Link Reclamation: Recovering Your Lost Link ValueBy Sam Gooch
This article is part of an SEO series from WooRank. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.
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If you’ve been doing search engine optimization for any serious amount of time, you’ve probably undertaken a link building campaign. In an effort to build a quality backlink profile, many SEOs focus almost exclusively on earning new inbound links. However, there’s an effective way to achieve some quick wins and top up that all important link juice; through link reclamation.
What is link reclamation? It’s the process of finding and fixing broken links pointing to your site, or replacing links that aren’t passing value as efficiently as they could. They could be links on your own site to internal pages or external links other people are using on their sites.
Link reclamation is a great opportunity. Not only do you get to take full advantage of links that already exist or are in your control, but you can also avoid building new links, which can be very difficult.
Leaky Internal Links
When reclaiming links, start with your own internal linking. You have control over these links, making them the lowest of the low-hanging fruit. Use a web crawler like Screaming Frog or DeepCrawl to identify where you’ve got broken or dead internal links.
If you’re using the Screaming Frog SEO Spider, filter your crawl results by Client Error to find pages returning 404 codes. Click on URLs, and then Inlinks in the bottom pane, to find all your internal links pointing to that page. If you’ve got a large site with a lot of pages and links, do a Bulk Export and then sort or filter the Excel file by status code.
While it’s possible to fix broken internal links via 301 redirects, it’s not necessarily the best way. You’re better off fixing the page or link to make sure you’re preserving vital link juice.
Note: You’ve probably heard that you should also consider reclaiming links that send users to a 302 redirect, because they don’t pass link juice. This is no longer the case: Google will treat a 302 redirect like a 301 when it comes to passing link equity.
Finding and fixing broken backlinks is a bit more complicated than fixing your internal ones. The main reason is that you don’t really have any control over them. You’ll also have to know some slightly advanced Excel functions, depending on how many pages and links you have.
Use a tool such as Majestic or Ahrefs to find sites that link to any pages that you may have moved or deleted. Export your backlinks into an Excel file and sort the list by importance — the name of this metric depends on what tool you’re using. Copy the list of URLs over into another Excel file and save it. Find the broken links by crawling the target URLs to Screaming Frog’s list mode. Filter the results by Client Error (4XX). No URLs showing? Congrats, you’re done. Otherwise, you’ve got some work to do.
Export your list of 404 error URLs back into Excel and paste the URLs and status code into your list of backlinks provided by your backlink tool (you could also paste them into a new sheet – depending on personal preference).
Use the VLOOKUP function to map the URLs to the status code. Now, just sort or filter your list by status code and you’ll be able to find all your broken backlinks. You can add a couple of columns for ‘date email sent’ and ‘date link fixed’ for tracking purposes.
Since some SEOs like to use multiple data sources, you can go through the same process using Crawl Error data downloaded from Google Search Console. If you’ve got a large site, this will take a bit more time because you will be dealing with a list of every broken URL, not just those that have been linked to.
Now that you have your list of broken backlinks, the link reclamation process at this stage is ideally as simple as sending the linking site owner a short email with the updated URL. When you do this, point out that updating a broken link improves the site’s user experience and SEO, making it a win-win situation for all involved. You should see a high conversion rate for these emails.
Site canonicalization issues
Canonicalization and duplicate content is another way pages and sites lose out on link juice without really knowing. Common causes of canonical issues are:
- Not implementing a www resolve
- Camel casing (www.examplepage.com vs. www.ExamplePage.com)
- Trailing slashes
- Pages available as both HTTP and HTTPS
If you don’t resolve these URL issues, you’ll see your incoming link juice diluted between all the different variations. To find instances where this might be occurring, do a site crawl with Screaming Frog or use Google Search Console HTML Improvements to find duplicate title tags and meta descriptions. Check to see if there are variations of the same URL.
Fixing this problem could be as easy as deploying 301 redirects on your non-canonical URL variations, ie: pointing users to URLs in all lowercase, or URLs that include a trailing slash. As mentioned earlier, 301s will pass on the full value of the link, consolidating your equity on a single URL.
Unfortunately, 301 redirects are not always a possibility due to CMS limitations or a lack of access to web development resources. When this is the case, use the rel=”canonical tag”. This bit of HTML tells search engine crawlers that the current page is really just a copy of your primary canonical URL. This tag has the benefit of passing on indexing properties, like link juice, and trust to your canonical page.
Put a canonical tag in the <head> of each page with a variation of your canonical URL. If you decide your canonical URL uses https, all lowercase letters and a trailing slash, your rel=”canonical” tag should look like this:
<link rel="canonical” href=”(https://www.example.com/)”>
Give Google and Bing stronger hints to your canonical URL by setting a preferred URL in Google Search Console. This gives you the option to decide if you want Google to see your site with or without www. at the beginning. This feature also tells Googlebot how to follow links it finds while crawling the web.
If someone links to your site as example.com, Google will treat that as a link to www.example.com and act accordingly. They’ll also take this domain preference into account when displaying your URL in search results. However, human users will still be able to access your non-preferred URL, so set up a 301 redirect to send users and other web crawlers to your preferred domain.
Even after you’ve fixed your broken internal and external links, you still haven’t captured all of your missed opportunities. There’s a good chance that somewhere out there someone has mentioned your site, brand or company and, for whatever reason, didn’t drop a link. This isn’t technically reclaiming lost links because you’re going after links that don’t exist yet, but it’s still an easier process than your average link building outreach.
The first thing to do is to monitor your brand using Google Alerts. Use your company, product and/or brand names as keywords in your Google Alerts to learn whenever someone is talking about you online. Not only will you find opportunities when someone hasn’t linked to you, you’ll also be able to check out new links and fix any that use broken or out of date URLs. Make sure you’ve set up alerts using specific keywords — if you cast too wide a net you’ll end up blowing up your own inbox with notifications. Convincing webmasters to drop links to your site shouldn’t be too difficult since it’s good for their users (which is good for them) — everyone wins!
You can also track mentions for non-branded proprietary aspects of your business, like content that you’ve created, logos or slogans. You can use Google Alerts to find where people use your proprietary content in text.
Use Google Images to do a reverse image search to find where people have used your graphics or photos without attribution. This feature is quick and easy to use, but surprisingly few people know about it. On the Google Images page, click the camera icon in the search bar. You can then search by your image’s URL or upload your image from your computer to find pages that are using your image.
Unless they are actively trying to steal your content, most people will readily add a link as an attribution when asked.
To Wrap It Up
Link building is one of the most important parts of off-page SEO. It’s also one of the hardest when you’re trying to build new links. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you’re always getting the most out of the links you’ve already earned. Before beginning any link building campaign, go through a link reclamation process to nab some easy link juice and get the ball rolling.
How has reclaiming links impacted on your SEO? What tactics have you used? What challenges did you encounter during the process?