Firstly, can I just state that I pretty much hate the term “link juice”; it is just that it is so damn descriptive, that you, kind of, have to use it. No matter how much the term “link fluid” cuts it from a “ooh er missus” perspective, it is still not right. And “link gel” just sounds like a new toothpaste. So “link juice” it is…
Anyway… “link juice” is the flow of link power that runs through your website and out of it. Controlling this juice is a pretty important part of SEO and search engines don’t mind you doing it (well, they don’t mind at the moment).
The ability to tell search engines what your most important pages are can be done in many ways. From priority in the XML site map to the weight of your internal linking structure, all bases should be covered to ensure your best and most important pages get all the exposure they need. This work (believe it or not some people get this wrong!) applied to both search engine robots and human visitors.
So for this post what do I man by leakage? Well, for various reasons you might (to use a technical term) “stuff up” your structure and pages inadvertently which could cause major “link juice” leakage. For example you might have a page on your site called “special offers” which has been around for years and been well used and well linked to. You decided (in a fit of pique) to now call this page “today’s offers” (a bit more punchy and “happening” you think), so you go into your CMS (content management system) and change the things you needs to. The end result is that you now have a page that in the navigation says “today’s offers”. Cool… you think. The only problem is that your CMS created a new page and now rather than having “id=654” in the URL, it now says “id=876”. Or if it didn’t create a new page it might have been (ever so helpful) and created a new and SEO friendly URL that swapped www.mybloodyfantsticsite.co.uk/speacial-offers/ to www.mybloodyfantsticsite.co.uk/todays-offers/. The end result? Search engines have now lost your “special offers” page forever (unless the old page is still live and you have just created a “duplicate content” issue… more of that in another article).
The “special offers” page in question ranked well for about twelve really good phrases (and many long tail phrases) and had a really good incoming link profile. Now, this is not completely terminal, search engine will try to work out what happened and realise that you just swapped pages. Google will eventually work things through and minimise the damage. But that is about all. Your actions have resulted in taking something of strength down the rout of damage limitation. The “juice” is well and truly leaking through a big hole, and also THE VISITORS THAT WILL STILL BE COMING FROM SEARCH ENGINES (until it is dropped) WILL NOW (probably) GET A 404 ERROR PAGE… sorry for shouting this!
So your role as an internal SEO person or an SEO consultant is to try to teach anyone that updates the website, that you are responsible for, to understand what needs to happen to safeguard against this leakage/loss. As a part of this (and especially when you take over a new site) do your own leakage/loss checks, like:
- Do a site: command on your site in Google and check out any pages that show up high in the list but have a title and/or description that alludes to an error page/404.
- Check your server logs for the main bad links and 404s, etc.
- Check the Wayback Machine (http://www.archive.org/web/web.php) for changes to the site and its structure/pages
- Ask people who have updated the site what things they have done that could of affected pages/URLs/etc.
Even though the PageRank bar in Google is not a good indicator of much these days, it really becomes a MASSIVE and noticeable thing when a page you have accessed is missing/blank, but the tool bar meter shows a healthy green link that indicates a rank of three or above (I have seen an eight before!).
What do you need to do to solve this? Well, if it is a pretty recent occurrence then I would rename the new page back to the old URL and for good measure put a 301 redirect (more of this in another post) on the new URL back to the old one.
If the change happened too much in the past for this to be a good solution, you need to 301 the old URL to the new one. You should also look at the link profile for the page (use Yahoo’s Site Explorer) and contact all the really good incoming linkers and get them to change the URL of their link. This bit is the real pain and for some links it is impossible.
What about all the other pages and 404’s that my site may be leaking from? Well, yes, these are important too, but work through these in a top down sort of way and you will solve 80-90% of the problem pretty quickly. There will be some pages (that also don’t leak much of anything) that don’t really have a current (page) equivalent on the site now and you can deal with these in a variety of different ways. My favourite option for this to give the visitor a better experience by using a custom 404 error page along the lines of “oops, sorry, but to make up for our sloppiness, here are some great pages you will find scintillating”.
If you want to really tidy things up you could always have a deeper look at what Google has indexed on your site and go through all the pages from the bottom of the list up. Here you will find some stuff that you could do a combination of:
- Submitting a “remove URL” request
- Excluding the file from robots in the robots.txt file
- Using the .htaccess file (or similar) to do some 301 redirecting
- Deleting the page from your server
Make sure you get the above “right” so that it only affects the pages you want it to i.e. don’t mess up and get important pages taken out of the index for goodness sake!
In essence, the “juice” your site has is a very important part of the SEO process. Controlling it and directing it to where it needs to be should be a big part of your SEO strategy. If you work on a big and important site (and usually one with a CMS) there will be lots of leakage (I guarantee this) and if you have not looked at this issue, then you should.
There will be another post soon on better direction of “link juice” by making changes to your internal link structure. These have been called many things but the current buzz words are sculpting and creating silos.
In the “Carry On”/”Sid James” spirit that I started this post with, my advice is to stop “link juice” leakage by “putting your finger in the dyke” today! You will be glad you did!