You probably heard about “broken link building strategy” from 1,66,000 SEO blogs available out there but no-one really talks about how to find these broken links and how to leverage the power of these links for scaling up your website’s search presence.

The most common answer you’ll find around the web is – Use Ahrefs and find all “Broken links” for any specific domain say WikiPedia, which absolutely gives you some amount of data but not 100% since the Ahrefs index is way too small as compared to the universe of the domains. (But without any doubts, Ahrefs is the best tool available in the known or unknown universe if you want to analyze backlinks of any website)

To try out this method, I chose https://wordpress.org/themes/ as my seed domain because:

1. Free WordPress themes have “Credit or Powered By” links at their footer and imagine how many people are using free WordPress themes and who don’t know how to remove footer credits.
2. Anyone who is using such free themes is by default linking to theme developer’s domain from every single page from their own blog, and if you don’t know the value of footer links, I recommend you reading this article by Glen Allsopp from Detailed.com where he explained how 16 companies are dominating the SEARCH using sitewide/footer links.
3. Every single landing page of WordPress theme has “Theme Homepage” link, with which you can easily find the domains which might have thousands of referring domains, since free themes has crazy amount of active installations.

Here is an example: https://wordpress.org/themes/twentynineteen/

To begin with this experiment, I took the obvious step:

I used Ahrefs and tried to get all of the domains which has an external link from any page which contains https://wordpress.org/themes

ahrefs-wp-themes-outbound-links

Surprisingly Ahrefs gave me a data of 1,876 unique URLs, when the fact is Google tell me there are more than 7,09,000 theme pages available on WordPress Themes node.

wordpress-themes-google-results

So I decided to take the matter in my hands and crawl whole WordPress Themes directory to find all external links from individual WP theme page.

Now let me take a breathe in and introduce our Tony Stark of SEO – Subhash Choudhary, who once told me if I want moon, he can bring it for me with his tech skills, but then I thought I can’t do much with the moon, so I asked him to crawl the whole WP themes directory rather. Within a matter of few clicks, he found the index of all WordPress theme pages. (PS: He didn’t complete his engineering, but he is smart with reverse engineering stuff lol 😜)

Within an hour after running this crawler, we found exact 18,198 WordPress theme pages (Since I later noticed that WordPress has language specific theme pages, and there was huge overlap of external linking domains), but still 18,198 is better than 1,876 domains data provided by Ahrefs.

Example of pages which has same external links:

https://br.wordpress.org/themes/twentynineteen/
https://wordpress.org/themes/twentynineteen/

But wait, how did you find theme homepage links from a directory of WordPress themes?

Okay, so – going through the WordPress SVN (code repo of all WordPress themes in the WordPress theme directory), each of these themes have multiple version, and each version contained a style.css file.

The style.css file has the author info including his domain name. Theme author links to this domain from the theme footer.

The custom crawler would go though each of the themes listed in that repo, scan thorough the versions and find the style.css file from there.

style-css-website-url

A one line RegX extracted the author url from these style files and exported it in a .CSV file.

After removing duplicate domains (authors having multiple themes, or multiple themes linking to GitHub repos) I still had 6,000+ domains left with me.

Crawling website content of any specific website might be against their policy, so refer to their terms and conditions before you crawl any data. We do not recommend/promote this practice.

How do I check the quality of 6000 domains in one shot?

Well, we have our custom built tools which allow us to process backlinks data of 100k+ domains in a matter of few minutes. So after spending 1 minute and 27 seconds – I had a file of all metrics (such as DR, Ahrefs Rank, Availability) of these 6000+ domains and I found exact 7 domains which had more than 125+ referring domains, and decent DR (maybe these 7 theme developers don’t know the value of links, or maybe they are too lazy to renew their domains)

filtered-domain-ahrefs

Took me another 2 minutes to buy all these domains.

Well, it’s been just 3 days since I’ve got these domains in my account and I’ll perform some experiments (maybe I’ll setup a PBN’s or maybe I’ll redirect them on my money site) – I’ll keep you posted about the result of this case study with you in this article itself.

But Hey! Wait!

This story is not over yet, since those 764 words I wrote above is just a HACK – trust me – Hacks are never scalable, and this made me question myself –

Can I leverage a power of sitewide links from WordPress (or any other platform) to build something better?

I can’t give you an exact answer for this question, but here is my opinion around this topic – let’s go on Google and search for “best {category} WordPress themes”, for instance “free fitness WordPress themes” and you’ll land on https://colorlib.com

Now it’s the time for me to do some postmortem on the links profile vs their performance using Ahrefs and SimilarWeb pro.

Well, Ahrefs says colorlib.com has DR 92, with 63.8K unique domains pointing 59.9M times to them and all you can say is “f**k, this Colorlib has nailed it“, but you’ll be surprised to see that most of their inbound links are coming from the “credit/footer” links for their brand keyword “colorlib” form everyone who is using their themes.

colorlib-backlinks-profile

With 1.5M organic visitors per month and $2.1M value of search traffic, no doubt Colorlib has achieved things which normal companies can’t even think of.

FREE sells and leveraging power of FREE WORDPRESS THEMES seems to be working absolutely fine with Colorlib.

On top of that, I’ve realised that the kind of themes colorlib is designing and developing is pretty good, so I don’t have any issues with “credit or footer” links in return of the help with the good UI/UX.

However, I’m still questioning Google that – If webmaster had no intent of linking back to theme developer, why Google still considers the value of links which was forcefully placed within the content on any particular domain?

Glen has already mentioned about  “How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results” in this post almost two years back and I can still see the same strategy is working for a lot of big brands.

Here is one more example, which you (probably) never heard of: Indiamart.com

If you don’t know who is Indiamart, Indiamart is an Indian B2B marketplace which started as a website designing company back in 1999 and they apparently survived dot com bubble (since they turned this website creating business into leadgen business). They get approximately 10M organic visitors per month and company is making over 55M annual revenue who is planning to file an IPO.

Indiamart has  around 8.5M keywords with 21.5K RD and over 17.8M backlinks (source Ahrefs). Which looks highly unreal unnatural as almost 95% websites which are pointing to their root domain are created by their own.

Now if you backtrack how these 21.5 referring domains were created, you should check this page. Now if you are wondering wtf is Mini Dynamic Catalog, it’s PRIVATE BLOG NETWORK in simple words. They create a website of any manufacturer who gets listed on their platform by themselves and ads their link in the footer. So don’t you think this is something similar to legal robbery? Pretty much similar to a PBN?

indiamart-footer-links

I’m sure that company which is making 50m+ in revenue and for whom SEARCH is one of the biggest user acquisition avenue has a SEO manager who knows about the word – NOFOLLOW! Don’t you think so?

I’m not sure about why Google is not taking any actions around this strategy when they already know everything, but I do agree to the comment from @themadentrepreneur on this reddit post:

The SERPs have become a caste system where the wealth is controlled by the top 1%, and everyone else is scrubs and peasants getting whipped and lashed by Google Policeman and thrown in Google Prison because they can’t compete with footer links on a private network of 10 mega authority sites. Honestly, I’ve never seen such a sickening and more atrocious website study in the history of my career as an SEO.

What big G says about such link schemes?

Assuming the fact that all of these big players are following white-hat SEO practices mentioned by Google on this page, let’s see what the current scenario.

One of their policy point says: Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines. Here are a few common examples of unnatural links that may violate our guidelines: Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites

search-console-help

Now I’m not sure whether Google crawlers are not able to detect this “widely” factor or they are just ignoring the case. Whatever it is, I’ve always found it bizarre when brands like Indiamart proves – “Rules are meant to be broken“, and at the same time I remember a quote – “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

What are your thoughts about this?

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    Suumit is a serial entrepreneur, a digital marketing expert with more than 8 years of experience in running a successful digital marketing agency by the name of Risemetric.

    This post has 82 Comments

    82
    1. Totally nailed it 😀

      You scratched every part of the thing which I just had just seen from the top.

      This colorlib thing was known to me from long but I never thought of reversing the way you did it.

      P.S. Short Sweet and To the Point Case Study. Waiting for part 2.

      1. I like that name “BOT” and I’ll make bulk domain checker live soon (only if people won’t abuse the FREE stuff by using excessively) lol =D

    2. Very I’m formative post summit….

      Similarly these wedding planner startups and sites like Urban claps have been asking their vendors to add wadges showing start rating on theirwebsites… Eventually this bedge takes them to the urban clap/other listing page and works as dofollow backlinks.

      Since they have 100s of thousands of vendors they have a very unnatual link pattern but yeah this creates a highly relevent link atmosphere and also recognized as a brand due to heavy level PR so Google respects it in serps.

      What you said robbery is actually a combination of both … Quality of media mentions about their brand and these unantural links .

      I experimented this thing and surely believes that if you are able to create a good amount of searches for your brand name you eventually get the perks, obviously to meet that level you have to be stable in serp.

      Well … Very keen to develop tools like yours 🤣

      1. Aditya, yeah I have analysed backlinks profile of Urbanclap as well and we soon will cover their backlinks strategy in details on Rankz blog.
        Best luck with the tools development.
        Cheers

    3. Every time when I saw your fb post and any other post, you nail it with your attitude. Congratulations for having such a great humour – got to learn new thing always from you. Keep it up!

        1. I’d like to know how you built the tool, which tells you the metrics of tons of domain in mins.

          I’ve built the crawler, but I don’t know how to make it check expired domain and not pick up the domains that are dropped more than once.

          Is it secret? I am wandering on internet to see if there is a guide to build some tool. You made me depressed really.

    4. I have been following glen & other guys & have read multiple blogs on how sitewide links & footer links are being prominent links in anyone’s SEO strategy if done right.
      Still somehow I cannot comprehend the fact that Sape being god of footer links doesn’t work the way it is supposed to be.

      Crazy world we live into, cheers to you for bring such a thing up.

      1. But the whole point here was – Why small or medium level agencies/bloggers are getting penalized for following the same practices and why big brands are allowed to do whatever they want with their link profile.

        Hope you enjoyed it Hitesth.

    5. Awesome…I’ll implement this strategy straight away and hopefully, I will get the results. Keep sharing these kinds things. Love from Pakistan

      1. Neither you can control your index rate (it all depends upon the index budget allocated to you and the kind of content you post).

        Forcing links to get indexed is like using Steroids to get six packs, it sounds fancy but has a lot of disadvantages. Let things happen naturally and have patience.

      1. Well, finding good quality expired domains (which costs less) is like finding FREE HD porn on the internet. Unless you have strong technologies in place to process domains quality and decide which is the best and which is crap – going “expired domains” way doesn’t make any sense.

        I can’t quote anything on sitewide links or footer links, since I have seen people getting punched on their face for following these practices and also people who are making millions in revenue using same strategy.

        Just calculate the risk and do things at your own and keep learning.

        Best luck Rajan

      1. Yeah, Glen was the first one to bring this in my notice and I was expecting this tactic must have became outdated (since glen posted it 2 years back and whatever he writes, get special attention from Google) – but it’s surprising to know that instead of getting outdated, this is becoming a standard practice by a lot of big players.

        Cheers and keep rocking mate

      1. That was our first blog post ever and we would definitely keep sharing things which actually matters. Thank you for showing this much love everyone, cheers!

    6. Hi Sumit

      I’ve been following your updates be it be your FB posts or your webinar videos since long. And every single of your updates have been very helpful for me. And today’s blog post was very informative, got to learn new things as well. Keep sharing such posts.

      Thanks

      1. Hey thanks for showing up here Nikhil. Glad that you loved the article and it was helpful to you. Will keep sharing useful stuff with you guys. Cheers

      1. Well few players like Indiamart and Colorlib proves that anchor text is just a myth and on the other hand people write case studies that they are making millions with their gambling affiliates with proper anchor text distribution. So I can’t really conclude anything around this at the moment.

        PS: I really loved your client portfolio from digitalserp-dot-com, looks familiar :p

    7. Hey Suumit,

      First off, Great article.

      Do you mind sharing how you’re checking 6000 domains in 1 minute? using proxies? you’re using ahrefs api?

      Thanks!

    8. Could you please add a newsletter signup form? Would love to not miss your future posts if possible. Feel free to add me to your list already with the email I provided in this comment. Thanks!

    9. Rather interesting piece Summit, never really thought footer links would still work well today after all G updates. Would you be able to create a future post about footer links, there was one you mentioned about 16 companies. Recently found many big foreign websites employing the same thing by linking to each other constantly in the footer. It would be interesting to see how other search engines react like Baidu or Yandex. Nice post and tips will definitely be back for more.

    10. Very interesting article and some really solid information, definitely looking forward to seeing more posts. Could you do another post in more details about footer links and large companies. I have seen many large foreign sites make use of them which seems weird given all the search updates but they obviously still work.

    11. Hello Sumit,

      I am waiting since December 2018 for the next great article on Custom Scraper and domain metrics and availability checker in mins.

      I check your blog daily to see if you posted the 2nd part. I noticed that you have not newsletter on your site.

      Waiting for answer.

      Thanks

    12. Excellent article and explanation.
      For your tool there is a code where you can replicate it or an api? I think it’s very good.

    13. Yeah this was a good read im still needing to learn about finding links through these types of methods to get for free to add to relevant niche sites i own. Does your scraper filter out the live links with all metrics it would be good to have lol

    14. Congratulations for your great post about link building. I am a big fan of the broken link building strategy and have had good success with it. My favorite tool is the “Check my links” Google Chrome extension to check web pages for broken links. If I find a broken link, I email the webmaster and ask him/her if they would like to replace it with my link.

      I think the broken link building strategy is a great way to obtain new backlinks because you actually help fellow webmasters fix their websites and you establish a healthy relationship with them in the same time.

      With this one strategy, you get more backlinks, your website ranks higher on Google, and you help the Internet be a better place 🙂

    15. Hello there,

      My name is Aly and I would like to know if you would have any interest to have your website here at rankz.io promoted as a resource on our blog alychidesign.com ?

      We are in the midst of updating our broken link resources to include current and up to date resources for our readers. Our resource links are manually approved allowing us to mark a link as a do-follow link as well
      .
      If you may be interested please in being included as a resource on our blog, please let me know.

      Thanks,
      Aly

      1. It is a paid theme from Themeforest with little bit modifications on fonts and colors. Thanks for stopping by

    16. Hello there, My name is Aly and I would like to know if you would have any interest to have your website here at rankz.io promoted as a resource on our blog alychidesign.com ?

      We are updating our do-follow broken link resources to include current and up to date resources for our readers. If you may be interested in being included as a resource on our blog, please let me know.

      Thanks, Aly

    17. I think there are many details missing to make it complete guide of broken link building. How to replace the broken links to our links from the page or website?

    18. I dont understand. The idea is nice, but on your screen theres only 1800 domains of theme providers.
      Most of them are competent enough to renew their domains. Not many will have a dissapeared domain that will expire which you can renew. Out of list of 1800, there are most likely not many to register, therefore its a strategy to just pick few strong expired domains.

      Unless I am missing something here

    19. Sitewide footer links work for domains with enough authority to offset “shady” strategies. Simply put, real brands / legitimate companies can get away with far more than the small guys.

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