The Guru Guide To Link Reclamation

The guru guide to link reclamation

Earlier this week I went in depth into one of my favourite white hat link building techniques in my broken link building tutorial. Today I’m going to focus on what I like to think of as the big brother of broken link building; an often overlooked, but highly effective SEO tactic called link reclamation.

What you will learn

  • How to find and fix broken links on your own site
  • How to find broken links from external sites
  • How to easily turn brand mentions into high quality links
  • How to reach out and claim those links (with template emails)

To make things nice and easy to follow I’m going to take you through a real world example that I worked on earlier this week (url masked for client confidentiality reasons).

The whole process took just over 2 hours, during which time I was able to identify 27 high quality opportunities. The good news is that 11 of these have already converted into fresh, strong, contextually related and authority building links to the client’s site.

Remember, white hat link building and SEO is not a numbers game. It is all about quality.

In the process I also identified and fixed a number of on-site linking problems, which will also improve SEO.

What you will need

Once again… the only thing you will need to spend here is your time! These are the free tools required for the job.

  • Access to google webmaster tools
  • Free account on opensiteexplorer
  • Xenu linksleuth (free download)
  • Check My Links chrome extension
  • Excel or openoffice spreadsheet

So, let’s dive right in and find out how you can use the process of link reclamation to build solid links to your site and score an SEO quick win!

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What is link reclamation?

There are 3 parts to link reclamation.

The first part involves a bit of internal SEO housekeeping. If your site has been around for a while there is a good chance that you will have changed the structure at some point or moved things around.

When that happens… things can sometimes get broken. We’re going to fix them.

After that, we’re going to reach out to sites which are linking to the old urls and ask them to update the link(s).

And finally…

We’re going to be finding new link opportunities, with the beauty being that these opportunities are from sites which are already engaged with your site/brand and will more often than not be happy to link to you. Sounds good right?

So… on with the first part of link reclamation – getting our house in order and finding/fixing those internal broken links.

Link Reclamation Phase 1: Internal Housekeeping

First of all, we’ll jump into google’s webmaster tools and take a look at the broken links they have picked up while crawling our site.

Sign into your webmaster tools account, navigate to the site you wish to examine and go to: –

Crawl > Crawl Errors > Not Found (tab)

crawl errors google webmaster tools

We can see that for our case site, there are 41 ‘Not found’ errors… not good, but something we can fix!

Scroll down and google will give you a list of the pages it has found which are returning a status code of 404.

showing all pages with errors in webmaster tools

Go ahead and click ‘Download’ to pull that that list down into a spreadsheet. If you prefer you can use google docs, but I’m going to pull it into a csv, which is going to serve as my master reclamation document for this domain.

I’ll name the tab ‘webmaster_tools’

webmaster tools 404 report spreadsheet

Google’s data is good, but this is a guru guide, so we want to be doubly sure we don’t miss anything! We also want to check for broken links to external sites, so next up we’re going to use a neat (and free) desktop application called Xenu linksleuth to run a complete scan through our site.

You can download and install Xenu linksleuth here 

Scanning Domain With Xenu Linksleuth

Once you have Xenu installed, go ahead and launch it, then from the ‘File’ menu select ‘Check URL…’

scanning domain with xenu link sleuth

In the dialog box, enter the domain you wish to scan.

You will also see below that I have added several urls to the ‘Do not check any URLs beginning with this:’ box. This is useful if you are running a cart system (our case site runs on magento) as there can be a load of pages which are basically duplicates and not worth checking.

For this scan I have excluded everything under:-


If your site is in magento, you will probably want to do the same.

You can also set it to ignore things like image/js directories, but I like to check these too.
Click OK to start the scan.

Depending on the size of your site it could take a while for the spider to work it’s way through all the links (took around 10 minutes on the case site), so you might want to leave it running in the background while you get on with something else (or make a cup of tea).

link reclamation with xenu linksleuth

Once the scan is complete, Xenu will ask you if you want a report. Click yes to run it.

The report will open in a browser and will look like this…

broken link report

Bit of donkey work coming up now… we’re going to go ahead and start working our way through the report fixing those broken links (both internal and external).

The report will tell you which pages link to each broken page. You’ll probably want to print it off (or pull the data into a spreadsheet), so you can tick things off as you go along.

scanning the report

Depending on how many broken links are found it will take some time to work through the report, but believe me it is time well spent!


Fixing The Broken Links

Should be pretty self explanatory, but just to confirm, for each broken link you want to make sure that either: –

  1. The broken link points to the new/correct URL (where the page has been moved)
  2. The broken link points to the most relevant related resource (where the page has been deleted)
  3. The broken link is unlinked (where there is no related document)

The xenu report will only find broken/redirected internal links which are currently active, so make sure you also create redirects for the broken urls which were reported by google webmastertools.

Zen SEO Guru Time Saving Tip

if you are confident with running SQL commands and there are multiple pages pointing to a broken link, you could use a Find/Replace command on the table/field which contains your content.

The format for this would be something like:-

update [table_name] set [field_name] = replace([field_name],'[the_old_url]’,'[the_new_url]’);

Only use this if you are confident with SQL and it is good practice to always back up your database before you run any bulk updates!

Once You Are Done Fixing The Broken Links

We’re still not quite done on our housekeeping – there are 2 more things we need to do on our own site before we move on to the next stage.

Update Links Passing Through 301/302

We need to firstly, go through and update any links, which are currently redirecting through a 301 or 302 (moved permanently, or moved temporarily respectively).

For example, if a page on your site moved and you set up a 301 redirect from the old url to the new one (good practice) we need to make sure that any links pointing to the old url are updated to point to the new one.

There is some debate as to whether a link passed through a 301 loses any pagerank, but regardless of this, best practice is to update links to point to the correct URL.

Our xenu report will let us know which links are currently passing through a 301 redirect and where to find them.

which links are passing through redirect?

Put 301 Redirects In Place For Any URLs Still Serving 404 Error

The final thing we need to do on our own site is make sure any pages currently serving 404s are 301 redirected to an appropriate content page where appropriate.

Hopefully we haven’t missed any links, but just in case, it’s always good practice to put these in place.

To Redirect Or Not To Redirect?

There is an argument that certain pages should be allowed to serve a 404, but if this is the case then you should ensure that your 404 page is designed in such a way that it has the opportunity to direct visitors to other useful resources on your site.

Moz’ best practice guide on 404 pages has this to say: –

When visitors reach 404 pages, they should be given navigational options so they do not leave the given site. Web optimized 404 errors pages should contain:

  • notification that the user has reached a page that does not exist
  • a search box
  • a easy to understand navigation system so the user can potentially find what they were orginally looking to access
  • a link to the home page

Link Reclamation Phase 2: Fixing Broken/Redirected Inbound Links

Now that we have our own house in order (and armed with our knowledge of which pages on our site were serving 404s) it’s time to start finding pages on other sites that are linking to moved/deleted pages on our site and reaching out to them.

For this we’re going to use open site explorer and the webmaster tools data which we previously exported.

Open Site Explorer ‘Top Pages’ Report

Open Site Explorer has a neat report called ‘Top Pages’. You can run this report with a free account (registration required).

Hit up Open Site Explorer and enter your domain in the search box.

use opensiteexplorer to scan domain

From the results page, click the ‘Top Pages’ tab and then ‘Request CSV’.

export top pages report

Open up the csv in the editor of your choice and: –

  1. Sort the data by ‘HTTP Status’
  2. Get rid of everything other than status 301, 302, 404
  3. Get rid of anything with 0 referring root domains (we will leave those with 1 as it may be external)

You should be left with something like the following: –

export spreadsheet of links

In our case study, the list of pages we are left with is quite small, but don’t worry if yours is bigger – that’s a good thing as it means you have more opportunity to reclaim links!

Finding The Opportunities

We’re now going to run each of the urls on our list through Open Site Explorer to find potential link reclamation opportunities.

If we start with the third page on the sheet (which has 4 referring domains) and paste the url into Open Site Explorer we can find out who is linking to the old url/page and start building our outreach spreadsheet.

Click on the ‘linking domains’ tab and then on a domain to see details of the linking url.


If this was a larger scale project we might use a tool such as buzzstream to gather contact details/build our outreach list, but as there are only a few sites here we’ll just go ahead and check the linking pages/grab the contact details manually.

Guru tip: To find even more opportunities you might want to use a secondary backlink search, such as ahrefs.

What We Need For Outreach

Jump onto the linking page and run the check my links chrome extension (add it for free here if you don’t have it) to quickly find and verify your links.

Broken links will be highlighted in red as shown below.

find broken links

I’m a big believer in making everything as personal as possible in your outreach, so try and get the name of the webmaster/blogger and a contact email address (or grab the link to the feedback form).

Create a new sheet in your master spreadsheet with columns for: –

  • Site name
  • URL of linking page
  • URL of broken link on your site
  • Replacement URL
  • Contact name
  • Email address/feedback url

preparing spreadsheet for outreach

Work your way through each of the pages in the Open Site Explorer ‘Top Pages’ export until you have all the opportunities. All in I was able to identify 5 (there was a 6th, but the site appeared to have been abandoned and was not worth pursuing).

Sending The Emails

It’s time to reach out and ask for those links to be updated!

The email should be short, sweet and personalised. Here is a template you can use: –


Subject: Broken link on {name of site}

Hi {webmaster name},

It’s {your name} from {your site} here. Hope you’re doing good!

I was just doing a bit of a tidy up on our site and noticed you were linking to one of our old pages, which has now been moved.

The link is on this page {link to their page} and is pointing to {old url}.

I wonder if you could possibly update the link to point to {new url}? Any questions you can give me a shout using the details below.

Thanks for your time and have a great day/weekend!


Kind regards,
{your name}
{your contact details}


Guru tip: Whenever possible try and send the outreach email from an email address at the site they are linking to. This should be easy enough if it is your own site, but if you are working for a client ask them if they will set up an email address for you. It looks a lot better than [email protected]

This email should have a pretty good success rate (3 out of 5 confirmed update to me within 48 hours and you will often get a thank you), but if you don’t hear anything back in 2/3 (working) days you can send a follow up email similar to the following: –


Subject: Re: Broken link on {name of site}

Hi {webmaster name},

Just a quick follow up to see if you got my email last week about the broken link on your site pointing to our old page?

If you have any questions just give me a shout.

{your name}

{include original email below}


Ok… on to phase 3!

Link Reclamation Phase 3: Finding New Link Opportunities

So far we have been dealing with fixing broken links, which is very important as effectively they are now fresh links (the link juice/equity was previously being lost), but now we’ll take things up a gear by moving on to acquiring completely new links.

The beauty of this method is that we will be targeting webmasters/bloggers who are already engaged with our brand.

Here is what we will be looking for: –

  • Unlinked brand mentions
  • Unlinked product reviews
  • Unlinked name drops

Let’s set up a new sheet in our spreadsheet called ‘link_opportunities’ and create the following fields: –

Site name, URL, Contact Name, Contact Details, Notes

The key field here is ‘Notes’ as for the best chance of success each outreach email should be individually tailored (although I will give you a few outline templates). We’re going to have to prove we’ve actually visited their site and are not just a link building robot!

Let’s Go Find Those Opportunities!

I believe you get back what you put in in SEO and, while tools are great, sometimes you’ve just got to get your hands dirty and spend time searching  for opportunities and visiting sites.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing here.

Depending on your site/products/service there are different queries you can use (you’ll need to get your thinking cap on), but a good place to start is your brand/site name.

Finding Unlinked Brand Mentions

Here is the first search query to try: –

“Your Brand Name” -press -release

This query is going to search for mentions of your brand, ignore results from your own site and do a good job of filtering out press releases (these are normally syndicated and difficult to get a link from).

Before running the query, set the number of results per page to 100 (the maximum) in search settings.

And then…

Start clicking?



For our case site, this query returned 6,220 results, but don’t worry we’re not going to have to click on 6,220 links. Use your inner marketing guru to scan down the pages, filtering out obvious junk and looking for potential golden nuggets – things like reviews, product comparisons etc.

Each page will literally take seconds to evaluate. You’re going to jump onto the page, see if it is already linking and if it is, jump straight back to google to evaluate the next one.

If it’s not linking (you’ll be surprised how many you find), bingo!

Collect the name, contact details, name of site etc and take a note about what the article was about, i.e. review of a particular product etc.

It took me about 40 minutes to identify 22 high quality opportunities for the case site and collect contact details/notes. To give you an indication, these opportunities included: –

  • 6 stand alone reviews of the client’s products (blog posts)
  • 4 blog posts which were comparing 3/4 different branded products (the client + competitors)
  • 1 Photography site, which listed the case site as a client
  • 3 video blog sites
  • 1 local newspaper article which mentioned one of the client’s products
  • 1 personal wedding blog

So far 8 of these have converted to links (4 stand alone reviews, 1 comparison, the wedding blog and 2 others) and with follow up I would expect to secure at least another 2-3 links.

Remember, these new links are strong, authority building links, which will help to boost our site’s rankings and (importantly) be safe from any future google updates.

Let’s finish off by taking a look at a couple of guideline templates you can use for outreach.

Outreach Templates

Here is a guideline template you can use for a product review: –


Subject: Thanks for reviewing {your brand}!

Hi {webmaster name},

Hope you’re doing good!

It’s {your name} from {your site} here. I came across your review of our {product} today while browsing around. Thanks so much for your kind words and I’m really glad you {insert something specific to the review – i.e. ‘found the colour of silver on the widget particularly shiny’}.

I’ve just shared your review with our {impressive number} twitter followers, so hopefully you should see some traffic 🙂

I noticed that you hadn’t included a link and was wondering if you would be so kind as to include a link to the product to help your readers find it after reading your review?

The page is here {where you want them to link}.

Thanks again for the review and have a great day/weekend!


Kind regards,
{your name}
{your contact details}


For a page that mentions your brand you could go with something like: –


Subject: Thanks for mentioning {your brand}!

Hi {webmaster name},

Hope you’re doing good!

It’s {your name} from {your site} here. I found your post on {whatever it’s about} that mentioned our brand. Thanks so much for that, we’ll be sharing your post out with our {impressive number} facebook fans this afternoon 🙂

I noticed that you hadn’t included details of our site and was wondering if you would be so kind as to include a link to our home page {your url} to help any of your readers who would like to find out a little more about us?

Thanks again for the mention and have a great day/weekend!


Kind regards,
{your name}
{your contact details}


Remember, these are just guide templates and the more personal you can make the outreach, the better the chance of success!

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Now It’s Your Turn!

Link reclamation is simple and something you can do today to boost your site’s SEO. By following the steps above you can easily pick up white hat, authority building links that will grow your organic search traffic.

It might seem like a lot of work, but remember, the whole process took less than 2 hours start to finish.

If you don’t do it, you’re quite simply leaving links on the table.

So, what are you waiting for?

Any questions or link reclamation tips of your own? Please leave a comment or drop me an email and for loads more white hat SEO and link building tips, be sure to sign up to my free email newsletter below.


Further Reading On Link Reclamation

About the Author

I'm a web developer, programmer, blogger and SEO expert from Glasgow, Scotland, with over 15 years experience in the industry. When I'm not writing about marketing and SEO you'll find me strumming the guitar in my band or listening to Revolver on repeat. Follow me on twitter, connect with me on google+ and add us on facebook to keep up with all the latest trends in SEO and online marketing.

KennethChernow - April 18, 2014

I keep hearing “Link Reclamation” as the SEO buzzwords for 2014 and I am glad to finally know what it means. Excellent guide, it makes so much sense to turn those non linked mentions into white hat links!

Samir - April 20, 2014

Well everything you’ve shared in the post are totally new to me and I’m really glad that I’ve learned lot of things from this post.

Link Reclamation seems really perfect for this days and we could gain lot of authority to our blogs.


Enstine Muki - April 20, 2014

Hi David,
How are you this Easter?

I pay a lot of attention to content that will help boost my SEO so I read your post with real care. Though my GWT does not give any error for my 4 months old blog, I still think I need to pay attention to this.

After this comment, I’m going to unlock to grab the pdf version. It’s worth reading with a practice spirit. Thanks for the great tutorial

    David McSweeney - April 21, 2014

    Hi Enstine, I’m good thanks, hope you are well. Just drop me an email if you need any advice.

Karen - June 27, 2014

Hi David, I laughed out loud when I saw the pic, good choice!

You talked about fixing broken links:
-The broken link points to the new/correct URL (where the page has been moved)
-The broken link points to the most relevant related resource (where the page has been deleted)
-The broken link is unlinked (where there is no related document)

You also talked about redirects for 404 errors:
-301 redirects from old url to new url
-Web optimized 404 errors pages

Can you explain how to do this? Thanks!

Comments are closed