So you just bought yourself an expired domain to use as a new affiliate site. Or maybe you just bought a relatively expensive auction domain to use in your PBN.
We both know why you chose to use an old domain versus getting a brand new one. You wanted all those existing backlinks as a jump start to your sites power and authority. Smart move obviously!
Through the use of tools like aHrefs or Majestic, you probably already have a pretty good idea of what type of backlinks (and how many) point to your new domain. Their data provides you a fairly detailed view of what other domains are linking to your new domain. But more importantly, you can see exactly what pages (URL’s) on your domain the old links point too.
The next logical step you likely took was to use Archive.org to find out what your domains original website looked like. With that data, you can restore the old page URLs that still have live backlinks pointing to them and leverage the “link juice” or power they lend to your both your overall domain (domain authority) or that page in particular (page authority).
Now as simple as all that sounds, it actually requires a lot of detailed attention and man hours to complete for each domain you acquire.
But it’s a necessary evil you endure in order to keep all the link juice power you acquire when you purchase any new domain.
Or is that last paragraph completely wrong?
There are strategies far easier, less time consuming, and more automated that you can execute which only require two very simple tools. Using them properly will allow you to capture (and direct) every last bit of link juice that exists and even recapture lost traffic, even if you don’t want to spend the time, effort and money on recreating old pages.
I’m talking about 404 and 301 protocols.
Let’s get into both!
What Is A 301 Redirect?
A 301 is simply a method to physically redirect a visitor from one URL when visited, to another.
For search engines such as Google the 301 informs the visiting spider-bot that the source URL has been permanently redirected to the destination URL. Simple.
A 302 redirect (which we won’t cover in any detail) would be used to tell a search engine that the content is temporarily moved, but will return.
But something else pretty cool happens with search engines!
The original meta information from the existing URL is updated to the new information from the 301 target domain.
There are a few more basic concepts I should outline before we continue.
301’s are also very versatile and can be used in different ways.
What Is A 404?
A 404 is the error message you encounter when ever you try to access a page on a website that doesn’t currently exist. The page could have existed at one point, but currently it does not.
Monitoring 404’s (which we’ll dive into later in this article) can be a real goldmine, as it will tell you where live traffic, both human and bot, is hitting your site!
You’ll also be able to find some seriously valuable backlinks that you may not have known about otherwise.
We’ll show you how you can use this information to your advantage!
Why Use 301 Redirects?
A fraction of the work; but all the benefits.
There are 2 specific reasons that any SEO would want to use a 301, but there are many use-cases. So we’ll cover it all.
Why Use 301 Redirects?
Ok so now you have a basic idea of what 301’s are and how they work, the question is…
In what common scenarios would anyone want to use a 301 redirect, and why?
The simplest form of a 301 redirect is probably in plain old blogging. You know...writing actual posts on a blog.
But once in while blog authors will want to change their blog post URL’s for a variety of reasons;
Restructuring The Blog
Moving The Blog
While most novice bloggers don’t really think about the technical aspects of SEO and how changing a blog post URL can affect both its natural and search engine traffic, the more advanced of us do.
We know that if a blog post contains a bunch of natural links, that’s going to help it rank in search engines like Google, as backlinks are a ‘trust’ signal which Google utilizes in it’s ranking algorithm to help decide which sites to rank for a particular keyword search.
Further, those links to the blog post likely also provide real, relevant traffic to the site which also happens to be another ranking signal for Google.
So if a blogger creates a blog post than changes the URL after it’s published, any links pointing to that blog post will simply become a dead link and hit a 404 page effectively rendering that backlink useless.
But banklinks aren’t useless...far from it.
So bloggers & SEO’s in the know always set up a 301 redirect from the old blog post URL to the new one in order to maintain the status quo of both live traffic referrals and backlink juice!
One of the first things you’ll want to do when you take over a new client site is audit their backlink profile for any good quality links that are pointing at old URLs.
Not many clients have a clue about link juice and how it works. Come to think of it, there are plenty of SEOs that don’t have a clue either.
One SEO agency tells the client they should be doing “X”.
The next SEO company comes in and tells the client that they should be doing “Y” and they’ll need to restructure their website completely. The client doesn’t know any better and agrees.
Rinse and repeat a few times and all of a sudden you a bunch of dead pages that may still have good links pointing to them, yikes! Most SEOs don’t know they are wasting link juice, the good ones do of course!
That’s just one example, there are plenty of others.
Maybe the client has some old products they no longer sell, which they used to rank for, or they had a blog that they’ve deleted.
There are plenty of reasons why a client’s site might have URLs no longer active that have some tasty links pointing at them.
Simply by doing a backlink audit, identifying some old pages with good quality links and 301 redirecting them to your money pages you are going to get some great wins right from the start, which is a great way to build a relationship with a new client.
If you are building your affiliate sites on aged domains, you have to be checking this. You would be a fool not to.
You are already financially invested in the aged domain, and if you’re serious, the domain you bought is likely to have a niche relevant or authoritative (ideally both) backlink profile.
Why waste those existing links that aren’t pointed at the root?
You paid for the domain, get the maximum juice you can from it. You can do that by recreating old pages ( if it makes sense) or 301 redirecting the old URLs to your new money page or home page.
Private Blog Networks
Of course it’s exactly the same of PBNs.
Most SEOs will use the home page of the site to build the outbound links pointing to their money sites, simply because it’s the most powerful.
But when purchasing a PBN oftentimes there are other pages that have a lot of inbound links that create power on these pages.
You can go one of 2 routes:
Recreate the old URLs and use them for extra linking opportunities. This is very common in the use of PBN Sites.
Employ the quick and easy strategy of 301 redirecting them to the homepage to further increase it’s power. Job done.
PBNs, by their very definition are about maximizing link juice. This absolutely has to be part of your PBN strategy.
Use Case Summary
It boils down to this. Regardless of the type of SEO you’re doing.
If the site is an aged domain and has history, you’ll want to check if there are backlinks pointing to old URLs that no longer exist. If there are, the link juice they hold is being wasted.
Simply redirect that link juice to a page that matters to you, like a moneypage or the homepage, and you’ll get a boost without having to spend any money.
It is not very difficult to do, it just takes a little time, but it can be hugely rewarding.
How To Create A 301
There are several ways to do 301 redirects depending on your level of technical expertise.
If you are more technically inclined, you can add or update the .htaccess file which we’ll talk you through.
Or, if your website is built on WordPress, you can use a plugin which is 10x easier and faster. One of the best plugins we know of to easily and quickly (and even automatically) create 301 redirects is called Project Supremacy v3 and we’ll explain how you do that too.
Method #1 - Editing The .htaccess File
To create a 301 redirect using the .htaccess file you really need an Apache webserver and an activated mod_rewrite module.
The good news is, there is a good chance your hosting is on an Apache webserver because most of the major hosting providers use them. You’ll find that most hosting providers also have the mod_rewrite module activated.
Check the FAQs or knowledge base from your hosting provider to be sure.
You can find the .htaccess file in the top-level directory but it can also work within a subdirectory.
All you need to do is add a line for each 301 redirect you want to make. Like this:
Obviously, replace “old-page” with the old URL you want to redirect to the money page, which is the “new-age”.
If you don’t have a .htaccess file then you’ll need to create it. Here’s how you do that (read here).
Method #2 - Using Xagio
Using a plugin is far more user-friendly than trying to edit a .htaccess file. Even most skilled professionals would rather opt for the ease and speed of a nice user interface of a plugin than mess around with the coding of a .htaccess file.
There’s so much you can do with Xagio, it’s an amazing piece of software. Everything from managing your entire network of WordPress sites from one dashboard to building and injecting JSON-LD Schema.
But for now, we’re going to focus on how we use Xagio for the 301 redirects.
Xagio is seriously intuitive and well laid out.
The first feature of Xagio that I’d like to outline is the fact that there is an option to automatically create a 301 redirect whenever it detects any URL changes you make on your sites posts and pages.
It’s automatic so you can set it and forget it!
I can’t begin to tell you how smart that one small feature is. That setting is optional of course, and can be turned off, but it’s default setting is turned on.
But when you need to create more specific 301 redirects, log into your WordPress dashboard, and in the Xagio menu click the sub menu item named “301 and 404 Management.”
Now you have 2 options, the 2 big green buttons. You can add your 301 redirects via a CSV upload or manually, one at a time.
(Later in the article we’ll show you how to build out a CSV list
of old URLs that you can find using some other cool tools)
Obviously it depends how many pages you want to redirect to which option you choose.
When adding a single 301 redirect, you just have to click the green button that says “Add New Redirect” and add the last part of the URL that follows the root.
For example, this is all you need to add:
Next a new window will ask you where the 301 should point and you simply enter the new destination in the same format:
Then click on “Save”. Your 301 was now created! That’s all you need to do, I told you it was easy.
All your old URLs will now have an active 301 redirect displayed in a nice table that shows you both the old URL, the new URL and the date that it was set up. You’ll also have the ability to EDIT or TRASH that specific 301.
That’s how easy it is with the Xagio plugin.
How To Find 301 Opportunities On Your Sites
Now it’s time to get to the nitty gritty. We’ve talked about “why” you want to be using old URLs with backlinks pointing to them, now we’ll walk you through “how” we do that.
We’re going to be covering 3 different ways to find old URLs and their backlinks.
We’ll show you how to use the old traditional way, that uses free tools like Wayback Machine and the free version of screaming frog. Then we’ll also show you how it can be done using Ahrefs, which is quicker and gives you all the data on the links to be able to decide which you want to redirect.
Lastly, we’re going to show a way you can harness 404 errors to find old pages that have traffic, which means we’re finding pages that not only have link juice but traffic. It’s a great strategy and with the Xagio plugin, it’s super easy.
Finally, and just as importantly, we’ll explain how to redirect them, once you have them. We’ll walk you through 301 redirects so you can get all the value from your domains.
Method 1: Screaming Frog & Wayback Machine
The principle is simple. Find a complete list of all URLs that have ever indexed, compare them to current URLs and you have a list of old URLS that might have links pointing to them you’re not taking advantage of.
To get the complete list of historical URLs, we use Wayback Machine. Finding the data is easy. Just simply use the following URL:
All you have to do is add your own domain and
you’ll get a list of URLs that will look like this:
Now you might have an issue. You need that data in a spreadsheet.
You could copy and paste the list into a spreadsheet, which is fine if there’s 200 URLs but a problem if there’s 20,000 URLs.
The solution. You can convert the list into JSON output and then into a CSV file.
Don’t know what that means? You don’t need to. We’ll walk you through it.
Use this URL (replacing domain.com with your own URL)
And you’ll get a data looking like this:
This is your list of URLs as a JSON input. Head over to a site that converts it from JSON input to CSV file. Here’s one that will work just fine:
Choose the option to download the file and you have a CSV or Excel sheet with a complete list of URLs that have ever been indexed. Now you’ll need to compare that list with existing URLs to find those that are no longer live.
Head over to Screaming Frog (which you should have downloaded and set up) and crawl your website for a list of existing URLs.
*It’s important to note, Screaming Frog is a free resource, but the free version is limited to 500 URLs.
Download the results of the crawl and add it to your list of historical URLs that you scraped from Wayback Machine.
Now use the duplicate filter to remove all the duplicate URLs from your list. If you’ve never removed duplicate cells before, here’s a couple articles how:
The duplicate URLs are those that are current URLs. The list from Wayback Machine will include current URLs too. By removing the duplicates you are removing those current and now you have a complete list of old URLs.
All you need to do is redirect that list of URLs to your money pages.
Not sure how to redirect the old pages? No worries, we’ll go through that real soon, lets walk you through using aHrefs first.
Method 2: aHrefs
Using a paid tool like Ahrefs is a lot quicker, plus it allows you to check out the actual backlinks and see which old URLs have the valuable links pointing to them and therefore worth redirecting.
First step is to login, add your root URL, and click on the broken link option
You’ll be presented with a list of links that are pointed to pages that are delivering 404 errors.
You’ll see the DR, UR and referring domains of each link so you’ll be able to see which links are worth redirecting and you’ll be able to make decisions based on all that data.
You can make a list of the pages you want to 301 redirect, or you can export the list and take it from there.
Method 3: 404 Monitoring With Xagio
There are a few WordPress plugins that can monitor the 404’s on your sites and let you know what sites are sending you real traffic, but to a page that doesn’t currently exist.
Cha-ching! This is an opportunity to set up a 301 and send both that link and that real live traffic anywhere you wish.
404 monitoring is especially useful when you purchase an expired or auction domain because even though you can use the methods above to help you find the URLs on your site that have backlinks pointed to them, they aren’t perfect...they do miss things!
But 404 monitors will never miss.
The Xagio plugin has quite an amazing set of features, but their 404 monitor is amazing.
What makes it so good is that the plugin does all the work for you. It Monitors the 404s on your site automatically once the plugin is installed (read down to 301 redirects where we show you have to install the plugin, if it isn’t already installed and activated).
The plugin sits in the background checking for 404 errors / redirects. It generates a real time report including data like the number of hits, and the referrer.
Essentially, it’s showing you traffic coming to pages that don’t currently exist, hence the 404 error message. As a consequence, it’s also showing links (referrers) from other sites to those old pages.
This is gold dust.
It’s actually showing the links that are generating traffic for you, which are most likely the pages with the best links pointed at that. After all, they have traffic which they are redirecting to your site.
All this information is at the touch of your fingers, and it’s not even the main purpose for the tool.
Your clients will love you if you install this plugin on their sites. You’re redirecting traffic from missed potential customers that can result in more sales.
The same goes if you’re building an affiliate site, that’s free traffic you’ve got which can lead to commissions.
If it’s PBNs you’re building with aged domains, what better way to make a website look real than to have traffic?
The only thing you have left to do is to determine how you are going to repurpose those pages.
That’s not something we can help you with but once you’ve made that decision, the great thing about using Xagio is that the 301 redirect tool is part of the 404 Monitor tool so it takes less than 1 minute to set up the redirect.
Internal Link Sculpting & Why It Matters
Redirecting pages is one of the strategies used as part of internal link sculpting. It’s a good idea to have a good grasp of why this is important.
For a start, Google uses links to crawl a site and find all the relevant pages, you want them to find. By managing those links, you’re helping Google do that.
Then there is relevancy.
Relevancy is massively important in SEO these days. As webmasters or SEOs we can help Google understand our site by how we link the pages together, especially with contextual links.
This is part of relevancy stacking or SILO’ing as many SEO’s refer to it.
You group together a collection of pages that are based around the same root search terms, linking them together with contextual links ideally, helps Google see that you’re offering a searcher a lot of value on the subject, because you have extensive knowledge on the subject.
This is particularly effective is you’re designing each supporting page to be based on a popular search term that answers a question, and then you link them together and most importantly, to the main money pages that you want to rank for more competitive, buyer intent search terms.
It’s a really effective SEO technique.
And then, there’s the link juice.
If a page has backlinks pointing to it, it has acquired some link juice. If you create a contextual link to another page on your site, you are essentially sharing that link juice with that other page.
SEOs can (and often do) sculpt their internal links to funnel link juice to their most important pages, so you can build relevancy and strategically filter link juice.
It’s not difficult to get a list of old URLs, it just depends on what tools you have access to. The free way works if you have less than 500 URLs.
Use the Wayback Machine using the URL above and it will present you with a list of URLs that have been indexed over the years. Once you have that in a spreadsheet, compare it with existing links and remove the duplicates. You have a list of old domains.
Now you take that list of URLs and 301 redirect them to your money pages. That will globally take advantage of any links to old pages. It’s not very laser focused, it is a “catch all” strategy, but it’s free and it will work.
The easiest and most transparent method is to use the broken link function on aHrefs. It will show you the links pointing to 404 error pages, which are pages that are no longer active. You get to pick the links you see value in redirecting, You get access to all the data you need.
Either way, you have your list of old URLs that need redirecting to tap into all that link juice, which is being wasted on old pages. Regardless of your strategy, the next step is to redirect those pages using a 301 redirect.
Knowing the proper site architecture can truly help you benefit in ranking all your pages in Google, and increasing the overall authority of your site.
And when your site has a nice clean architecture like the image shown above, using all the methods you’ve just learned regarding 301 redirects will help you to push power, authority and trust not only to the home page of your site, but any of the relevancy stacks as well which will make all pages and posts underneath the parent benefit.
The opportunities are endless when you combine a little knowledge with a lot of creativity.
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