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Broken Links: Causes, Consequences, and How to Fix Them

Handling broken links is a continuous task. Understanding their causes and applying effective fixes is your success mantra. Stay proactive for a seamless online experience and website reliability.

Home / Blogs / Broken Links: Causes, Consequences, and How to Fix Them
Raghav Tayal

Head Of Operations - Digital Web Solutions

January 25, 2024

Imagine this: you are looking everywhere for an answer that seemingly is nowhere to be found, and just then, you come across a page on a search engine rankings page that seems to answer the question that made you almost give up. 

All happy and relieved that finally, something is working out in your favor, you click on the link and ALAS! 

You are directed to a page with a 404 error (page not found) pops up. 

Not only is this frustrating, but it can severely impact your SEO efforts while also giving your website visitors an unexpected hiccup. But what is a 404 error on a website, and why is it so risky for your website rankings? This blog discusses everything you need to know about them. 

What is a Broken Link?

A broken link points to a webpage on the website that either has been moved to a different location or has been removed without creating a redirection. Broken links are popularly shown with a 404 error by the web server. A broken link is also known as a broken hyperlink or a dead link. 

They show up when a website developer forgets to redirect the pathway from a page that no longer exists to a webpage that has the right resources. These links can severely impact your website’s ranking potential and disregard every effort you are making to achieve higher SERP positioning. Fixing a broken link (when you find one) should be your utmost priority.

Importance of addressing broken links on websites

  • Addressing broken links ensures your website is able to offer a smooth and hassle-free experience when browsing through your website. 
  • As your webpage won’t be available for review, it will have a higher bounce rate, eventually reducing time spent on your page (which is considered a ranking factor).
  • These dead links can hamper your website’s ability to convert traffic into paying leads.
  • When Google’s crawlers come across a broken link, they do not move beyond the page to crawl through other pages, which can negatively affect all the SEO efforts you have been putting in. 

 

Causes of Broken Links

There can be many reasons leading to broken links. While sometimes it can be due to unintentional actions, other times it can be due to negligence. However, fixing a broken link is no rocket science. By identifying the root cause of the broken links, you can take strategic steps to ensure your website is still ranking and offering smooth and hassle-free viewer experiences. Here are some causes of broken links:

1. Internal Link Issues: 

These issues can be the result of many factors. Some other common internal link issues include:

  • Renamed or moved pages: 

Maybe the pages were renamed, and there have been serious typos in them, causing the URL to change and redirect to a page that isn’t there. When the URL is not clear, it can get immensely challenging for the server to figure out where to direct (or even redirect). 

  • Deleted pages or content: 

If you had a valid link that was going to a page (which once had content) that no longer has any content, then the link eventually will have no place to go, and this can result in the link redirecting to an error page. Having a clear and well-connected link structure and redirect strategy will help in reducing this occurrence. 

  • URL structure changes:

If your website has undergone serious restructuring, there’s a chance that you will have links that do not know where to direct, as there is nothing similar to the old structure where they can do the redirecting work. This increases the probability of having broken links on your website. Be sure to check every URL individually to ensure there are no dead links redirecting to a page that either has been deleted or whose content has been combined. 

2. External Link Issues:

  • The linked website no longer exists: 

When the website has been removed, the links have nowhere to go, and the server struggles to find a destination to display, eventually resulting in a page display error. 

  • URL typos or formatting errors: 

Typos are common. It is when words within the URL have been misspelled or have been typed incorrectly. The link isn’t able to signal the server where to direct the users. 

3. Protocol Mismatch:

If your protocols on the website are in place, it ensures a hassle-free and safe browsing experience.

  • HTTP to HTTPS transition: 

HTTP or Hypertext Transport Protocol was there right from the early days of the internet; however, these are often not secure and create vulnerabilities for the people browsing through the website. On the other hand, HTTPS or Hypertext Transport Protocol Secure is more secure and encrypted.

Protocols ensure the website is able to communicate within itself without delays. Broken links on the website can be following HTTP, but the access is through HTTPS, creating a protocol mismatch. Builder’s request is different to check the status of the broken link compared to the current protocol being followed.

  • Server Errors: 

These are clear and direct messages from the server indicating that something didn’t end up right while it was being worked upon. It rarely implies that you made a mistake; however, in most cases, it is the website that is usually at fault. The server will show an error message when it is not able to find a link where the user can be directed. 404 and 503 are commonly observed errors on a website. 

  • 404 Not Found errors: 

An HTTP status code indicates to the user that the specific page they are looking for either no longer exists or is non-existent altogether. The error usually shows up when an incorrect DNS address has been fed, the folder files are misconfigured, or a corrupt .htaccess file is running. The 404 error code cannot be bypassed.

  • 503 Service Unavailable errors: 

The HTTP 503 Service Unavailable error message shows up when the server is not able to handle the results. This happens when the server is either too busy or is under maintenance. Contrary to other errors, the 503 error denotes that the website is live and running but isn’t available to be reached at the moment. A “Service temporarily unavailable” message usually pops up.

4. Redirect Chains and Loops: 

Redirect chains and redirect loops are different. While the redirect chains have a working target destination, the redirect loops are a type of closed redirect chain that has infinite cycles going on internally. Redirect loops keep directing the visitors to the same place despite multiple attempts and refreshes. They can significantly waste the crawl budget, slow down page loading speed, drain the equity of the link, and make it frustrating for the user to find what they are looking for.

Consequences of Broken Links

So, how serious can broken links be? The answer is a lot. They can make it incredibly frustrating for your website visitors to navigate through your website and find what they are looking for. Too many broken links that aren’t fixed for long can cause damage to your website’s ranking as well as reputation (for being clumsy and careless in taking action for your own good). Here are some disadvantages of broken links for a website you must be very careful about:

1. Poor User Experience: 

Coming across a “sorry, page not found” when you are eagerly looking for resources for your own research and work can get extremely frustrating. This dissatisfaction further increases as the browsers don’t want to go through the website over and over to find what they are looking for. While it is annoying, there is also a high chance that they wouldn’t trust your brand for information (especially when they are in a hurry).

2. Faulty Website SEO: 

Broken links are dreadful for SEO, especially if your website is new, has changed names, or is looking to attract traffic organically. Broken links can make it challenging for crawlers to crawl through the web pages efficiently, which could cause many new pages with high-quality content not to be crawled at all.

This will impact your website’s ranking on search engines. Additionally, as your website rankings will drop, it will become harder for your business to attract leads with paid ads, eventually resulting in a loss of revenue. Above all, without having a link structure or strategy, your business will be wasting time, money, and resources.

Identifying Broken Links

Manual Checks:

While there are ample tools and integrations that you can consider using, the human perspective still stands superior. Manually checking broken links involves going through all the pages on the website, one at a time, to find any possible broken links. This is a time-consuming process, but rest assured that it yields the best results. 

Webmaster Tools:

These are advanced tools that your business can use to find the number of broken links. Google’s webmaster tools can tactfully inspect the website to find broken links. Google Search Console is a powerful tool to find “crawl errors” to determine the pages that could be potentially broken and might need fixing. 

Site Audit Tools:

These tools are dedicated to finding broken links and coming up with practical solutions to make your website more user-friendly and have higher SEO ranking potential. Here are some tools you can use to conduct your own thorough site audit.

  • AHREFs: 

The Ahrefs Link Checker is a practical tool that will help in identifying broken links and other issues on your website. It can strategically analyze existing links that are growing at a constant rate as well as links that can fail, giving insightful details that every site owner should know. 

  • SEMrush Site Audit:

A popular link checker that can effectively highlight your website’s number of broken links and how you can fix them. The tool runs through all the website pages to ensure nothing is left unchecked. It then generates a thorough report highlighting the number of broken links, where they are appearing, and how you can fix them.

  • Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool: 

Are you concerned that your website is too large or too small for broken link analysis? The Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool can help with this, as the tool can effortlessly analyze a website regardless of its size. The tool can analyze how your website is performing and if there are any possible broken links.

  • Moz broken link checker: 

The Moz broken link checker is an excellent tool to analyze broken links, page authority, and spam score of backlinks, check new and lost links, and analyze domain authority without exiting the app. The tool works flawlessly on any website size. It is a simple and easy-to-use tool. 

  • Majestic broken link checker: 

The tool helps in finding broken links quickly. The tool can identify broken URLs and report them in an instant. The insights are really interesting, crisp, and to the point. These ensure you are able to repair broken links actively without any delays. 

Broken Link Checker Plugins

These plugins can effectively and quickly check for broken links (internal and external included). These plugins ensure you are able to quickly identify and tackle the issues without spending too much time to draw detailed insights. 

How to Fix Broken Links

Now that we know what broken links are and how they can cause damage to your website, it is time to fix them. Here are some clever and smart ways to fix broken links: 

Updating or Revising Internal Links:

Check all your internal links to be sure they are directing your website visitors to the right page. It is also advised to check the page your site visitors are getting directed to. If you find broken links, be sure to check for typos, redirect the page’s existence, and check if the content was completely removed or moved. 

Redirects:

Adding redirects to your websites is a smart and effective way to keep your website visitors engaged and reduce bounce rates. Some of these redirects are:

  • 301 Permanent Redirects: 

The most common and complicated fix that is also incredibly amazing for SEO purposes. The 301 redirects can be used when a page has been moved, a service/product has been discontinued, and a similar product exists so that your website visitors have something to look forward to instead of seeing a blank, error-laced page.

Avoid using 301 redirects in case it will land your website visitor on an irrelevant page. Moreover, the 301 redirects are permanent, and you should be sure about placing them on your website as you might not be able to remove them if the need arises. 

  • 302 Temporary Redirects: 

A 302 redirect is temporary, and you can put these when you want the website visitors to get directed to a particular page. The redirect forwards quickly, making sure your website traffic is getting transferred to the new page directly.

The redirects are also great for A/B testing. They can further be used if you are looking to collect feedback or test a new design. These redirects have no impact on your website’s SEO ranking. 

Removing or Replacing External Links:

Updating or removing external links is an effective way to ensure your broken links never bother your website visitors. 

Updating or replacing: They are the simplest of fixes for broken links. If the URL has a typo, then you can consider updating the old, incorrect one with a new, relevant URL. This method only works if the URL has been misspelled.

Removing: Take the links out if they are not required anymore. This can be the case when the content has been updated or changed to another link.

Regular Link Maintenance Practices:

Keeping your website updated and in check is the best way to avoid broken links. You can use website audit tools to check on pages and their status regularly. 

Best Practices for Linking

To ensure all your pages are loading fast and smoothly without any errors, here are some general guidelines and practices that you can incorporate. These practices not only prevent broken links from showing up, but they also will have a positive impact on your SEO efforts. 

1. Linking to Reliable Sources: 

Instead of opting for flashy, overly persuasive, and time-limited pages, consider linking to sources that have a higher website domain authority and bigger brand recognition and follow the practice of only adding value-driven content to their websites. These sources are great for getting link equity advantage as well.

2. Monitoring and Maintenance: 

Keeping check on your website is an impactful way to ensure there are no broken links in the first place. Various tools will ensure you are able to track such links down and fix them effectively. Creating a broken link strategy is a great way to make sure you are regularly checking your website for broken links. 

3. Using Relative Links:

These links are incredibly effective and can be used to ensure there are no broken links on your website. It is important to ensure that the file being linked is in the same folder as the file you are linking from. Otherwise, the browser will keep searching for the file in an incorrect location, resulting in a broken link. 

4. Automated Link-Checking Tools:

Today’s technology has enabled automation to unimaginable levels, and link-checking tools have made it possible for businesses to automate finding broken links on the website and report it on a priority basis. This will help ensure the website owners are able to take tangible steps and fix the issue before it starts impacting the website’s user experience and SEO rankings.

Wrap Up

Broken links can hamper your SEO efforts significantly while also painting the picture that your business is not taking care of its website well. If you have come across broken links on your website and are worried about what to do about it, there are solutions that will ensure your website doesn’t lose out on valuable traffic and maintains its brand reputation. With broken link tools and best practices, you can always keep your website up and running, catering to visitors without causing inconvenience. 

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