“Take care of your backlinks, and your backlinks will take care of you”
Me, last night
As we’re all aware, backlinks make up a vital part of any website’s online visibility.
Under the constant pressure of acquiring new links to a website, the links you already have can easily be forgotten. Your current backlinks are just as important as the new links that you’re acquiring, even those you got a year and a half a go, because they’re what make up your backlink profile.
In this post, I’m going to be demonstrating how you can use and combine two great tools to help take care of your existing backlinks, as well as spot where you might potentially be losing some of that tasty, tasty link juice from pages returning a 404 status code. For this post I’m going to use Pets at Home as an example.
“Bobby, why Pets at Home?” I hear you exclaim. Let me explain.
Using Pets at Home wasn’t premeditated, and actually stemmed from a conversation I had earlier this evening with my housemate, when she entered the house carrying a hamster, and what can only be described as a hamster palace. In what turns out to be a regular occurrence, she had gone to Pets at Home to pet the various soft animals after a particularly stressful day at work, when she spotted the hamster in question, now called Butterbean, and the rest is history. So as I sat at my desk wondering about a website to use as a (sorry to continue with this animal theme…) guinea pig, guess what sprang like a rabbit to my mind… I digress, but you get the idea.
The two tools that I’m going to be using for this demonstration are Ahrefs and Screaming Frog. For those that don’t know, Ahrefs is primarily a backlink analysis tool, although their new tools are multiplying like (sorry) rabbits, and Screaming Frog is a website crawling tool. Both have free and paid versions and I highly recommend both.
Step 1. Gather your data.
- Navigate your way to the ‘site explorer’ tool on the Ahrefs site, and enter your website. As of a week or two ago, you can now choose between ‘fresh’ and ‘live’ links; I chose ‘fresh’. Now in the sidebar you will see ‘Top Pages’, which will give you a list of the top pages on your website, which can be ordered by social shares, or backlinks. Make sure you select backlinks, it’s quite small!
- You’ll now see all of your top pages, which in the case of Pets at Home numbers over 30,997! Fortunately, we’re not going to be dealing with anywhere near that number (unless you’re doing this for Amazon maybe), but export the full list anyway to a CSV. Download and open it.
Step 2. Locate all URLs on your website with at least one backlink pointing to them.
- First things first, delete any URL that has 0 referring domains or returns a 200 status code, ain’t nobody got time for that. Second, we’re going to use Screaming Frog to check our status codes, as I’ve seen Ahrefs not be completely correct in the past, as well as some URLs having the status code ‘0’. So copy your URLs and paste them in to Screaming Frog and crawl them in list mode.
- Once you’re finished, paste the status codes back in to the spreadsheet (make sure it’s in the correct order), or if you’re good with excel, put it in a table (Ctrl/Cmnd + t) and just use a simple VLOOKUP to pull your status codes in. Whether you use a VLOOKUP or not, using a table will allow for easy filtering of status codes, but I’m sure you’re clever and you knew that already didn’t you?
Also: Filter for any 301s/302s and put these to one side, I’ll share a quick tip for these later in the post.
- By now you will have a list of all other status code errors, which in Pets at Home’s case, is 272 pages returning a 404 status code. In other words, that’s 272 pages that have earned link equity, but are not passing any of it on to the website.
Bonus: Check other versions of your site, such as .co.uk/.com versions and old sites to ensure you don’t have links pointing to old pages that don’t redirect or return a 404.
Step 3. Redirect, redirect, redirect.
- Now that you have a full list of non-equity passing passing links, it’s time to get that lovely link juice to your website, through the classic 301 redirect. (Note: don’t use a 302 redirect unless it actually is temporary, please).
- As we know, Google isn’t a massive fan of you just redirecting all old pages en-masse to the homepage, so to get the most out of your relevant link equity, work out the best page to redirect your 404 URLs to. Implement those redirect and that’s it, you’re done. In the case of Pets at Home, they’d now have reclaimed link equity from 202 pages now pointing at their site, from just an hour or two of work. Simple.
Bonus Step. Stop losing equity through redirect chains.
- A great report that Screaming Frog can generate for you is the redirect chains report. This report shows you where redirects from one URL to an intended URL occur more than once, thus losing equity along the way.
- For example, ideally a redirect should happen once: A > B. Sometimes though, possibly due to sitewide redirects or rules, you can end up with one, two, or more redirects before your original URL reaches its intended destination: A > B > C > D. The problem with this is that equity is lost over multiple redirects, so you only want your redirects to happen once.
- To get this report, simply paste your list in to Screaming Frog, go to Configuration, ensure in the ‘Advanced’ tab that ‘Always Follow Redirects’ is turned on, and crawl away. Once this has finished, click on the reports option, and select the ‘Redirect Chains’ report.
- Voila, you have a nice spreadsheet showing you all the pages that redirect, and you can see where any are going through more than one redirect. Once you have found these, you need to cut these surplus redirects out and BAM, you’ve recovered some of the link equity lost.
So there we have it, 3 quick and easy steps to taking care of your backlinks. As I said late last night to a housemate who had no idea what I was talking about, “Take care of your backlinks, and your backlinks will take care of you”.
Did I miss any tricks? Got any other methods you like to use? Should I have got more sleep last night? Let me know in the comments below or join me on Twitter at @bobbyjmcgill or @whitedotnet.
Also, my clever colleague Charlie Williams wrote a more in-depth, 2-step post on this back in 2013 about plugging your link leaks which you might like!