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June 6, 2017 (Updated: February 28, 2020)
Broken links are a common problem in the ever-changing landscape of the internet. Links die at an alarming pace, creating a mess of redirects and errors for visitors who just want to get to the heart of the topic. It’s crucial that you keep a vigilant watch for broken links, both internally and externally, so you can take prompt action when they appear.
Image via Flickr by Hernan Pinera
Broken links have a direct impact on SEO, which in turn impacts your traffic. Users who encounter a broken link often bounce away, decreasing the time spent on your site. As your bounce rate climbs, your page rank falls. Broken links also make it more difficult for Google to crawl your site. Though there’s a handy workaround for this that we’ll discuss below, a standard error 404 page will hit Google Spiders like a brick wall, interrupting their indexing and diminishing your ranking opportunities.
Broken links are extremely disruptive to the user experience. All your efforts developing quality content and generating better visibility are lost when your visitor runs into a broken link. Internet users are extremely familiar with 404 errors and missing links, but that doesn’t make them any more tolerant of the malfunction.
When a visitor encounters an internal broken link on your site, they’re likely to leave and seek the information elsewhere. This creates a direct loss of traffic and interest for your site. If an external link is broken, your visitor may lose confidence in your brand or personal expertise. It’s important to back up facts and data with proper citations. If your blog points to broken links, your credibility suffers. With these points in mind, you can easily see the importance of handling broken links properly.
No matter how diligent your efforts, you can’t prevent every error 404 encounter. These often occur because of a broken link, but they can also result from a simple typo. Assume that some percentage of your visitors will inevitably hit your error 404 page, and design your site accordingly.
If you have a bland error 404 page, your visitors inevitably bounce for lack of any other direction. However, a creative, well-branded, and welcoming page keeps visitors on your site and helps them find what they’re looking for. Your 404 page even works with Google’s Spiders to keep them from abandoning your site.
For human visitors, your error 404 page includes all your core branding and navigation features including a header, company name and logo, and a navigation bar. Craft a brief error message that feels friendly and personal. Stay with your brand’s overall tone, making the message humorous, quirky, and creative in all the right places. Include a call to action, highlight your latest posts, or suggest some top products to help guide your visitors toward something of use that keeps them on the site.
For those spiders, try including a randomly generated selection of internal links. Neil Patel used this strategy with a Techcrunch page to increase traffic by nine percent in one month. He included 25 to 50 internal pages with an algorithm that randomizes the pages with each visit. This gives Google Spiders somewhere to go and helps them index your site more fully.
No one is immune to broken links. Even tech behemoths in the S&P 500 have an average of 2.4 percent dead links. Link Tiger reports that over eight percent of the links on TechData.com are broken, as well as nearly five percent of the links on Cisco’s website. Minimize the broken links on your page by checking for them diligently.
Tools like the popular Screaming Frog SEO spider and Ahrefs Outgoing Broken Links Checker crawl your website and find broken links. You can also use Google Analytics to determine how many visitors have landed on your 404 error page and where they came from. If another site is directing visitors to a page that no longer exists, you can use a 301 redirect, restore the page, or reach out to that webmaster and suggest a better page for their link.
If you have external links on your site that point to pages that no longer exist, remove or redirect the links. If the page was a supplementary source of information, consider crafting your own post on the topic and redirecting the link internally since you know there’s now a gap in the online landscape where this information used to be.
A 301 redirect is one of the most common ways to patch a broken link. This tells the search engine that the page has moved and helps direct traffic toward its new address. This passes some of the original page’s SEO properties along to the replacement, though you won’t keep all the SEO benefits. It’s better to keep your original pages intact when possible, but a redirect is better than a 404 error.
While broken links scream for attention, dead links aren’t always bad. A broken link pointing to an external site can represent a valuable opportunity. Broken link building is the practice of identifying broken links that have a lot of referring domains. If you find broken links that are relevant to your industry, you can attempt to fill the void with your own new and improved piece and make a grab for those referral links.
Make sure your link building replacement is a reputable and high-quality piece. You may even want to pitch the article for guest publication on an authority site rather than placing it on your own web page. Once you’ve created a worthy replacement, you can ask for a link from the webmasters who were linking to a dead website.
Broken links are an inevitable scourge of the internet, but you can mitigate their impact on your site with smart proactive strategies for staying on top of them and repairing the damage.
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