Are you missing out on links you have already earned?
Developing inbound links to your website is a vital aspect of your SEO efforts. These links are seen as votes of confidence in the eyes of the search engines and can significantly boost your keyword positions within the search results. Link building requires a lot of effort and patience, but there may be a way to uncover valuable inbound links which are already hiding within your Google Webmaster Tools account. The hidden links I’m referring to are simply ‘broken ones’ which you have already earned.
One of the most effective ways of building links is by providing content on your site which visitors actively link to via their own sites, within forums, or through social media channels. However, human error can be all too common in these situations and a typo by someone else trying to share your content can result in the intended link to your site simply bringing visitors to a 404 (page not found) error.
These broken links are a pain as you receive no value for them from search engines and potential visitors to your website don’t reach an active webpage. Thankfully these links can be identified and addressed to ensure you get all the SEO and user experience benefits within minutes.
Using Webmaster Tools to find broken inbound links
Your Google Webmaster Tools account offers you a great insight as to how Google sees your site. When you log in to your Webmaster Tools dashboard, accessibility issues such as broken links are available under the ‘Crawl Errors’ section of the ‘Diagnostics’ tab.
The Crawl Errors page provides details about the URLs in your site that Google tried to crawl but could not access. The 404 page not found errors (broken links) are ones which you need to address.
Within the Crawl Errors page you can drill down to identify external pages where 404 error pages are linked from. You may even find 404 page errors that are the result of broken internal links on your own site, which you can address quite easily within your own website’s code.
Using a permanent 301 redirect to fix broken inbound links
‘Fixing’ broken inbound links can be done by setting up permanent 301 redirects. 301 redirects transfer link popularity from the old (broken) URL to the new (correct) one. Try to identify which page the broken link is meant to be pointing to and redirect it to the most applicable one on your site. With the redirects in place, all future site visitors and search engine bots will now be redirected to an active web page.
The following two resources provide detailed information to help you set up 301 redirects on your site:
How to setup a 301 redirect
The ‘simple 301 redirect’ plugin for WordPress sites
To find out how to set up 301 redirects within a htaccess file on your web server I would advise speaking directly to your web host if you haven’t created/edited one before. Incorrectly editing your .htaccess file could disable your entire website. If you are running your site off WordPress there are a number of useful redirect plugins available which can offset the need to go hacking around your htaccess file.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat!
Make time in your work schedule to check the error reports within Google Webmaster Tools every day (even a 30 second glance) to see if Google has detected new accessibility problems on your site. It’s a great way of spotting internal linking errors on your site quickly and also to make sure you pass inbound link value to your site without delay. It’s also worth noting that the reports in Google Webmaster Tools are not in real-time so don’t worry if you see specific 404 errors remaining in the dashboard after you set up the 301 redirects. Google will find the redirects and remove the errors over time.
Webmaster Tools is one of the most powerful sources of information to provide you with the best insight for your SEO campaigns. By following the steps above you can make sure that every link that should point to your website actually does.