Building links isn’t easy.
I’ve shown you several different methods for getting backlinks, such as building links from resource pages or how to build linkable assets, and much more. But all of these tactics still require hard work and effort on your end.
Once your efforts result in links, it can be extremely disappointing and frustrating when some of those links disappear.
Sometimes, this happens because of a change you made on your site. While other times, losing links is completely out of your hands.
So you’ve lost some links. Now what?
Don’t just sit back and do nothing. Those lost links provided so much value in terms of SEO and driving traffic to your website.
That’s why you need to have a link reclamation strategy to identify lost links and get them back.
If you’ve never done this before, it may sound like a daunting task. Fortunately for you, I have plenty of experience with link reclamation. I created this guide to teach you how to rebuild lost links at scale. This will improve your search ranking and enhance your overall link building strategy.
Link reclamation vs. unlinked brand mentions
First, I want to address one of the most common misconceptions about link reclamation.
I’ve consulted with so many people who think this involves finding blogs and articles that mention your site without a link, and then attempting to get links on those pages. Although that’s a valuable method for building backlinks, it’s simply not link reclamation.
I have a detailed guide on how to turn brand mentions into links, which is a completely different strategy.
So, what is link reclamation?
This can be described as the process of reclaiming links that were lost. It only applies for pages where you had a link in the first place.
When you say it out loud, it sounds obvious. But you can’t reclaim something unless you had it to begin with. That’s the best way to remember the difference between link reclamation and unlinked brand mentions.
Reasons for lost links
Before you try to reclaim a lost link, it’s important for you to understand why your link was lost in the first place.
Realistically, there are potentially dozens of reasons why this could happen. But with that said, more often than not, it will fall into one of these three categories.
- Manual removal
- 404 errors
- Broken redirects
I’ll go through each one of these reasons in greater detail to give you a more thorough explanation on why you lost links.
Sometimes a website owner simply decided to remove your link from their website.
Why would they do this?
Often times, I’ve run into webmasters who can be misinformed. For example, they might see some research like this from Backlinko about domain rating and its relationship to a website’s position on Google.
So they think that if a website that they’re linking out to doesn’t have a high domain rating, it hurts the ranking position of their own website. In reality, this isn’t necessarily true.
Yet I’ve seen so many sites take measures like eliminating all links to sites with domain ratings below 20 or 30.
Another reason why your link could have been manually removed is if the page was re-written.
We do that here at Quick Sprout all of the time. To make sure our blogs are always updated, we refresh old content. Sometimes during those updates, it’s possible for links to be removed if they’re no longer as relevant.
For example, maybe you conducted research a few years ago. But since then, someone has come up with a new study on the same subject, with different results. Websites may decide to eliminate your link and replace it with the newer study.
It’s also possible that your link was removed because the website has some type of beef or problem with you. While this isn’t usually common, I’ve definitely seen it happen before.
What did you do to upset this website owner?
Maybe you used their site as a bad example of what not to do in one of your blog posts. (I never do this. Any time I use a bad example of something I find ways to hide the identity of the source).
Or maybe you annoyed them by spamming their comments section.
Did you partner with one of their biggest competitors? The possibilities are endless. Either way, something you did might have damaged your relationship with their website, causing them to vindictively remove your link.
A 404 error means that the web page no longer exists. This HTTP status code tells you that the linking page has been removed.
Obviously, if the page is gone, your link will disappear with it.
Most of the time, the link is probably gone for good when this happens. Although there are certain times when a webmaster will accidentally delete a page without knowing it.
If you believe that the page was high-quality and provided lots of SEO value to that website, then this might be the case. You can use tools to see if there are lots of referring domains to that particular page. Another tell-tale sign that a page was removed in error is if the website in question is still internally linking to that page.
When this happens, you can contact the webmaster to tell them that you noticed the page has been deleted, and ask them if this was done intentionally.
With all of this in mind, I typically tend to let 404 errors go unless I’m 100% positive they were deleted in error.
When you intentionally delete a page on your website, you should use a 301 redirect so people don’t land on a 404 error page.
I’m not going to breakdown in detail how to implement 301 redirects right now, but you can refer to my guide on how to retain organic traffic after a site redesign. There’s a section in there that discusses 301 redirects in much greater detail.
Here’s a graphic that’s a good visual representation of how these redirects work from a technical standpoint.
According to Moz, 90% to 99% of a link’s ranking power passes to the redirected page, which is why 301 redirects are recommended for permanently moving links when pages are deleted.
If you’re using software to find lost backlinks (which we’ll get to shortly), a 301 redirect could appear on the report as a reason why the link was lost.
But you don’t need to worry about these in most cases. That’s because the link is still being directed to your site in the form of a backlink.
However, sometimes the chain of redirects is broken, which would result in a lost link. If the middle site in the redirect chain doesn’t respond, it will be reported as a lost link. There could even be instances where redirects change or don’t exist anymore.
I’d recommend using the Link Redirect Trace extension for Google Chrome.
This tool will give you a better understanding of redirect chains to determine if a link has actually been lost, and will make it easier for you to identify where the problem is.
How to identify lost links
Once you know the reasons why your link was lost, things will make much more sense when you find them.
Unlike other link building methods, it’s nearly impossible to find lost links manually. You’ll need to leverage tools and software to do the heavy lifting for you.
The best way to do this is with the site explorer from Ahrefs.
You can try it out for $7 for 7 days before committing to a full membership. After the initial week, it costs $99 per month or $179 per month, depending on the plan you choose. I know it might seem pricey, but the Ahrefs tools can be used for much more than just link reclamation. It’s a great resource for nearly all of your link building and SEO strategies.
When you put your website into the site explorer, you can run reports that show if you lost any backlinks. The report will also show you a reason for why the link was removed.
Here’s an example.
As you can see, the reason why this link was lost was due to a broken redirect, which was one of the common reasons that we talked about earlier.
This would be the perfect opportunity for you to use the Chrome extension to asses the redirect chain.
Let’s look at another example.
This link was lost because of a link removal. This is another situation that we previously discussed, where the link was manually removed from the site.
There are several reasons why this could have happened. So check the link yourself to see if you can figure out why.
This can sometimes be a challenge since you no longer have access to what the page looked like while the link was still active. In this case, you can use tools like the Wayback Machine to help you out.
Here’s an example of what the free online resource looks like when I put in the Quick Sprout homepage.
As you can see, there is a timeline above the calendar. You can navigate this timeline to see what the page looked like in the past.
For example, here’s what the Quick Sprout homepage looked like back in August 2007.
It’s a huge difference from our homepage today.
So use this tool for the exact blogs or articles where any of your links were lost as the result of a manual removal. This can give you a better idea of the context at the time when your link was still active. Compare that to what the page looks like today.
If you notice that a bunch of other links were removed as well, it’s possible that the site has a new policy for links, such as a specific domain rating.
In this case, you could contact the webmaster to properly educate them about backlinks and how they impact (and don’t impact) SEO.
Now that the lost links have been identified, it’s time to reclaim them. You have a list of those lost links, so just go through them one at a time.
Make sure you’ve actually checked the corresponding pages to verify that the link is gone.
As we said earlier, it’s possible that a 301 redirect is showing as a lost link on a report, but it’s actually not the case. You don’t want to email someone saying “can you add my link” when in reality, the link is still there.
This is extremely unprofessional. The webmaster will think you don’t know what you’re doing and may hesitate linking to your site moving forward.
Try to email the person directly, as opposed to just general customer service submissions and contact forms. The message should include a link to the page on their website, as well as the link that you want reclaimed from your site.
Here’s an example of the type of message you could send.
Hey [insert name]!
I saw that my link on your page [insert link & title] was removed. I understand why you did that. That page was deleted from my site and didn’t use a 301 redirect to the updated content. Sorry about that!
But here’s a link to that page now. [insert link]
I’m sure this will add value to your page. Would you mind adding the link back? Thanks!
The content of the message will vary based on the reason why the link was removed. But this is a general format that you can use as a reference.
Just make sure you’re always polite and professional. Don’t sound angry and ruin your relationship with this website. That won’t help your cause at all.
It’s also important to prioritize your links.
If you find a lost link from years ago on a site that’s not very active, you can probably just let it go. Or if a website has removed your link on one page, but still links out to you on dozens of others, you probably don’t need to hassle them over one lost link.
You can refer to my guide on how to evaluate a link’s ranking potential to help you prioritize your link reclamation strategy as well.
Before you start the link reclamation process, it’s important for you to understand exactly what this strategy involves. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the same as finding unlinked brand mentions.
You should also get familiar with the top reasons for lost links. This will help you avoid losing links in the first place.
Use tools like Ahrefs to help you identify lost backlinks. You can also use the Chrome Link Trace extension and the Wayback Machine to assist you after you get link reports back from Ahrefs.
Then it’s just a matter of contacting the webmasters of those pages to reclaim your links.