IN THIS ARTICLE:

    You’ve put countless hours into building a website that serves up valuable content to your visitors, wrapped up neatly in a pleasant user experience. Even so, broken links can happen. Clicking one of those deadlinks that go nowhere can be frustrating for visitors and make it difficult for search engines to index your site. All this can spell trouble for your brand reputation and online visibility.

    But with all your other responsibilities, how do you stay on top of your site’s internal link health and make sure there are no dead-ends on your website?

    The good news is, avoiding broken links isn’t hard as long as you have a process in place to monitor for them. I’ll dig into a step-by-step methodology for finding, fixing, and staying on top of broken links in the guide below.

    Download the Victorious Broken Link Worksheet to track your link repairs for broken internal, outbound, and inbound links. (Note: You’ll have to copy the worksheet to your own Google Drive to make edits to it.)

    What is a Broken Link?

    A broken link — or dead link — leads to a page that doesn’t exist. When a user clicks on a broken link, they encounter a “404 Not Found” error. The page you intended to send users to may have been moved or deleted, or maybe there’s a typo in the link. It’s also common for redirect errors to create dead ends on your website.

    Types of Broken Links

    There are two main types of links on your website that could be broken:

    1. Links Pointing to Internal Pages 

    There might be broken internal links that are supposed to connect two pages on your website. Or, there may be inbound links from another website that fail to find their destination on your site. 

    2. Links Pointing to External Pages: 

    Also called outbound links, external links lead users away from your website to another website. 

    How Links Break

    There are a few different ways links might end up broken.

    • A third-party (external) site that you link to deletes or moves a page without a proper redirect.
    • A link on your site to an existing page contains a typo.
    • One of your internal pages has been moved, renamed, deleted, or archived without a redirect in place.

    Why Do You Need to Fix Broken Links?

    If some URLs on your site 404, this fact alone does not hurt you or count against you in Google’s search results.

    Google Search Central

    Google has stated that a few broken links on your site won’t hurt your rankings, so they’re no big deal, right? 

    Wrong.

    Broken links create a terrible first impression for visitors to your website — calling the quality of your products or services into question and negatively impacting your brand reputation. Broken links also disrupt the customer experience and can interfere with conversions, ultimately impacting your bottom line. All that, and yes, while not a direct ranking factor, broken links will eventually impact how your content ranks on search results pages (SERPs).

    Frustrated Customers & Lost Revenue

    Broken links are like roadblocks smack in the middle of your customer’s journey. They prevent users from getting to their intended destination, which could be a point of conversion. If they can’t get there, they can’t convert, and you can’t generate revenue from their visit. 

    84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services.

    Salesforce, State of the Connected Customer, 2019

    If you frustrate user expectations for as simple an action as leading them from one page to another, you cast into doubt the quality of your products and services — where a lack of attention to detail can create disappointing results for your customers.

    Poor Word-of-Mouth 

    Even with all the bells and whistles of digital marketing, word of mouth remains the most trusted driver of consumer behavior, with $6 trillion of annual consumer spending attributed to referrals and reviews. People are 90% more likely to trust and buy from a brand if a friend recommends it first.

    If broken links on your website give visitors a bad impression of your brand, they’ll communicate their experience to others in their sphere of influence.

    Broken Link SEO

    While broken links aren’t a direct Google ranking factor, they do disrupt Google’s indexing process and waste your crawl budget, both of which can negatively impact SEO.

    Disrupted Indexing & Wasted Crawl Budget

    The more time Google crawl bots waste backtracking from the dead ends caused by broken links, the less time they spend indexing the quality content you want to rank in search results. It’s important to note that your site’s crawl budget is a factor of the number of URLs Google wants to and can crawl on your website. Broken links lower the responsiveness of your site to Google’s crawl bots and, in the long-term, can impact the overall crawl budget Google dedicates to your site. 

    A major concern of search engine optimization is making sure that Google can then read and understand your content and how it fits in in the larger ecosystem of your site to rank it properly in search results. When broken links make it difficult for Google to index the valuable content on your site, it will eventually impact how your content appears in SERPs.

    Broken links make it difficult for Google to crawl your site because they lead to dead ends rather than active pages on your site. You can also lose link equity, or “link juice,” as some SEOs call it.

    Link equity is the authority and value one page shares with another page it links to.

    Wasted Link Equity

    Link equity is a search engine ranking factor based on the idea that certain links pass value and authority from one page to another. This value depends on factors such as the linking page’s authority and topical relevance. Since topical relevance and authority take a great deal of time to accumulate, it’s no small matter when a broken link disrupts the flow of equity throughout your site since it can negatively impact search rankings for pages “downstream” of the broken link. 

    How to Find Broken Links

    There are a couple of solutions to help you find broken links on your website. 

    One is fairly simple, but it only uncovers broken internal links. The second option is a bit more complex, but it will locate both internal and external broken links on your website. 

    How to Find Broken Links on Websites Using Google Search Console

    Check out our Guide to Google Search Console to learn more about this convenient tool if you haven’t already. 

    • Log in and click on Coverage from the left-hand menu.
    • You’ll see boxes labeled Error and Excluded
    how to find broken links with Google Search Console
    • Click on each one individually to see if Google has found any 404 issues on your website. If so, you will see a tab labeled Not Found (404).
    • Click on the Not Found (404) tab to view specific errors, including a list of all the pages with broken links on your site.
    How to use Google Search Console to find broken links on your website
    • Export the list into a spreadsheet and save it to refer to when you’re ready to fix the broken links.
    Using Google Search Console to find scan links on site

    Finding Broken Links with Screaming Frog

    Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider is a free tool (with a more advanced paid version) that checks websites for broken links. Follow these steps to use its broken link checker. 

    use screaming frog to find broken links
    • Open the tool, enter your website URL, and hit Start.
    how to use screaming frog to scan for broken site links
    • Locate any 404 broken links by navigating to Response Codes > Client Error (4xx).
    • You’ll see a list of URLs with 404 errors. Click on one URL > the Inlinks tab near the bottom of the screen. Here, you can identify the source of your broken link. The From tab will show you the source, and the To tab shows the broken link.
    • To export the complete list of broken links to a spreadsheet, go to Bulk Export > Response Codes > Client Error (4xx) Inlinks.
    export broken link report from screaming frog

    Use SEMrush to Check for Broken Links 

    SEMrush has a free site audit tool that reports on issues and errors that can impact your search engine ranking.

    how to use semrush to find broken website links
    • If you don’t already have a SEMrush account, a popup will ask you to register your email address to access the free site audit. With the free audit, you can check up to 100 pages of your website.
    • The next window allows you to customize your site audit settings. The default settings should suit your purposes to scan a site for broken links. Click Start Site Audit.
    customize audit settings on semrush
    • SEMrush will run the audit and create a project for your site.
    • Click the linked number in the Errors column for a detailed description of all the issues found in the audit.
    finding broken links with semrush
    • There might be a lot of information on this page to absorb, but scroll down to the line that says XX internal links are broken.
    broken link report from semrush
    • If the number on this line is greater than zero, you can click through for the details about which pages contain broken links and exactly what the broken links are. Click the Export button on the top of the page to save the broken links report to a .xlsx or .csv file.
    export broken link report from semrush

    How to Find Broken Outbound Links With Ahrefs

    Ahrefs has a broken link checker that can locate broken outbound links on your site in just a few seconds.

    • If you don’t already have an Ahrefs account, you can register for a “Lite” trial that will give you access to all tools and features for seven days.
    • Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, enter your domain name in the search field, and click the orange search button.
    Find broken outbound links with ahrefs
    • On the left navigation bar, under Outgoing links, click Broken links.
    Creating a broken link report in Ahrefs
    • This page will list all the broken outgoing links on your site. Click Export to save the results as a .csv file.
    Download broken link report in Ahrefs

    How to Fix Broken Links

    Now that you’ve located the broken links on your site, it’s time to get down to the business of fixing them.

    Analyze the Data

    The first step in fixing broken links on your website is to analyze the data you’ve already collected.

    Determine why each link is broken. 

    With your spreadsheet open, ask yourself these questions:

    • How frequently do people visit the link? The answer to this question will help you decide if you should repair the link or the page should be retired (and a proper 301 redirect in place).
    • Do you still use the page? If not, it may be wise to redirect it to a new page. 
    • Does the URL have a typo that you can fix quickly? This is an easy solution to an all-too-common problem.

    Decide on an Action

    Next, decide the best course of action for each URL. Here are your best options:

    1. Create a 301 redirect to a different, working page with relevant content.
    2. Fix any typos (misspellings) you see within your broken link HTML code.
    3. Recreate a page for the link.
    4. Remove the dead link if you have no page to send it to. 

    Download the Victorious Broken Link Worksheet to track your link repairs for broken internal, outbound, and inbound links. (Note: You’ll have to copy the worksheet to your own Google Drive to make edits to it.)

    Check for Broken Links Regularly

    Set up reminders to check your index coverage report at least once a month. That way, you can fix broken links as they occur rather than wait until they’ve accumulated to the point where they create a poor user experience or harm SEO efforts.

    Alternatively, you can set up automated reports in Google Analytics to alert you to broken internal and external links. (See below.)

    Always double-check all your links after reorganizing pages or moving your website to a new URL. 

    How to Use Google Analytics to Monitor Broken Links

    Google Analytics (GA) is one of the powerful Google webmaster tools you can use to monitor activity on your website. If you’re not familiar with GA, check out our Google Analytics Starter Guide.

    Setting up custom reports in Google Analytics can help you stay on top of broken internal and external links as they occur. Follow these simple steps to create two separate reports: one for broken internal links and another for broken inbound links.

    How to Set Up a Custom Report in GA for Broken Internal Links

    • After you’ve logged into Google Analytics, go to Customization > Custom Reports and click on +New Custom Report.
    Set up broken link alert in google analytics
    • Select the Flat table report type.
    • Under Dimensions, add Page, Previous Page Path, and Page Title. (Pro tip: Just type these in, rather than try to find them in the drop-down.)
    • Select Unique Pageviews under Metrics.
    • Add a Filter for Previous Page Path that Excludes the Exact value (entrance). This filters out 404 errors that aren’t preceded by a page view on your own website.
    • Add a Regex Filter to Include for Page Title that matches your 404 error page. 
    • Save the report.
    Create broken link alerts in Google Analytics

    How to Set Up a Custom Report in Google Analytics for Broken Inbound Links

    • After you’ve logged into Google Analytics, go to Customization > Custom Reports and click on +New Custom Report.
    Set up broken link alert in google analytics
    • Select the Flat table report type.
    • Under Dimensions, add Page, Full Referrer, and Page Title
    • Select Unique Pageviews under Metrics.
    • Add a Filter for Page Path that Includes the Exact value (entrance). This filters out internal 404 errors to show only those caused by an external link.
    • Add a Regex Filter to Include for Page Title that matches your 404 error page. 
    • Save the report.
    Find broken backlinks with Google Analytics

    Use the information you collect from these automated reports to fix your broken links.

    Note: Broken inbound links (also known as backlinks) are coming from other websites. Follow up with those site owners to repair those valuable backlinks so you can benefit from the referral traffic, link equity, and search benefits they provide.

    Learn more about backlinks and why they’re so important to your search ranking.

    Use the Inbound Link Errors tab in the Victorious Broken Link Worksheet to track broken backlinks (Note: You’ll have to copy the worksheet to your own Google Drive to make edits to it.)

    Glossary of Broken Link Terms

    Use this glossary if there are any terms related to fixing broken links that you might not be familiar with.

    404 Error

    A 404-error message, or “page not found,” typically appears when someone removes content from a site or changes the URL without redirecting it correctly. The original link no longer leads anywhere. When someone clicks on a link to a non-existent page, the webserver delivers a 404 message to the web browser.

    301 Redirect

    Set up a 301 redirect to send customers to the right page when a URL changes. A 301 redirect forwards people from the old URL to the new one, avoiding a page-not-found error.

    Backlinks

    Backlinks, also called inbound links, are links from external websites that lead back to yours. The more quality backlinks specific pages on your website have, the more authority they can accumulate. Ultimately, this can help your website rank higher on search engines.

    Crawl Budget

    The crawl budget Google assigns to your site is a function of two things:

    1) The number of pages Google wants to crawl on your site, and 2) The number of pages Google feels like it can crawl on your site without impacting server response.

    Your crawl budget is allocated based on how healthy your website is, its size, and the number of links leading to your site. Errors like broken links can signal Google your site is “unhealthy.”

    User Experience Signals

    Google measures user experience (UX) signals to determine the quality of your website. Behavioral patterns, like bounce rates and click-through rates, can help the search engine understand your site’s relevance for visitors. Other UX signals include dwell time, search intent, and Core Web Vitals.

    Internal Links

    Internal links lead from one page on your website to another, such as a service page connected to a blog post. Linking related content across your site can help you demonstrate topical authority, boost customer satisfaction, and increase website crawlability. For example, you could internally link every piece of content on a website that covers some aspect of email marketing. Doing so demonstrates the relationship between those articles and communicates to Google the depth of expertise you offer on the topic.

    Learn more about SEO best practices for internal linking.

    External Links

    External links connect your website content to an external source. For example, you could link a blog article about starting a new business to a relevant article on Forbes or Entrepreneur. Linking to high-quality websites helps associate your content with authoritative players in the space — and you benefit from that association.

    Maximize Your Online Visibility Through SEO

    Although knowing how to find broken links is a great starting point to improving your SEO, a comprehensive strategy is the best way to create a lasting impact on your organic footprint. Victorious offers a full suite of SEO services that we bring together to create a strategy that moves the needle on your business goals. Reach out for a free consultation and learn more about the power of partnership.

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