Reclaiming dead links is one of the first steps brands should take as part of a much larger and comprehensive off-page SEO program. Through meticulous research and a strategic outreach, link builders can find and fix these dead links and turn them into off-page SEO assets, providing link equity and improving search engine rankings.

This article was originally published on the SEMrush Blog.


For brands implementing an off-page search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, one of the most logical places to start is by finding and fixing any broken links that already exist.

Broken links most commonly occur when a business launches a new website without creating a 301 redirect for each and every previous webpage. When this happens, users who click the link get a 404 error and the SEO equity that was tied to the link is lost.

Reclaiming the dead links will recapture the off-page SEO equity, helping improve search engine rankings for the target page and brand overall. Here’s how you can do this for your website.

Whitespark 404 page

Step 1: Collect a Full Inbound Link Profile

The first step is to sort through a brand’s entire link profile and find any that stand out as potentially broken. Tools like Open Site Explorer allow brands to retrieve a list of every inbound link. After inputting the brand’s URL, click the “top pages” tab and export the results in CSV format.

open site explorer

Step 2: Filter Out Working Links

Once the CSV file is downloaded, the next step is to organize the data. In Excel, use the filter option to easily sort the large number of rows. Under the “http” column, filter out all of the results except for “no data,” “302,” and “404.”

Once complete, the next step is to sort the remaining results by number of linking root domains. This will tell link builders how many websites are linking to each specific, non-functioning URL.

links in excel

Step 3: Confirm 404 Inbound Links

Now, using the filtered out URLs, test them one by one in a search engine to see which ones lead to a 404 landing page. Finding this means that the link is officially broken and is no longer providing any off-page SEO value.

Take the broken URL and plug it into Open Site Explorer again. Under inbound links filter the results to “show all,” “from only external,” “to this page” and “show links grouped.” By doing this, link builders will create a list of websites using the broken link that will need to be contacted.

moz links

Link builders working to recapture these 404 links should then repeat the process for each and every link that heads to a 404 page, creating a list of target webmasters to reach out to.

Step 4: Contact Webmasters and Show Value

Reaching out to the webmasters in charge of the 404 links takes nuanced approach, patience and persistence. The first step is finding contact information for the webmaster. If it is not listed on the website, sometimes it can be found through social networks like LinkedIn or through a Google search.

When crafting the first outreach email out to a webmaster, it’s important to be very specific. In the email, link builders should include the title of the blog post being referenced, the client’s name, a link to the blog post with the 404 link and an updated URL for the webmaster to use. It is also helpful to write the email in an appreciative manner, which may help the conversation feel like less of a business transaction and more of a friendly request. Lastly, just like any email, it’s important to be thankful for both the original content and the consideration for fixing the link.

Using email tracking software, such as Yesware, link builders can determine if the correct contact information is being used by letting them know if the email is opened or not. If the email is never opened, it might mean the wrong contact is being used. If the email is opened but receives no response, it means that a different outreach approach is necessary. In these cases, the key is to emphasize the value to webmasters by, for example, informing them that broken links can negatively affect their SEO and organic traffic.


Reclaiming dead links is one of the first steps brands should take as part of a much larger and comprehensive off-page SEO program.

Because these links have already been earned and have existing content, off-page SEO experts can create considerable off-page SEO value in a relatively short amount of time. As brands move forward with off-page SEO techniques, building relationships with webmasters and publishers by creating quality, unique content is the most effective way to earn link equity that has the ability to considerably improve search engine rankings over time.

Do you have any other tips for fixing dead links? Let us know.

Photo credit: Whitespark

Mark Healey is the Director of Search at ZOG Digital, where he oversees on-page and off-page SEO.

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