Link Reclamation: How to Find (+ Reclaim) Lost Backlinks
Link reclamation is a rather new term and link building strategy. The link reclamation process refers to grabbing back formerly acquired backlinks that have been lost through spammy link building, 404 errors, or PageRank decay. It’s a concept that’s been getting more and more attention as SEOs and webmasters search for better ways to combat Google’s ever-changing algorithm changes – particularly those that penalize websites for low-quality link building practices.
In this complete guide to link reclamation, we discuss:
- What link reclamation is
- Examples of link reclamation
- The benefits of link reclamation as a backlink building strategy
- How reclaiming old links compare to building new ones
- How to find and reclaim lost backlinks
At the end of this guide, you’ll know how to reclaim lost links and whether or not link reclamation is worth including in your link building plan and as part of your overall SEO strategy.
What is Link Reclamation?
Link reclamation is a relatively new term that has been gaining more and more attention with people wanting to get back the links they lost after going through bad or shady link building or other reasons for losing a valuable backlink. These include:
- The author removed your link from their page
- The page hosting the link is removed (404 error)
- The page hosting the link gets (301) redirected
- Google no longer indexes the linking page
Link reclamation is the process of “hunting” for these lost links. It’s the practice of getting back previously obtained links. Often, these might be highly valuable links, perhaps contextual backlinks from relevant sites, which greatly improve a website’s performance in SERPs.
Link Reclamation Examples
An example of a lost link is similar to a broken backlink – where the anchor text is still highlighted on the hosting page (if it exists), but when a user clicks on that link, they are taken to a redirect or a 401 error page.
When clicking on such a link, website users not only get an interrupted experience, but it means you’ve lost the value of that backlink pointing to your site.
Benefits of Reclaiming Links
A lot of SEO experts can get frustrated at their competitors because they are getting better results, more traffic, or some other advantage over them. If you are reclaiming the lost links, it gives you an advantage that your competitor doesn’t have, as you’re getting relatively easy wins and often for much cheaper.
One of the main benefits of reclaiming links is that you have already had the backlink. This means that the website owner already finds your content link-worthy and your brand trustworthy, so getting them to link to you again will be far easier than trying to convince a new website owner to link to you. Chasing an editor or webmaster who once linked to you, instead of someone brand new, means you have a much higher chance of getting that link again.
Another benefit of link reclamation is the fact that you can trust the source of the link and be sure of the type of link you’ll receive in return for your efforts. You can easily assess the quality of the link with link building metrics and decide whether or not you wish to put effort into reclaiming that link.
Reclaiming Links vs Building New Ones
The pros and cons of reclaiming lost links versus building new ones depend entirely on the quality of the links you’re trying to reclaim.
As explained previously, many websites lose backlinks because they are viewed as spammy or the host website is de-indexed by Google. In such instances, chasing that link won’t be worth your time and effort because you’re chasing a low-quality link that might actually be damaging to your website’s organic search rankings.
On the other hand, reclaiming links from high-quality websites, such as those within your niche (link relevance), or with a trusted backlink profile of their own, will mean your link reclaiming outreach efforts are worthwhile because you’re trying to secure links that are good for your website authority and rankings.
Building new links is also a highly valuable digital marketing tactic, as while doing so, you have control over which external links you secure. This means you can ensure high-quality links point to your website in the first place.
How To Find Lost Backlinks (+ Regain Lost Link Value)
Reclaiming links involves three main steps:
- Identifying old links to your site that no longer exists
- Determining the backlink quality of the lost backlinks and deciding whether or not it is worth pursuing
- Reaching out to the website host from where you lost your original link and requesting they fix the link and give it back to you
While it sounds straightforward, websites have hundreds of thousands of links pointing back to them (depending on the size of the site).
Importantly, during your efforts to find lost links, you only want to target specific types of backlinks. In many instances, spam websites or websites from foreign languages will use duplicate content or content syndication to build their own content, and links from sites such as these are not worth pursuing. Similarly, nofollow links don’t carry as much SEO weight as dofollow links, so aren’t as worthwhile pursuing.
As such, analyzing these links can be a monumental task – one that certainly involves the use of online tools.
Ahrefs and Majestic
We suggest using either Ahrefs or Majestic to create an exportable EXCEL file of all your site’s links, then using a crawler tool such as Screaming Frog or DeepCrawl to find any links with pages that return a 301, 401 or 404 status.
To do this in Ahrefs, you:
- Go to the site explorer tool
- Enter your domain
- Select Backlinks
- Then select lost backlinks
- Adjust the time frame to several months, so you can see a list of all the lost backlinks over a particular time frame
You can then further refine this search, because you really only want to chase “dofollow” links on English-speaking sites (to avoid spam indicators from Google). Do this by setting filters in Ahrefs site explorer:
Once you’ve done this, you’ll need to export your results and run them through a crawler like ScreamingFrog.
You’ll then find results with different reasons for why the link went dead, and you can contact the webmaster directly.
You can do link reclamation this way, or also by using Google Analytics.
Tracking broken backlinks with Google Analytics is an often overlooked tactic. You do so by creating a basic custom report:
- Open your Google Analytics
- Create Customer Report, and set parameters for Page, Full Referrer and Page Title
- Select Unique Pageviews
- Set the Previous Page Path filter with exact phrase match as “(entrance)”, and Page Title as “Something went wrong”
Save this report, open it, and you’ll receive an output sheet that has:
- URLs of pages with backlinks to your site leading to error pages
- The URL of that site
- How many people came through that broken link
You can then prioritize your link reclamation efforts according to how many people are trying to access your site through each broken link.
Lost Link FAQs
How do broken backlinks increase value?
Broken backlinks can help your rankings and your content’s authority since they’re every bit as good as the original link. They still provide value to the pages that point to them, and they may even improve that page’s search engine ranking if the broken link was a top-tier one. Broken backlinks also don’t show up as SPAM, so Google can see what’s actually happening with them and try to fix broken links before it leads to further problems.
Why do we lose backlinks?
There are a number of reasons why we may lose backlinks. Most commonly, websites lose backlinks because they engage in bad or questionable link building practices such as:
- Link networks (of any kind)
- Doorway pages
- Hidden text and other sneaky redirects
- Arbitrary rich anchor text (i.e., every link has the same keyword-rich anchor text pointing to it)
- The linking page is removed
- The website owner of the page containing the link changes their source and removes your link
- The linking page is redirected
In your link reclamation efforts, it’s important to identify the reason your original link was lost, so you can approach the website owner with a personalized request and ask they return your link, either because you’ve improved your content, or they need reminding that their link is broken.
Is it illegal to buy backlinks?
It is not illegal to buy backlinks. In fact, buying links is a fundamental part of many SEO strategies. There are some companies that offer link building services, and purchasing links from the right companies with the correct strategies is a very valuable method of growing your website’s backlink profile.
What matters is how the company you use to outsource link building goes in to secure the backlink you purchase. So long as you employ the services of a reputable link building company, then your website will benefit greatly from these efforts.
These are most often used for high-quality link buying strategies.
- This is not at all illegal
- Google does not penalize for buying links directly, but the site might be penalized if it has purchased relevant links that are unnatural
In what circumstance would you use a link reclamation strategy?
Using a link reclamation strategy is best for larger websites that can either outsource the link reclamation process or can afford to have someone doing the process in house. Other reasons compelling companies and websites to pursue link reclamation include:
- You have engaged in shady or spammy link building tactics in the past
- You have just undergone a blog network audit
- One of your links has been removed from Google’s index for violating its guidelines
- You have recently undergone a website migration or are starting fresh with new site content
Of course, you could always use this technique to pursue an established link reclamation campaign moving forward.
What can I do with lost links?
You can use lost links for many different things. Common uses include the following:
- Building backlinks to your site
- Improving your website’s SEO through the content you’ve published about the lost links
- Retaining quality backlinks to your website that are high-quality, useful, unique, and relevant
Link building is one of the hardest parts of running a high-functioning website that ranks well in search engine results pages (SERPs).
There are many different facets to link building and growing a website’s link profile, and SEO’s and website owners need to be aware of all the different ways in which they can optimize their link building efforts.
Link reclamation is one link building and SEO strategy that can help website owners continue to develop and grow their backlink profile, which contributes to increased organic search rankings, website traffic, and ultimately customers.