404. It’s a number most of us know and hate — a digital dead end that tells us we’ve gone too far in pursuit of vintage Keanu Reeves T-shirts.
But not all busted links lead to “Page not found.”
Some dead links — even ones in legitimate websites — are repurposed in behind-the-scenes backlinking schemes that redirect unsuspecting readers to ads and scams, according to a report from BuzzFeed.
You can think of it as ‘link-jacking’
Link vultures circle the internet searching for expired links in popular articles posted by reputable publishers like The New York Times.
Then when they find some dead links, they offer to redirect them away from their original, deceased domains and toward their clients’ domains — for a price, of course.
Bogus backlinks sell for as much as $500 on sites like Fiverr.
And some of the biggest names in news are affected
It’s not just The New York Times, either: Bloomberg, The Guardian, the BBC, HuffPost, CNN, Forbes, and other publishers were all named in BuzzFeed’s report.
In some cases, lone-wolf black-hat “SEO consultants” build these lousy links, which redirect to everything from online gambling sites to bankruptcy lawyers. In other cases, agencies — like “LinkVidya” — do the dirty deed.