Broken Links: How to Find, Fix, and Benefit from Broken Links
Links are what holds the web together. Essentially, the web is named as such because of the ability for pages and sites to link to other sources and relevant information. So, if links are broken, a visitor has no way of moving to the other resource.
Not only are broken links bad for a number of reasons, but they frustrate visitors. Imagine finally finding the information you need only to be denied because of a broken link.
This short article will help you understand what broken links are, what causes them, the harm they do, how to find them and then how to fix them. The information provided here will help you make sure that there are no broken links on your site and help you deal with broken links that should be bringing visitors to your site.
What is a Broken Link?
In a test run against a subset of the websites of the S&P 500, Link Tiger found that all of the sites had broken links. The average number of broken links per site was 2.4%. Some of the bigger companies had numbers even higher than that:
Tech Data – 8.62%
Cisco – 4.85%
CenturyLink – 4.64%
Apple – 4.57%
While others fared far better:
Comcast – .01%
Dell – .14%
WDC – .33%
Xerox – .37%
However, before we dive any deeper it is important to understand what a broken link is. Technopedia defines a broken link as, “a hyperlink which is linked to an empty or non-existent external webpage.” Broken links are also called dead links.
Quite simply, a broken link is a link that doesn’t take you to the expected resource. When you click on a link you expect to visit another webpage, view an image, open a PDF file, etc. When the link is broken you receive a 404-page error instead. This page will tell you that the webpage or file you are looking for is not available.
When a website has not checked for broken links and fixed these dead links for a long time it suffers from link rot. This term describes websites with an abundance of broken links.
What Causes Broken Links?
There is a number of things that cause broken links. Some are the fault of the webmaster and others are the fault of the websites a link is pointing to.
Regardless of who is to blame, broken links are caused by errors that include:
The wrong URL used by the website owner for the link. This can happen from a simple typo or mistake when entering the URL into the <href> tag.
The destination website removed the resource that you linked to. This happens when content grows stale, images are used without permission or just when the webmaster decides to take something down.
The destination website has permanently moved to a new URL. This can result from a merger/acquisition or even a domain name change.
The destination website no longer exists. Older studies show that the average lifespan of a webpage is 100 days. There is any number of reasons why someone would take their page, or site, down.
The resource you are linking to sits behind a firewall that prevents access to the content. Remember, not everyone makes their content accessible to the rest of the web. Perhaps it was open at one time but now sits behind a paywall.
Understanding why a link is not working is just as important as finding it in the first place. The obvious reason is that if you know why a link is broken, you will know how to fix it. However, let’s take that a step further. If you know what causes broken links, you are also less likely to make those mistakes in the first place.
By lessening the chance of a link breaking from the outset, you are reducing the chance that they will harm your website down the road.
It is unfortunate that many webmasters, marketers and business owners only view broken links as a nuisance rather than a larger problem. Google’s John Mueller once addressed the question:
— The web changes, sometimes old links break. Googlebot isn’t going to lose sleep over broken links :).
If your visitors can’t access the information that they came to your site to find, they are going to leave. They would rather be on a site that works and broken links are a sure fire way to frustrate your visitors.
3. Reputation & Revenue
When a visitor encounters a website that is full of broken links, they are going to avoid it in the future. They simply won’t trust that site to provide the information they need. If that site is yours, your reputation is ruined.
Not only do you run the risk of damaging your reputation with that user, but others as well. KISSmetrics published a study that showed 44 percent of people will tell their friends when they have a bad experience online.
After installing the Broken Link Checker plugin on your WordPress website, you’ll get dashboard notifications when a dead link is found. You can then fix the offending link directly through the plugin dashboard without even having to open and edit the page itself.
These are four of the more popular tools. You can find other tools available as well by searching for link checkers if you wish to use something else.
Fixing Broken Links
Now that you have found the broken links on your website it is time to start fixing them.
The way to fix internal links requires you to examine each link to see why it is broken.
Did you mistype the URL? If that is the case change it to reflect the correct address for the content you are linking to.
Did you rename or move a page? When this happens, you need to update the link to reflect the change.
Did you remove the page from your website? If this is the case you need to either remove the link or find another piece of relevant content to link to.
For external links, the process is a bit more difficult.
If the site you were linking to is gone you will need to find somewhere else to link to or remove the link altogether. If the link was to content that supported a claim or statement, find another resource so you keep your credibility intact.
If the broken link is due to an error on your part, you may be able to easily find the correct URL. If you can, change the link. If you cannot find the correct page, search for the site’s main URL using the site: operator and keywords related to the topic.
Therefore, checking for incoming broken links is just as important as looking for broken links on your own site.
You should, as a best practice, keep track of any links you earned through guest posting or other link building strategies. Periodically, you are going to want to audit these links to ensure that they are still working.
Should you find any broken incoming links, reach out to the site owner and ask them to fix them. Check back to see if everything is working properly.
Finally, remember that you can use broken links on other sites to your advantage. If you really want to take your SEO efforts up a notch, start building new links from sites that have a broken link problem of their own.
Broken links are a problem that all websites will have at some point, even large companies with a team of webmasters at their disposal. However, it is a problem that has an easy solution if you are willing to take the time to fix them.