Today’s post focuses on broken links, how they impact your site and how to use link checkers to find them. So without further ado, let’s press on.
You’ve done research online and arrived at a website that looks like it has the products or information you need. You click a link to purchase, download or read more and nothing happens.
Well, nothing apart from a “Page Not Found” page from the site.
Has this happened to you?
It’s pretty frustrating and doesn’t leave a lasting good impression.
Of course broken links occur and we have to try to appreciate that. But it’s not a good thing at all and can impact your site in a number of different ways.
So What Are Broken Links Exactly?
Broken links are links on a site that do not drive you to the functioning page you expect. Instead they lead you to a “404 Page Not Found” type page.
We’ve all seen them as we’ve browsed the Internet.
The 404 Page Not Found error message is a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) standard response code. It shows that your browser can communicate with the server hosting the page, but it can’t find the page itself.
So when a user clicks a broken link, the server hosting it generates a “404 Not Found” web error. Consequently the 404 error is one of the most common errors you’ll see on the Web.
How Are 404 Errors Useful?
404 errors are actually very useful as they protect a site to a certain extent. They also give site owners the opportunity to do two things.
- 404 errors can appear in reports helping owners to identify broken links on their site (we’ll come onto this later).
- They provide an opportunity to keep visitors on their sites through customized 404 pages. When a page is unavailable, it’s possible to create a page with useful links to other areas of their site. These may be presented this whenever such an error arises.
Why Do Broken Links Occur?
Broken links (also known as dead links for good reason) can occur for various reasons.
- Linking to assets or pages that don’t exist.
- Removing pages or assets, without updating internal links to them.
- Making typing errors when creating a page URL and then linking to a correctly spelled version.
- Renaming page URLs and neglecting to update internal links to them.
- Changing domains and not updating internal links correctly, especially in cases where absolute URLS have been used.
- Incorrectly setting up redirects for old pages that you want to point to newer ones. Or not setting up any at all.
Broken Links Are Bad Links
So apart from being a bit frustrating for a few visitors, are internal dead links really a big deal?
Well… Google has stated that broken internal links are a fact of website life. As a consequence it doesn’t penalise sites for the occasional ones it finds.
However, since all links are not created equally there is potential for any broken link to become a big problem. And not just in terms of the experience you give your visitors.
Let’s consider the link on your site logo. The logo might be clickable, driving visitors to the homepage from any page of your site. You set this link up in one location… it is effectively one link that just happens to appear on every page within your site.
If you make a typo in the link on your site logo, the resulting page will render as a 404. I would argue that this would be a VERY big deal. It could even lead to a serious search engine ranking problem for your site.
Ask yourself a question. Why would Google or Bing knowingly place a site with a broken logo link high up in the results pages?
I’m sure that visitors too would provide further insights to search engines by voting with their feet. Perhaps bounce rates would increase and conversion rates and sales too would probably take a hit.
Would you trust a site to handle payments correctly if it couldn’t even handle its own internal links?
Let’s not forget something. Visitor experience is definitely a ranking factor, and that’s something you don’t want Google to give you a black mark for.
Crawlers Don’t Respond Well to Dead Links Either
Google and Bing crawlers will also not benefit from following broken links… or rather your site won’t as a consequence.
Search engine crawlers only spend a certain amount of time looking through your site following links they find. They either identify new pages to add to the index or updates to existing pages they already know about.
If a crawler hits a broken link, some of the crawl time allotted to your site is wasted. On large sites with many dead links, this could mean that important updated pages or new ones won’t crawled.
If a new page does not not crawled it will not get into the index. And if it’s not in the index, it will never get listed in the search results.
If a page doesn’t appear in the search results, no one will find it in when they make a search.
Even if you aren’t penalised for having broken links, the links themselves will not pass link value around your site. This again potentially impacts your position in the search results.
Ok Paul, I’m a little Scared! How Can I Find the Dead Links On My Site?
Well… the good news is there are actually numerous ways to see all the dead links on your domain.
And you don’t need to pay for some of them… they are free!
So for today, I am only going to focus on some of the free online tools that I use.
3 Free Online Tools to Identify Broken Links
Google Search Console
Google provides the Search Console as a free tool for people who look after websites.
Among other things, it provides functions to help monitor the performance of a site along with its general health.
There are functions to assist with indexing and optimizing pages. There are also a host of other tools giving insight into actual and potential problems.
One such problem is broken links, which appear in a specific report.
You can find out more about how to access this report here: How to Identify Broken Links in the Google Search Console (coming soon).
Google Analytics (GA) is another incredible free tool Google offers. GA tracks website traffic and shows very sophisticated detail about visitor interaction and engagement.
As the most widely used web analytics platform in the world, GA delivers extremely useful reports out of the box. Moreover, it also enables users to create very powerful custom reports.
For example, you can create custom reports to identify 404 errors and the page where a broken link resides.
For more information about this, read How to Identify Broken Links with a Google Analytics Custom Report.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the principal organization that determines and upholds standards for the World Wide Web.
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, founded the organization. Aside from being its standard bearer, W3C is an educational and software development body. It also runs an open forum for Internet-related discussion.
W3C offers a suite of tools to help you understand problems with site coding… and surprise, surprise it can tell you about broken links on your site via its Link Checker Tool.
The Link Checker Tool is fairly self explanatory to use. But for further information, read my post about How to Use the W3C Link Checker Tool to Identify Broken Links.
There are many other broken link checker tools that I’ll discuss over time. But the Google Search Console, Google Analytics and the W3C Link Checker Tool should be enough to get you started.
I have read on many occasions that broken links do not harm your position in the search results.
Maybe directly speaking this is true.
However, indirectly they have to cause disruption if they impact the visitor experience. Increased bounce rates, bad reviews or perhaps negative social media buzz can all cause a problem.
When was the last time you looked for broken links on your site? Perhaps you should check right now to make sure your house is in order?
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading!
Please do leave a comment below to let me know your thoughts about / experiences of broken links. Or feel free to ask me a question, and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.