Broken Links (open laptop showing 404 error message)

Broken Links: How to Prevent Them Damaging Your Author Platform

Do you ever find yourself reading an article on the internet, clicking on a link to a related article or product and then finding that you end up on a page that says “oops we can’t find that page”? Isn’t it frustrating? That’s how your visitors to your site will feel if they click on any broken links.

I touched briefly on broken links in my Website and Blog Maintenance post, and today, I will expand on that post and go into greater depth. We’ll take a look at what broken links are, why they can be damaging, how you can find them and, most importantly, what you can do to fix them.

What Are Broken Links?

A broken link is exactly what it says on the tin – a link that fails to work and instead, diverts you to an error page rather than the webpage you were expecting to find. Such links are also sometimes referred to as dead links or link rots.

There are several error messages that can be returned by web servers in such cases, e.g. a 404 page not found error (the most common), a 400 bad request error, a bad url error or a timeout error. None of these are what your visitors want to find.

There are many reasons why a link may be broken and these include:

  • An error in the original inputting of the link i.e. a typo.
  • The site the link is pointing to is no longer available.
  • There are broken elements on the page.
  • The url structure of the site has changed without redirects.
  • The link is to content such as a PDF or video, which has been deleted or moved.
  • A firewall prevents external access.

Why Link Rot is a Bad Thing on Your Website

Bad links are detrimental to your author platform for various reasons. These include:

User Experience – as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, we all find it frustrating when we click on a link, only to find it leads us nowhere. Your site visitors will feel the same and the overall consequence of this is that it will reduce your reputation which you have spent valuable time building up.

Search Engine Results – while bad links won’t impact your overall SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), they will affect your Google search results. Too many broken links on a page will indicate to Google that the site is neglected, which is obviously not a good thing as you want Google to push traffic to your site. Google also uses the number of bad links as a measure of the quality of a site, so too many will be damaging to that ranking.

Bounce Rate – the less time visitors spending on your site when they first arrive, the higher your bounce rate will become. Too many broken links will lead to visitors clicking off your site a lot quicker than they would if all your links (especially internal ones) work.

How To Find 404 Errors

The easiest way to find any bad links on your site is to use an online tool. There are lots out there if you do a quick Google search. I personally use Broken Link Check (www.brokenlinkcheck.com) which I find simple to use. They all work in much the same way though and scan your whole site to find any links which don’t work as they should.

Once the tool has scanned all of your webpages, it produces a report to show you which links are broken, on which page you can find the bad link, what the anchor text for that link is, and what error the link returns. You can then use all of this information to fix the links that are broken.

I would highly recommend putting a task in your diary to check the links on your site at least once a month. It’s surprising how many links change and so quickly. For example, I ran a check on my own site when I was rebranding and relaunching a couple of weeks ago. In total, the report found 16 broken links, most of which were to large, well-known and well-used sites. In a couple of cases, the link had simply changed to something else but in another case, the article I’d linked to had completely disappeared, and in one case the domain name had changed from a .co.uk to a .com without a redirect being put in place.

The moral of the story here is that it’s not just small sites that disappear or change their permalink structure. Do not be surprised if some links you’d think were dead certs to remain the same forever, actually change.

How to Fix Broken Links

In the main, I simply change the offending link so that it is no longer broken. This is sometimes as simple as correcting the typo (another top tip is to always make sure you double check links before you publish articles) but other times, it involves researching the correct link for the new location of the article you are trying to link to.

In the case of internal links, it’s also sometimes necessary to set up a redirect for a bad link to ensure anyone clicking on that url is sent to the correct page rather than a 404 error page. This helps to keep the visitor experience much better.

As a side note, you might also want to consider setting up a customised 404 page so that visitors are taken to a more helpful page than the default 404 page your website generates. For example on my site, if you happen to find an incorrect internal link you will be directed to this custom, branded 404 page, rather than the bog standard one. This can also help with visitor experience even though it still gives the visitor a sense of frustration at not reaching the page they wanted.

How often do you check for broken links on your site? Is it part of your maintenance strategy? Do you fix links as soon as you find them? Which tools do you use to keep on top of bad links? Do let me know in the comments.

Photo Credit: Eric Mclean from Unsplash

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