Remember that guy from high school, the one you hung out with all the time until graduation? What ever happened to him? Remember thinking how cool it would be if you could reconnect?
Thanks to the power of social media, and Facebook in particular, reconnections like this are taking place every day. People are finding old friends, lovers and long lost relatives, reclaiming those lost connections. The link between those two people always existed, but it just wasn’t active until a tool came along to reenergize it.
In a way, your website is very likely in a similar situation. It used to know people, or other websites, but things have happened over the years that caused the two to drift apart. Maybe you changed services, or brands, or dropped products in place of newer, fancier ones.
Well, just like with the old friend, those links still exist – literally. Just because you dropped a product, deleted it from your website and put up the new one, those old links very possibly still exist to those old pages, and sometimes they’re worth gold.
If there is one thing that I think every business should be doing, it’s spending a bit of their marketing budget/time on link reclamation. Especially ecommerce sites that may have dropped product pages. If someone loved that product, and linked to it, that’s a vote of confidence for your website. If you then removed that product, and didn’t tell anyone (ie the search engines), then that link just goes to dead space on your website. And dead links mean you’re not getting any credit for it. Not good.
Chances are, some of that marketing you did for that old product still exists online – and I’m speaking particularly about links. Those links, especiallly if they’re from high quality or good authority websites, are very valuable. Don’t squander them away because you deleted the page on your site that they were pointing to.
Finding Those Links
The easiest way to find links that are pointing to outdated pages on your website is to use Google webmaster Tools – a free service/site from Google that gives away great insights into the performance of your website.
Google Webmaster Tools: http://www.google.com/webmasters/
On the GWT dashboard, click on the server error tab and then look at the list of pages that were not found. From there, click each link and then look for the’Linked From’ option. This will be a list of sites that link to this non-existing page on your site. Chances are, you’ll see both internal links (links on your own site that point to this non-existant page) as well as some external sites that link to you as well. Take note – these are all votes for you that aren’t being counted!
Reclaiming Those Links
Once you have identified a link to a page that you aren’t getting credit for, its time to fix it. There are three options here:
1. Rebuild the page. If the page used to be there and you deleted it but the content on the page was actually helpful, you may want to recreate the page and use the same URL as before. The fact that people linked to the page in the first place gives you a good idea that it probably was a helpful page.
This option, however, isn’t really possible if the old page was something that doesn’t exist any more – an event that has passed, a sponsorship that no longer exists, or a product that you can no longer get. If that is the case, option 2 is your only choice.
2. Redirect the old URL to a similar, relevant page on your site. By implementing a 301 redirect, you can basically notify the search engines that the page address has changed, and (much like moving in real life,) forward any clicks to the new address.
Building a redirect is fairly simple, but requires a bit more technical expertise than the average non-geek. It may be a situation where you’re better off creating a spreadsheet that lists the broken URL and the new or correct URL, and then handing that off to your web person.
3. Contact the originator and ask them to fix it. I’m not a fan of this method. I’d probably use this option only if you really want the link to go to the right page in the first place, and then only if you cannot possibly do one of the two options listed above.
Typically, it is difficult to contact website owners and really expect to get a response back. Many websites, blogs and social accounts online have been abandoned. Others have no (or incorrect) contact info. Either way, contacting a webmaster and asking them to change a link on their site may just result in you losing the link altogether.
Let’s say you are a landscaper, and you had a mulch service at one time. But because of some changing interests over the years, you’ve stopped offering that service. If you have a past customer that was very happy with their mulch, and wrote a blog (with a link) about such service, do you think contacting him and asking if he’ll change the link to go to your Services page is really a good idea? There’s a chance that he’ll read that old post and just remove the link, or the entire post since its no longer valid. Better to just do a redirect on your end and get the vote, right?
Same situation for a product you no longer offer. Redirect those links to similar products or a related category page.
This Should Be Near the top of Your To Do List
You have no idea how much value you’re leaving on the table by not checking into reclaiming broken links. One link from a prominent website could mean the difference between page three and page one in Google. Don’t ignore this as a viable and well-spent usage of your time. Even if you can only reclaim one or two a week, its time well spent.