a targeted service. The manual research approach requires time and a bit of creativity, while a targeted service can do all of the “heavy lifting” for you (sometimes for a fee).
d) Identifying Sites That Link to Those “Dead” Pages.
Let’s say you’re going to take the manual approach. The process has a lot of flexibility (and creativity) built in because there are different ways you can attack the problem. For example, you can use the tools described in this whitepaper to identify some of the websites that link to your competitors. Sites that link to your competitors demonstrate in the strongest possible way (i.e., by linking) that they believed their visitors are interested in a particular class of information.
Press Releases and Reorganization Announcements.
One technique is to look for sites that have undertaken a reorganization, re-branding or relaunch along the lines of something we discussed above. If you’re active in your industry then you’ll be able to quickly and easily identify some of these sites simply by paying attention to your industry newsletters, blogs and other news outlets.
Businesses want their new sites to be known, so they’ll do everything they can to try to publicize the restructuring or reorganization. In addition to the news outlets we’ve already mentioned, you might also set up subscriptions to things like PR Newswire and even Google Alerts so that you’re immediately advised of these site changes. For example, if we continue with the budget travel industry example, you might want to include the text strings “budget travel” and “relaunch or relaunches” when you’re setting up your various alerts.
You might also wish to leverage the power of Google’s search engine to help you identify additional targeting possibilities for your broken link outreach. Let’s again assume that we’re talking about a business that operates in the budget travel market.
Consider that just about any business website restructuring or relaunch that we discussed above is going to be locatable through a Google search, even if the website doesn’t do a good job of publicizing it outside of its own website. So, for example, we might do the following search:
intitle:”budget” intitle:”travel” relaunch
If desired, we could also refine our search by including date limitations. For example, we might only want to look for sites that have relaunched or restructure themselves within the last week or month. After all, these are the ones for which third-party links are most likely to still be broken.
Another approach is to look for websites that have pages comprised primarily of links. In our example, you’ll, therefore, be interested in finding pages that contain collections of links related to budget travel. You can perform a Google search so that the words “budget” and “travel” are both in the page, and at the page URL itself contains the word “links.”
By typing this search into Google:
intitle:” budget” intitle:”travel” inurl:”links”
you’ll receive back a list of pages that meet your criteria. It’s important to be thoughtful in how you prepare your searches. For example, if we instead used the search string:
intitle:”budget travel” inurl:”links”
then we likely would have missed out on pages that included phrases like “travel on a budget” (but not “budget travel”) within their titles. When you have your search results, you can collect the first few pages worth of results in order to identify strong possibilities. In a sense, Google does some of the important work for you by returning the search results in a ranked order. It’s reasonable to assume that Google views the pages at the top of the results list as being authoritative resources, and that it would provide the same links to other people doing related searches as well. This means that you can target your efforts to the sites at the top of the list and be confident that you’re making the best possible use of your time.
Checking the Links.
So how do you check the sites for broken links? It’s possible to load the page and then quickly click each of the links to see whether they still work. When you are only testing a few pages, and each of those pages only has a relatively small number of links, then this may be the best way to go.
However, if you’re more ambitious and want to identify more prospects for your broken link outreach, you’ll need to automate the process somewhat. Fortunately, there are services that can help you do this.
For example, http://www.opensiteexplorer.org is a web service that locates and identifies pages on the Internet that include a specific URL or link. The service is free to try, but you will be significantly limited in your ability to benefit from it unless you pay for a premium subscription to the service.
a. Determining the Best Way to Contact Those Linking Sites.
Next you’ll need to determine how to contact the sites that contain broken links. By far the best way to accomplish this (and arguably the only effective way to do so) is by e-mail. Sending an e-mail to the target site lets you present exactly the type of pitch you want, makes it convenient for the target site to respond to you on their own terms and timeframe, and makes it possible for you to use similar e-mail text over and over (thereby making the process much more efficient and scalable).
Chances are you’ll have to dig a little bit on each website to find appropriate contact information. Unfortunately, many websites choose not to make it too easy to find contact information, because publishing an e-mail address on a website is an invitation for spam. So many sites have moved to submission forms and other non-e-mail methods of contact.
If possible, you want to find someone with a title or professional duties appear to correspond to the subject matter of the page with the broken link. For example, contacting someone on the sales staff may have a lower chance of success than contacting the webmaster or someone actually in charge of content for the site.
With a bit of practice you will become much more efficient at figuring out how to navigate different websites and more quickly gravitating towards the pages that are likely to contain contact information. Still, if you find this part of the broken link building process to be too tedious, it’s possible to outsource this work. There are numerous outsourcing and freelance service websites where you can find someone to quickly and inexpensively perform this work. Plan to send them a spreadsheet with all of the target websites, and have them complete a new column with appropriate e-mail contact information (or the page URL of the site’s contact form).
b. Proposing a New Link Destination.
Once you’ve identified websites that have broken links, and you know how to get in touch with the appropriate person from the site, you’re ready to make contact and propose a new link destination.
While it’s certainly possible for the target site to remove the dead link altogether, doing so might seriously impact the flow of their content. For example, the original article in which the link appears may be trying to make a certain point, and the most effective way of doing this is to link to an authoritative source on another website. Removing a dead link instead of substituting another quality link might require the site to rewrite or restructure its content. And since the content is more likely to be somewhat older, they might not use such a rewrite as being worth the required resources.
Fortunately, your e-mail (which includes a proposed new link destination), may very well be the best and easiest solution to the problem – a problem that they never even knew they had.
So what your email going to look like? What type of tone or demeanor should you be taking when you’re reaching out to these new sites?
- Be friendly, deferential, and respectful. Start off by praising their website, and acknowledging its value. Offer up your proposed new link has an option for their consideration, but don’t push it.
- Don’t be in “sales mode.” Don’t try to sell yourself or convince them of why they really need to link to your page. This usually puts people on the defensive. Just let them hear what you have to offer in clear and simple terms.
- Don’t approach things from the overtly business perspective. Once it sounds like you’re proposing a business deal, the person you sent the e-mail to his more likely to put on their professional hat and start analyzing the pros and cons, and making sure that they’re getting the better side of the bargain. This can slow down or even kill the process.
- Personalize wherever possible. Yes, you’ll develop forms and templates that you use to make the process easier. But wherever possible, depart from those templates and personalize your outreach e-mails. Use your contact’s name and try to work in a few appropriate details about their site. An e-mail that’s perceived as being nothing more than a form is much easier to ignore than a personalized message.
- Make it easy for them to understand and take action. You don’t want to force them to dig around on their own site to find the page with the broken link. Mention the page that contains the broken link by name, and include the applicable URL. If the applicable page has numerous links, you might consider highlighting the broken link with an annotated screenshot. But don’t try to send along the image as an attachment to your e-mail – in many cases the e-mail filters will strip out attachments such as images, and then you’ll be left with an incoherent and incomplete message. Use an online image or file sharing service such as Google Drive, Screencast.com, or Dropbox.com in order to make the screenshot available.Getting e-mail outreach back links works as a strategy because of the volume of proposals you send out. Unless you’re sending your backlink e-mail to a major player in your industry, you probably don’t want the exchange to turn into a long, drawn out negotiation.And, unlike most (if not all) of your other white hat SEO activities, this isn’t necessarily one you should be actively following up on. Make the best pitch you can, make it easy for the recipient to evaluate, and then move on. If they don’t take you up on the offer to use your site for the backlink, then additional efforts on your part would likely be wasted. Worse still, you might leave that person with a negative impression of you and your company and make it more difficult to work together in the future.
c. Tracking Your Progress.
Finally, be sure that at every step of the process outlined above, you’re tracking your progress and your success. The tools and techniques you use to do this will likely depend on the scope of this particular outreach link building effort, as well as your white hat SEO efforts generally. If you already put a lot of effort into effective link building, then you may already have a good system in place.
If you’re new to this type of activity, then start with a simple and low-cost tracking method. Create a computer spreadsheet in Google Drive or Microsoft Excel, and make a row for each contact you make. Use separate columns for each individual piece of relevant information, and be sure to track the dates on which you send your e-mails. Go back a week or two (or three) later to see which websites have begun using your link. Over time, you may be able to discern trends that can help you perform better in the future.
Once you become more adept at tracking, you may wish to test out different versions of your contact e-mail. This technique, generally referred to as “A/B Testing,” can be a great way to refine your methods over time.
This Solution is a Win-Win for Everyone Involved
We opened this white paper by discussing how websites can benefit from cleaning up their broken links, by replacing them with links to live pages. Clearly this is a significant plus for them. But we also talked about the work that’s involved in identifying these broken links and proposing replacement ones. And all that work takes time. So let’s spend some time now and talk about the benefits that your business can realize by this type of outreach link building.
3. How Ecommerce Stores Can Benefit from Pursuing Broken Link Building Email Outreach.
So while this type of outreach link building can be valuable, it also take quite a bit of work if you choose to do it yourself, and if you’re really looking to generate as many new backlinks as possible. Let’s look in a little bit more depth at how pursuing a course of broken link e-mail outreach can benefit your site.
a) Authoritative Linking Sources.
As you can research to find broken links, you’re likely to come across a wide range of sites. To be sure, you may find some that themselves up to be abandoned, which otherwise don’t appear to be very active, or that aren’t likely to have anyone who’s willing to put in the effort to actually update the broken links that you identify for them.
On the other hand, you’re also likely to find some extremely popular and well-travelled sites that have broken links. These are going to be the sites you want to focus on. As you may know from any other white hat SEO activities you pursue, getting authoritative websites to link to you is one of the best ways to improve your standing in the search engines. And having a higher organic search engine ranking is invaluable for virtually every type of business.
If it’s appropriate, you can also take the opportunity in your pitch e-mail to point out that the subject matter of what the target site was linking to may have changed since they made the initial link. For example, if the target site was linking to a page that details various social media statistics, but the information they were linking to was several years old (and perhaps didn’t reflect recent developments in social media – such as the rise of Pinterest), then they would have needed an updated source of information anyway.
b. Long-Term Traffic.
Rather than spending your limited marketing budget on pay per click ads and sponsorships that end as soon as you close your wallet, why not invest in a source of traffic that has the potential to continue indefinitely into the future? Once you get these types of links to your site, it’s safe to assume that they’ll be there for a long time, always ready to send new traffic to your site. After all, the linking site had broken links in the first place – and this demonstrates that they don’t put in the time to refresh or even verify the links they have. Once yours is there, it will probably stay in place for a long time.
c. New Business Relationships.
Once cornerstone of effective link building is that there’s always the promise of something beyond what you are offering now.
A competitor of yours.Make no mistake, they offer you make in connection with the broken link building process needs to be a strong one. This means that your own website needs to have quality content in the pages you’re proposing links to, and that content needs to be relevant to the sites you are targeting. Don’t waste your time trying to e-mail or pitch to sites that aren’t relevant. (And note that “relevant” also means that the website you are targeting isn’t a competitor of yours.)
Be sure that you are putting your best professional foot forward with the text of the e-mail that you sent. Double and triple check it for grammar, spelling and punctuation. In many cases, if there are mistakes then they won’t even bother clicking through to see or evaluate the site you’d like them to link to. Even a single mistake could lead to a potential partner to fix their link by sending it elsewhere.
4. Consider Outsourcing All or Part of the Broken Link Building Email Outreach Process.
a) Broken Link Email Outreach is Relatively Easy to Understand; But it Can be Time Consuming.
There’s no single step in this process that should prove to be beyond your capabilities. It’s simply a matter of breaking down the outreach into actionable steps, then devoting the necessary time and energy to each. But while it’s possible to perform each of these tasks without having to spend any money, you will be paying with your time. We’ve pointed out some of the ways to streamline and make the process more efficient, but it will still take time. And many business owners find that time is even harder to come by and money.
b) Outsourcing the Entire Process can be the Most Effective Solution.
As you might expect, it’s possible to outsource the entire outreach link building process to a dedicated service provider. If you choose to go this path, look for a white hat SEO firm that has experience with broken link building. Take a few minutes to speak with them and learn more about what they can do to you. It’s certainly possible to do it yourself, but your systems really need to work well for you to be most effective with your time. Bringing in professional help may be the best course of action.