In SEO, we often talk about netlinking, backlinks and the interest they have as part of a natural referencing strategy. On the other hand, we often forget to specify that the links are not eternal and that it is advisable to acquire new ones on a regular basis if one wishes to maintain good SEO positions over time, and this, for several reasons. In a recent study published by Ahrefs, the SEO software historically specialized in netlinking analysis, looked at the lifespan of links and the main reasons why they disappear. Here are the results of the study and the main lessons to be learned.
Figures to remember about the “link rot” study by Ahrefs, the study dedicated to netlinking
To get relevant numbers, Ahrefs analyzed external links pointing to more than 2 million different domains (2,062,173) since 2013.
In nearly 10 years, 74.5% of backlinks analyzed have been lost (66.5% lost + 6.45% with crawl errors)! The average lifetime of a link is therefore less than 10 years in the vast majority of cases.
Thus, nearly 3/4 of the links acquired by the more than 2 million domains analyzed since 2013 no longer have any SEO interest for various reasons.
What are the main reasons for the loss of links over time?
The main reasons why links are considered lost in the Ahrefs study are:
- Non-existent or impossible to crawl page by Ahrefs : they represent 47.7% of lost links (this is the case when domains are deleted for example);
- Link removed by the site owner: 34.2% of links lost;
- Crawl error : 6.45% (errors encountered by Ahrefs while crawling the page)
- Referring page redirected in 301 : 5.99% (during migrations or redesigns, historical links are not always kept);
- Referring pages deleted or responding in 404 : 4.11% (pages historically containing backlinks but not redirected);
- Page with a canonical change : 0.82% of links lost;
- Referring page with a noindex (which it did not have before): 0.73%;
What lessons can be drawn from this study on the lifespan of links and the reasons for their disappearance?
This study reminds us how important it is to:
- Monitor your links regularly to follow the evolution of its referring domains and detect possible problems with its links which could be corrected with a simple contact of the webmaster hosting the link (page redesign no longer integrating the link, 301 redirections not configured, pages responding in 404 while available under a new URL, …).
- Continue to acquire links on a regular basis over time : whether through netlinking platforms, directly with sites, via guest articles, via PBN strategies, etc.