Links have been one of the important ranking factors for a long time. Site owners go to great lengths and spend large budgets on acquiring links to rank better. Clearly, losing good links is the last thing you want to happen to your site.

But are you aware if you are losing links and why does it happen? Link audit is one of the housekeeping activities any site caring about its rankings should be doing regularly.

Julia Logan - Lost & Found: Understanding Your Links and Recovering Your Site's Lost Links

· When are your lost links truly lost? How to interpret your link profile · Do all your live links have the same value? rel=“sponsored”, rel=“ugc” and Google’s new “links as hints” approach · The best tools for monitoring your existing links - why Google's Search Console isn't enough · Bringing dead links back to life to protect your ranking Julia Logan, CEO, Zangoose Digital

However, despite their importance, links do not get as much attention in Google Search Console as onsite issues. Google does offer a link report covering top linked pages on the site, top linking site and top anchor texts used in these links, but this report is far from comprehensive and notoriously incomplete. Google only shows you a fraction of your link data it knows about. Hence the need for external link tools.

It needs to be remembered that link tools are a third party data source and the data they present may be different from the data Google is aware of and takes into consideration (some links are simply ignored by Google). Ideally, it is recommended to have as many different data sources as possible, so a comprehensive link audit should rely on Google Search Console data and link profile data from at least two different external link tracking tools – the more the better. My go to tools are Majestic and Ahrefs. Both have their pros and cons but together, they can give us a more complete picture. Both offer, among their many other features, reports covering a site’s lost links.

Why and when do link tools report a site’s links as lost? There are a number of reasons, and to understand them we need to look at how link tracking tools operate.

It’s not enough to just crawl the web once. To have fresh up-to-date information, link tools need to regularly recheck the links they already know about as well as crawl new portions of the web to discover new links. Considering the fact that there are over 200 million live sites out there, this may seem like a daunting task. In addition to crawling and collecting the data, link tools also need to understand when to consider a link dead.

To a link tool, a link is a combination of 3 elements: source URL, target URL and anchor text. If at least one of them changes, it will not be the same link any more.

Example: while checking a client’s site, I saw it lost 75 links on August 1. That sounds like a lot but further examination has shown that these links come from only 3 unique domains – and in fact there were only 3 unique links. Target URLs they were pointing to were changing, causing them to be seen as lost links every time (e.g. links to a dynamically generated landing page).

What are some other reasons why a link may be seen as lost by a link tool?

1. If an RSS feed of an external site no longer includes the post/article that contained the link, it can be seen as lost link. RSS feeds usually include only X latest posts.

2. If the URL of a linking page changes, e.g. because of newer content pushing it to the next page of an external site it’s on, this can be seen as a lost link.

3. If a site is inaccessible at the time of a crawl by the link tool, any links from it to other sites will be reported as lost, even if it’s only temporary and the link will be found again once the site is back up.

In some of these cases, it may be helpful to check the correlation between lost links and new links to understand what’s really happening. If links change their URLs rather than cease to exist entirely, they will be shown as new links around the same time.

Sometimes you may see spikes in the number of lost links reported at certain points in time. Why does this happen? – perhaps that’s the way tools e.g. Majestic recrawl and recheck vast amounts of links if a site has a large link profile. Below is a screenshot of a site’s lost links report in Majestic with spikes of lost links clearly seen every 30 days:

lost links report in Majestic

Link tools usually have a detailed explanation of what they see as lost links and why, e.g. this is Majestic’s explanation https://blog.majestic.com/training/why-are-my-links-deleted/ and here is Ahrefs’: https://help.ahrefs.com/en/articles/920461-understanding-link-lost-reasons .

Apart from purely technical crawling issues, here are some other reasons why external links can really get lost:

  • They can be removed willingly by the site owner for whatever reason;
  • They can become broken links due to site update/redesign etc.
  • The domain linking to your site may have expired.

In some of these cases, links can be recovered. If a well-earned, valuable link has been lost due to a mistake, it makes sense to reach out to the site owners and give them a heads up about the issue they may not even be aware of themselves. Once they fix it, you will get back your link. However, there is no guarantee you would be able to recover 100% of your lost links.

Nevertheless, reviewing your lost links regularly is a useful investment of your time as it can tell you what link acquisition techniques work for your site and what techniques only give you a temporary boost. These findings can be then used for planning your future link acquisition activities.

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