Broken Link Building. Needle In A Haystack vs. The Pin Cushion Method.

I love broken link building. I’ve been doing it since before it was cool. Lots of people have taken this method and done amazing things with it. In fact, there are a plethora of people who’ve documented exactly how they do it and in great detail. If you’re new to this approach, here are some fantastic resources already out there.

A big issue for small markets and clients

One issue that you can run into with broken link building, particularly in tougher niches is that it’s hard to find the proverbial “needle in a haystack.” To scale broken link building most purveyors of the technique will tell you to find a site or a resource that has hundreds or thousands of links. You then remake or rebuild a newer, better version of that resource and pitch it to those hundreds or thousands of linking sites. But what do you do when your super specific niche doesn’t have many or any needles in your haystack? Do you just give up on broken link building altogether? Not necessarily.

No matter what niche you’re in, there are sites out there with pages of links and resources that should be linking to you. You can either use your own search combinations to find link and resource pages or prospecting tools like Link Prospector to build big lists of links pages in your industry. But the only way most people know to try to get links from these sites and pages is to go to them individually. Once there they’d check for broken links with a browser plugin like Domain Hunter Plus and then either send a broken link pitch or a straight pitch to please link to your site or resource (that you know isn’t going to work). Wouldn’t it be great to be able to pre-qualify all of these pages to see if they had broken links on them?

It turns out, you can. All you need is your list of link and resource pages saved to a .txt file and Xenu Link Sleuth. If you haven’t used Xenu before, here’s a nice primer on how to use it for SEO.

So rather than trying to find a single needle in a haystack, we’re going to try to pull out a larger number of needles from one big starting list, or what I sloppily refer to as “the pincushion method.”

Here’s what you do:

  • Build your list of prospects and save it to a .txt file
  • Open Xenu and set it to only crawl one link deep (otherwise this might take the rest of your life) – do this by going to Options > Preferences > Maximum Depth 1 (you may want to also change some other settings – namely the “Ask for password or certificate when needed” which can get really annoying if you leave it on)
    xenu preferences
  • Start running your crawl, this will crawl all of the links on each of the individual pages on your list. Do this by going to File > Check URL List (Test)
  • Depending on how long your list is, this could take a few minutes or several hours. But once it’s completed you’ll want to export it to a specific type of file to get what we want here. Go to File > Export Page Map to TAB Separated File
    xenu export

Now this is where the magic happens. Open the file in Excel and you’ll get several columns of information, the first three are the most important – Origin Page, LinkToPage and LinkToPageStatus.

  • Origin Page tells you the original page from your list that was crawled.
  • LinkToPage is the URL that was crawled on one of your original list of pages.
  • LinkToPageStatus gives you the status of the LinkToPage.

So, now all you need to do is some basic Excel functions to make this an awesome, pre-qualified prospect list. Simply sort the LinkToPageStatus column and delete all of the non-error results. If you want to keep things organized, you can then sort by your origin page column alphabetically and you’ll have a very tidy list of links and resource pages and their associated broken links. If you use a tool like SEO for Excel, you can pull in some metrics to prioritize your outreach for these links as well. I like to pull in Majestic SEO stats and PageRank in a sheet that looks a little something like what you see below.

xenu output2

Broken link building is an awesomely powerful tool and as we keep finding, any way to scale your efforts can seriously increase your productivity.


Adam Henige

Adam Henige is Managing Partner of Netvantage SEO. Adam heads the SEO and link building efforts for Netvantage and has been a contributing blogger for industry publications like Search Engine Journal and Moz.

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