Author: Jack Telford
This handy trick will help you find external links to 404 pages on your site which users are landing on. It’s a useful, quick clean up exercise that’ll help you claim backlinks you didn’t know about, as well as improving user experience from your earned coverage.
As opposed to crawling a site for broken pages, which relies on 404 errors being internally linked to in order to be found, this exercise will help you spot links that external sites are pointing towards yours, which are leading to a 404 error. These commonly relate to old campaigns or marketing URLs which haven’t been cleaned up properly.
At a Glance
|What you do||Find backlinks to 404 pages through Google Analytics|
|Benefits||Claim more value from links by sending them to live pages rather than broken ones|
|Time||Average around 1 hour (presuming you don’t find loads)|
First off, you need to find traffic to 404 pages on your site. Sign in to Google Analytics and visit the “All Pages” report. You’ll find it under “Behaviour” > “Site Content”. Set the view to “Page Title”.
Next, filter for only pages which contain “Not Found” (or whatever shows as the page title on your site when a non-existent URL is requested). This will show only visits to pages which have returned a 404 status code.
Now you’ve found instances where people have landed on broken pages, you need to find the links on external sites through which users are getting to these dead ends.
Set the secondary dimension to “full referrer”. At this point a list of referring pages will show up (alongside all the standard referrers like Google, Bing and Facebook). These are the URLs that have links to your broken pages.
Now you have a general idea of which links are driving users to broken pages. The next thing to do is visit the pages and try and find the links. Go into the source code of the referring pages, and CTRL + F to find where on page the link is. At this point, you’ll see what the link is which is pointing to a 404 on your site.
Now you know the URLs which sites are using to link to yours and are broken, the next job is to redirect them to relevant live alternatives. If you’re faced with a massive list and don’t know where to start, it’s worth running pages through Ahrefs’ batch analysis tool first. This way you can prioritise pages that are either ranking highly or have backlinks pointing to them.
I hope you’ve found this quick post useful, and that it’s given you another weapon to add to your 404 hunting arsenal. Let me know in the comments section below if you face any difficulties carrying out this process, or if you have any other comments or feedback. Otherwise, why not take a look at one of our top articles below?
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Behind the Site
I’m Jack Telford, an Owned Strategy Director at Publicis Media. I’ve been in the SEO industry for the last 6 years and love the collaborative nature of the space. This site is my little contribution to the community.
Got any Good Ideas?
Always looking for new contributors to the site – and for feedback too. Feel free to get in touch if you’re interested in writing or have anything to share.
London, SW4 (or I will be again after lockdown)
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The place to explore quick, easily digestible SEO and wider marketing tips and techniques. Sharing knowledge from professionals across the field, we aim to help each other achieve greater success.