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Broken Links

Broken Links


What are broken links?

Broken links are links to pages that do not exist or for some reason, or combination of reasons, are not accessible. You will likely have experienced them at some point if you have ever clicked a link and ended up on an error 404 page, saying something like “Sorry the page you are trying to access cannot be found”.

Broken links can manifest on your website due to a number of reasons, such as; URL’s being changed, pages being moved, human error, and removing pages from your website. As such, it is not uncommon for a website, especially a large or growing site, to have at least some broken links.

Broken links are split out into two main categories; internal and external. We examine both of these in more detail in this article. We can further split ‘external broken links’ into two further categories; “from search engines” and “from other websites”, these are also covered here in detail.

Error handling

Broken links are website errors, please refer to the error handling guide also located in this knowledge base. This contains important information about implementing safeguards in case of problems such as broken links.

What are the impacts of broken links?

Broken links are detrimental to any website, from a user experience perspective, but depending on what pages are missing, this can directly affect rankings. Having excessive amounts of broken links can also potentially harm your websites rankings even if the missing pages are not valuable pages.

Systemic problems

We mentioned some ways in which they can occur but in more serious cases, more often seen on larger more complex sites, it is possible for pages or URL’s to be created in an automated and systematic process. We have seen cases where a CMS (Content Management System) gets stuck in an infinite loop, creating URL’s or links to pages that do not exist.

Consequently this can lead to a volume of broken links greater than the volume of accessible pages on the site. It is worth noting that broken links in some instances can be the symptom of a wider problem.

In cases where a site has too many broken links, Google’s crawlers (GoogleBot) can get caught following links to and attempting to index non-existent website content. This can prolong the time it takes for Google index your actual content.

Another pitfall of large quantities of broken links, especially now when user experience is of growing importance to Google, your site could be seen as unnavigable, which could directly affect your website’s rankings.

Loss of rankings & authority

As mentioned, broken links can be an indicator of a wider problem. If your broken links are pointing to top level pages, product pages, or any page that ranks well for a target keyword; once Google detects that these pages are missing, you are on a timer to get them fixed (restored) as quickly as possible.

Google will not rank pages that are inaccessible as this provides their users with a poor user experience. If your pages are not restored, typically within two weeks of it being detected by Google that they are missing, it becomes exponentially more difficult to regain lost rankings.

In a worst case scenario it is possible to lose the investment of time and money spent in acquiring organic keyword rankings.

In any case, fixing broken links is a must for any website administrator.

Detecting Broken Links

Detecting these is easy with almost any crawler tool like Raptor. There are also various online tools that will crawl up to a certain amount of web pages in one off checks. Some CMS’s have built in functionality for alerting you to broken links.

Google Webmaster Tools / Search Console also have a number of features for identifying missing pages or pages with errors. It is worth noting though that if Google are telling you about the problem, you have lost the chance to fix it before they find out! We always recommend regular checks to ensure that a website is working as intended.

Safeguarding against broken links

There are a few common mistakes that often cause broken links, and that can be easily overcome with some planning.

Please refer to the error handling article, also located in this knowledge base for information on custom error 404 pages.

Also refer to the articles covering moving or removing pages and site-wide changes for further safeguarding measures.

Internal Broken Links

These are links on a website that point to pages within the same site, that are not accessible. These are the easiest to fix of all broken links, as they fall under the remit of the web developer or whoever manages your website.

How to deal with internal broken links

If the link shouldn’t be broken

If the missing page has become inaccessible for any reason, making the missing page accessible again will resolve the problem.

If you are experiencing widespread problems, you may need to implement a temporary solution if the actual fix is going to take days or weeks. In this scenario, you should typically implement temporary 302 redirects, redirecting the broken URL’s to the next most relevant page on your site.

For more information on redirects, please follow the link.

If the page/s have been removed

If the link is broken because a page has legitimately been removed, you should do the following things:

  • Remove links to the removed page on every page where one occurs
  • Remove references to the removed page in any sitemaps & resubmit the xml sitemap to Google, through Webmaster Tools.

If the page/s have been moved

If a URL has changed / a page has been moved to a new location, then it is vital that the following tasks are completed as quickly as possible, if you have any SEO investment in the page/s. Failure to do this, will typically result in loss of rankings and page authority.

  • Setup a permanent 301 redirect to the new URL of the moved page
  • Update all links to the page with the new URL
  • Update sitemap references to the page & resubmit the xml sitemap to Google, through Webmaster Tools.

Pages carry authority acquired through several ways, all of which take time. To preserve that authority and your investment in that page, it must be properly redirected.

External - Broken Links in Search Engines

It may be that pages that have been removed but are still indexed by Google are appearing within the SERPs. These pages once clicked will lead to an error 404 page of some kind and hence the user experience is impacted significantly. But in addition to this, any authority and ranking that the page has can be lost once Google reindexes the page.

These pages are very important to fix or redirect because the ranking and authority that they have will be lost after a few weeks of being detected as a missing page by Google.

Detecting these is more difficult and requires scraping search results and comparing in Excel (or similar tool) with known live web pages.

External - Broken Links from Other Websites

These can be harder to fix at source, as it requires identifying the broken link and then contacting the website admin or relevant person to request they change the link (given that you do not have access to the site to change the link yourself).

These can be detected by Google and identified within Google Webmaster Tools but can also be identified through analysis of live pages compared to live backlink profile links. This requires the use of a tool such as Raptor to get a picture of all existing back-links.

External - Broken Links to Other Websites

The simplest way to fix these is simply to remove the link on your site, or update it to the next best page on the net.


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