Link building. Just hearing these words conjures up memories of long nights, long email lists, and even longer wait times hoping to hear back from webmasters. Of course, we are all searching for ways to make this process easier in regard to time, cost, and energy. There are numerous strategies for link building, of which I cannot even touch on in one blog post. One strategy is to recycle old links which have one way or another become broken – appropriately named broken link building. I would like to propose a variation of this strategy called Reactive Link Building.
Introducing Reactive Link Building
I dubbed this strategy “Reactive Link Building” because in essence, the method involves creating links in reaction to unsuccessful attempts; in response to half-formed linking opportunities. This involves examining your server logs and/or webmaster tool error reports for errors generated via external links. Specifically, you’ll be panning for gold in the 403, 404, and 500 level errors. By identifying these unsuccessful links, you can put in the work on your end to complete the path and create a page at the specified URL – and thereby generating a complete link! Since these links commonly do not warrant the commissioning of a real page, I create a page at the specified path and then redirect it to the most appropriate on-site destination. Of course, determining the correct destination depends on the linking site, the anchor text used, and where I want the link equity to flow.
This Sounds Like Broken Link Building. What’s the Difference?
The difference is that broken link building involves fixing links which point to pages that no longer exist, and were not redirected or decommissioned properly. Now, traditionally broken link building also entails pointing out broken links on other people’s sites and asking them to replace it with a link to yours, but in this case I am strictly speaking about preexisting incoming links to your site which deliver a 404 error response (I’ve also noticed that broken links usually come in the form of soft 404s for some unknown reason).
Reactive link building on the other hand, involves forming links to pages on your site which never existed at all. The most common ones I see are people creating links with typos in them. Other times they get mangled by a rowdy content management system, and other times are somehow cut short with an ellipse at the end. In essence, these are links pointing to a URL on your site which has never been functional.
For example, lets say you have a page on your site located at /iron-man-3-is-going-to-kick-butt/. Someone out there might be writing a post about how they can’t wait for the movie to come out, and in their mad dash to publish, they include a link to your site using /iron-man-3-kicks-butt/. Now, this URL doesn’t exist on your site, nor did it ever (the key difference between this and broken link building). As a result, you find their site delivering a 404 to you, but great Oden’s raven, you want that link! Now, if it is a sole webmaster, you might try to contact them and kindly request that they get the URL right, but we all know how contacting webmasters can turn out. Additionally if it is a common typo, there is a good chance more than one person has made it, requiring you to contact multiple people and requesting the fix.
Once you’ve identified a link containing such an typo, error, or just weird syntax, you can create a page at the erroneous URL, and just redirect it to the proper page. This way, a 301 will generate some link equity, whereas leaving it as a 404 error generates zilch.
Now, not all sites will have these opportunities, but larger sites have plenty. The majority of these misspelled links are low quality or undesired, but every once in a while there is a hidden gem which will actually benefit you. In this case, build the link using their syntax, redirect it, and you’ve earned the title of Reactive Link Builder.
How To Begin Your Reactive Link Building Quest
The process is fairly straight forward. First, visit your trusty Webmaster Tools (Google or Bing will do, but for this example I’ll use Google) and navigate to the Health section of your site. Click Crawl Errors.
Go to the Not Found section to display all the errors your site is reporting. This will show you broken links (pages which once existed) and those which are incorrect, made up, or otherwise never existed (the type used in this Reactive process). Scroll down the list, and click on a promising one. Once you select an item, a new window will open displaying the error in more detail. Once open, click “Linked from” to see the pages attempting to link through the specified URL syntax.
This will show you up to 10 referring pages. Check out the pages in regard to their quality and credibility, and every once in a while you’ll find a link worth having. Now, you won’t be able to build a ton of links this way, but it is a good way to build a few of them very quickly. Plus, you don’t have to write any emails!