You might use a hyperlink to cite a source, guide users toward helpful information, encourage a conversion, or even make someone smile. A link is like a promise: Click on me and I’ll take you somewhere helpful. So it goes without saying that broken links are tremendously frustrating. They irritate readers, who were expecting an easy jump to another website. They damage your website’s reputation and may drive away potential customers. Plus, they can impact your website’s SEO, as finding and fixing broken links has long been considered an SEO best practice.
However, sometimes you might fix a broken link (or a whole pile of broken links) and see no discernable benefit. Does fixing broken links matter these days? Has Google changed the way it responds to broken links? Why should you fix broken links, and how can you increase the likelihood of experiencing an SEO benefit?
The 411 on Broken Links
Why Should You Fix Broken Links?
Clearly, fixing a broken link is a good idea when it comes to user experience. Especially if the link in question was a valuable resource, your users will appreciate that it’s in good working order. But let’s focus on how broken links impact your website’s SEO.
First, you need to understand that links pass link signals, which are signs that tell search engines about the quality and power of your backlinks. High-quality, relevant, and authoritative links can boost your rankings – but only if they’re functional. When a link breaks and instead points to a 404 page, those valuable link signals are lost and can no longer boost your SEO. This is why it’s so important to fix broken links. When the link is repaired, you can typically regain the ranking benefit.
However, sometimes fixing a broken link won’t affect your SEO at all. Why does this happen?
My Fixed Links Aren’t Making a Difference. What Gives?
If you spend some time reviewing and repairing your broken links, but you don’t see any SEO benefit, one of the following reasons may be to blame:
- Google may not count the links. This could happen because the links are spammy, manipulative, or simply non-editorial. If the links didn’t benefit your SEO in the first place, they won’t provide any value upon being fixed.
- The links aren’t valuable. Even if Google counts the links, that doesn’t mean they count for much. If the search engine deems the webpage low value or obsolete, a link to the page won’t benefit your SEO much.
- The new link is worse than the old one. If the new URL isn’t as relevant, valuable, or fresh as the old URL, it won’t provide the same SEO benefit. For example, sometimes when companies completely revamp their websites, they redirect everything to the homepage or a category page. Google can see that the link is fixed, but may also report it as a “soft 404,” meaning that the algorithm understands the new URL isn’t as relevant as the original URL.
- There’s a theory that Google doesn’t rely on “live” links. Some people suspect that link signals don’t need to be present all the time for Google to assign them value; for example, Rand Fishkin coined the term “ghost links” several years ago. This theory stems from the fact that Google recommends you leave redirects in place for a year. Although this isn’t definitively true, it would explain why fixing links sometimes feels pointless.
How to Fix Broken Links
So, considering all these potential pitfalls, what can you do to maximize the likelihood that fixing your broken links will provide an SEO boost?
First, you should absolutely continue fixing your broken links. We can understand why you might read the above and think, “What’s the point? Why should I even bother fixing my broken links if there’s a sizable possibility that it won’t help my SEO?” But remember that links greatly impact the user experience. If readers can’t rely on your links, they may grow frustrated and think poorly of your website (and your brand) as a whole. In some instances, they may even abandon ship.
In addition, we don’t know which links Google is counting but we do know that there are several instances in which fixing a broken link translates to higher rankings. To ensure your website isn’t left in the dust, it’s important to continue fixing broken links as they arise.
Next, when you’re fixing broken links, we recommend that you abide by the best practices touted by Moz:
- Focus on links to high-authority pages. If you have a large number of broken links, start by fixing the ones that point to valuable high-authority pages. In addition, if a page on your site with lots of links pointing to it is down, prioritize fixing it.
- Prioritize links to fresh pages. Links to pages that are newer and regularly updated are more valuable and typically have higher traffic rates. Put pages with high freshness signals at the top of your list.
- Redirect to relevant pages. If you’re removing a page, be sure that you redirect its traffic to the most relevant URL, not just the homepage or an off-topic category page. Look for pages with similar keywords and a similar user experience as the old URL. If you can’t redirect to a relevant page, consider choosing not to redirect at all. A 404 page isn’t necessarily a bad thing – sometimes it’s necessary and plays an important role on a website, informing users that a URL no longer exists.
Finally, remember that you don’t need to fix every single broken link on your website. If your website is small enough and you regularly review your broken links, it’s possible to stay on top of them. But if your website is larger, you may be greeted with thousands of broken links when you open the report. Tackling every broken link wouldn’t be worth your time. Focus on the most important ones, and leave the rest.
Like most website maintenance, it’s best to tackle broken links regularly so that they don’t pile up and overwhelm you. Set up alerts through WordPress, Ahrefs, or another program so that you’re regularly reminded to review your site’s broken links.
If you’re hoping to build a beautiful, effective website that will rank on Google, contact 417 Marketing for help. Our team of knowledgeable, creative, and passionate professionals specializes in SEO, web design and maintenance, and Google Ads, and we have successfully completed over 700 websites since our inception in 2010. Contact us and learn more about what we can do for your company.