Should You Worry about Broken Links?

Do you have broken links at your website? We’re talking about links in your content that don’t work — they go nowhere, or to a different place from where they originally went. 

Most large website have some broken links. The internet changes all the time. People remove web pages, change their addresses (URLs), and change the content. Websites get taken down or changed into something else. And there are even technical issues that can cause broken links. 

So do you need to worry about broken links?

Yes. You don’t need to obsess, but you do need to fix those broken links when you get a chance. 

What’s wrong with broken links?

Broken links are a natural part of the web, and not an emergency. But they can affect the overall quality of your website.

Three good reasons to worry about broken links:

  • Broken links can be a usability issue for your visitors. You wanted to share those resources with your visitors, after all, and good links improve their experience. Clicking through a broken link lessens the overall quality of the experience. Lots of broken links will drive visitors away and keep them from coming back.
  • They can be bad for SEO. Google is on record saying that a couple of broken links won’t do you any harm, but we don’t know how many it takes to affect your rankings. Lots of broken links are often a sign that you aren’t keeping your website up to date. They also affect user experience, and we know Google cares about that. 
  • The end result of the link might have changed. If you link to other websites, those websites might have changed or disappeared, but it could be worse. They may have changed hands and kept your links live — but now they go to payday loans sites or other URLs you don’t want to link to. (Don’t ask how we know this.)

So mending broken links is certainly worth doing. I’m writing this during the coronavirus pandemic, when some people have extra free time. If that’s you, this could be the perfect quarantine task.

How to find and mend broken links

First, use an automatic link checker to identify the broken links. We’ve been using Broken Link Checker Tool with success recently, but there are many tools like this available online. Choose a tool that lets you click directly to the page where the broken link is located. It’s also useful to see the anchor text, so you can immediately find the link that needs fixing.

broken link checker

The screenshot above shows the results for our lab site. The left hand column shows what kind of broken link we have. The middle column shows the link itself. The right hand column shows the anchor text. We can click on the anchor text to reach the page with the broken link.

Once you’re at that page, you can edit the link to make sure it goes to the right place. 

  • If it’s an internal link (a link to a page on your website), check to see whether there is a flaw in your links that might be happening on other pages, too. We have seen this happen several times. If there is a systemic problem, you might be able to fix it with a redirect using a regular expression. And when we say, “you” here, we mean a qualified developer.
  • If it’s a link to a resource on another website, search for that resource before removing the link. There are lots of reasons for changing the URL of a web page. You might be able to change the URL in the link and make no other changes. 
  • You might find an alternative resources. Again, changing the URL and a couple of words can make a quick fix. 
  • If those fixes don’t work, you can remove the link and perhaps also the sentence it was in.

Should you use an automatic broken link fixing plugin?

We’ve tried out plugins that automatically fix broken links. Unfortunately, they usually fix the link by removing it. Not only does that often leave you with a weird sentence, it also removes the link so you don’t know where it was headed. 

Use these plugins to find the broken links, not to fix them automatically. Go through the process described above. 

Is this the best use of your time?

Maybe not. This is a time-consuming process, and you might have more important things to do. If so, contact us and we will be glad to help. 

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