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How-to 9 min read September 10, 2019

What are the broken links, how to find and fix them

If traffic decreases and visitors do not stay on the site, look for broken links. They are more likely to aggravate the ranking in the search engine results page.

What are the broken links?

Broken links are external or internal links that lead to a non-existent site, page, or file. In such situations, the server usually gives an HTTP response code of 404 or 410. It's problematic to notice broken pages on large sites because administrators can use back-ways and can't see the errors that occur to users, especially when there are several thousands of pages.
Broken link 404 error
Broken links that are on the site degrade the ranking. When the search robot Google monitor resources from its database and analyze the content, it clicks on broken links and sees errors. If the robot receives the code 410, it understands that the page doesn't exist and that it's no longer necessary to analyze it. Code 404 tells the search engine that the page may have been before, but now it doesn't exist. In this case, during the next analysis, the robot will check it again and record the fact of absence.

Error 404 may also be displayed when the server gives a 200 response code (everything is OK, the page is there), but in fact, it's empty or missing. This answer is called a 404 soft error. This happens when a non-existent page doesn't return a 404 code or doesn't redirect to a relevant page.

As a result, non-existent pages will be indexed, which means the site will lose the crawling budget. This is a specific time limit during which search engines scan a web resource. Moreover, if they first crawl incorrect or non-existent pages, the site's visibility will decrease, and the number of visitors will drop.

The reasons for the appearance of broken links can be completely different. The most popular of them are the following:

  • the linked resource has been deleted;
  • you deleted the page, leaving links to it;
  • the landing page changed the address, but the link remains the same;
  • when adding a link, some fat-finger was made;
  • the auto-update failed due to invalid addresses.

How to check the broken links

1
You can find broken links in a manual way. This method is more suitable if the site is small. Then you can flip through and view all the pages, checking their operability.
2
Explore indexed pages in a search engine. To do this, enter the command "site:" and your domain in the search bar, open all the pages that have been issued and check the site for broken links. This method, like the previous one, will be challenging for large resources.
3
You can use the functionality of the Google Search Console. First, you need to authorize your site. Then, in the toolbar, go to the "Scan" > "Scan Errors" section. All pages which contain errors will be shown in the displayed list.
4
The Bing Webmaster Tool has similar functionality. After authorization, go to the toolbar, then select the appropriate section. The tool will check the broken links, show their amount and addresses.
The Google Search Console or any other tool shows only those broken links and error pages that are in their databases. However, the results will be inaccurate and won't be the same. This is because the databases of various search engines are updated at different intervals, the crawling depth doesn't match. Therefore, it makes sense to use both resources at the same time.

A faster and more productive way to identify and eliminate broken links is through special platforms such as Serpstat. The service will help to analyze the site, identify broken links online, and tell you how to fix them.

To audit the site for all errors and broken links, you need to open the list of projects in Serpstat and click "Add new project". In the window that appears, enter the domain of the site (the name will be pulled from the domain, but it can be changed). Select "Site Audit" from the menu. By clicking on the "Start Audit" button, you will be taken to the project settings.
List of projects in Serpstat
If you know the exact number of pages on the site and you want to check everything, enter the necessary number. Otherwise, the default limit is 5 thousand pages. In this window, you can configure the speed of the site crawl. The maximum site crawl speed is not suitable for everyone. Some resources don't sustain a large number of requests in a short period and can block the analysis or pervert the results.

After setting up the site audit, wait for Serpstat to complete the check. After the audit is completed, an audit summary window opens. There you can see all the site errors, grouped by priority. It'll also show the level of domain optimization, a graph of the scan depth and response codes, a redirect graph, and a canonicalization diagram.
Site audit online in Serpstat
In the summary of errors, in the group "Response Codes" are listed pages with broken links and other server errors. Notice if the green icon is lit next to the group you are interested in. If the sign is lit, there are no errors. Otherwise, click on the plate to see the list of problem pages, the description of the problem, the way to solve it, and the schedule of changes (if the audit has already been run several times).
How to find broken links in Serpstat
The search for broken links online can be performed with the help of Netpeak Spider and other specialized services.

How to fix the broken links

1
The easiest way is to remove the broken links and the pages to which they lead.
2
If the page is in a state of processing, indicate the 503-error. Make a fancy window for the user and show that you are working on the site improvement.
3
Double-check the spelling of the link. Perhaps, some spelling mistake or a typo was made.
4
If you permanently deleted the page, but the links to it remained, put the 301-redirect on a new page. Delete all links that led to the remote page.
To reduce losses in traffic and customers, create your page template with the 404-code. The standard page looks minimalistic and blank, it doesn't reflect your attitude to the problem and customer care. By creating your own template that suits the specifics of your activity and target audience, you can supplement it with links to the main page and related content.
404 page template design

Conclusion

On large sites, a broken link is a natural phenomenon, but you need to deal with it. Errors need to be constantly monitored, detected and removed. They disrupt the confidence of users and search engines.

You can analyze broken links manually, or you can use search engines or special services, for example, Serpstat. The found broken links need to be fixed and optimized for the user.

This article is a part of Serpstat's Checklist tool
Checklist at Serpstat
Checklist is a ready-to-do list that helps to keep reporting of the work progress on a specific project. The tool contains templates with an extensive list of project development parameters where you can also add your own items and plans.
Try Checklist now

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