As your website grows, you naturally start using more links. Using more links over time means that you’ll have to create a lot of links that will stay up for a long time—obviously. What isn’t so obvious is that links have a tendency to go sour after some time. Whether a website changes its URL or its page structure, goes down, or for any other reason, links can change and the content behind them can change as well. To make sure your SEO is up to date, you have to do some spring cleaning every so often just to be sure your anchor text still works and leads somewhere valuable.
This can be a painless, easy process if you have the tools and the patience to get it done. To get started, you’ll want to make sure you have three things: Microsoft Excel, Open Site Explorer from SEOMoz, and some free time. OSE will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, leaving you to manage the detailed work.
How To Get Your Data Out With Open Site Explorer
For starters, simply run OSE on your website’s root domain (typically the base address, like SEOVisions.com), then click the Top Pages tab. It may take a little time for OSE to crawl your website and determine HTTP status of your site’s links, so you may have to come back to this after waiting. Once you can see numbers throughout your HTTP Status column on OSE, and you’ve registered on Open Site Explorer for free, you can click Download CSV in the top right corner, under the Advanced Reports tab.
After you’ve downloaded your site’s data, open the .CSV file in Excel. Select the HTTP Status column in your data, go to the Data menu bar, then click Sort. If you find any pages return a 404 HTTP status, you’ve got bad links that need to be replaced.
Why Are My Links Bad?
HTTP status code 404 translates into “broken” in laymen’s terms. If a link returns a 404, the website it is supposed to point clicks to is down, has been moved, or the host’s site structure has changed. Fixing it is simple: find the website your link was pointing to, copy the working site link, and replace the old link by pasting in the new address.
If you can’t dig the link up easily, use context around the anchor text to figure out general information about what the link was supposed to point to. You’ll eventually figure it out, and replacing your own links is just a matter of thoroughness and patience after that.
Protecting Your Site’s Authority: Repairing Broken Off-Site Links
Link reclamation is an inbound strategy as well as an outbound strategy: you may have to fix broken links pointing to you from external websites you can’t edit yourself. To maintain that backlink for your search rankings, you can reach out to other webmasters that have websites with broken links pointing back to you. Again, this can be found in your Open Site Explorer data by taking the specific links that returned a 404 status through OSE individually.
Reclaiming backlinks through personal contact is a great way to foster better relationships between similar businesses and keep everyone happy with their SEO efforts. Send the webmaster or site manager a message saying that their link needs to be changed, and give them a few weeks to repair it themselves. If you can’t get in touch with anyone or you can’t repair that link any other way, you’ll need to use a 301 redirect.
301 Redirect: Your Last-Ditch Effort For Fixing Offsite Links
A 301 redirect creates a detour that literally redirects your visiting traffic when they arrive at your domain through another website whose links are old and broken. For instance: a years-old blog with a lot of good page rank-building authority links to you, but you change your site structure, breaking that valuable backlink. With a 301 redirect, anyone that clicks that older link will be pointed to your new page when they hit your domain.
Redirects aren’t worth as much as direct backlinks in search engine rankings, so it’s important that you attempt to have the link fixed on the linking website’s side through outreach and communications. If that fails though, it’s better to maintain the backlink with a redirect than allow it to stay broken and not direct traffic to you at all.
Writing a redirect directing to your own site is a server-side fix and can be pretty simple if you know how to edit basic HTML code. Writing a 301 redirect differs depending on what systems your site is hosted on, and you may need to contact your webmaster if you aren’t sure how to do this yourself.
Social Link Reclamation: Consistency is Key
Finally, there’s one major facet of link reclamation that gets overlooked these days: social links. Content that gets posted to Twitter, for instance, automatically gets its URL shortened to fit the character limit. You’ll want to choose a URL shortening service that you can monitor and make changes to if necessary. Larger companies can often make their own URL shortening services. Smaller businesses that need to resort to free public shortening services can try out bit.ly, goo.gl, or argylesocial.com for tracking and monitoring purposes. This not only gives you a reliable, easily-accessible link to redirect from or to later on, but it also gives you a way to monitor exactly how many hits you’re getting from social links.
With these link reclamation techniques, your search engine results will never suffer from broken links or misplaced anchor text destinations ever again, and your ranking reputation won’t be impacted by easily-repairable mistakes.