Why broken links can harm your website’s SEO and how to check yourself
AUTHOR: Tom Perkins
Broken links are one of the most annoying things when it comes to good customer experience on a website – you don’t want to put your customers off and you don’t want to damage your SEO rankings so checking broken links needs to be part of your routine website maintenance.
What are broken links?
A broken link is either a link you have included which goes out to content on another site, or a link to a page within your own site. If the link is broken, when a visitor clicks on it they will most likely see an error page telling them that page no longer exists.
This can happen for a number of reasons – the content has been moved or archived, or the name of the page has changed, or the website has closed down. Unfortunately with links to external sites you have no control over what happens to that content.
And it can cause immense problems for your business reputation as customers don’t like being sent to broken links and they are unlikely to come back to your site if that happens to them.
Why do broken links harm your SEO?
Any links you have which go out to other sites, are called outbound links and it can be tricky to keep track of these as you don’t have any control over the pages so might not realise the page you are linking to has been removed.
However, it’s really important that you do check because if your site has a lot of broken outbound links then it can have a negative impact on your SEO. This is because the Google web crawlers, or bots, trawl your site to collect data for your ranking. The last thing they want to do is send users to sites that have broken links.
How do broken links affect customer experience?
Visitors who follow links (which either lead to or from your site) clicked on the link for a reason – they are expecting to see the content behind the link and are interested enough to read it. But if it turns out to be an error page due to a broken link, they will be left disappointed and potentially less trusting of you as your site let them down.
This is why it’s really important to avoid linking out to broken content, and to avoid having pages on your own site which are broken. It’s bad to send customers (and the Google bots) to broken pages as both will have a negative impact on your site experience.
If a customer can’t find what they are looking for on your website then they are highly likely to leave and not come back, and may end up going to your nearest competitor for the information instead so having broken links can really harm your business reputation as well as your website.
How do I check for broken links?
The good news is yes, you can check your site for broken links yourself. There are two tools which I use regularly. The first is the W3C Link Checker and the second is Screaming Frog.
The W3C Link Checker is an online tool that has no limits on the size of site it can check but it does present it's results in a bit of a technical way. When viewing the results, any error code starting with a 4 (such as a 404 code) is bad and should be addressed. Once you've run a check, you can also bookmark the URL of the results page to make it quick and easy to run a check again in the future.
Screaming Frog is a free piece of software which is also good but it does have a 500 page limit so it is best used on smaller websites only. To check links using this tool simply enter your website address in the search box at the top of the tool. Once it shows 100% complete, click on the ‘Response Codes’ tab and filter to show only the ‘Client Error (4xx)’ codes. This will show you any pages on your site that have broken links.
How do I fix a broken outbound link?
Once you have identified all of the broken links you need to take action – either by removing them or replacing them with more relevant content, so that all of the broken links are effectively repaired, making your website a source of valuable content once more.
It’s important to realise that checking and repairing broken links, particularly external ones, is an ongoing job as pages move and change all the time – you should be looking at these issues on a regular basis to keep your website working well.
What about broken pages within my own website?
It’s not just outbound links that can be broken – you might have error pages appearing within your own site too. Error pages appear when content on your website has been deleted or moved without redirecting the page properly.
You can find error pages (otherwise known as 404 pages) within your own site by using the tools outlined above. Once you have identified all the issues, you’ll then need to fix them.
There are two key ways to either fix, or avoid generating 404 pages:
1) Update content instead of removing it
If you have a page which is out of date, simply update the content within it to bring it back up to date, rather than deleting it. If you delete it, visitor searching for the URL of that page will see an error page, which is not good.
2) Use a 301 redirect to point visitors to a new page
If you do delete a page from your website then you need to go in and redirect that URL to the new page using a 301 redirect. That way, if anyone clicks onto the deleted page, they won’t see an error page, they will be automatically taken to the new page.
Your website needs to provide a great visitor experience, directing people to content of great value; however, if you are sending them to broken links and pages that don’t work you will end up losing them rapidly.
The good news is there are plenty of tools out there to help you check where you have broken links so you can identify them, fix them and make sure your content offering is spot on. And if you are one of our Evolve Unlimited clients, we will do this for you every single month as part of our service.
It’s important to make sure your website is working well for you and bringing in business, rather than annoying your customers by sending them to out of date pages.
Hopefully these tips have helped you to understand the real benefits of checking and updating your links regularly. Don’t forget, if you are one of our Evolve Unlimited clients, we will do this for you every single month as part of our service. If you have any questions or need any help or advice, feel free to give me a call (01264 735 333) or leave me a comment below.