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SEO experts often recommend backlink building as one of the most reliable strategies for improving your long-term results. With more authoritative backlinks in place and a greater number of authoritative backlinks, your domain authority and page authority will increase come ultimately helping you rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).
As optimization professionals, it’s easy for us to think of backlinks as permanent assets. As long as they remain up, and as long as Google continues acknowledging them, they will continue providing authority benefits (as well as brand visibility, referral traffic and other secondary benefits).
Related: SEO Isn’t Just About Link Building. Don’t Overlook These Expert Strategies.
But the reality is, backlinks aren’t necessarily permanent. There are a few different ways you could “lose” a backlink, resulting in its total removal from your backlink profile.
Are these lost backlinks gone for good? Or is there a way you can recover them?
What is a lost backlink?
Let’s talk about the types of lost backlinks that exist.
Generally, I see these in two different forms:
- Broken links. Broken links are links that are still visible to users but no longer work as intended. When a user clicks the link, they get to a 404 error page or something similar. There are many reasons why this could happen. For example, you could have deleted the page or made it private. You could have moved the page to a new URL. You might also be experiencing certain technical problems on your website, preventing many of your pages from loading as intended. The point is, something is wrong or different with your site — and it’s preventing people (and Google bots) from using the link properly.
- Removed or modified links. Your links may also be lost if they are removed or modified from your offsite content. After publication, a publisher may choose to remove a link pointing to your website for any number of reasons, including quality concerns, relevance concerns or a publisher policy about links of this type.
Backlink profile analysis
The good news is, it’s possible to recover most of your lost backlinks. However, to do this effectively, you first need to understand which links are lost.
The best way to do this is with a backlink profile analysis. Using a backlink checker tool, you can quickly generate a list of all the links currently pointing to your website, including the specific pages those links point to and the referring domains hosting those links. Depending on the tool you’re using, you’ll likely be able to generate a list of all links that aren’t currently working as intended.
To figure out which of your links have been removed, you’ll need to cross-reference your existing list of standing links with links you’ve built in the past.
Fixing broken links
Once you identify broken links, you can employ one of several strategies to fix them:
- Restore an old page/URL. One option is to restore the old page or restore the old URL for that old page. This simple substitution method is quick and straightforward, especially if you still have access to the old content that used to live here.
- Set up a 301 redirect. If you moved the content to a new URL and you want to retain that new URL, your best option is probably setting up a 301 redirect. 301 redirects are perfectly acceptable to Google and other search engines, and they can help you retain the authority and traffic you benefited from previously.
- Fix any errors in the existing link. Is there a problem with the URL as it exists in your current content? If so, reach out to the editor or webmaster and notify them so they can fix the link.
- Update the link to a new target. Another option is to replace the broken link with a new link that points to a new destination. Again, you’ll need to reach out to the editor or webmaster to get this change implemented.
Replacing removed or modified links
If you notice removed or modified links, these are your best options:
- Ask for more information. If you suspect your link was removed due to quality or relevance issues, ask for more information about why the link was removed. This could give you a path forward for replacing the link, but at minimum, you should walk away with greater context and understanding of the types of links that this publisher will accept.
- Request replacement (if appropriate). If it’s a relevance issue, consider recommending a replacement link for the piece. Is there a better, more relevant piece of content you can target?
- Find an alternative publisher. If that doesn’t work, you may consider pulling the piece and republishing with a different publisher.
Should you just build new links?
Restoring lost links can be very time-consuming, especially if you have several problematic links to address. In many cases, it simply won’t be worth the effort; after hours of analysis and petitioning publishers, you may still end up with a lost link. Because of this, it’s often better to simply build a new link, rather than replace an old one — but this depends on your unique goals and circumstances.
Related: Are You, Like Most People, Spending Too Much on a Website?
It’s prudent for every search engine marketer to remain aware of links that break or get removed, for a variety of reasons. And in many cases, it’s not only possible but worthwhile to restore or replace those lost links. That said, sometimes, it’s better to let those lost links go and focus your efforts on more positive, efficient activities.
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