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Tales from the (Dead Link) Crypt: Finding Valuable but Broken Links to Your Site

Hey SEO-ers, Webmaster-ers, and all other Internet people!

Today I’m going to be talking about tracking down links pointed to your site (or your client’s site) that would be valuable IF they weren’t linking to non-existent pages or files. Valuable in this case refers mainly to the SEO value of links, though this often correlates with the value of links to humans.

After you have this list of links, you can figure out which ones you want to get fixed and reach out to their respective creators.


  • Computer
  • Majestic SEO or SEOMoz’s Open Site Explorer
  • Screaming Frog, or another similar spider program that can check the response codes of a list of URLs. (Easy enough to program yourself, if needed!)

So the first step in this process is generating a list of all “valuable” links to your site. Majestic SEO is probably the best tool to do this, but it can also be done with Open Site Explorer.

Let’s take a look at the Majestic SEO Site explorer (“Top Backlinks” tab) output for the Pure Visibility site:


Looks good, but we don’t really know if any of these links are 404’ing. Let’s scroll down to the bottom of the page and click “Download CSV” to grab the goods.

We now have a pretty massive spreadsheet with a lot of insightful columns:


In fact, there are way more columns than we need. Theoretically we could come up with an awesome combination of citation flow, trust flow, anchor text, and more to determine which links are valuable.

And if you only have a small number of backlinks, you could even assess each link one-by-one. But we all have more interesting stuff we could be doing (like shooting Nerf darts down the office hallway) so let’s solve simply. Let’s delete all of the columns except:

  • Source URL
  • Target URL
  • ACRank (“a very simple measure of how important a particular page is by assigning a number from 0 (lowest) to 15 (highest) depending on the number of unique referring external root domains.”)
  • FlagNoFollow

Our next step is to filter the FlagNoFollow column to remove any links that are not followed by search engines. While a no-followed link can sometimes be valuable, it’s usually not, so let’s get rid of those for now:


Now let’s copy the Target URL column into a new spreadsheet, and export it as a .csv file. Then we’ll fire up Screaming Frog, throw it into list mode, import the .csv file and hit “Start.” Then click over to the Response Codes tab, and filter to “Client Error (4xx).”


And here we have a short list of URLs that are 404’ing, but have links pointing to them (oh noes!). Let’s copy and paste this list back into our excel spreadsheet, and then have a label to the right of them marked “DEAD” (very scary).

You might have noticed that some of these URLs do not seem very crucial (for instance, image files). However, it might be the case that someone is syndicating (copying) our blog content. Personally, we’d rather have our content copied with working images rather than looking disheveled.

Next, let’s program in this cool vlookup function to check which links are going to 404’ing URLs:

=IFERROR(VLOOKUP([@TargetURL],F:G, 2, FALSE), “-”)

(where columns F and G hold the 404’ing URLs and “DEAD”, respectively)


Now all we have to do is filter our vlookup column for cells marked “DEAD,” and we’re left with a list of source and target URLS of 404’ing links. The ACRank column can be used to judge if these things are likely to be valuable, and inform the decision of which sites to reach out to about fixing these links.


Luckily, our website isn’t doing too bad. But client websites that change often and don’t implement 301 redirects might not fare so well.

Good luck with the link re-building that follows, and leave us a comment if you have any questions or concerns. If you want to expand on this, you can always investigate fixing 302’ing links as well (turning them into 301 redirects), to harvest more of that ever-important link juice.

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About Taylor Caldron

Taylor Caldron is the SEO Manager at Pure Visibility, specializing in link-building and international SEO, and is experienced in B2B lead generation for industries ranging from industrial metals to foodservice. He began working for Pure Visibility in April 2012 after receiving his Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. You can find him on Google+.

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