Link Decay and Reclamation: Reclaiming Lost Equity

• updated on
September 1, 2023
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Earning high-quality backlinks is crucial for building your site's domain authority and search engine rankings. However, over time some of those hard-won backlinks can expire or become removed. This leads to lost link equity that damages your site's authority.

Reclaiming that lost equity where possible should be part of your ongoing SEO strategy. In this article we'll cover tactics for monitoring and recovering from link decay.

Why You Lose Link Equity

Linking Site Removes Content

One major reason sites lose backlinks is when the linking site decides to remove or archive old content. As they take down outdated blog posts, resources pages, or other items they may delete your link in the process.

These links earned through outreach efforts or organic editorial mentions can vanish, sometimes without notice. As the pages get removed, so does the link juice you were benefiting from.

Linking Site Redesigns

Similarly, when a referring site performs a redesign or migration it can impact your links. Often links get changed or not carried over properly during major site revamps.

Webmasters may decide to simplify navigation, retire sections, or drop outdated parts of the architecture. If your links were tied to impacted pages, the equity again disappears.

Link Penalties and Deindexation

On the flip side, you may lose links because the referring page itself got penalized or deindexed by Google. This causes your link to basically evaporate as that page is no longer counted or valued.

Whether due to thin content, shady SEO tactics, or other violations resulting in penalties, your equity suffers if links from penalized sites vanish.

Abandoned or Defunct Sites

In some cases, the site linking to you goes out of business, abandons their domain, or lets it expire. These “dead” sites clearly won’t be supplying any more equity.

While higher-authority sites tend to live on, there’s always churn with smaller blogs, companies, and sites going away. Their links fade with them.

URL Structure Changes

Lastly, something as simple as your own URL structure changes can devalue former links. If you remove pages or alter URL paths, old links now lead to 404s or suboptimal redirected pages.

This form of “self-inflicted” link decay highlights the importance of governing redirects when evolving site architecture.

In summary, link equity faces threats from changes on both the referring site’s side and your own. Monitoring for warning signals and taking remedial actions can help counteract the negative SEO impact.

Tracking Link Decay

The first critical step in maintaining your link equity is proactively monitoring your backlink profile to spot any signs of potential decay. Here are the key signals to watch for:

Sudden Drop in Total Backlinks/Referring Domains

A sudden decrease in the number of total backlinks or referring domains pointing to your site is a red flag. While natural flux occurs, a steep drop often correlates to lost links en masse.

Monitoring total link counts from various tracking tools like Ahrefs, or SEMrush can quickly surface any unusual downward shifts. A big change here warrants investigating what links may have vanished.

Increase in 404s and Broken Links

All major link analysis tools report on broken links directing to 404 pages. An uptick in 404s detected could indicate referring pages changed or removed content.

Reviewing 404/broken link data frequently makes it possible to pinpoint trouble spots and reach out to fix or replace links.

Loss of Links from Strong Referring Sites

Keep an eye specifically on links from consistently strong or high-authority referring domains. If you notice those high-value links disappearing, it requires prompt action.

Losing just a handful of links from powerful publishers can hurt seriously if left unaddressed.

Decreases in Domain Authority

Metrics like Domain Authority (DA) quantify the strength and trust of your domain. If DA takes a dip, lost backlinks are likely a contributor.

DA drops may also correlate with poorer keyword rankings and visibility. Link decay can definitely undermine authority.

Organic Traffic and Ranking Declines

Lastly, monitor your organic search traffic and rankings frequently. Drops can signify lost link power impacting SERP placement.

Compare traffic and rankings to backlink trends to spot correlations indicating damage from decay.

Routinely tracking these metrics provides the necessary insight to catch link losses before they devastate your equity and performance. Leverage tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush and Moz to simplify monitoring and receive alerts.

Reclaiming Lost Link Equity

Once decay is detected, here are some tactics to minimize the damage and recoup that lost equity:

Reach Out for URL Fixes

If links now lead to 404s because of URL changes on your side, reach out to site owners to request updates. Most are happy to fix broken links.

Request Link Re-Placement

When links vanish because old content is removed, ask if it can be re-published somewhere new on the site. Offer to create fresh assets they need.

Redirect Lost URLs

If old URLs linked to no longer exist, redirect them to relevant active pages using 301s to pass equity.

Create New Link-Worthy Assets

Generate great new content/resources and outreach to lost referrers with tailored pitches to earn links anew.

Disavow Toxic Links

Analyze lost links to identify sketchy ones. Disavow former low-quality links so they stop diluting equity.

Diversify Your Link Profile

Build an ongoing strategy mixing link building tactics to minimize future impact if one source vanishes.

While losing links stings, taking proactive reclamation measures can get you back on track authority-wise. Monitor aggressively and act quickly when decay surfaces.

From The Author

Terry Williams

With over 10 years optimizing sites, I've boosted search visibility for brands through customized strategies. Currently, I develop effective SEO solutions for a top agency, immersed in the latest trends and innovations. Read my full bio.

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