Have you ever thought about how links affect your SEO? When someone links to your website from theirs, it indicates to search engines that you have some relevant content. Likewise, when you link out, whether the URL is internal or elsewhere, you’re giving the search engine a heads up that the content you have on your site is valuable. Thus, you get a little link juice going for you.
But do you ever check your website for broken links?
Why Broken Links Are Bad
While linking to other resources and content is wise and can help your SEO, the inverse is true as well. Aside from aggravating your users by sending them to a page that doesn’t exist, these broken links can also hurt the validity of your site and content. To be clear, it’s not like fixing all the broken links on your site will magically make your website appear at the top of the search rankings. However, link health is a part of overall site health, which is definitely a factor in the metrics that are used when ranking your site. Plus, it’s something easily fixed.
How to Find Broken Links
So how do you check for broken links? Well, there are a number of tools, some free and some paid. If you’re just getting started, take a look at Screaming Frog, which allows you to scan up to 500 links in your site for free. Premium services like SEMRush also search for broken links, but their hefty price tag is only worth it if you take advantage of their other services.
So what do you do?
I highly recommend connecting your website to Google Search Console. It will give you a plethora of information about your site health for free. If you are already connected, navigate to your property in Console and go to Console→Excluded, and check out the list for 4xx error codes. If you have a website insurance plan with me, you get weekly reports emailed directly to your inbox, making it that much easier to know what needs attention.
A quick word of caution if you’re thinking about a broken link checker plugin for WordPress: these types of plugins are notorious resource hogs. Running that type of scan on your hosting platform will inevitably slow down your website. It’s the main reason I recommend one of the methods above. You get the same report without the performance strain on your website.
How to Fix Broken Links
Fixing Internal Links
If the broken links you’ve found are within your site, think about whether or not redirecting the old content to new content makes sense. Don’t just redirect to avoid a 404 not found error. If you have an old ‘about’ page that was available via the about URL, and your new ‘about’ URL is about-me, a redirect makes total sense. Redirecting your old ‘about’ page to your contact page makes less sense.
If a redirect doesn’t make sense, the next course of action is to make sure the broken page isn’t linked anywhere else within your site. This could be in the form of an old blog post that linked to broken content, or a broken link in a menu item, etc. Exclude the broken link from your site map and ask Google to remove the URL using their removal tool (another reason to integrate GSC!)
Bonus points if you also check to see if any external sites are linking to your broken content (again, GSC helps with this). If you do find external sources linking, try reaching out to them and ask them to update the link accordingly.
Fixing External Links
Updating links to external sources is a bit easier. If any of the external links on your site lead users to a 404 page, the best and quickest thing to do is to find new content you can link to. If you can’t, remove the link and, if necessary, update your content to reflect the missing link note.
Fixing broken links may sound like it will take a lot of time, but after your initial pass, you can zip right through it. Making sure that your website is accessible, and that your content and site architecture flow, provides a better user experience. At the end of the day, that experience is a cornerstone of solid SEO.