Preserve Your Content Ecosystem By Fixing Link Rot
Columnist Garrett French notes that in many verticals, content resources have gone missing over the years. That's where you come in.
Fixing link rot in your vertical positions your brand as the custodian of a content ecosystem, as a passionate contributor to those in “informational need,” including not just your target consumers, but future writers and thinkers to come.
If you’re cultivating a topic area (not just a keyword), and you’re working to be a steward of the important work done in this vertical, then one overlooked way to contribute is to actively fix resource rot.
Link Rot: We Have A “Virtual Epidemic” At Our Fingertips
Link rot is what’s happened when a previously available informational resource is no longer available. In other words:
A study of the academic web found that among pages with a median age of 9.3 years, 38 percent of links no longer led to the intended resource. That’s about one-third of links every 10 years!
And unlike non-digital sources, there’s little possibility of recovery once an item is truly lost (Thanks, archive.org!). If this problem persists, in a few decades, many verticals will be missing “keystone” resources.
Here’s why this is a problem: Most verticals’ content ecosystems are treated (especially by lay people) as a knowledge resource. Think about it — where’s the first place you go when you don’t know?
Content marketing pieces often cover the surface-level answers, but if you’re looking to answer a highly specific question or problem via a search engine, this is where a lot of content marketing misses out.
How Is Content Preservation Important To A Vertical’s Ecosystem?
After all, it could be argued that most users only want the most relevant, recent information. Old websites and pages no longer provide utility. But how many times have you been on a research project and clicked on a reference link just to be taken to another article with a reference link just to be taken to another article with a reference link just to… (and on and on).
Without primary documents, the content marketing web can become an echo chamber of practices and statistics that are digital orphans.
Knowledge-area specialists and those who want who dive deep into an area of expertise need to escape this vacuum and find trustworthy references. Content ecology can clean up some of this citation mess.
Content Ecology: How To Be A Steward Of The Web’s Ecosystem
A content ecologist can use two different methods to contribute to their ecosystem:
- Identifying new, missing pieces of content within a vertical and filling in the “gaps.” There are many ways to do this, including customer surveys and identifying core pain points in the vertical.
- Focusing on broken link building, in which you’re identifying and repairing link rot. It’s content marketing, but focused on areas where there’s a clear need.
Starting Points For Revitalizing Your Content’s Ecosystem
There is, at the center of any given vertical, a core problem. At the core of the marketing vertical, it’s, “How do I express value, and how do I put that expression of value in front of others?”
Since every vertical has at least one unique, evergreen quandary (and most have multiple), finding different ways to address those basic questions will get you to the core needs of a vertical. From a pure brainstorming perspective, this is a good content steward starting point.
From a tactical perspective, I would strongly suggest matching your current SEO keywords alongside [site:.gov] and [site:.edu] to find the informational areas in your vertical. With the link rot replacement tactic, you’re backing into what used to exist but is now gone. When looking for these opportunities, start with citing pages that link to broken resources.
Co-citation analysis can also come in handy with link rot replacement. If you find a document you love, you could search for more like it with Google’s [related:] query and then check all of their links to see if they have anything broken. You could also use Ahrefs to run a backlink analysis on that document and search for broken links on the pages you find there.
If you are just pursuing links with this effort, and you have some free reign with content, here are some verticals where we’ve found the most need exists for symbiotic participants (i.e., marketers fulfilling their own goals by giving back to information needs within the vertical).
- Aging & seniors
- Any major areas of scholarship (e.g., geology, medicine, anthropology, sociology)
A Few Variations On Link Rot Pinpointing And Curation…
It’s not always a 1:1 replacement. In fact, that’s the most rare and difficult form of link rot development. There are many other ways to curate the broken web without needing to develop a large, .gov-esque website:
- Find misdirected links and suggest content that actually relates to their vertical.
- Look into “broken” scholarship pages. Is the scholarship expired, or is the page dead?
- The PR angle: Find the hidden story when an organization or document is dead and gone in a vertical. What happened? Loss of funding? Loss of talent? There could be a heroic PR moment in reviving a resource with a good backstory.
- Create relevant resources/guides/educational materials without a sales goal in mind, and pitch them to people citing related dead links. Experimenting with an informational bent in content may produce surprising results if the content you’re creating is a missing resource.
Don’t Be An Invasive Species
Here are some poor methodologies to stay away from:
- Poorly Developed Content/Content Not Written For Market Needs. This shouldn’t need to be mentioned at this point, but I’m going to throw it in here. When you’re replacing missing or dead information in a vertical, it’s very rare that you’ll find a need for a short, generalized article without expertise. This tactic, even more than generic content marketing, calls for high-quality, well-written and unique content.
- Writing For Sales. Unless they’re hilarious or highly informative, sales pages rarely earn links.
- Copyright Violations. Archive.org makes it easy to copy old, dead resources word for word, but that’s against Google’s Terms of Service (and it’s also illegal). Don’t copy a broken site’s content and claim it as your own.
Conclusion: Curate With A Mission
At Citation Labs, we encourage our clients to market with a mission. When a brand cares about its vertical’s public knowledge in an information sense, that brand goes beyond “content marketing” into “content caretaking.” Now that’s a mission that earns great links and builds positive brand value.
One final point: Not every tactic is right for every vertical or brand. Do your own research. Develop your own processes. Experiment! Stop asking, “What do the experts do?” and start asking, “What should I do?” That’s how you’ll build your brand’s place in a thriving, well-preserved content ecosystem.