Finding and Fixing Broken Links on Your Site

Posted by Emery Pearson on Sep 15, 2020 12:31:00 PM

404 Errors

One thing that is often overlooked by companies after their site has gone live is checking the website for broken links. Broken links on your site are links that lead to pages that don’t exist—you know, those 404 errors that you get when you’re trying to navigate somewhere.

And it's not only after going live that 404s can occur. It's a good idea to check your site periodically—and to check outgoing links, as well. Let's dive into the why and the how of checking for broken links. 

What's the Problem with a 404?

Bottom line? 404 errors create a bad user experience. A website visitor who clicks on a link is expecting to be taken somewhere where they will get information they want; they may even be a potential lead! When the link takes them to a 404, they typically leave and look elsewhere for what they're after. 

Sometimes 404s lurk on the SERPs (search engine results pages), too. When sites unpublish something or change the url, the old version may be visible on the SERPs for a bit. That means there's a possibility that you're missing out on organic traffic. 

Ultimately, 404s can hurt your rankings, cause you to lose customers, and will disrupt any of the other SEO work you're putting into your site. It's important to address broken links to ensure you're supporting the buyer's journey, offering a good user experience, and keeping your site free of errors. 

How to Check for Broken Links

There are several ways to check for both internal and external broken links. Here are some we recommend. 

Google Search Console

Search Console is a must-use tool because it tells you exactly what Google is seeing. Go to Coverage → Excluded and see if there are 404s listed there. It is a good idea to check specifically within the submitted sitemap so you can remove those pages from the sitemap. 

SEO Tools

Many free and paid SEO tools that crawl sites offer insights into broken links. We like both SEMRush (paid) and Screaming Frog (free, though limited) for a variety of reasons, including the ability to see broken links the crawlers find on the site. These are just two of the many tools out there that can help you check for 404s. 

Fixing Broken Internal and External Links

So, you've found all the 404s and broken outbound links—now what?

Fixing Broken Internal Links

First, I should say that it isn't always necessary to "fix" all the 404s that you find. Sometimes a page just needs to be unpublished, so the url will forever point to a 404 if someone finds it. However, anything that you unpublish should not be linked anywhere else. Make sure any links pointing to the unpublished page are removed or changed. 

In some cases, a 404 page can be redirected, but make sure the redirect makes sense. If you take two blog posts and combine them into one, for instance, the old, unpublished version can have a 301 redirect to the new post. But an old, unpublished post that is redirected to something totally different? Don't do that. 

A plan to fix broken internal links might looks something like this:

  1. Decide whether the broken link is something that can be redirected to an updated page or something similar. 
  2. If it can, set up a 301 redirect to the new url.
  3. If it can't, make sure there is nothing within the site (like other pages or posts, or menu items) pointing to it. You can also request that Google remove it using the Removals Tool
  4. Make sure the url is not in your sitemap.

You should also check to see if any external sources are linking to 404s (you can use Google Search Console for this). If they are, you can contact the site's webmaster to ask for it to be updated. 

Fixing Broken Outbound Links

If you find outgoing links that result in 404s, it's a good idea to find something else to link to. If you cannot find anything else, remove the link, or contact the webmaster of the site you're linking to, and ask if they have a new url for that page.

Ensuring your site's architecture makes sense, is accessible, and is addressing the needs of you website visitors is a crucial part of a solid SEO strategy. 

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Emery Pearson

Written by Emery Pearson

Emery is the content strategist at Tribute Media. She has an MA in rhetoric and composition from Boise State University, and she is currently an MFA candidate in creative writing at Antioch University. She lives in southern California with a bunch of creatures and many plants.