Imagine you're in the middle of writing an important report, and you need to cite a specific source. You carefully type in the URL, hit enter, and are met with a disheartening error message: "404 Not Found." This frustrating experience, commonly known as encountering broken links, is a prevalent issue that can hinder personal & professional endeavors.
While broken links might seem like minor inconveniences, they can have far-reaching consequences. It can hinder user experience, damage website credibility, and negatively impact SEO rankings.
In this blog post, we'll delve deeper into broken links & explore their causes, repercussions, and effective strategies to eradicate them.
Broken links are exactly what they sound like – they are no longer functional links. They are quite similar to dead-end roads; they lead you nowhere when you click on them.
Broken links can occur on a webpage when the destination website has been moved or deleted.
It could also happen when the URL has been modified without a redirect being put into place or the website is experiencing technical issues.
When you click on a broken link, you’re likely to encounter familiar error messages such as "404 Not Found", “The requested URL was not found on this server,” or “This page doesn’t seem to exist.”
These responses indicate that the requested page is either not available or non-existent. This issue can occur anywhere, whether internal links, external links, or backlinks.
The presence of broken links sends a negative signal to both users & search engine bots.
1. For users, it's a frustrating experience that might cause them to associate your website with a lack of reliability or maintenance.
2. For search engine bots, it makes it difficult to efficiently crawl & index your site, potentially leading to lower search rankings.
Several broken link error codes indicate a different reason why the link is not working. Some of the most common broken link error codes include:
1. 404 Not Found: This is the most common broken link error code. It indicates that the requested resource does not exist on the server.
2. 400 Bad Request: This error code indicates that the server cannot understand the request. It can be caused by a malformed URL or an incorrect request method.
3. 403 Forbidden: This error code indicates that the user does not have permission to access the requested resource. It can be caused by a firewall or other security measures.
4. 408 Request Timeout: This error code indicates that the server has timed out waiting for the request. It can be caused by a slow server or a network outage.
5. 410 Gone: This error code indicates that the requested resource is no longer available and has been removed permanently.
6. 500 Internal Server Error: This error code indicates that there is a problem with the server, and the request cannot be fulfilled.
7. 503 Service Unavailable: This error code indicates that the server is temporarily unavailable and the request cannot be fulfilled.
Google's stance on broken links is clear—they're not fans. From their perspective, broken links create a poor user experience, and Google prioritizes providing a smooth, accessible journey for its users. A broken link could lead a user to a dead end, which is bound to frustrate them.
Google does not directly penalize broken links, but there could be indirect repercussions.
If your site is littered with broken links, Googlebot can’t crawl & index that page, which may potentially reduce visibility and lead to lower site rankings. It can also lead to crawl budget waste, negatively influencing the frequency & depth of your site's indexing.
Here are some of the most common reasons for broken links:
1. Website Restructuring: Website restructuring often means changing URL paths, which can cause old links to break if redirects aren't properly set up. Removing outdated content can also lead to broken links if not correctly handled.
2. Typos and Incorrect URLs: Human errors like typos or incorrect formatting can lead users to non-existent pages. These small mistakes can build up over time, negatively affecting user navigation & search engine ranking.
3. Unreliable Hosting: Unstable or unreliable website hosting can also contribute to broken links. If a site's hosting is frequently down, the links, especially dynamic ones, might not work correctly, resulting in an error message to the users.
4. Protocol Changes: If you have recently enabled SSL for your website and failed to update the protocol in your links, they will break. Though modern browsers tend to handle such changes seamlessly, certain older browsers may not, leading to broken links.
As mentioned earlier, broken links can negatively affect your website’s SEO and can reduce the website's visibility & SERP rankings. Hence, keeping up with regular website maintenance, like fixing broken links, is a crucial part of your SEO strategy.
To find broken links on your website, users can manually check the website or use the tools to automate this process. Manual checking is a time-consuming process where you click on every link on your website to determine whether it is working.
With these tools, you will need to initiate a process known as a website crawl. It involves an automatic fetching & scanning of your site's pages to identify any broken links. When a broken link is found, you will be notified so that you can take appropriate action.
There are several online tools available to help identify broken links. These include:
Google Search Console is a robust tool that provides vital insights into your website's performance. It can also detect broken links, making it a priceless resource for every webmaster. You can identify broken links in GSC by following the steps:
1. Log in to your Google Search Console account.
2. Select 'Pages' under the 'Indexing' sidebar section.
3. Here, you'll see a report displaying the number of pages indexed and non-indexed.
4. Scroll down to the section "Why pages aren't indexed" and click "Not found (404)" to see the pages that Google can't find.
5. Select any link provided and click Inspect URL to further investigate why the link shows a 404 error page & how to fix it.
W3C Link Checker delivers a comprehensive review, checking the availability of anchor, links, referenced objects in your CSS & templates, and many more. It can handle large websites, making it suitable for websites of any scale.
Steps to use W3C Link Checker:
1. Visit the W3C Link Checker website and enter your website's URL in the text box.
2. Set your preferences (like checking linked documents recursively or sending the referer header), then click 'Check'.
3. The tool will begin checking & return a report indicating any detected broken links alongside the specific problematic code.
Dead Link Checker is an easy-to-use tool that crawls through your website to detect broken links. It allows checking an entire site or a single webpage, making it adaptable to your specific requirements. Here are the steps to check broken links on your website:
1. On the Dead Link Checker website, enter your URL and select 'Check entire site' or 'Check single webpage', then click 'Check'.
2. The tool will instantly start crawling through your site and highlight any broken links, showing both the problematic URL & the error encountered.
Broken links can harm your website's credibility & SEO efforts, but they are relatively easy to fix. Let us look at the best practices for fixing broken links:
A website audit involves a comprehensive analysis of all the factors that affect your website's visibility in SERP. Regular website audits are crucial in detecting and fixing broken links before they damage your website’s reputation & SEO rankings.
Use an SEO audit or a broken link checker tool to perform an audit. These tools will crawl your website & identify any broken links. Once you have identified the broken links, fix them immediately by updating or removing them.
Eliminating the broken links helps you improve your website's SEO & enhances the user experience.
The 301 redirect is a method used to redirect users & search engines to a different URL than the one they initially requested. You should use 301 redirects to ensure that users who land on a broken link are redirected to an active page on your website.
You can do this by ensuring the redirected page is as relevant as possible to the broken link. It should continue to provide value to your site visitors.
A well-implemented 301 redirect will permanently redirect & transfer the link equity to the new URL, significantly improving your SEO ranking.
Some broken links may slip through the cracks even with regular audits & redirects. A custom 404 page can help in these cases.
A 404 page appears when a user tries to access a page that doesn't exist on your website. You can create a custom 404 page with a friendly message & link it back to active pages on your website. It helps to improve user experience by retaining users who might have otherwise left your site upon encountering a broken link.
This can increase the likelihood of conversions, positively impacting your bottom line.
External links can also become broken if the linked webpages are moved or deleted, or the website domain is no longer active. Incorporating regular checks of your external links into your website audit routine is crucial.
You can use a link monitoring tool that automatically detects broken external links. When detected, you can update the link, remove it, or replace it with a new, relevant one.
Keeping your external links updated directly contributes to your SEO, improves user experience, and maintains your site's credibility.
Backlinks are incoming links to your website from another website. Sometimes, these can also become broken if the page they pointed to has been deleted or moved without a redirect. It means you are losing potential referral traffic, which could negatively affect your site's SEO.
Backlink reclamation involves identifying lost backlinks & contacting the site owner to update the link or pointing the broken link to another relevant page on your website. You can also use SEO tools to identify lost backlinks & automated outreach tools to contact the site owners.
Reclaiming lost backlinks can boost your website's authority and improve your SEO rankings. Plus, it helps to regain lost referral traffic, which can contribute to an increase in conversions.
In conclusion, broken links can significantly impact user experience, SEO, and website credibility. They can frustrate users & negatively affect a website's ranking on search engines. It can hinder the flow of link equity throughout a website, potentially impacting the visibility of important pages.
Therefore, it is crucial for website owners to regularly monitor and fix broken links to ensure a seamless user experience & maintain a strong online presence.
By implementing proactive link maintenance strategies and leveraging tools for identifying & addressing broken links, website owners can uphold the integrity of their websites.
Auditing of your website for broken links should ideally be performed at least once a month. However, conducting these checks every week ensures maximum functionality & a positive user experience for larger, more dynamic sites. Consider utilizing automated tools for efficiency.
While both can negatively impact user experience and SEO, external broken links aren't as harmful as internal ones. Internal broken links directly affect your website's navigational structure, potentially leading to lower SERP rankings & traffic loss.
Broken links don't directly impact website load time but deteriorate user experience by leading visitors to non-existent pages. However, they can indirectly affect load time if they trigger excessive 404 errors, adding unnecessary server requests & consuming bandwidth.
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