The Wayback Machine is an invaluable tool for search engine optimization (SEO). Available at archive.org/web, it’s an archive of the internet. The Wayback Machine will create copies of web pages, which are available to the public for free. Since launching in 1996, it has archived over a half-trillion pages. How can you use the Wayback Machine for SEO exactly?
Recover Lost Content
You can use the Wayback Machine to recover lost content. Maybe you accidentally deleted some of your website’s content, or perhaps your site was hacked. If you didn’t back up the content beforehand, you may assume that it’s lost forever. The Wayback Machine, however, may have one or more copies of it.
To recover lost content, enter the URL, where it was originally published, on the Wayback Machine. If there are copies available for it, you’ll see an interactive calendar. Clicking one of the available dates on the calendar will allow you to see what the content looked like on that date. As long as you click a date prior to when you lost the content, you’ll be able to recover it.
Check Previous Robots.txt Files
The Wayback Machine doesn’t just create copies of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) pages; it creates copies of other web-accessible files, including robots.txt files. You can check a previous robots.txt file by searching for it on the Wayback Machine. If you changed your website’s robots.txt file but want to roll it back to an earlier date, the Wayback Machine can help.
Robots.txt files have a URL. You can see what your website’s robots.txt file looked like in the past by searching for it on the Wayback Machine. To roll it back to a particular date, copy the code displayed on the Wayback Machine and paste it into your website’s existing robots.txt file. Replacing the code in your website’s existing robots.txt file with the old code displayed on the Wayback Machine will roll it back to the selected date.
Find Old URLs
You can use the Wayback Machine to find old URLs. Many websites change their URLs. If you originally assigned generic URLs to your website’s pages, you may want to change them to descriptive, keyword-rich URLs. With the Wayback Machine, you can find old URLs on your website.
To find old URLs, enter the homepage URL of your website on the Wayback Machine. You can then click the “URLs” tab to view all archived URLs associated with your website. The “URLs” tab contains a list of all archived URLs and their dates.
Alternatively, you can click a date on the calendar to see what your website’s homepage looked like on that date. While viewing the achieved homepage, hover your mouse cursor over the links to find their old URLs. Links begin with web.archive.org, but you’ll see their original URLs after this prefix.
Identify Status Codes
The Wayback Machine can reveal Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) status codes. It archives the internet by crawling and interacting with websites. When the Wayback Machine crawls your website, it will send an HTTP request to your server. Your server will then respond with a particular HTTP status code.
Status codes are represented by the colors on the Wayback Machine’s calendar. To identify the status codes for a URL, enter the URL on the Wayback Machine. The dates on which the Wayback Machine archived the URL will feature a colored circle. Of course, you can click any of these dates to see what the URL looked like on that date. But you can identify status codes for the URL simply by checking the colors of the circles on the calendar.
A blue circle indicates a 2xx status code, which is a successful server response. A green circle indicates a 3xx status code, meaning the user agent must take further action to complete the request. An orange circle indicates a 4xx status code, which is a failed response typically due to bad syntax. A red circle indicates a 5xx status code, which may occur if your server is aware of an error and unable to fulfill the request.
Track Competitors’ Changes
Want to see how your competitors’ websites have changed over the years? Look no further than the Wayback Machine. You can use it to peer into the past of other websites, such as those operated by your competitors.
You can see what changes a competitor has made to his or her website by using the Wayback Machine. Just enter a URL of the competitor’s website — you can use the homepage URL or a subpage URL — and then click the “Changes” tab. The “Changes” tab will allow you to compare two versions of the same URL. You can compare an older version and a newer version to determine what changes the competitor made to the URL.
Troubleshoot Loss of Rankings
You can even use the Wayback Machine to troubleshoot a loss of rankings. If your website recently experienced a loss of rankings in the search results, try reviewing some of its archived pages from around that time. While some changes may yield higher rankings, others may yield lower rankings. By using the Wayback Machine, you can identify changes that may have caused a loss of rankings.
Pull up some of your website’s archived pages for the months leading up to the loss of rankings. If your website’s rankings dropped in November, for example, use the Wayback Machine to see what your site looked like from July through November. Look for changes that may have caused Google to lower your website’s rankings. If you discover any potentially harmful changes, you can reverse them by updating your website.
Status codes can also cause a loss of rankings. Both 4xx and 5xx status codes can cause a loss of rankings. If search engines encounter either of these status codes, they may demote your website. On the Wayback Machine, 4xx and 5xx status codes are represented by orange and red circles, respectively.
These are just a few ways you can leverage the Wayback Machine for SEO. After familiarizing yourself with its features, you’ll probably discover other SEO-related applications.