What is Link Experience?
For a user clicking on a link while out on the web, the link’s experience is determined by how well the destination page matches that user’s expectation and intent.
Look at it this way: if I put a hyperlink in some content with some text that says “to learn more about backlinks, click here”, the linked page better be about backlinks.
The linked page should also include the most important information about the topic’s that are promised. A link that says “learn more about that product here” should point to a page that has the product’s price, options, specs and ordering information (or a leadgen form).
Remember, when we talk about the experience we’re not talking about the user experience of the page being linked to. So things like page speed, mobile friendliness or design don’t really factor into this equation. This is solely about whether or not the landing page is what the user expects it to be when clicking a hyperlink.
How Common is Bad Link Experience?
How much of an issue is this for website owners? Is this something you need to worry about?
It absolutely is!
In fact, new research by WooRank has found that bad link experience is surprisingly prevalent — 18% of backlinks end in a 404 page.
That 18% includes:
- 404 errors where the destination page returns a 404 status (12.2%)
- “Soft” 404s where the destination page says that it’s an error, but returns a 2xx status (0.5%)
- Redirects that point to the website’s homepage (4.6%)
That’s a pretty amazing percentage when you think about it.
Nearly 1 out of every 5 backlinks sends the user to a page they don’t want to visit. And almost 5% do it without telling the user why.
Does Link Experience really matter?
When it comes to Google ranking, the power of backlinks is undebatable — it’s the top ranking factor along with RankBrain and content relevance and quality. But Google can’t really see link experience.
It can sort of see if pages are related, but it won’t know if you’re really meeting a user’s intent when clicking on a link.
So if link experience doesn’t necessarily help you rank, why does it matter?
Link experience has a direct impact on your bottom line.
According to the 2017 Google Shopping Guide published by CPC Strategy, the average cost per click on Google Shopping is $0.71. Using links in your Google Shopping feeds that 404 or redirect to the homepage is a waste of $0.71 every time it’s clicked.
Plus 404 links can result in Google rejecting your feed.
Why are homepage redirects so bad?
It might be tempting to redirect users to your homepage when you remove a page from your site. After all, no one likes 404 errors and it preserves link juice. But put yourself in the user’s shoes.
Let’s say you click that to the 2017 Google Shopping Guide. Obviously, you’re expecting to land on a page that is a guide to Google Shopping and includes the quoted statistic. If you land on the actual study, great. No problem.
But if you wind up on the site’s homepage?
First of all, you won’t be able to read the content you want and get the information you want. But even worse, you don’t really know why you wound up on the homepage and you now have to go looking through the site to find what you’re looking for.
And this will leave the user with a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to your brand. They’ll be less likely to return to your site or trust the information you have on it.
Plus, it won’t conserve as much link juice as you might think. Google can see
What Can You Do About These Backlinks?
How to find 404 links
You obviously can’t control when or how people link to your website. And if someone messes up their link to your site, there’s a good chance you’ll never know you’ve got issues with users’ link experience.
Fortunately, there’s a way you can track 404s on your site and what pages they come from.
You just need a custom report in Google Analytics:
- Click “New Custom Report” in Customization>Custom Reports.
- Select the Page, Full Referrer and Page Titles dimensions.
- Set Unique Pageviews as the metric.
- Add a filter to include “Previous Page Path” for the exact phrase “(entrance)”. This filters out 404s caused by internal links.
- Add a filter to include the Page Title for your error page. You can make this an exact match for the entire title, or use regex for just part of it.
Once you’ve saved and opened the report, you’ll have data on the URL on your site that resulting in the 404, the full URL of the page that linked to you, and the number of visitors who came to your site via that link.
How to fix 404 links
How you handle these 404s is going to depend heavily on what type of website you have and the reason behind the 404.
- For product pages, you’ll want to redirect to either an out of stock page or a page suggesting related products.
- If you see URLs in the “Page” column in you GA report that are obviously trying to get to a specific page or type of content, add redirects for those. This can be a bit tricky, though, so stick with glaringly obvious cases like someone linking to www.example.com/bolg. You can feel confident that’s meant to link to your blog.
- Follow best practices when it comes to your 404 error pages. Use a bit of humor to diffuse the user’s frustration and then add useful things like a search bar, links to your most popular pages or a sign in option.
- Prevent these errors in the first place by keeping links and availability up to date in your product feeds. Remove URLs to pages that are no longer available or update the availability column when a product sells out or is discontinued.
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