When we audit new client websites for internet marketing and search engine performance, it’s not uncommon to find a fair number of broken links (or dead links) on the clients’ existing websites. Broken links include:
1. links to other pages on the site
2. links to other websites
Likewise, it’s not uncommon to find a fair number of broken links ‘from’ other websites to the client’s website. These are referred to as 4XX errors.
The Executive Summary About Broken Links
In all cases, broken links to and from your website are not good. Broken links can 1.) create a bad user experience for website visitors and 2.) hurt your search engine rankings.
If you care about website visitor satisfaction and search engine rankings, it’s best to constantly monitor your website for bad links and properly fix them when you find them. If you don’t have the time or expertise to do that yourself, have a professional website company or professional do it for you.
What Causes Broken Links?
Websites are built and managed by people. Therefore, over time, it’s easy to forget about links as websites change. A link becomes broken when any of the following occur:
- A page on the website is moved.
- A page URL on the website is renamed or changed.
- A page on the website is deleted.
- The link was not properly written in the first place.
When any of those occur and the links aren’t properly updated or redirected (we’ll talk about 301 and 302 redirects below), you incur a broken link on your website.
Why Are Broken Links Bad?
Broken links are bad for your website because:
- Most people don’t like websites with broken links. Broken links are frustrating, a waste of someone’s time, and potentially leave a bad impression about your organization.
- If people don’t like broken links, guess what – search engines don’t like broken links either. The #1 job of a search engine, such as Google, is to broker online searchers to good quality websites. Search engine bots crawl your website and follow links in order to index your website in their search database. If a bot can’t access a web page because the link to it is broken, chances are that page will not be indexed. Additionally, the search engines use a computer algorithm to objectively grade/score the quality of a website. Broken links give the search engines a reason to rank your website lower in the search engine results. That, in turn, can result in lost traffic to your website.
How Do I Know If My Site Has Broken Links?
Once a website is up and running, it’s easy for website owners or managers to not regularly monitor their websites for broken links manually. And if they haven’t installed an automated broken link checking tool, then broken links will likely go undetected as they occur.
There are a number of tools (free and paid) that help you monitor and detect broken links. Some will even send you automated alerts.
For example, if you use WordPress for your website (a popular website content management system), there are a number of plugins such as Broken Link Checker that regularly screens your site for broken links. It can also alert you by email when one is found. There is a free version of the plugin available to download from the WordPress plugin library. For technical folks, a drawback of the Broken Link Checker plugin is that it is rather memory intensive on your web server because of the regular cron jobs it runs. If you’re going to use the plugin, it might be best to download the plugin. Install it. Activate it. Let it run for a day or two. Fix the issues it finds. Then deactivate and delete it from your plugins.
There are also websites, such as http://www.brokenlinkcheck.com, that can check your website for broken links.
However, such tools only detect broken links ‘on’ and ‘from’ your website. They likely do not monitor or catch all broken links ‘to’ your website from ‘other’ websites.
Probably the most important and reliable tool to find broken links to your website is Google Webmaster Tools (GWT). With GWT, you get a detailed report of ‘404 errors’ or ‘Page Not Found.’ It shows you the origin of the broken link (the other website) AND to which page or file the broken links was trying to link to. The drawback of GWT is that any changes or fixes you make aren’t immediately updated. You have to check back several days later, sometimes several weeks, to make sure the tool has updated the found 404 errors.
At 88PLATINUM, we use an additional tool called Website Auditor which is part of the SEO PowerSuite which scans the website for all broken links, on, to, and from.
How To Fix Broken Links
Once you’ve found a broken link (on, to, from your site), you have several options to fix them:
- Correct the link: If the link is on your site, it should be easy enough to update it. Once you update it, be sure to test the link and make sure it works.
- Redirect the link: If you have moved or renamed a page on your website, you should have written what’s called a 301 redirect. There is also a 302 redirect for certain purposes. This redirects any website visitors to the new/correct page. This is especially important when redesigning a website. This will prevent 404 Page Not Found errors when other websites have created links to your website pages.
- Do nothing: In some cases, it’s best to do nothing. If you get 404 errors in GWT, don’t be in a hurry to redirect it. If the page is truly ‘gone’ or ‘deleted,’ then it might be best to leave it be. However, you should take the time to create/design a helpful 404 Not Found page that helps people navigate to what they may be looking for on your website. This is a better option than redirecting visitors to a page that doesn’t make sense.
- Delete the link: Keep in mind, if you’ve created links to other websites, those links can change without your knowledge. Especially if you have a link to a page deeper on their site than the home page. Even if they’ve properly created a redirect for that page, you should still update your link to the new/correct page, or possibly remove it altogether if the content has been deleted.
SEO TIP: Create An XML Sitemap
An XML Sitemap is a simple text file that you can upload to your website server. The search engines know to look for them. You can build one from scratch yourself, if you know how to do that, or use any number of free plugins such as https://wordpress.org/plugins/xml-maps/ or online tools such as https://xmlsitemapgenerator.org/sitemap-generator.aspx.
While not necessarily a ‘fix’ for broken links, it’s good practice to create an XML sitemap for your website and submit it to WMT. If a search engine can’t ‘find’ a page on your site, it won’t be able to index it and therefore not show up in the search engine results. The XML sitemap serves as the name suggests, and gives the search engines a map of your site in case it’s not able to properly follow links to pages on your site. This will better assure your website pages are found and indexed by the search engines.
Wheh. OK. This is has probably already gotten pretty technical and complex for some. A lot of website owners may not have the time to monitor and fix links. So what are your options?
Who’s Job Is It to Monitor and Fix Broken Links?
If you’re not going to roll up your sleeves to monitor and fix your broken links yourself, then it’s best to hire a professional website company or professional who understands the ins and outs of broken links (and not all do!). Insist that they provide you at least a quarterly report on the status of your website. This will better give you ease of mind that you’re not losing customers due to broken links on your website.
At 88PLATINUM, we offer a free top-level website audit and analysis that not only looks for broken links, but any and all website structure issues that adversely affect internet marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) performance as well. You quickly learn if your site adheres to website best practices and what to do about it if it doesn’t. Even if it seems like your site looks and works fine, we perform an ‘under the hood’ inspection to uncover unseen issues that could be hampering your site’s performance.