You’ve finally found it: the perfect article. And there, at the bottom, is a link to click that will take you to the answer you’ve been looking for.
However, after clicking it you’re taken to a 404 page not found screen, and the answer you thought you had located is further away than ever.
Broken links can lead to an extremely negative user experience on your website, but even more than that they can be incredibly damaging to your SEO ranking.
When search engines see that your site is full of links that don’t go anywhere, it will ding your site and you can risk losing the positions you’ve fought for.
Broken links are a big problem, but thankfully they can be fixed. In this article, we’ll talk about what broken links are, why they matter to SEO, what they look like and what causes them.
What are Broken Links?
Broken links are the ones that can’t fulfill the purpose of bringing the user to a new location.
Most of us know what links are, right? They are usually colored differently and underlined to indicate a clickable element, and once clicked will take a reader to a new location, whether that’s a new page on your site, a connected website like an eCommerce store, or an external website.
But when a webpage can’t be accessed or found by a user, the link is officially broken and will often take a reader to an error message instead of the page that they are trying to access.
Sometimes a broken link is referred to as a dead link or a link rot.
There are a few different types of broken links that you might have on your website and pages.
Broken Internal Links
A broken internal link is meant to take users to a different page on your website.
However, if you’ve changed your website URL, removed the page from your website, or had pages dropped during a page migration, you might have broken internal links on your site.
These broken links make it hard for Google and other search engines to crawl your pages, and when links are broken, Google can’t move on to other pages in the crawl.
As a result, Google might think that your website isn’t optimized or is unfinished, which will damage your rankings.
Broken External Links
An external link takes a reader to a website that is outside of your control, usually another site that supports the content you have on your own pages.
When these links are broken, it could indicate that the external site no longer exists, has moved locations, or doesn’t have the right redirects implemented.
These types of broken links hurt the user experience and can hurt your authority on search engines like Google, as links to dead sites makes your website look less authoritative and trustworthy.
Backlinks are links on other web pages that link to your content. Essentially they are external links for your content from other companies.
When you change your content or have any of the other errors like changed URLs or deleted pages, your backlinks won’t be able to support your website and build authority, which can once again damage your standing with Google and other search engines
How are Broken Links Bad for SEO?
When Google and other search engines crawl your pages, they check every link to see where it directs to, how that ties into linking structure, and the validity of the links.
When there are broken links on your site, the algorithm might think that your site is untrustworthy or not finished, which will damage your rankings.
One of the most important factors in SEO rankings is the user experience a visitor will have on your site.
If a user is constantly getting broken links and error messages, they will bounce from your site which will again hurt the way search engines look at your pages.
Examples of Broken Links
While a 404 error page is the most common sign of a broken link, there are a few other ways that error codes might present when a link is broken.
404 Page Not Found
This indicates that the page doesn’t exist anymore on the server, but can serve a purpose for pages that have been deleted.
400 Bad Request
This type of error indicates that the server doesn’t understand the URL a user is trying to reach.
The host server has either misconfigured the link or is too busy to process the request, so the link is dropped.
The HTTP request from the link has timed out during the link check.
An invalid hostname means that the server with that name no longer exists or is unreachable at the time.
The URL itself was put together wrong and is missing a bracket, has extra slashes, or has other wrong protocols that are breaking the link.
The HTTP code is tagged by the server as violating HTTP spec.
This indicates that the server views the request as empty and is returning the response with no content and no response code.
What Causes Broken Links?
There are quite a few different things that can cause broken links, and most of them are unintentional consequences that happen when pages are updated or moved or come from small human errors.
Knowing the common causes of broken links can help you be more aware of what to look for when you’re working on your SEO and linking strategies.
A type is a common human error that can occur when words within the link URL are misspelled.
When the link isn’t clearly spelled, the server can’t tell where your link is trying to direct to and will display an error page.
Making sure you double-check the spelling in your URLs can help avoid this issue.
2. A Page Has Been Deleted
If you have a valid link going to a page but then that linking page is deleted, the link doesn’t have anywhere to direct to and an error message will display.
This is one of the most common reasons behind broken links, so make sure you have a clear linking structure and redirect strategy when you delete a page.
3. A Page Has Been Renamed
Similarly to typos, when pages are renamed the URL changes and without the new URL being updated in all links, the server doesn’t know how to process those requests and will display an error page.
When a page is renamed, try and make sure that the links to that page are updated accordingly.
4. Website Restructuring
When you restructure or launch a new site on the same domain, you can have a combination of issues where pages are renamed, deleted, or content is combined.
This means that links to the pages in the old structure won’t be able to link anymore and will need to be updated.
5. Domain Name Change
When a brand domain changes, which will happen during rebrands or merges, the domain changes and sometimes internal links are forgotten about during the switch.
Having a plan in place for domain name changes is essential to a successful linking structure.
6. Downloadable Content Links Were Moved
Some links don’t take you to other pages, but instead direct a user to a piece of downloadable content like an eBook, PDF, or Google document.
When those content pieces are removed but the links aren’t, the link has nowhere to go and will display an error.
7. Broken Code
When the code is broken and needs to be fixed the links won’t work and will instead show errors, so keeping an eye on code is essential.
How to Find Broken Links on Your Website
Now that you understand what broken links look like and why they occur, you’ll likely want to get started right away on fixing them.
Before you can do that, however, you first need to know how you can find them.
While you can manually go and click on every link on your site, there are more effective ways of finding broken links.
1. Google Search Console
Google Search Console uses information that its bots have pulled to put together a report that you can access.
This will help you identify any issues that the algorithm has found and can help you determine if Google is noticing broken links during the crawl.
However, this will only work for URLs on your site, not any external links you might have.
2. SEO Tools
As a brand, you probably already have a tool that you use for SEO.
These tools will have options to create a site audit or examine the links on your pages, and this can also help you determine where there are broken links on your site.
Some SEO tools can also help you determine the cause of the broken link, which can be helpful in your strategies.
3. Quality Assurance Testing
Whenever you are adding new pages, combining old pages, moving domains, or restructuring your website it’s important to have a stage in your process for quality assurance.
One of the steps to take during that stage is to check all links and make sure that they aren’t broken, or, if they are, how you plan to redirect or change the link so that you don’t have errors when the pages go live.
How to Fix Broken Links
Fixing broken links is essential to your SEO strategy and making sure that your users have the best possible experience on your site.
Here are some of the best ways to fix broken links and avoid any potential consequences on your website pages.
1. Redirect Pages
Redirecting your pages using a 301 redirect tells Google and other search engines that the link in question isn’t broken.
You can redirect to a page with similar relevant content, like a page in a similar category or that has a similar tag.
Try avoiding redirects to the home page, and make sure that you only link to relevant content.
2. Request a Fix for External Links
If the broken link in question is an external link, you can send a request to the domain holder to see if they are willing to go in on their end and fix the link.
This is a good strategy for when you believe the link in question is relevant and important to have on your site and don’t want to just remove it.
However, if you don’t receive a response and the issue isn’t resolved, you will need to find another solution to protect your own SEO.
3. Replace or Recreate Content
If you have several broken links for a missing content page, you might want to consider remaking or replacing the page that was deleted or removed.
That way you don’t have to remove all of the links and can provide quality content to your audience.
4. Delete Broken Links
Finally, you can just delete the broken link in question.
This is a quick fix for a broken link that doesn’t require you to come up with a redirect, reach out to another site, or remake a page that was previously deleted.
However, too many deleted links can hurt the internal linking structure of your site, so use this method with discretion.
Finding and replacing broken links is an incredibly important part of keeping up with your SEO and doing everything you can to optimize your site.
When you have a lot of broken links, it can damage your search engine results page rankings and create a poor user experience that upsets your customers and loses business.
When you address broken links and find solutions for them, you can improve your SEO strategies.
Broken links are just part of the tasks that you need to complete when working on daily SEO tasks and your bigger SEO strategy.
However, it can sometimes be hard to know where to go next.
Take our SEO Maturity Assessment quiz to learn where your strategy currently stands on the maturity scale, and get real, actionable ideas on where you can go next!