If you walked into a shop and there were torn clothes and smashed vases on the floor, you’d probably walk out and never look back, right?
Well, the same goes for the online world. If your website is your shopfront, broken links are your damaged goods.
But don’t worry, unlike a messy store, broken links are easy to fix. In this guide, we tell you how to find broken links and what to do next.
A broken link (sometimes known as a dead link) is a link to a webpage that doesn’t work. This could be from an internal link on your website or one that has been shared externally.
Normally broken links exist because the URL is misspelled, out of date or the page itself is no longer live.
Instead, visitors will be directed to a 404 page or shown an error message.
A 404 error message is an automatic page generated when a user clicks a broken link. Whilst it’s important to avoid having any broken links where possible, it is also beneficial to have a branded 404 error page just in case.
If a 404 page is well designed and personalized, it can keep the visitor from immediately leaving your website. Some 404 pages add a touch of humor to appeal to frustrated customers. As a minimum, ensure you have a simple on-brand message, search box, and link to your homepage.
Just like our smashed up shop analogy, broken links make a site look unprofessional. If a customer can’t find what they are looking for, it ruins their user experience. More often than not, visitors who end up on a 404 error page will leave your website and not return.
Broken links also damage your SEO by showing search engines you’re not up to date and are pointing people in the wrong direction. The more broken links you have, the more your ranking will decrease.
Fixing broken links might sound laborious but with some simple tricks, it isn’t a difficult task.
There are various ways you can fix broken links on your website, many of which are free to use.
The first is with a broken links finder tool. If you are using a Wordpress hosted site, use a plugin such as Broken Link Checker to automatically run a site-wide search.
Once activated, the plugin works in the background searching across your pages, blogs, and comments. You can find its results in ‘Tools’.
Broken Link Checker not only shows internal broken links but external URLs too, which results in a 404 error page. These should also be amended to boost user experience and SEO performance.
Bear in mind this plugin may slow down your server so only activate it as required.
If you don’t already have Google Search Console, this is a particularly helpful free platform that reveals your ranking performance, traffic, and click-through-rate among other features. One of which is broken links.
Head to ‘Coverage’ to find broken links either under ‘Errors’ or in the ‘Excluded’ section which will label them ‘not found (404)’. Click the error to see all the URLs that are broken on your website.
Various SEO platforms such as Ahrefs and SEMrush will be able to identify any broken links on your website. If you don’t use a paid platform, create a free account at Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest. Here you will be able to run a full site audit.
It’s also good practice to check links before publishing new content such as a blog, social media post, or email newsletter. Also, avoid complicated URL structures to reduce the risk of typos.
As well as manually changing broken links that you find using the methods above, it’s important to input 301 redirects. This not only irons out your website user experience - it boosts backlinking SEO performance too.
If an external website links to your own, Google sees you as more of an authoritative source, theoretically giving you a point per link. If that link is broken, you don’t get the point. By redirecting with a 301, you can still benefit from the backlink - and any referral traffic - without having to ask the source to change it.
You’ll want to input 301 redirects if you are changing a page URL or an entirely new website. This will maintain any prior SEO performance and ensure your ranking isn’t affected.
There is a different method for implementing 301 redirects depending on your website:
301 redirects Wordpress: use a plugin such as Redirection or Simple 301 Redirects - just make sure it has good reviews and is compatible with your website template
301 redirects Wix: find 301 redirects in SEO settings - add the old slug and new page you wish to redirect to
301 redirects Squarespace: click on URL mappings in advanced settings - enter the old slug followed by a dash and arrow (->), the new slug and then ‘301’ e.g. /aboutme -> about-rising-ranks 301
301 redirects Showit: to find 301 redirects click the edit option next to ‘custom domain’ in your settings - then click the gear icon to the right of your domain name
Broken links might be a bad egg, but fixing them doesn’t have to be a sour task. Make finding and fixing them a part of your ongoing SEO strategy and your site will remain user-friendly.
We recommend rectifying broken links at least a few times a year, depending on the amount of new content you produce.
If you’d like to learn more about SEO quick fixes, check out our blog on the importance of internal and external links (the ones that aren’t broken that is!) and how they can boost your search engine rankings.