Last week in our group blog post the Netvantage crew shared their favorite tools and how they use it. Mine was Xenu, as I assumed no one was going to pick that as their favorite. That made me realize that many people probably don’t make the most out of this fantastic free tool.
Xenu is often referred to as a broken link checker, but with a little creativity its use goes far beyond checking for broken links on your own website. With that in mind, here are some great ways to use Xenu for SEO and link building.
Tip – In Preferences, set “Parallel Threads” to 100 to make the scan go faster – just make sure you retry broken links as you might get more failed connections or timeouts. Also adjust maximum depth based on what you’re trying to do. If you haven’t done so already, download Xenu.
For fixing stuff on your own website related to SEO. You can operate in Xenu or “Export to a TAB separated file” to manage the data in Excel.
Identify Broken Links
The somewhat obvious: Run your website in Xenu and identify any broken pages or files on your website. Xenu reports statuses of both internal and external links. Right click on the URL and select “URL Properties” results to identify pages linking to the broken page.
Most webmasters want to know both internal and external broken links on their website, but you can tell Xenu to not check external links.
Check Alt Tags
Xenu crawls all files on your website including images. Sort results by “Type” and identify images missing alt tags or alt tags that need improving. Alt tags for images will be in the Title column.
Check Meta Data
Do any pages on your website lack meta descriptions? Are any page titles duplicates? Are your page titles and meta descriptions the right length? Narrow the results to text/html files from your own domain and view the Title and Description columns.
Identify Large Image Files
Xenu will crawl all pages on your website including images. Identify unnecessarily large image files to improve PageSpeed.
You can do a number of things with Xenu to help identify new link building opportunities.
Throw an industry business directory into Xenu and identify broken links to websites of related businesses. Of course it’s important to have access to a backlink explorer like Ahrefs or Majestic to identify dead pages with good enough backlink metrics to make them worth pursuing for broken link building.
While running Xenu on a large website like a directory or government agency website, you may encounter a blog post or resource that is no longer live. In Xenu you can right click the link and access the internet archive of the page. If it is something of value you can use the content as a structure and create something even better, then use the links to the old dead resource for link building.
This is what some SEOs refer to as the Skyscraper technique and Xenu is an excellent tool for identifying content that has done well in the past but is no longer live for whatever reason.
Competitor Link Prospect
Let’s say you’re a clown and you want some good link prospect sources for your clown shoe store.
You know that you have a pretty good chance of getting some backlinks from links and resources pages related to party supplies and funny stuff. These pages link out to a variety of different clown related websites as well as party planning and party supplies websites. While you can request a link from these pages, most also have broken links on the page that can be used for broken link building purposes, like this clown related links page:
The “Silly Farm Supplies” link has 129 backlinks from 31 domains, meaning 31 different websites all have a bad link on their website to a clown supplies store and they may also be interested in linking to your clown supplies shop while fixing the broken link. Not a bad find. But instead of manually finding these broken link building opportunities, wouldn’t it be nice to automate the process in some way?
First you need to compile a list of links and resources pages like the one in the example above. You can find them from a variety of sources:
- SERP Scrapes. Ex: “supplies for clowns intitle:links OR intitle:resources OR inurl:links”
- Backlink profiles of competitor websites. Filter by URLs containing “links” and “resources”
- Backlink profile of your own website
Throw the list of links/resources pages in a txt file, head over to Xenu and select upload URL List (test). In preferences be sure that Maximum depth is set to 1. Xenu will scan the links on each links/resources page and report broken links on the page. Once you pull backlink stats for each of the broken links you’ll hopefully have an nice big list of broken links with decent backlink stats that you can use for broken link building.
When doing the outreach part of link building, webmasters will often provide you with a link if you’re able to scratch their back in some way. Throw any given website in Xenu and you’re bound to find some issue that requires fixing. Helpfully providing website owners with a list of broken links on their website and where they are located is often well worth the extra effort.
Possibly the best part about Xenu: it is 100% free. The German designer of Xenu, Tilman Hausherr, doesn’t want your money either. Although it does say on his website that if you’re from Belgium then you can send him beer.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider is a similar tool (which I’m a big fan of) maxes out at 500 URLs unless you pay for a premium version or other web crawlers this tool is free, making Xenu an essential tool to have in your SEO arsenal.