Matt Cutts has a great post today on getting “Free links to your site“. It’s not so much about getting new “free” links to your site so much as getting broken links repaired.
The basics of it are that Google’s Webmaster tools has a report of the links that it crawled that pointed to an unfound url on your website. A broken link that results in a 404 on your website. And unless you have a custom 404 page, any visitors that click on that link will get a nasty looking 404 page from your host and probably go on their merry way somewhere else.
So, instead, you can take a quick look at this report. Jot down the urls that are throwing errors and where they are coming from. Then you have two choices. You can try and contact the webmaster of the referrer site and have them change it. That’s probably the better way to do it, but also not very likely to work. The second way that will work 100% of the time is to 301 redirect the not found URL to something worthwhile. Perhaps a search results page for the keywords of the missing/not found page? Or maybe you moved the page and just need to redirect to the proper page. Either way, you’ve turned a not found 404 link into a working link that could result in better ranking and higher traffic counts.
It’s also a really good time to double check that you don’t have the default 404 page. The one here, for instance, is a pretty simple one that uses the base template of the site and then suggests a quick search of the site to find what they were looking for. Not the best in the world, but better than the default too.
P.S. You can visit the link above for detailed instructions from Matt Cutts on how to find the report. And I wonder if it occurred to him that he’s going to be picking up all kinds of links with the anchor text of “Free links to your site.”? Asking for spambots I’d say…