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A hands-on guide to finding (then fixing) your broken links

If you land on a 404 error page while browsing a website, you probably clicked on a broken link or dead link that didn’t lead you to your desired destination. Let us show you how to deal with broken links.

Even though broken links are a fact of life on the Internet, you should avoid them on your web pages as much as possible, and eliminate these “dead ends” as quickly as possible.

In this article, we’ll show you how to find broken links, and how to repair them.

What are broken links and how do they occur?

Broken links are basically internal or external incoming links whose link target cannot be retrieved by a browser or other client. The reasons for this are many…

Syntax errors or incorrect endings

A very common cause is misspelled URLs or endings. Thus, a number or letter error in a URL can already lead to a broken link. The same applies if you set a .php ending instead of the .html ending or omit a required ending altogether.

Domain move or changes to the URL structure

Another reason for broken links is a domain move. If the site’s internal links have not been adjusted and proper 301 redirects have not been set up from the “old” to the “new” URLs, dead links will quickly appear.

These will lead people to a page that can no longer be found at the original location on the server. The same is true if you have changed the URL structure of your domain without adjusting the internal linking.

Renamed files

Broken links also often occur with files that have been placed on the server. If the file name is changed, the resource can no longer be accessed under the original URL.

This can happen, for example, when images on the server are moved to another folder. The result might then be product pages in online stores on which no more images can be seen.

Deleted files

If files are deleted without the corresponding links being removed or modified, dead links will also result.

Incorrect redirects

If you have modified URLs and set up corresponding redirects, broken links can still occur if the redirects do not work and are faulty.

As you can see, there are many possible causes for broken links. Especially on larger websites with a lot of images and HTML files this phenomenon can occur very easily.

Why are broken links harmful for my site?

When users use a search engine, they have the need to find a website with a suitable solution or information. If they go to a web page and it returns an error code instead of the content they are looking for, this leads to a negative website user experience.

Broken links on web pages that lead users to dead ends or to pages that cannot be reached thus cause usability problems. In this case, visitors do not find what they were looking for or are at least prevented from smoothly navigating the website.

Both the first and the second example can lead to increased bounce rates and decreased dwell time. Of course, if visitors leave your website prematurely, this in turn leads to you not reaching your goal with your website (for example, ebook downloads, online store purchases, etc.).

In addition, this data is an indication for search engines like Google that your site is poorly maintained. This will negatively affect your rankings in the SERPs.

Search engine crawlers themselves may also encounter broken links while following links on web pages on a daily basis.

For example, if the Googlebot encounters such a link, it has to abort the crawl. Since the crawl budget of the bot is limited, frequently occurring broken links can affect the crawling and thus the indexing of your website.

Another disadvantage is that irregular crawling might result in outdated URLs of your website in the search engine index. These, in turn, can lead to crawling problems and frustration when clicked by human users.

So you can see that eliminating broken links is important for your website, both in terms of crawlability for Googlebot, and usability for hunans!

How to find broken Links

Of course, you can click through your website page by page and try every link on it to find broken links.

This may be a relatively good method for very small websites with only one or two subpages – but even for medium sized sites this can become quite tedious. Really tedious.

For larger websites – or for website owners who like to optimize their workflows – there are website analysis tools that show all broken links of a website with a few clicks.

Our tool of choice, of course, is the Ryte platform. Let’s take a look…

Find broken links with Ryte

Start the “Link Status Codes” report under Search Engine Optimization. Your attention should be mainly on the links with status codes 4xx and 5xx.

In the field “[Target] Status Code (Group)” simply click on the corresponding fields to filter for these status codes. Ryte will then show you all link targets that were not found due to a 4xx or 5xx error.

Figure 1: Detecting broken links with Ryte Search Engine Optimization

To find out if the broken links are internal links pointing to subpages of your website, apply a filter.

Click on “New filter” and select “Domain (link target)” or “URL (link target)”. Enter the name of your domain in the “contains” field. Then click on “Save & Close”.

Figure 2: Set filter for internal broken links

The result is a filtered list of internal links on your website that generate a 4xx or 5xx status code.

You can also use Ryte to target broken links that point to websites other than your own. This way you make sure that your external links really work and that you offer your users a real added value.

To find these “external” broken links, simply change the filter. Click on “Does not contain” and enter your domain name. Then you will see all links to external websites.

Figure 3: Creating a filter for broken links to external websites

How to fix broken links

There are several ways to deal with broken links, once you have found them – starting by analyzing them.

You should also take into account whether you or someone else has previously made changes to the domain or URL structure.

Manual changes: You can usually fix URL misspellings very quickly and correct them in your CMS on the page in question. This also applies to broken links that point to websites other than your own.

Bulk changes: If the syntax error was performed for an entire directory, an automation in your CMS may be responsible. In this case, you should check the templates or routines that create URLs automatically.

Set up redirects: If the content of the affected URLs still exists, but can only be accessed under a different URL, you can also work with 301 redirects. We have compiled everything important for you in our redirect guide.

Delete links: If the resource for an internal link no longer exists and a redirect makes no sense, you can also delete broken links. This makes sense, for example, if you run an online store and no longer offer a product category at all. If the broken link is repaired and no longer useful, this is the easiest solution.

You can find more information about dealing with 404 errors in our guide.

Extra tip: Avoid broken links with an up-to-date XML sitemap

If you regularly create an up-to-date XML sitemap and upload it to Google Search Console, you can easily monitor whether the links it contains are working.

Google continuously checks the links of your sitemap and shows in a separate report whether the links contained in the XML file work or are error-free. Under Index > Sitemaps you can upload your sitemap and check its processing and view the index coverage of the contained URLs.

Figure 4: Check XML sitemap in Google Search Console

To check your sitemap with the Ryte platform, search for “Sitemap” in the navigation and call up the “Content Status Codes” report. There you will get a detailed overview with the status codes of your submitted URLs. Check especially the links that generate a 4xx error – because the sitemap should only contain reachable page links with status code 200.

Figure 5: Detect broken links in the XML sitemap with Ryte

Optimize 404 pages

As already mentioned, broken links cannot always be avoided. However, it is important that you act quickly when you discover them.

In order to at least keep the chance that users don’t immediately bounce off 404 pages, you should design them appealingly and try to make them an alternative offer.

Final thoughts on broken links

Links ensure that users and search engines can easily navigate web pages and get from one website to another. Broken links hinder this continuous flow.

Therefore, you should regularly check your website for broken links and ensure a continuously good website user experience and crawlability. Google and your users will thank you!

Optimize your website with Ryte

Published on Mar 4, 2022 by Editorial Team