After optimising every aspect of your website – from blog posts to pricing pages – the last thing you expect to discover is a 404 error page.
But no website, small or large, is immune to broken links.
As a matter of fact, one study found that 70% of URLs within the Harvard Law Review and other journals don’t actually direct back to the original links. In this instance, the content was either relocated to a different URL or no longer available.
This is also the case for 50% of the URLs within the US Supreme Court opinions.
These findings point to an issue on every website owner’s mind: How do I ensure that valuable content is accessible to site visitors long-term?
The unfortunate reality is that broken links are inevitable and occur for a number of reasons.
When your content leads to a dead end (i.e., an error page), site visitors are essentially de-incentivised to learn more about what you have to offer. In turn, this leads to higher bounce rates and lower click-through rates.
Search engines interpret this user response as unmet search intent and lower your content’s ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs) as a result.
By finding and fixing broken links quickly, you’re able to keep your website as up to date and accurate as possible – which goes a long way in appealing to new visitors and boosting your organic rankings on SERPs.
This post offers actionable strategies for isolating and resolving broken links long before new site visitors land on the page.
What causes a broken link?
When it comes to broken links, it’s worth noting that there is a difference in the types of error response pages that are created.
A broken link typically directs to either a 404 error page or a “soft 404” error page. Whereas the former refers to a page that wasn’t found, a soft 404 can refer to a page that has little to no content or doesn’t exist.
As you work toward resolving a 404 error page, you can actually reduce bounce rate by customising the page.
Broken links manifest as internal links, external links, or backlinks. Internal and external links are located on your website and direct site visitors 1) to one of your other web pages or 2) to another website’s page.
A broken backlink, on the other hand, occurs when site visitors on a different website follow a link to your content that shows up as an error page.
Previously active links might lead to error pages for a number of reasons:
- If your website has been active for years, the new content that you produce takes priority over the old content. Link rot naturally occurs and is usually beyond your control, especially when it comes to external links to other websites.
- If you’ve recently redesigned your website, broken links are typically internal. This happens when web pages are relocated and the link URLs no longer match. Fortunately, you can easily resolve this issue with a 301 redirect.
- A broken link could be caused by an incorrectly formatted URL. If even one character is added or not included, this can lead to an error response.
- External links lead to error pages when the source you link to has been removed, changed URLs, or moved to another location on the website.
Here’s what happens when crawlers find broken links
Long before you detect that an active link converted to a broken link, search engine crawlers have already found and reported this change.
Crawlers like Google Spider visit your website’s pages and follow one link to the next, cataloguing any irregularities or issues on your site or ones that you link to.
After gathering this data, crawlers send this information back to the search engine to be indexed.
An index is essentially the search engine’s method of validating that your content exists. If your website isn’t indexed, the content won’t be visible on the SERPs, and new site visitors are far less likely to land on your website.
One of the best ways to ensure that your content is regularly indexed is to consistently post new content on a blog. With regular indexes, search engines are frequently logging which links are broken. This, in turn, puts you in a better position to fix the issue.
Tools and plugins for isolating 404 error pages on your website
Manually selecting each link on your website is an exhaustive process, and a nearly impossible task when checking the status of backlinks.
The best course of action to take is to use a third party tool or plugin – like the ones we include below – to find broken links sooner rather than later.
1. Semrush Site Audit
The Semrush Site Audit tool allows you to keep tabs on your entire website’s performance and respond quickly when urgent issues are flagged by the software. This Semrush tool identifies broken links, tracks how crawlers interact with your site, and provides automated reports so that you have the information you need to optimise your content.
2. SEOPressor Connect
A key feature of the SEOPressor Connect tool is the Link Manager, which scans all of your website’s links automatically. Similar to the Semrush Site Audit, the SEOPressor Connect is equipped with additional features to boost your success with SEO.
A subscription to this software gives you access to an unlimited on-page analysis, SEO health monitor, and more for a starting cost of $9/month.
3. Google Search Console
If you’re looking for a free alternative that helps you monitor your website’s health and catch broken links, Google Search Console is a great resource for doing just that.
Moz provides a detailed guide for navigating Google Search Console if you’re unfamiliar with the tool. Essentially, you can link your site’s Google Analytics to this tool, check crawlability, and locate pages that have broken links.
4. Broken Link Checker
Locating any broken links on your website can be done in a few simple steps. You’ll first navigate to the Site Explorer and enter in your domain name. From there, select “Pages”, then “Best by Links,” and add the response filter “404 not found.”
In addition to the broken links on your site, you can also check the status of the backlinks that direct new viewers to your site.
How to respond when you find broken links
According to SEO Tribunal, 65% of marketers identify link building as the most difficult SEO tactic to complete. And it’s easy to see why this is the case.
Your website is constantly evolving. As new content takes precedence, old content (and its links) tends to fall by the wayside.
Fixing broken links can be as simple as making a 301 redirect or catching minor errors in the URL formatting. If a web page was intentionally removed from your site or another, you can redirect the link to a related page.
In the case of a broken backlink, you can reach out to the website owner and share an updated URL link to replace the broken link.
By finding and fixing broken links, you assert to new visitors and search engines that your site’s old content is just as accurate and relevant as the new content.
About the author
Mackenzie is a marketing content copywriter at Soundstripe, a royalty-free music company that provides creators and businesses with music for video and a growing library of stock content. She has a background in freelance writing, which she pursued after earning an undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.