It’s inevitable. Despite your best efforts to prevent them, there will likely be some 404 errors showing up on your website for old pages that have been discontinued on your site. Or perhaps someone just inadvertently mistyped the URL they were linking to on your website.
Certainly, 404 errors aren’t great for search engine indexing, but they also represent potential inbound links that are now broken and lost. Or can those links be reclaimed? I have two techniques you might want to try.
Reclaiming broken links with Google Search Console
Google Search Console is free, making it a popular choice for attaining link information about a website. However, as Russ Jones, principal search scientist at Moz, wrote in a thought-provoking post about the true reliability of Google Search Console data, much of the data in Google Search Console, especially around linking, isn’t always terribly accurate. This is due in part to the speed at which Google indexes various pages that may contain links.
Additionally, as Jones points out in his article, Google Search Console only provides a sample of the links that Google indexes for your site. Nevertheless, if you want to get started, Google Search Console provides a free way to start reclaiming those links.
Start with Crawl > Crawl Errors report. I like to peruse the links and see what looks appealing. Here is one that appears to be one of our blog posts:
If I click on the entry, I can learn more about the 404 and where it’s linking from:
As we can see, this broken link is coming from another website. I also know that the link still likely exists because Google determined it was a 404 on December 25, 2016 — not too long ago, considering that our blog post was from 2015. From the looks of the URL, it may be that the person linking to the post accidentally mistyped the link. To my blog I go to find this post.
I find that the blog post does still exist and that it is still indexed by Google.
However, the URL was incorrectly entered on the linking web page. We can fix this and perhaps gain ourselves an inbound link. My website is based in WordPress hosted on Linux, so I use an .htaccess file for 301 redirecting when I can. In this case, I’ll add the following line to my .htaccess file:
Redirect 301 /blog/how-linkedin-ads-auction-works-the-hidden-relevance-score-component/embed/ https://www.marketing-mojo.com/blog/how-linkedin-ads-auction-works-the-hidden-relevance-score-component/
BOOM. Now this 404 error will redirect to the correct blog post. We not only helped those using this link to find the information they really wanted, but we gained an inbound link in the process.
Reclaiming broken links with Ahrefs
Ahrefs is another great SEO tool, and it tends to have more detailed different link information than you can find in Google Search Console. Jones cites this in his article, along with several tools that have more inbound link data than Google Search Console:
From Google Search Console Reliability: Webmaster Tools on Trial on Moz.com
Ahrefs has a specific report called “Broken Backlinks” where you can find potential backlinks to reclaim. You can also set a filter to show only “dofollow” backlinks so that you’re focusing your efforts only on links that have the best possibility of helping your rankings. Here’s a link I found that was producing a 404 error:
Upon further inspection, it appears that I have a faulty 301 redirect from my old website! There’s a space (%20) after the Marketing Mojo resources link. Whoops. That’s breaking the redirect for this old inbound link.
Luckily, that’s easily fixed in the .htaccess file. So I go to the .htaccess to fix the issue, editing the 301 redirect to read:
Redirect 301 /resources/%20 https://www.marketing-mojo.com/resources/
Now we can reclaim this dofollow link.
It’s a simple technique, but an effective one — and one you have control over. Link building is an investment. It takes a great deal of resource time to do it effectively. So mine those 404s and retain the links you can. You worked hard for them!
In March, I’ll be presenting Link Building Fundamentals at SMX West. I hope you’ll join me, and we can talk links!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.