How Broken Links Hurt Your SEO (And Your Heart)

How Broken Links Hurt Your SEO (And Your Heart)

Imagine that you and your significant other are heading to a quaint, romantic Italian bistro for Valentine’s Day dinner. You follow the directions of how to get there, you’re already excited to try the raviolis that your friends recommended, and everything is going great. That is, until you reach the door of the restaurant and your heart sinks. This is what you see:

Sorry, We're Closed Sign

You feel disappointed, and whether you consciously know it or not, you might even resent the restaurant a little for ruining your amorous plans.

In the digital marketing world, a broken link is a lot like this heartbreaking Valentines scenario.

When visitors follow links to or from your site they are expecting certain content to be available to them once they get to that page. Broken links are not only bad for user experience but can also be harmful to your site’s loving relationship with Google, i.e. your SEO. Avoid linking out to broken content, and also avoid having pages on your site that are broken. Today is a day about love, so let’s keep the link juice flowing!

Why Should Broken Outbound Links Make You Forlorn?

When you link out to other sites from your own site, these links are called outbound links. Limiting, or eliminating all broken links pointing to external pages can be tricky, as you likely don’t have control over the external content you are linking to and might not realize it has been removed or relocated on the external site.

When your site has outbound broken links, it’s bad for your users and your SEO. Google’s web crawlers, or “Googlebots” travel link to link and collect data about each page. Be sure to regularly audit your outbound links to insure you aren’t pointing people (or bots) to broken pages.  

How to check for outbound broken links:

If you have a very small site, this check might be possible to do manually with “Check My Links” chrome extension by manually reviewing each page of your site and performing checks individually for broken links. The tool will discover both internal (links to your own site) and external (links to other sites) broken links. Keep record of occurrences of broken links in a spreadsheet so you can go back and fix or remove links later.

If your site is large, it likely won’t be possible to manually check each page for broken links. In this case, it is worthwhile to invest in a paid backlink checker such as Ahrefs, which can help to find broken links in bulk on your site. Ahrefs makes checking for outbound links incredibly easy: they have an “outgoing broken link” report that takes minutes to find, and export all of your sites broken links.


Source: Ahrefs

Fixing outbound broken links

Finding the outbound links that are broken is only half of the job, now it’s time to fix those links! This is the more time consuming step. Export your list from Ahrefs, and start chipping away at it. If it’s been some time since you’ve audited your outbound links, or you have never audited them, then you will likely have a lot to correct.

Here’s a quick checklist for what to look for when evaluating your broken links

  1. If the context of the content can stand alone without the link, and it was not a citation, then simply mark “remove” on your excel sheet and move on.
  2. If the link is needed, check what the linking anchor text included. It can provide contextual clues to what used to live on that page.
  3. If the anchor text is too vague use to establish what used to live on that page.
  4. Perform a site search on the site to see whether the content has a new location on the site.
  5. When possible, search for more recent or updated versions of the content to replace the broken link with. If you need to refresh your content to accommodate a new source doing so can help keep your site fresh and updated for visitors.


404 Pages & Inbound Broken Links

A 404 error occurs when content on your site was either removed or relocated without proper redirects in place to lead visitors to the correct page.

How to find 404 pages:

To find 404 error pages on your own site that might be resulting in broken links you’ll need a site crawler such as Screamingfrog.

A helpful tutorial:

3 ways to avoid and fix 404 pages:

  • Update rather than remove content: Rather than removing pages try to update or refresh the content. This will help prevent avoidable unwanted 404 pages that may result from deleting content that other pages are linking to.
  • 301 redirect visitors to a new page: If the content still exists on your site, but has simply changed location, or there has been an update to your URL structure, then re-direct visitors to the new page using 301 redirects.
  • Contact the webmaster and ask for an updated link: If the 404 error is occurring because an external site in using an incorrect URL to link to you, you may be able to resolve the issue by reaching out and requesting an update from the author or webmaster.
outbound broken links hurt seo

While Google states that having 404 errors won’t necessarily harm your SEO, it may be harming your user’s experience which can result in poor performance such as higher bounce rates. Search engines are constantly trying to improve the user’s experience, so a good rule of thumb is, if it’s bad for the user it’s likely not great for SEO either so prevent and fix your site’s outbound and inbound broken links.

Interested in developing a healthy link portfolio to boost your traffic and rankings? Learn more about our quality link building services.

Kayla Tarantino

Kayla Tarantino discovered her love for all things digital marketing while overseeing daily operations of a small e-commerce business throughout college and has been in the industry ever since. She joined the Vertical Measures team in January 2015 as an Internet Marketing Specialist and she is now supervisor of our Internet Marketing Services team. In her free-time you might catch her crafting, horseback riding, or seeking out new local shops and restaurants.