Link Reclamation: How to Minimize and Deal With Lost Links?

Everyone Loses Links, Not Everyone Takes the Time to Get Them Back.
Published on 
January 21, 2024
Updated on 
January 21, 2024
Posted in 

Link reclamation refers to finding and replacing links to your site that have “died” (i.e., are no longer active). 

There is never a guarantee when you build a link that it’s going to be around forever. Site owners create and get rid of pages, change the addresses of pages, and let their websites deteriorate over time, which can prompt problems with HTML and cause errors. 

Because building and acquiring links take time and effort, and because backlinks are incredibly important, you don’t want to just sit idly by while your hard-won and hard-built links stop working. Of course, you should always be building new links, but why let great backlinks disappear if you don’t have to?

Link reclamation is an important part of your link building and overall SEO strategy. You don’t need to go after every lost link, but you will definitely find that, throughout the life of your website and throughout your link building career, you are going to end up with some high-impact backlinks that you really don’t want to (and perhaps even can’t afford) to lose. 

In the following article, we’re going to dive into why link reclamation is an important part of your website’s general maintenance and how you can reclaim lost links. 

What, exactly, is link reclamation?

Link reclamation is where you find and then replace any lost or broken backlinks. They are often referred to as “dead” links and they can be either internal or external to your site. 

Your internal links are those that take you (or your visitors, or Google crawlers) to another webpage on your website. External links are those pointing away from your domain. 

An important distinction: link reclamation and converting unlinked mentions

We sometimes find that people confuse link reclamation with following up on unlinked mentions

Unlinked mentions are those instances where other websites have mentioned your business or brand but not provided a dofollow backlink. While by no means unimportant, the real SEO value is found in the backlink, so it can be very worthwhile to keep tabs on your mentions and reach out to the site owners and webmasters when you encounter them. 

Using Google Alerts is the best way to stay on top of your mentions. 

setting up google alerts

We’ve set up our Google Alerts so that we receive an email from Google every time the search engine crawls a new piece of content and encounters our URL. 

We can then check and see whether we think the mention is worth following up on (do we like the mentioning site’s domain metrics) and reach out to them and see if they’ll give us a link. 

Link reclamation, on the other hand, involves reaching out to websites that either used to link to your domain or the link, as it currently is, is improperly set up or set to “nofollow.”

A note on nofollow backlinks

When inserting external links into a piece of content, there are essentially two HTML tags that you can apply to them: rel=nofollow and rel=dofollow. 

nofollow attribute inside html href code

A nofollow tag is basically telling Google that you don’t want to pass on your website’s SEO value to that target page. They are often used when the target page lacks relevance or when you don’t fully trust the site but nevertheless want to include it in your content. 

Sometimes a website uses nofollow tags as part of its editorial policy. Other times, you might find your link is “nofollowed” by accident (maybe the writer/publisher of the article simply didn’t realize there was such an important difference, or clicked on “nofollow” without realizing it). 

If a potential dofollow backlink from a website is just too good to pass up, it can often pay dividends to fire off a quick email requesting a change from rel=nofollow to rel=dofollow. 

They might say no, but then again, they might say yes.

Why you absolutely want to reclaim lost or dead links

In a nutshell: to conserve link juice (aka link equity). 

Link juice is the colloquial term for the SEO value passed on by the domain authority of the linking website. 

When a big, reputable site links to your content, they are not only sending you their traffic, but they are also letting Google know, “we think this website is high quality.” Google factors this into where in the SERP you are ranked and, consequently, how much organic traffic you will get. 

By staying on top of which of your backlinks are active and which require reclaiming, you ensure the long-term health of your backlink profile. 

Link reclamation and internal links

You also want to make sure you are reclaiming any dead or defective internal links. This ensures that your visitors don’t receive the dread 404 error. 

You want a seamless user experience for anyone visiting your site. That ensures they don’t leave. The longer people stay on your site the better it is in the eyes of Google. 

Dwell time (i.e., how long someone spends on your website) is most definitely a ranking signal–one of many–that Google uses to categorize and evaluate your site. 

As you peruse your website’s pages looking for link reclamation opportunities, you will almost invariably come across other things that require your attention–duplicate content, defective pages, etc. 

What causes link death or loss?

Links are constantly coming into existence and disappearing. That’s the way of the web. When you get a backlink, there is never any guarantee that it’s going to be around forever. 

Some of the most common reasons for link death include: 

  • Broken links
  • Redirects
  • Removal
  • Expiration of low quality backlinks
  • Content removal or disappearance

Broken links

A broken link is one that takes you to the aforementioned 404 page. They typically occur when a website changes its URL structure without putting in place the proper 301 redirects. 

As we mentioned, you can also have broken internal links. Staying on top of both is crucial for on-page SEO and your backlink profile, although it is definitely easier to fix broken internal links. 


Sometimes you will find that one of your backlinks is stuck in a broken redirect chain or an endless redirect loop. 


This tends to occur when a site owner or editor decides to remove a link because they found a more complete resource to include (a link to) in their article or because a competitor is doing skyscraper link building and has convinced a site master to swap your link for theirs. 

Expiration of low quality backlinks

Sometimes a link that you got (either acquired organically or built using black hat link building tactics) on a low-quality website like a link farm or a private blog network ends up classified as spam by Google. 

In this case, losing a link might not be such a bad thing. You don’t want to have too many low-quality links in your backlink profile because they can end up hurting your SEO. 

Get enough of them and you might even find yourself on the receiving end of a manual action penalty from Google. 

manual action from Google regarding unnatural links to your website

It can take a while to get rid of the offending links and for Google to reinstate your status in the SERPs. 

Content removal or disappearance

Sometimes, pages disappear from the web entirely. Maybe the page has been deleted because the site owner no longer likes or needs it. 

Maybe it was from a website that no longer exists. People stop website upkeep for all kinds of reasons. Domains expire, pages stop working, and you just have to move on. 

The best tools for link reclamation

The link reclamation process requires not only that you know what to look for, but that you have the tools to help you reclaim links. 

There are basically two primary tools that people use for link reclamation: Google Search Console and Ahrefs. 

In the below sections, we will walk you through how to use each in the link reclamation process. 

Google search console 

search console homepage hero section

Google Search Console is an all around useful link building tool and it is very helpful for finding and reclaiming lost links. 

The way you use Google Search Console to find broken and lost links is by using the Index Coverage Report, which lets you see exactly which URLs are sending users to 404 pages. 

The biggest downside of using Google Search Console is that you only get reports for pages that have already been crawled by the search engine. This means any missing pages that haven’t been crawled yet, aren’t going to show up. 


ahrefs homepage hero section

We use Ahrefs extensively. SEOs and link builders always have their preferred SEO analytics tool, but Ahrefs is our favorite and it can be used to help you find lost and broken links. 

There are basically three ways to use Ahrefs to find lost and broken links: 

  • Using the site explorer to find lost links.
  • Finding links that point to 404 pages.
  • Finding stolen content (i.e., content that is missing an attribution link).

Using site explorer to find lost links

This process is pretty easy. 

Simply head to Ahrefs site explorer, enter in the domain, sort by backlinks, and then sort by lost. 

The next thing would be to filter based on “dofollow” links on English-speaking websites (because those are the ones you’re interested in reclaiming) and then sort based on URL Rating (UR) so that the highest authority linking pages appear at the top of the list. 

Finding links that point to 404 pages

Using Ahrefs to find broken links is also very simple. 

Again, using the site explorer, enter the domain and then filter the results by “404 pages.” 

ahrefs 404 not found sorting option

Larger websites sometimes encounter hundreds of broken pages, which can mean many thousands of referring domains pointing to them. 

This is a lot of wasted link juice. 

Once you’ve used Ahrefs to narrow down your 404 links, there are a few things you can do. 

You can: 

  1. Redirect broken pages to where you would like them to point. 
  2. Redirect broken pages to different pages (or potentially even to your homepage).
  3. Reinstate the broken pages.
  4. Contact the referring domain and ask them if they wouldn’t mind changing the link to the new destination page. 

Using Ahrefs to find stolen content

It is very common for unscrupulous websites to steal content, and either remove or ignore the link back to the original source (i.e., your site). 

While Google doesn’t like and will penalize duplicate content, it is still rampant online and something you will likely have to deal with at a certain point. 

Ahrefs’ content explorer makes finding instances of your uncredited/unlinked content online so that you can then reach out to the website owners and ask them for proper attribution.

Above is a search that Ahrefs performed for a quote regarding content marketing that it randomly selected from an article online. 

Turns out, there were hundreds of websites using this verbatim quote and many that weren’t attributing it to its owner/originator. 

By filtering the content explorer results for “highlight unlinked domains,” you get a list of potential targets. 

You then have to go into each result and check to see whether there is a link or not. 

The easy way to do that is to ctrl+U and then ctrl+f the source code for the page URL. If there is no result, then you know the page you are examining hasn’t attributed the quote to the source using a dofollow backlink. 

Add that site to a list and then reach out and request proper attribution. 

Minimizing link rot 

Ideally, you want to do everything you can to preempt link rot so that you minimize the number of lost or broken links pointing to your site. 

Luckily for site owners and link builders, there are several ways you ensure you are not losing more links than is normal in the course of running your typical website. 

  1. Try to build links on primary (rather than secondary sources) as much as possible and stick to sites that are stable. 
  2. Avoid backlinks to documents. 
  3. Avoid links from PBNs or Link Farms

Primary sources and stability

Primary sources are the original sources of an article or a piece of information. 

A primary source might be a newspaper or a magazine, whereas a secondary source might me a blog that either reprints or puts a particular spin or editorial slant on a piece of content. 

The original piece of content is likely going to be around for longer than the secondary one. 

You should also try to stick to building links on sites that are going to stand the test of time. A personal blog that doesn’t look very professional and hasn’t had its copyright information updated in a few years might not be along that much longer. 

If the domain expires or the referring page develops some kind of error, not only are you going to lose your backlink, but it will probably be very tough to get in touch with the site owner and remedy the situation.

Avoid linking to documents

This would include PDFs, word documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, etc., online. 

Not only are these not good sources of link juice, but they are liable to be removed. 

Avoid spammy links

visual explanation of how PBNs work

A link farm is a website that exists solely to sell backlinks and Google considers them spam. 

Google has very specific policies governing what it considers link spam, and if you want to appear high up on the search engine results page and maximize your organic traffic, you want to stay away from these sorts of links. 

Not only are they bad for your backlink profile, but these kinds of sites aren’t really designed to stick around for a long time. 

People buy an expired domain, set up a link farm, run it into the ground (i.e., until Google finds out and neutralizes and SEO value coming from such sites), and then either sell it (the new owner may or may not decide to keep your backlink live) or let it languish. 

Wrapping up

We all end up with lost and broken links as part of the normal course of running a website and business online. It happens. 

The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to attempt to reclaim lost links. You might not get every one of them back, but it’s a good idea to keep tabs on your backlink profile (especially on your most valuable links). 

Of course, landing those links in the first place is another question altogether. That’s where a professional link building service comes in. 

Get in touch with dofollow today and find out more about how our transparent, contract-free, performance-based link building can turn your website into a sustainable, long-term lead generating behemoth. 

Why Trust Us On SEO

Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.

Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.

While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.

In this Article:

Turn your website into a traffic & lead gen machine with the world's most powerful backlinks.  

High-quality backlinks to your business each month with our user centric link building service.

Recommended Posts

Ready to get started?

Book a discovery call and get to know us better. Ask all the questions you have about how we can help you scale your business.