Backlinks. They’re the popularity contest of the Internet. Backlinks are the highest form of online compliment you can get. Backlinks say, you’re so special, I will place a link from my web site to yours.
Backlinks are intensely sought after since the more you have, the more Google will favour your site with higher rankings. Backlinks cause people will go to extraordinary lengths and cost to acquire more of them, as outlined in this story.
So, given that backlinks are like the holy grail of the Internet, you wonder why anyone would simply throw them away, like yesterday’s broken thumbdrive, but they do.
Especially in the wine business.
Backlinks like spilled wine
The reason I know wineries have little thought for their backlinks is because I have a blog about wine called Tasting Room Confidential.
I’ve blogged about wine since 2008. Developing that site on WordPress was what launched my career as a WordPress guru.
In seven years of wine blogging, I’ve placed a lot of links to wineries and their wine’s pages thinking I was doing my readers and the winery a favour by enriching each post with links to deeper information.
What a mistake! All those links are coming back to haunt me in the form of notices from a cool plugin called Broken Link Checker that chirps, “Broken Link Checker has detected 1 new broken link on your site.”
Since August of last year I’ve received 60 of these damned alerts. One of the first told me I had 214 broken links on my wine site!
Then, I have to go into the plugin’s dashboard and either edit, unlink, dismiss or recheck the link. What a hassle!
Know how many alerts I get from this site? Almost none. Probably because it’s about tech and techies know better than to break their backlinks.
Mind you, those wine links were once good, but they’ve have suddenly gone bad through no fault of my own.
Often, the backlink breaks because the winery has released a new vintage of a wine and they replace the 2010 tech notes with the 2011 tech sheet.
Or, the winery has revamped their old HTML site into a WordPress one and the superfluous old “/index.html” breaks the link.
In some cases, the winery is just gone, with no forwarding message!
As a blogger, I don’t have time to hunt down new links to replace the old ones. The best I might do is edit the link down to the bare URL and hope that sticks.
If you’re planning to make changes to your site – winery or otherwise – please don’t bite the hands that backlinks to you. And don’t serve your readers a 404 error.
Unless you set your Robots.txt file to tell the search spiders not to crawl your discarded pages, they remain out there in the Internet, getting clicked on by someone who backlinked to them.
Since they have no where to go, orphaned pages not only lose their link juice, they create annoying 404 Errors.
Google remembers these 404 Error for you in your Webmaster Tools account. Although Google says 404 errors don’t affect your ranking, sometimes I wonder.
You can see who is linking to your pages by going to Webmaster Tools>Manage Site>Search Traffic>Links to your Site.
But the thing is, that link is out there, getting spidered, and producing 404 Errors. It could be bringing you link juice instead of wilting on the vine.
Related: How to Use Webmaster Tools and Make Google your Friend
You can bring those links back to life by simply redirecting them.
301 Redirects to the rescue
To permanently redirect of the your old pages use 301 Redirect. 301 refers to the HTTP status code for this type of redirect. The reason you should use 301 Redirects is that it passes between 90-99% of its link juice (ranking power) to the redirected page.
You can use 301 Redirects to send your links to a new home, enjoy their juice, and avoid loosing the backlinks you so desperately want to keep.
Best ways to use 301 Redirects
There is a plugin for everything on WordPress and 301 Redirects are no exception.
But if you want to reduce the weight of another plugin on your site, there are other options.
WordPress SEO by Yoast
If your unwanted page is on your current WordPress installation and you use the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin – which you should – it’s easy to redirect a page.
Go to the WordPress page or post you want to take offline and navigate to the Advanced tab in the WordPress SEO by Yoast module.
This box offers many options for changing the status of your page, but scroll to the bottom to find 301 Redirect.
Simply enter the destination URL and save. The page remains online, but it points to another page and the link juice follows.
Related: Getting the Most from Yoast: SEO Settings Tour
Redirect lost pages
To redirect trashed or lost pages attached to your current URL there are several options.
If you only have a few lost pages to redirect, you can use the Redirect page in your Cpanel. That will update your .htaccess file.
You’ll pulldown the URL and place the permalink in the field next to the “/“. Then, add the address it should redirect to.
Bulk 301 Redirects
But what if you have dozen or hundreds of lost pages to redirect?
Web sites like my fifteen-year old MariKane.com site, which has been through multiple rebuilds, tend to have a lot of lost pages.
I used to use a plugin to direct them, but the Redirects plugin is no longer working for me.
Plus, that I found that redirecting back to the home page caused a nasty Redirect Loop.
Coding all of those old URLs into a cpanel’s 301 Redirect form could take hours!
But here’s an easier way to bulk Redirect.
Start at Webmaster tools. Go to Manage Site>Crawl Errors and click the Not Found tab. The result is a list of all the orphaned pages that search spiders keep crawling.
Click Download and export that list as a CSV file, and open it in Excel. In the Excel file, delete all columns other than the Old URL column. Then, create a new column after that for the Redirected URLs.
Enter your new URLs in that second column. This is perhaps the most time-consuming part of the process, depending on where you want those redirects to go.
Then, do a Find and Change in your Old URL column. Find “http://oldurl.com/” and replace it with “redirect 301_/”.
Next, export the Excel file to a Word file in order to lose the columns.
Converting to text is difficult using Numbers on a Mac, I found. Eventually, I was able to copy and paste the columns from Numbers into a Simple Text file. Then, I opened it that text fill in Pages to Find and Change any extra spaces.
Now you have a nice list of bulk Redirects.
Yoast Edit Files
Once the bulk Redirects page is perfected, copy and paste it into Yoast SEO>Edit Files, where you should have an .htaccess edit box waiting. If you don’t, Yoast will create one for you.
Copy and pasted the bulk 301s into this box and Save. Voila! All those lost pages are now going places.
Somewhere, I hear the sound of broken links connecting.
Related: Getting the Most from Yoast: SEO Settings Tour
Use .htaccess file
If you don’t use the Yoast plugin (why the hell not?), you can perform the same feat in the .htaccess file on your server.
Your .htaccess file lives in the site’s Public directory. It might be hidden, so you may need to find and expose it. If you have no .htaccess file, you can create one. Then, enter the list of bulk Redirects at the top of the file, before the “#Begin WordPress” line.
Redirect website en masse
To redirect an entire site from one place to another be sure to use the exact same permalink structure on the new pages.
At the top of the .htaccess file on your old site, place the following code:
“redirect 301 / domain.com/”.
This tactic is not exclusive to WordPress and can be done on any HTML site.
Read more about how to use 301 Redirects at the appropriately-named 301redirects.net
Don’t bite the hand that backlinks
So you see, Joe Winemaker, you don’t need to break your backlinks every time you replace a new vintage’s tech notes. If you use 301 Redirects wisely, you can retain your link juice and website reputation while keeping wine bloggers happy.