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I was on the phone with another SEO a couple of weeks ago and we both started sharing war stories and he laughed about how no one has anything worthwhile to say in SEO anymore. If you read a blog on link building in particular, you’ll get 700 different variations of the same tired old topics. Yawn.

I think most link builders and SEOs like to think they’re protecting the magician’s code or something by not really giving away the details of what they do. I figure if people really wanted to start an SEO agency on their own they’d already have done it. If someone wants to try to start doing SEO for their own business, they’ll probably end up trying to handle it with existing resources (and failing) or hiring someone like my company anyway. One way or another I’m educating people, and the more that people know the more likely they are to hire a reputable company instead of someone working out of their mother’s basement.

Ready to look behind the curtain? I’ll warn you in advance that it’s not that glamorous, but here’s a legitimate system for building links.

Build A Better Widget

The Internet is old now. There are a ton of websites and pages that just don’t exist anymore or are so outdated they don’t really provide value. Find them and make a new version or a better version and reach out to the sites still linking to this old stuff and suddenly you’re in business! This is what those of us who do a lot of link building call “broken link building”. You can do a little research and see that there are a lot of fancy tools that you can pay for that will do this for you. But if you just want to get started here’s a list of free tools you can use and a method for finding “link rot”. See, you’re even learning industry terminology now!

The Free Tools

The Process

You’ll need to do a few searches to figure out a way to find pages that have a bunch of dead links. So head over to Google and start tinkering. Come up with a short list of keywords that would be relevant for your niche. So, for example, if you had a website on mountain biking your list might consist of terms like mountain bikes, mountain biking, finding mountain biking trails, mountain biking vacations, selecting mountain biking equipment, etc. etc.

At this point, you’ll want to take your initial list of keywords and build upon them to create searches that will find you pages that will have lists of links. A few examples would be:

  • List of mountain biking links
  • Mountain biking resources
  • Favorite mountain biking links
  • Useful mountain biking sites

As you search through each one, scroll through your results and start clicking on a few of them and see if you’re getting pages that have a bunch of links to other sites. Ideally, you’ll find a long list of pages like this:

The bigger the lists the better your chances of striking gold. Ideally you want to come up with a few search queries that are still getting you pages of links all the way down to the fifth page and beyond in your Google results.

Once you’ve found queries that have output good results, you’ll need to collect all of these URLs into a nifty spreadsheet so you can scour them for dead links. Here’s the process for that:

  • Change your search settings to the number of results per page that you want to collect (go to advanced settings to change this)
  • Click on the Simple Google Results Bookmarklet and it will open a new tab in Chrome with all of the Google results scraped into neatly usable lists. Copy them from the section under “Plain listing” and compile them in a spreadsheet for later use
  • Once you’ve collected your complete list of useful stuff (hopefully a hundred or more) go to and add about ten of your links page URLs at a time into this tool and open them in bulk (this is a big time saver, but don’t overload it or you’ll likely crash your browser)
  • Once the pages are opened, go to each tab and begin running Check My Links or Domain Hunter Plus to check the links (quick note, these tools do make mistakes, but they’re right more than they’re wrong at identifying dead pages)
    • This is a little tedious (but made easier with DHP’s export feature) but you’ll want to collect all of the dead URLs that you find so you can check their links
    • Once you’ve painstakingly collected this huge list of dead URLs, you can run them through and see which ones have the greatest number of links
    • Create a targeted list of the sites that have the most links and then use Bing Webmaster Tools to take a look at what the individual links are to these sites. If they’re a whole bunch of spammy blog comments or low value directories, the site isn’t any good to you. However, if the links are largely high quality links from sites related to your niche, now you’re in business! The list of people linking to your dead resource are your targets, now you need to build something to reel them in
    • Go to and see if you can find what your dead URL used to be. If not, you should be able to deduce the basic content by looking at how the sites link to it (if the link says “list of America’s best mountain biking trails” you know your next mission). Build a new and improved version of this list and put it on your blog or a resource section on your site and now you’ve got ammo for your target
    • The final step in this process is to find the contact information for all of the sites linking to the old dead resource and make them a pitch to link to yours
      • There are a million ways to go about this, but through trial and error you’ll figure out what works best for you. Leading with a friendly approach letting them know you caught a glitch in their site establishes some rapport before you start selfishly asking for a link

So that’s a process using nothing but free tools for creating some linkworthy content and actually getting people to link to you. Sometimes this will turn up a whole pile of nothing and it can get pretty frustrating, but it DOES work if you stick with it. I would recommend outsourcing some of the really tedious tasks (or finding an intern who is good at such tasks) as that saves you from spending your valuable time on low value tasks. Otherwise, you may just want to go hire someone to do this for you.

I certainly recommend taking a stab at link building on your own first, though. You’ll definitely learn some valuable lessons that will keep you from having a bad provider take you to the cleaners.

Adam Henige is an entrepreneur who owns several businesses including SEO company Netvantage Marketing and online pool products retailer Swimtown Pool Supplies.