Likely none of you will need to be made aware of just how important links – both inbound and outbound – are for the functionality of your website and the overall vitality of your online presence. In particular, link building is an integral part of effective SEO and there are a whole host of other reasons why you want to make sure your links continue to serve their internally or externally-oriented purposes. Unfortunately, it’s not a ‘set it-and-forget it’ process, as links that were once active can be made inactive and many times you won’t become aware of that until valuable ‘downtime’ has passed.
Here at 4GoodHosting, a part of what makes up a quality Canadian web hosting provider is the fact that we take a genuine interest in your well being out there on the Information Superhighway. We imagine any information that’s especially helpful for optimizing your website is going to be welcome, so here goes.
Why Breaks Are Bad
Let’s start with a reminder that the web is named as such because of the ability of pages and sites to link to other sources and relevant information. A broken link is defined as ‘a hyperlink which is linked to an empty or non-existent external webpage’, and some people will refer to them as dead links.
Most commonly when a link is broken you will receive a 404-page error instead, with the page telling you that the webpage or file you are looking for is not available. Websites that neglect to address broken links for a long time will suffer from ‘link rot’ – a term used to describe sites with many broken links.
Causes of Broken Links
Broken links can be the result of many causes. Sometimes the fault is on the webmaster, and other times they are the fault of the site a link ‘points’ to.
A short list of possible and more common causes for broken links:
- The wrong URL is entered by the website owner for the link. Often from a simple typo or mistake when entering the URL into the <href> tag
- The destination website has removed the resource you intended to link to
- The destination website has permanently moved to a new URL
- The destination website no longer exists. Interesting stat here – the average lifespan of a webpage is 100 days
Your intended link destination is located behind a firewall that prevents access to the content, or a ‘paywall’ that requires subscription of some sort to move further.
Understanding what causes broken links makes you less likely to make those mistakes in the first place. By reducing the chances of your link breaking from the outset, you are minimizing the likelihood that they will be detrimental to your website in the future. Yes, a few broken links aren’t going to crush your SEO efforts, but they certainly aren’t going to help either.
Here’s a quick look at how broken links can be harmful to your website:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engines look very unfavourably on broken links. If you are linking to a page within your site and that link is broken, those search engine spiders are going to have trouble finding it. When they come across that ‘page not found 404 error’, they’re not going to be displeased with your site. That and any successive pages that are not crawled do not get indexed. Pages that aren’t indexed will not receive a ranking, and surely you can see where this is going. Not good.
Another way broken links harm your search engine optimization is related to how long visitors stay on your site. If they encounter broken links they are likely going to look elsewhere for the information they need. After all, they can’t find it on your site, and pages with high bounce rates don’t rank well. Enough said – broken links are decidedly detrimental for SEO.
- User Experience
Users are easily frustrated. If pages don’t load fast enough they leave. If there are too many advertisements, they split. If there is a paywall, they turn around right quick. Broken links are a surefire way to frustrate your visitors and prompt them to leave. Again, enough said.
- Reputation & Revenue
Relatedly, when a visitor encounters a website that is full of broken links, they will simply avoid it in the future. They won’t trust that site to provide the information they need, and if that’s you then your reputation is pretty much permanently in the mud.
The magnitude of this potentiality is made even bigger when you consider that a recent study that showed 44% of people are inclined to inform their friends of unpleasant or time-wasting experiences online, and when it comes to e-commerce in particular another 79% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with a website’s performance are less likely to buy from that site again.
Finding Broken Links
It’s recommended that you check for broken links on a monthly basis, if not more often even.
Those of you actively building your site and its reach are going to want to check more frequently.
As broken links are a problem for webmasters and businesses, there are a number of different tools available to check for them. Some are free, others are not.
- Google Search Console
Free and effective!
Open this tool click on Search Traffic in the right-hand menu and then Internal Links. If you are missing an important page, or the number of links looks off, it could be due to a broken link.
Next, click on Crawl -> Crawl Errors. Scroll to “Not Found” Section. You’ll receive a report of all the missing pages on your site with both internal and external links pointing to them.
Xenu is also a good choice for finding broken links, and it is also free. Since its primary focus is looking for broken links, it is also much easier to use and provides you with a complete report about the links on your site.
Start by opening Xenu and clicking File and then Check URL. The following window will open for you and you’ll then be prompted to enter the URL of the page you wish to check. You also have the option of only checking for internal links that are broken. To do this, uncheck the Check external links box. Once you run the tool, you get a report of the links it has found and their current status.
Xenu also allows you to export the report, build sitemaps and perform some other tasks. You can also check local files before you upload your code to the web, and examine a list of URLs for checking your entire site at once.
- Domain Hunter Plus
Domain Hunter Plus is actually a Google Chrome extension. This allows you to analyze any current location page for the presence of broken links. Once you add the extension you will see a small green target on your browser.
Navigate to the page you wish to check and click on the target. It will run a check on that page and provide you with a report of all the broken links it finds. You then have the option of exporting this report to refer to later.
Repairing Broken Links
Now that you have found the broken links on your website, you ought to start repairing them.
Start by examining why exactly they are broken:
- Did you mistype or mis-copy the URL? If so, make certain you type it in correctly this time.
- Did you rename or move a page? The link will need to reflect the change.
- Did you remove the page from your website? You now need to either remove the link or find another piece of relevant content to link to
The process for repairing external links tends to be a little more intensive. If the site you were linking to is gone, you will need to find another destination or remove the link altogether. If the link was to content that supported a claim or statement, it’s important to find another resource so you keep your credibility intact.
Incoming Broken Links
If the links pointing to your site are broken, you will lose any SEO benefit you would otherwise be enjoying, and most notably improved rankings in the search engines and more visitors to your site.
Keep track of any links you earned through guest posting or other link building strategies and audit these links from time to time to ensure that they are still working. When you find broken links, reach out to the site owner and ask them to fix them.
Some tools you can use to keep track of and monitor links pointing to your site:
These backlink checkers are paid tools, but most offer free trials to help you decide if they will be beneficial for your website. Often they’re a smart investment, particularly if you’re in e-commerce.
Repair those links, as the old Field of Dreams saying is true – ‘build it, and they will come.’