Backlinks are the most valuable asset not only for SEO purposes, but for our online presence in general.
On the other hand, building backlinks is also very difficult and frustrating, and that’s why losing just a single hard-earned inbound link can be very stressful.
Unfortunately, there can be various reasons for a disappeared link—whether intended or unintended by the source page—, and this is where link reclamation comes in.
What Is Link Reclamation
Link reclamation, in a nutshell, is any effort to reclaim lost backlinks.
When you lose a backlink due to one reason or another, there are necessary steps to be taken to get the link back.
The process, will largely depend on the reason why the link is lost in the first place. Different reasons might require different actions, and below, we will discuss the common reasons for link losses.
Reasons For Link Losses
Why can we lost a backlink in the first place? There are generally four common reasons. It’s important to figure out the root cause in the first place, since different cause might lead to different link reclamation process.
1.The source site removes your link
The page’s owner removes your link from the page for various reasons. For example, when they think another content is more relevant than yours.
2.The source page no longer exists
For example, when the page is deemed outdated by the owner and so is removed from the site. In this case, we usually get a 404 error when trying to open the page giving us links.
3.The linking page is redirected
The page has been (permanently) moved to a new URL so our link profile got messed up. We get a 301 error code in these cases.
4.The source page is no longer indexed by Google
For example, when the page is penalized by Google. In this case, the backlink is technically still there, but since the source site is not indexed, the value might be decreased.
Understanding the reason of lost links will be the key to a successful link reclamation process. Based on the cause, we can take the necessary actions to reclaim the lost link.
Finding The Lost Backlinks
Before anything else, the important preparation phase is to find and list the lost backlinks. Depending on your website’s size and age, the list can be very big, so you might want to create a spreadsheet listing the location of the lost link (your site’s URL, for example, or any other approach), old and new URL of the source site (if any), and anchor text.
First, you need a backlinks analytics tool to help you. Popular SEO tools suite like Ahrefs, SEMRush, and Moz Pro, among others, mostly include a backlinks analytic feature. Ahrefs is generally accepted as the best backlink analytics tool available, but any tools with the ability to report “lost links” will do.
If you are using premium tools (again, Ahrefs), the report will also list the possible cause of the loss links (i.e. non-canonical, 404, etc.). Some tools will also provide the option to export the lost links report to excel or CSV.
Lick Reclamation Based On Causes
1.Reclaiming removed links
There are many possible reasons for the source site to remove the link to your site, but in general there are four main reasons:
Your link is replaced with a better one: this is actually very common in today’s competitive SEO. Someone might develop a content that is (much) better than yours and then approach the backlink’s source site.
They rewrite their content: for example, they might update the article with new information and facts, and might remove some links in the process (your content happens to be one).
They have a new policy: for example, they might decide that your site is too ‘low-quality’ for one reason or another.
They hate you personally: quite rare, but can happen. Maybe you did something to offend them, or probably they don’t like your new content, or probably they don’t like the political stance of your brand, etc.
Again, figuring out the reason behind the missing backlink(s) is the key to success in link reclamation. To do this, we can use internet archive sites like The Wayback Machine, Archive.is, and others.
The idea is to compare the current content of the source site with the archived version:
If the content is changed significantly—or completely new—, then they’ve reworked the content and removed your link. It’s quite possible that they didn’t even realize the removal, and so you might be able to reclaim it. Find possible new place for your link in the current content, then reach out to them and suggest to re-add your link. Just be polite and don’t push it.
If several or many external links have been removed at a short period of time (or at once), then they’ve implemented a new policy. Usually, there’s nothing much you can do in this case. You can try to reach out and convince them, but don’t expect much.
If the link is replaced with a competitor’s better content, analyze this competitor’s content and see whether it’s really better. You can reach out to them and ask for feedback to prevent similar issues, or even rework your content to be even better.
If your link is removed, but everything else is the same, then you are removed for personal reasons. Reach out and rebuild the relationships. It might take time and it might not work at all, but it’s always better than making enemies.
Figure out the exact reason why they removed your site as an external link, and reach out accordingly. Provide solutions, and always be polite. Remember that you are asking for a favor, and that you can’t force them to fulfill your wish.
2.Reclaiming 404 Error Links
Here, your inbound link disappeared because the source page no longer existed, giving your a 404 error.
So, since the page is deleted for one reason or another, should we just give up right away?
Unfortunately, that is often the case, with one exception: the page might be deleted accidentally and the owner might not realize it.
Here are some signs of this happening:
There are a lot of internal links pointing to the page. This can be relatively hard to detect. If you use tools like Ahrefs, you can check the URL Rating of the page, and compare it to Domain Rating and check the number of referring domains.If the UR is high compared to DR, but the referring domains are very few (or none at all), then this page has a lot of internal links.
The page has a lot of backlinks. If the page has a lot of backlinks, the common sense is to redirect the page and not delete it completely—so it’s most likely an accident—. Or, they might not have too much knowledge about SEO and didn’t know the value of the page. You can use various SEO analytics tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs to check the URL’s backlinks profile.
If you are confident that the page is deleted due to accident, politely reach out to them and notify them about the situation. In most cases they might be grateful about your information and you might be able to build a valuable relationship in the process.
As mentioned, it’s also possible that they did delete the page deliberately, but didn’t realize the SEO value. Let them know (but don’t be a know-it-all), and you might be able to convince them to reinstate the page.
3. Lost Links Due To Broken Redirects
In this case, most backlinks analytics tool will report the issue as “broken redirect”, and there are two main reasons for this report:
1.Broken Redirect Chain
For example, let’s say you have a link from Page A that is redirected to Page B, and redirected again to Page C. When any of these three pages is down for one reason or another, even temporarily, it will be reported as lost link.
Using the same example, let’s say you get a link from Page A-Page B-Page C but then the site owner changed the configuration to Page A-Page B. It would be reported as a lost link, but as you can see, it’s not really lost.
You can use tools like Link Redirect Trace (Chrome Extension) to check whether the link will take you back to your site, even when your analytics tool reported it as lost link. If it’s still working, then you might not need to do anything.
However, long redirect chains are generally undesirable, and you might want to reach out to the site owner and ask for a direct link instead.
4. Links That Are Not Canonical Anymore
When the source page is no longer canonical, it might be reported as a lost link by your backlinks analytics software.
Simply put, the website’s owner decides that there is another “version” of the page that is better, so the old page that link yours is no longer canonical, such as:
In most cases, your link will still have value, existing with the new canonicalized URL. However, in quite rare cases, the new canonical tag might point to a wrong URL. For example, the webmaster might canonized a totally different content or the site’s homepage by mistake.
You can check this by checking the source code for the source page, and then search for (ctrl+f) <link rel=”canonical” href=”. It should be followed by a URL, and check whether this new URL is pointing to the same content.
Nowadays, Google’s algorithm is actually advanced enough to recognize this mistake, and will automatically ignore the canonical tag. So, it won’t affect your backlink’s value.
However, just to be sure, you can reach out and notify the site’s owner. They might thank you form it and it can be the start of a fruitful relationship.
Another common reason for a disappeared link is due to the addition of the Noindex tag on the source page.
A noindex tag is used when the site owner wanted to prevent Google from indexing the page. Similar to canonical tag above, you can check for this by looking at the page’s source code and look for content=”noindex.
However, it’s still an ongoing debate whether Google still count links on non indexed pages. Yet, in general, if a page is non indexed for long, Google won’t count the links (including yours).
Again, if the page is noindexed on purpose, there’s not much you can do. You can probably try to convince the site owner, but it’s not recommended.
However, it’s possible that the noindex tag is added by mistake, and there are at least two different ways we can find out about this:
Check SEO signals. Chances are, they wouldn’t noindex a page where they’ve poured (significant) SEO efforts. So, check for signs like keyword optimizations (keyword in meta tags, high occurrence of certain keywords, etc), backlinks pointing to the page, internal links, etc.
Check for other noindexed pages. If important pages like their about us page, or worse, their homepage has a noindex tag, most likely it’s a sign of a site-wide noindex tagging by mistake. Check whether there are too many noindexed pages.
Again, if you are pretty sure that the noindex tag is an accident, reach out to them and let them know about it.
If it’s not a mistake, just let it go.
6.Missing Links Due to 301/302 Redirects
A 301 redirect happens when a page is moved permanently—commonly used for SEO purposes—, while a 302 redirect is used to move the page temporarily.
Both types of redirects can result in a lost link, quite similar to the issue of canonical tag above. Usually the reasons behind 301 and 302 redirects are also similar to canonical tags:
Again, in most cases, this won’t affect your backlink’s value as the redirected URL will still link back to your site. It’s not a real lost link.
However, there are cases when the source page is deleted and then redirected elsewhere. This will lead to a real lost backlink. You can check the source code of the redirected URL for the name of your site (i.e. yoursite.com). If you get no results, then the new redirected page doesn’t link back to you.
In most cases, it’s not worth to pursue this lost backlink, but there are some exceptions:
There is a mention of your brand, but unlinked.
There are clear opportunities where you can add value with a link.
If the redirected page is totally irrelevant,for example, when an old content is redirected to the homepage, leave it be.
7. Claiming Unlinked Opportunities
This, is technically not a link reclamation process, since you didn’t lose a link in the first place.
However, in situations where there should be a link, we can use similar principles to a link reclamation process to get the backlink.
The most obvious example here is when there’s any mention of your brand name, but you didn’t get any link. In this case, you can reach out to the site’s owner and ask for a backlink.
It’s important to understand that link reclamation is not a one-off thing. You will always lose links for one reason or another time and time again. It’s important to check for disappeared links regularly and attempt possible link reclamation as soon as you can.
In most cases, reclaiming lost links is easier—and more cost effective—than building a brand new link. So, you might want to allocate some of your time and link-building resources for link reclamation process.
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Mike Khorev is an SEO expert and digital marketing consultant who helps small and mid-size businesses generate more leads, sales and grow revenue online. He offers expert advice on marketing your company the right way through performance-based SEO digital marketing, web design, social media, search engine marketing and many other online practices. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter