How to Find, Repair and Prevent 'Link Rot'

How to Find, Repair and Prevent 'Link Rot'
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The introduction of Google’s Panda algorithm left webmasters and online business owners alike scrambling. The change was designed to lower the rank of low-quality or "thin" sites and return higher-quality sites to the top of the search results. But that change left business owners anxious, as they searched furiously for new and innovative ways to create the consistent and exceptional content that would protect their search rankings.

Related: 10 Smart Ways to Earn or Build Backlinks to Your Website

The result is that it’s no longer as easy to rank online content as it once was. But, here's a tip regarding one of the most overlooked ways to generate content: You should be replacing dead resources, often referred to as the dreaded “link rot.”

What Is link rot?

"Link rot" refers to hyperlinks that point to servers, web pages or other resources that have become permanently unavailable -- in other words, links that lead nowhere. For example, if another site has a link to your website, and then that website goes down, changes its URL or deletes your post, the link to your site will no longer work.

Link rot is actually worse than it sounds. At first glance, it may seem like little more than your site appearing unpolished, but it has become a serious problem for both businesses and bloggers. A couple of years ago, an NPR post described it as a virtual epidemic"It's extraordinarily bad for the long-term maintenance of the information we need, say, to understand the law," Jonathan Zittrain, professor of law and computer science at Harvard University, told NPR.

Link rot is particularly common with older websites, because the average web page is online for only 9.3 years and only 62 percent of sites are actually archived. Just think, then, of how the existence of so many bad links means crucial information getting lost to online users.

Why does link rot happen? Here are some reasons:

  • The content has been moved to another folder in the content management system.

  • The webmaster switches to a new CMS that changes the entire link structure and naming convention of the post or page.

  • The website domain has expired.

Whatever the cause, link rot is a frustrating experience that can cause users looking for content to abandon a website altogether and search elsewhere. And the last thing you want is for yours to be the site at the end of one of these broken links! Now, think of how you could also benefit from these scenarios by filling in those gaps and offering better resources instead. 

Related: Google's Latest Search Update is a Reminder to Focus on Quality

You can leverage link rot.

You can boost your brand authority and earn quality backlinks by leveraging link rot to your advantage. Comb through influential websites, online journals and even your competitors’ websites to look for broken links and 404-error pages. Then create a similarly-themed resource and turn it into an epic, stand-alone post. Use graphs, statistics, research and interviews with influencers to really fill out your content.

To find the content of a missing page, use a tool like Internet Archive, which also calls itself the "Wayback Machine." Use this site to browse over 10 million online documents, even many that are no longer published on the web. Simply enter the URL into the search field and Internet Archive will give you snapshots of the pages you’re looking for over a set period of time.

Not all domains will yield results using Internet Archive. To offer useful results, the website that you’re researching must have a solid digital footprint with a fair number of backlinks, while older sites with multiple posts and pages will have more archived content. If a site was removed shortly after it was launched or if it never built any backlinks, it’s also less likely to be archived.

What happens if the content can’t be found? You could go the extra mile and track down the original author, or look for another outlet that has written about the topic. Google the name of the page or any other info you have, to see what other sites have referenced it.

If you come up empty, get inspired by the theme of the lost article and create a lengthy post on the same topic that influencers are likely to share.

Create extraordinary content.

Once you have your list of link rot articles, start brainstorming ways to recreate and improve upon these lost pages. Remember, the goal isn’t simply to republish the archived content on your own site. The author of the original content still retains the rights to the work, even if his or her website is no longer on the web. It’s best to figure out the most important points of the document and then build on that with your own expertise.

Visit online forums in your niche and ask what types of content people are looking for and what types of information they need. Getting information directly from your target market keeps your posts laser-focused, but also gives you a fan base to start with. So, reach out and let everyone know it’s ready to go -- and be sure to thank all the people who helped!

You can also find inspiration by looking at what some of your competitors are posting. If they’re offering lots of statistics and graphs, think bigger and add a video component with interviews. The idea is to blow their posts out of the water so that even their own readers can’t help but link back to your resource.

Include the resource name in your title for search traffic.

Many people who stumble across a page that no longer exists try to find a duplicate of it elsewhere. They’ll usually start by Googling the document name in quotes, so give them exactly what they’re looking for by using the same, or a similar page title as the one that had the link rot. If you do that, anyone searching for that broken page will find your resource easily.

After all, it’s a waste of time to create phenomenal new content if no one is there to read it. Work on your promotional strategy from day one by reaching out to influential bloggers and thought leaders.

Ask what kind of content they would consider including on their sites, or just check in and let them know that you enjoyed their recent article. Send a follow-up email to let them know that your new post is ready and you thought that they might enjoy it. Let them know you’d appreciate a share. You’d be surprised how often people are willing to do what you want -- as long as you ask nicely.

Promote your new content.

Next, find out who’s linking to you, and why. A tool like SEMrush can tell you how many backlinks you have, and what kind. For example, according to SEMrush, my digital marketing agency, SingleGrain.com, recently had 3,900 visits in organic search traffic and more than 1,000 backlinks. I can even see what keywords people used, like “digital marketing agency" and "marketing funnel."

Scroll down further and the site details who has backlinked to me. If I had link rot, my competitors could find out who linked to my post or page, write to them directly, and tell them about the broken link. They could then conveniently share their new URL with an amazing new resource with which to replace the link.

Related: 5 Affordable Ways to Get Your Business Noticed Online

Do the same yourself, and the benefits to your brand and your website could be immense.

Have you ever tried taking advantage of link rot as part of your content marketing strategy? Please share your thoughts in the comments below: