How to detect and remove broken links from your website
Links are the backbone of the Web. Online users utilize them for navigation, whereas crawlers use them to discover and index pages so that they can appear when a user inputs a given query inside of their search engine.
In addition to increasing the authority and credibility of your webpages and website, links play a much more pivotal part in the overall construction of the Web. Hence why it is extremely important to structure your links accordingly and to also ensure that none of them ever break.
But what exactly do we mean by the term broken link? Why should you strive to fix such links? How can you find them and are there any tools to help you get the job done easier? Let’s discuss the answers to these questions!
What is a broken link?
To put it simply, a broken link is a hyperlink that leads to a page that doesn’t exist. This could be due to issues with the landing page or because of the link itself, but the causes for such links appearing are quite a few.
Most common causes of broken links
Firstly, the page could have been permanently or temporarily moved to a new location using either the 301 or 302 redirect HTTP response, resulting in the link pointing to a page that no longer exists in its initial location.
Secondly, the page might return a 404 error if the website or webpage no longer exists - it has either been taken down or entirely deleted.
Thirdly, there might have been a human or algorithm error when the URL was generated or edited, causing common issues such as an extra letter, number or symbol appearing inside of the URL, ultimately tweaking original hyperlink, causing it to point to a different page that doesn’t exist.
Finally, there are also cases where access to a given page becomes restricted either through a server HTTP response or through special firewall conditions. The latter, for example, can be applied in order to reduce cases of high-volume DDoS attacks.
Why it is important to remove broken links
As we already mentioned, the Web is built upon hyperlinks. If your website’s links work as intended, then users will be able to navigate across your website easily.
Broken links, on the other hand, can negatively impact your overall user experience, pointing users to pages and resources that don’t exist or have been moved.
This can consequently result in loss of trust on their behalf, which will be reflected in higher bounce rates and lower overall user engagement metrics. These signals will then be picked up by crawlers, resulting in your page being pushed back down the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Search ranking is just one of the problems that a large number of broken links can affect. Additionally, such links will lead to loss of trust and credibility. All of these problems combined can then result in experiencing losses when it comes to money in terms of selling less goods, services or subscriptions.
While a couple of broken links are not likely to lead to such extreme consequences, it is important to highlight the fact that you should not neglect such links and let their number grow without worrying about the aftermath which they might cause.
How to detect broken links
When it comes to detecting broken links, there are many free, open-source tools as well as a wide selection of premium, paid software that you can use.
Additionally, some content distribution networks and content management systems such as WordPress for example, have a number of plugins that you can utilize to detect broken links.
The following are some examples of the most trusted and recognized tools to identify such links.
Desktop software for finding broken links
There are quite a few desktop software tools that can help you find broken links on your webpages.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider is an easy-to-use web crawler. With the free version of the tool you can check up to 500 URLs while the paid version allows you to crawl an unlimited number of URLs.
To identify broken links, you only need to enter your site’s address and let the tool crawl your pages. It will return a list of all broken URLs that it detects, allowing you to easily fix the issues.
The results can also be exported into a different file format like a spreadsheet, enabling you to work with additional software if you find that easier.
The tool has many other advantages as well such as the ability to find duplicate content and the opportunity to discover pages with missing title or meta tags.
Another desktop software tool that you can download to find broken links is Netpeak Spider. The software has slowly been gaining popularity over the last couple of years as its features make it very useful for both SEO and PPC specialists.
Similarly to Screaming Frog, you can also download a free version of the software, which you can use to crawl up to 500 URLs. The tool analyzes all types of links - internal, external, incoming and outgoing, allowing you to check for broken links and redirects on every level.
The tool also allows you to closely monitor all important aspects of your website such as your content structure including meta, title and heading tags.
Useful online broken link-detecting applications
If you don’t feel like downloading software to your desktop device, you can always utilize some of the online broken link-detecting alternatives.
Google Analytics & Search Console
Being widely utilized, your website probably already uses Google Analytics. Given the tool’s incredible power to monitor your overall performance, it is not a surprise that it can help you find broken links. Combine it with Google Search Console and you will be able to find any link problems instantly.
Semrush is another state-to-the-art marketing tool that can be used to crawl your website and identify internal and external broken links.
The tool also has the ability to check backlink origins, allowing you to gain useful information such as where your competitors’ backlinks come from.
Another great feature that Semrush also has is that it can provide you with Web resources relevant to your industry or field that you can utilize as a link-building target.
The final tool we want to focus on is Ahrefs. Ahrefs is an in-depth marketing-analysis tool that is currently very popular amongst both marketing and SEO experts due to its wide range of features.
Among those features is the ability to easily find broken links not only on your website, but also on any other webapge on the Web.
Identifying such links on external websites allows you to approach the site administrator and offer them to switch the target of their broken link to your content.
WordPress plugins to help find broken links
As with all other tools, there are both free and premium plugins that you can use to identify and fix broken links with most WP plugins even offering an immediate and automatic fix option, which some users can find quite convenient.
In terms of free plugins, you can find Broken Link Checker to be very useful. It can scan your WP and automatically fix broken links and images inside of your content.
As for paid plugins, WP Link Status Pro is a good option to go for. In addition to finding and fixing broken links, the tool also has the ability to manage redirects and verify HTTP status codes for all links and images on your website.
How to fix broken links
Once you have identified all broken links on your website, you can proceed to applying some fixes.
The process can either be done automatically or manually, depending on the scale of your website and the volume of the inadequate links.
Our suggestion is to always tend to such links manually as some automatic tools, while good at finding broken links, are not that great at fixing them.
Moreover, applying the fixes manually also gives you more control over the entire process.
If you are fixing internal links, focus on chaining the link URL and on checking whether the landing page is correctly inputted. If your targeted page is irrelevant, deleted or moved, adjust the link appropriately so that it can either point to its new location or to a substitute one. Remember that if the link is irrelevant, you can also just remove it - there is no point in having a link that leads to off-topic content.
When approaching external broken links, you need to contact the owner of the website and politely ask them to fix the link if the URL is incorrectly entered or change the link target if your content has moved to a different page. You can also ask them to remove the broken link entirely if you have deleted the page.
External broken links are quite impactful and can severely damage your reputation, hence why you should always try to contact any site owner if you notice a broken link to your content. If you do notice a large number of incoming broken links to your website, you should also consider disavowing them to signal search engine crawlers that the website might be intentionally linking back to you with bad links.
Overall, make sure to check your links daily so that you can ensure that no broken links appear across your website. Regardless of the tool which you decide to use to identify such links, it is important to remember that the faster you fix your link problems, the less impactful they will be.