What is a broken link?
A broken link, also known as dead link or link rot, is a link on a web page that is no longer accessible or can’t be found by a user.
There are various reasons attributed to broken links. Web servers always return an error message when a user tries to access a dead link. Below are some examples of status codes that web server may return:
- 400 Bad Request: the host server cannot understand the URL on your page
- 404 Page Not Found: the page/resource doesn’t exist on the server
- Bad Code: Invalid HTTP response code: the server response violates HTTP spec
- Bad host: Invalid hostname: the server with that name doesn’t exist or is unreachable
- Bad URL: Malformed URL (e.g., a missing bracket, extra slashes, wrong protocol, etc.)
- Empty: the host server returns “empty” responses with no content and no response code
- Reset: the host server drops connections. It is either misconfigured or too busy.
- Timeout: Timeout: HTTP requests consistently timed out during the link check
What causes a broken link? Reasons for broken links
Here are some reasons why broken links occur:
- Firewall or geolocation restriction does not allow outside access.
- The website owner entered the incorrect URL. For example, mis-typed, misspelled, etc.
- The URL structure of the site recently changed. If that happens without a redirect, error 404 is returned.
- Links to content (Google Doc, PDF, video, etc.) that has been moved or deleted.
- The external site is no longer available. For example, when permanently moved or offline.
Do Broken links hurt SEO?
Dead links primarily affect your Google search results and not the overall SEO. But that does mean you become reckless and stop fixing any broken link. Not fixing them might indicate your site is abandoned or neglected. You don’t want your site to appear neglected or abandoned when focused on growing your business.
Don’t forget that Googles’ Search Quality Rating Guidelines use dead links to determine the quality of a website. So, if mindful about the quality of your site, make sure to deal with broken as soon as you notice them.
The good thing is that Google notifies of detected issues, as shown below.
User experience impact SEO. If you have a lot of dead links, they hurt your user experience, and that will automatically be reflected in your SEO efforts. Search engines may understand there are broken links, but your actual users may not be forgiving.
Fixing broken links goes a long way in reducing the bounce rate. The moment people visiting your site cannot access the information they are looking for; immediately they will move on to different websites where they can access that information. You don’t want the simple task of fixing dead links to hurt the growth of your business.
Improving bounce rate not only helps SEO, but it moves users down your funnel, driving more engagement and conversions. While you should always optimize for bounce rate, fixing broken links is low hanging fruit
How to find broken links on your website
SiteGuru's broken link checker
The easiest and fastest way to see whether you have dead links is by using broken link checkers like our Site Guru SEO Audit Tool:
Best link checkers crawl your website and identify all broken links quickly. You can also schedule your site check every week, so you can review the current audited site for any broken links:
Alternatively, use Google Search Console or download a plugin for your CMS platforms. There are also plugins good at checking for broken links.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console also does help unearth any issue (including broken links) with your website once the bots have crawled your website. Note that the console only shows URLs on your site and not the external links.
To find errors on your Google Search Console,
go to “Coverage” then “Details.”
Remember that Crawl Errors are prioritized. That means if your URLs are not important, they won’t affect the search results. Below is a list of actual existing pages returning errors. This report reveals how significant it is to fix dead links. Without a fix, these pages will have an impact in the current search results.
However, avoid having Google warn you of any broken links and have a habit of cleaning out those links on a regular basis.
Google Analytics can also help you find broken links, both internal and external. Read more about it in our article Use Google Analytics to find broken inbound links.
How to resolve broken links
Here are the best practices that will help you address all dead links related issues:
- Avoid deep links on the website unless it is necessary
While deep links (also known as anchor text or internal linking) are crucial, try not to use them unless it is mandatory. If you have to use them, have a schedule to unearth the dead ones.
- Check Google Crawl Errors
As we have seen above, Google Search Console can help identify dead links on your site. The search console helps you detect both relevant (404 errors) and irrelevant errors.
- Use redirection mechanisms
This approach redirects users to a new location of information when they encounter dead links. To redirect (301) the dead page to the new location, visit:
<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”0; URL=’http://new-website.com'” />.
Here are more tips on how to redirect. Redirect (301) the broken page to another relevant page on your website. Find a related piece of content on your site and redirect the dead page to that page.
- Fix external links
If external links are broken, reach out to the linking website and request a fix. The same thing applies to you, also fix all dead links on your end linking to other websites.
- Recreate and replace the content at the broken URL
Find out what the broken page used to be and replace or recreate it.
- Leave as a 404
If the specific page is no longer available, consider showing the 404 page. We recommend you show a “hard” 404, not a “soft” 404.
How do you prevent broken links?
The simplest thing to do is always copy the URL and not type it in. While this might be an obvious one, some people still type in the URL! Here are some few more ways to prevent broken links:
1) When you add a link to your page, make sure the URL is completely eligible and use the full URL and not start with www, but start with https://
If you're worried about entering your URL correctly, you can attempt to copy and paste the URL from your browser's address bar. Then, don't think about having a keyboard mistake.
2) If you're using CMS like WordPress, publish the post or the page first before copying the link. If the post or page is in draft mode, the actual URL won't be live and you might end up seeing a URL like this: https://example.com/?p=2857&preview=true instead of https://example.com/name-of-the-post
3) If you are referencing a source, always check the site for their reputation. It's one thing to pull a source by searching online, but check to see if the site has been live for a few years before adding them as an external link.
4) Before adding any external links to your site, you can also check if the site is safe to link to your site. There might be instances where a harmful bot might crawl their site and eventually get to yours and cause some server issues.
How can I check if a URL is safe?
There are several services you can use to verify a link to see if it's safe to put on your site. Google Safe Browsing is a good place to start.
Copy in this URL http://google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site= followed by the site you want to check, such as google.com or an IP address. It will let you know if it has hosted malware in the past 90 days
You can ALWAYS review your SEO audit with SiteGuru for a clean site.