Google's Matt Cutts wrote a blog post earlier this week that shows people how to improve their inbound links. Specifically, how to address your 404 pages and make sure they're passing along link juice, as well as not driving away users.
A few weeks ago, Chris Boggs wrote a good column on 404 pages and I guess Google had the same thoughts, given their recent addition of Webmaster Tools that show links that lead to 404 pages on your site.
I was a little worried that Google was moving back into the cave following the dropping of suggesting directory submissions and CEO Eric Schmidt calling the Internet a cesspool and denying help to the people who could help improve the quality of content.
The new tool should be a basic for all SEOs. Running this report will assist site owners and SEOs with a quick way to improve a site's overall impact on search results. They're telling us that links to 404 pages don't pass any authority and to clean them up by either contacting the sites and getting them to change the links to the right pages, or doing 301 redirects.
Run this report, and then follow the links back to their source to see what's happening. A few may not be worth correcting, but the majority will be and can give a major boost to the site.
Many times SEOs run reports for inbound link numbers, page errors on site, and internal navigation for 404s -- the more advanced should be looking at the 404 log reports -- but now Google is doing this generally involved process for you. All future site analysis reports should be using this new tool -- it should be considered a must-have element in all reports.
Now this is a way to help filter the cesspool. Seems many of the Made for AdSense spammy sites and other contributors to the cesspool are better at SEO than many, if not most, of the more authoritative sites.
Government sites are a great example of authority sites without a clue of SEO. That could be the reason many of the search algorithms give such a lift to .gov and .edu sites -- they're recognized as quality that generally lacks solid optimization methods.
Nice tutorial, by the way, Matt. I know you're doing your best to help clean up the cesspool. The new tool gets my thumbs up. Now let's see if it's two thumbs up. What do you think, Chris?
Chris Boggs Fires Back
Late Wednesday night I sent out the link to Matt's post to our team. Immediately, my boss Paul Elliott and the rest of the strategy and linking teams saw the wonderful value in Matt's post. Strategist Stephen Pitts even suggested that Matt should run for president on the "free links" platform.
As I complete this writing, I've seen three different client teams with working lists of 404s to be reclaimed. It's fair to say that Matt's post was perhaps one of the most valuable announcements he's made in Google's effort to help Webmasters with ethical SEO.
One of the comments in Matt's post comes from Eric Ward, a well-known link building expert. He claimed to have already fixed a link from a PageRank 7 .edu link as a result of the tool and a simple communication to the site's Webmaster. Unfortunately, it won't be this easy for everyone. I fear that maybe Matt's article, as well as Eric's comment, minimizes the difficulty in actually achieving a change to an old inbound link.
When scoping resources for a link building project, we typically include a set number of hours for all "reclamation" activities. This includes trying to replace faulty links to 404 pages and enhancing additional links pointed to existing pages by either requesting a change to a more specific (topical) page, or by updating the anchor text to be more descriptive. As of this week, we'll now need to scope additional time to include 404s.
Two caveats: the site must have a Google Webmaster central account, and on average, we estimate it can take up to an hour of research and negotiation time in order to reclaim each link. So by all means, go after this great opportunity, but don't fail to adequately project resource hours for this sometimes time-consuming task. Great topic, Frank!
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