Over time, websites change and alter their designs, creating broken links from other websites. Often, back-links may be lost as a result of removing pages and changing URL’s during the website overhaul process. When starting up a link building campaign for a new client, link reclamation is a quick and easy way to help with the search engine optimization effort. 301 redirects will restore some SEO value to the inbound links, but a link reclamation project is the only way to retain the full link value.
Link reclamation is the process of locating, contacting and fixing broken links on your company website and other websites with links pointing to yours. The only tools needed for a link reclamation project are Microsoft Excel and Open Site Explorer. Open Site Explorer is a free tool created by SEOmoz, and it is the most in-depth tool for analyzing linkage on web pages. OSE provides metrics for inbound, outbound, internal and broken links on web pages.
Carrying out a link reclamation project is necessary any time content is removed, URLs are changed, or the website is redesigned. To determine whether a website requires it, investigate the results from the “Top Pages” tab in Open Site Explorer for the root domain of the website. Export the results to a .csv format, and sort them by “HTTP Status.” If any pages have a 404 HTTP status, link reclamation is imminent.
Case Study: TSI
TSI is a precision measurement instrumentation company near Minneapolis, MN. They are a well-known company in the academic and industrial communities because of their aerosol research offerings– which makes them a unique client to build links for. Most of their back-links come from research organizations, .edu and .gov domains. Upon review of their back-links, we noticed several pages coming up as 404’s. Several of these broken links were coming from .edu sites. Most of the broken links were pointing to non-existent product pages from one of their old websites.
Before diving into the project, it helps to create a spreadsheet with the old URL’s, anchor texts, new URLs and locations of the broken links. The best fix for internal linking problems is to manually go to the page with the broken link and replace the URL. To fix broken links from external websites, a 301 redirect campaign along with a link reclamation project are the only way to retain those links. A direct link always holds more value than a redirect, so it would be best to wait a few weeks after the link reclamation to put the redirects in place. After all, why would other websites want to bother fixing their links when you already set up a redirect for them?
Figuring out new URLs for a broken links can sometimes be tricky – especially with a client like TSI. One broken link had “Velocicalc” as the anchor text. Who or what is a Velocicalc? The only other clue was a product ID number in the URL which had absolutely no significance to the current product whatsoever. The web page with the broken link on it came from a climatology research project page for a university – which was full of scientific jargon. After doing some searching on the current website, it turns out that it’s supposed to be pointing to a page for air velocity meters. Using context clues, the correct pages usually can be found. If not, the home page can always be used as the default target.
Once the spreadsheet is built out with the new URLs, the next step is to figure out how many pages are linking to the missing page. To do this, run each URL that came up as a 404 status through Open Site Explorer, and view the “Linking Pages” tab. This will show every link and anchor text pointing to the missing page. Do this for every missing page. This step will make the spreadsheet quite lengthy. If some pages come up as 404’s but there are no pages linking to it, there may be a problem with the old redirects already in place.
Sort the spreadsheet by the linking URL’s once all other steps are complete. This will make it easy to identify websites that have multiple broken links to your company website. The next step is to manually go through the list and contact each of the website owners to let them know about the broken link — and what the correct link is. Depending on the age of the links, the response rate is about 50 percent on average. The older a link is, the less likely a response is. Most people will gladly fix the links because it affects their visitors too. The key to getting better responses is to avoid looking like a bot, and be as informative as possible in the initial contact e-mail.
Not all links can be reclaimed. A few weeks after sending out the initial contacts, the best course of action is to set up 301 redirects for all pages that showed up as 404s previously. Even if the broken links were fixed, it is still highly beneficial to set up redirects for those pages. Google will be able to index the website much more efficiently when all inbound links are clean, direct links to the website.