This applies only to existing sites that have been around for a while — if you’re starting a new site move on to the next section.
One of the things that I find constantly when I review the SEO of sites is backlinks pointing to dead pages. At some point in the history of the site, a page earned some links from other sites, but later that page was removed. Now those links are pointing at a dead, 404 error page and the links don’t count.
There is no easier way to get links than to just take credit for the links you already have!
This is one of the first things I look at when I start working on authority building for a new site. I estimate that about 70% of every site I’ve worked on had dead back links. They are literally throwing links away.
This happens with almost any kind of site as it ages if they don’t have a strong 301 policy in place. When I started at one major ecommerce brand and did this evaluation, I learned that 28% of all the links pointing to the site were pointing to dead pages — that is hundreds of thousands of links from thousands of linking domains. For that giant site, the benefit of just putting 301s in place was estimated at about $30 million per year.
How to Find Dead Backlinks
Here’s how you can identify dead pages on your site that have links pointing to them:
- Create an Excel spreadsheet listing every back link to your site. Get these from as many sources as possible, including Google Webmaster Tools, referrer logs, Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, Ahrefs, and any other link database you subscribe to.
- Remove everything except the target page that the link points to. You should end up with a list of URLs of your site (not URLs of sites where the link lives).
- Remove duplicates.
- Save as a CSV
- Download Screaming Frog from www.screamingfrog.co.uk/seo-spider/. Just install the free version.
- Set Screaming Frog to “List” mod
- Import your .csv of pages on your site that links are pointing to and have Screaming Frog crawl it.
- When it’s done, export the result.
- Sort the resulting spreadsheet by server status code. Anything with a 404 is a dead page that has at least one link pointing to it. It’s also a good idea to make sure you don’t have any 302s on there that shouldn’t be and any other kind of 400 or 500 error code, but mostly you’re concerned with 404 codes (not found).
- Create 301 redirects from every one of those dead pages to the live page on your site that makes the most sense. 301 redirects and how they work will be discussed on this site later. Note that you should be redirecting to a logical place (similar product, article, or category) not to a completely unrelated page; redirecting to your home page usually offers little or no benefit.
Most sites that have been around and actively updating for at least a year or two will find dead pages. These are free links, which is why this should be your first stop in any link building effort.