Fixing Other People’s 404s for Link Building

A very old link-building strategy that needs to be addressed every once in a while is 404 fixing: when you check if interesting websites link to a non-existing URL and you offer an alternative piece of content they could link to to fix it.

You can start by looking at the incoming or outgoing links from sites with similar content. For incoming links, well-known tools like Ahrefs, Moz and Majestic all offer reports that show a domain’s well-linked URLs, reporting on the status codes like 200, 301 and 404. If you create an export of all pages linking to a 404, you’ll find out if your site can offer an alternative for the original information. In many cases, there are multiple sites linking to a popular 404, so you can contact them all after adding the required information to your own site.

To find a 404 from specific domains, I prefer indexing the site – or a large part of it – myself. Using tools like Scrutiny, you’ll find 404 errors linked from a DoFollow link, which don’t have “rel=nofollow” in the source code.

Creating the Right Alternative Information

Links within an old news article don’t need to be updated. In any other case, it is bad for a website to link to outdated or missing information, but many webmasters are lazy. If your information comes very close to the original information, it’s easier to change the link without finding an alternative; if your information seems even more up-to-date than the original source, a webmaster might even replace links that still work.

Replace the original URL with one that has a similar tone so the webmaster can keep the text the same. Don’t add additional commercial information to the page. If you are just as lazy as the webmaster, you might even be able to get away with something close to the original version that you find through the Way Back Machine, as long as you rewrite it enough to avoid copyright issues.

Contacting the Webmaster

You can send a bystander something like, “I was reading {paste URL here} and noticed that {some text} no longer refers to information on {some topic}. After a couple of searches on Google, I found {URL they should link to}, which probably answers all the same questions. You can easily update your page with it.” If you send a message as the owner of the site, that’s often just as effective.

404 fixing is the link building strategy with the highest success rate. More than 60 percent of the emails sent can result in link placement. Cases where the webmaster doesn’t want to keep certain information up-to-date are the main exception.

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