Incoming links to your website (links from other websites) are the bedrock of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It is one of the most important ranking factors used by Google to determine your ranking in search results. Are you throwing away some of your best incoming links? There is a good chance that you are doing so without realizing it. Here's how:

Lost Incoming Links - 404 Errors

If your website has been online for a year or more, you have likely added new pages and posts and deleted older ones. Some of the older pages and posts may have had popular content that was linked to from other websites. When those web pages are deleted, those incoming links now generate a 404 error (webpage not found).

404 "Page not Found" is the error page displayed when a visitor follows a link to a web page that has been deleted or had its link address changed.

The SEO benefit of those incoming  links is lost because they no longer point to an existing web page on your website. Don't throw good links away! Here's how to find incoming links to non-existent web pages and fix them:

How to Discover and Reclaim Good Incoming Links to Your Website

First, you will need a Google Search Console account. If you do not have one, sign up, and register your website. This account is free and allows you to monitor your website health in Google's search engine. Be sure to link an XML sitemap for your website to this account. About a week after registering (or right away if you have an existing account) login to your account. Look under the link "Crawl" in the left-hand column for "Crawl Errors." Crawl errors are all of the links to pages on your website that Google has discovered as broken (they link to non-existent web pages and generate 404 errors).

Crawl Errors - Google Search Console

If your website is a few years old, do not be surprised to see scores of broken links that point a 404 (webpage not found) error page. As you click on each link in the list, you will see what website(s) links to your non-existent web page. There may be a treasure trove of good links that can be recovered! You will need to fix each link and then check "Mark As Fixed" to let Google know that the broken link has been repaired. How do you repair broken links?

In years past, it was necessary to contact the website owner who linked to your old web page (now a broken link) and ask them to update that link. However, as of 2016 Google has gone on record to say that if you 301 redirect the broken link to another relevant web page it will pass on "link juice" to the new web page.

Link Juice is search ranking power passed to your web page by a good link from another website.

Using the Crawl Errors listings in Google Search Console, select each broken link that generates a 404 error code, and create a 301 redirect that links it to an existing relevant web page on your website. Those reclaimed links will start giving your web pages new search ranking power in Google! You will probably find some internal links that need repair as well (internal links are from web page on your website to another internal page). These links should also be repaired as well.

A note of caution: Just be sure that the links you are updating from external websites are not bad links. Most likely, very few will fall into this category. Here is a good article to help you determine what links may be bad. If you discover a bad link, let it continue to generate a 404 error. It will not damage your website ranking if it continues to do so (according to Google).

The end result of this mission will be that you regain the full benefit of lost links! With a bit of work, those long lost links will be helping your website to rank better in search engines once again!


SEO

Are You Throwing Away Good Links?