Glossary | 3 mins
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A broken link is any link that fails to take a user to the link’s intended destination. Links can become broken for a variety of reasons, such as a website going offline, a page being removed without having a redirect added, or a website’s URL structure being changed.
When a user clicks on a broken link, they’ll see a 404 error page, either generated by the browser in use, or created by the site owners to explain why the content isn’t available. A 404 error is a standardised HTTP status code which indicates that a page doesn’t exist under a given URL, and that the relevant server hasn’t been able to fulfil the user’s request.
Broken links in different contexts are a cause for concern in SEO for two reasons. Firstly, when Google’s crawlers come across broken links within your website, they’ll take them as indicators of a poor user experience, which is cause to lower the site’s rankings. Second, backlinks pointing to your site from other domains are seen as a vote of confidence, and if they start pointing to a page that’s been moved or deleted, it is a lost opportunity.
For both of these reasons, amending and cleaning up broken links is an important part of routine site maintenance within SEO. By regularly checking for broken links, you can improve the context of your site in the eyes of both users and crawlers, and improve your site’s user experience by making content easy for users to find.
Though you may have few or no broken links at the moment, it’s still important to continually check for broken links, due to a phenomenon known as link rot. Link rot refers to the natural tendency for links to cease pointing to the content they originally targeted over time. Due to the dynamic nature of the internet, link targets can frequently disappear due to websites or pages becoming unavailable, or interests in certain types of content shifting.
Broken links within your site can be addressed by updating rather than removing pages, or by using 301 redirects to send users to a replacement page, substituting URLs that show a 404. When a backlink is resulting in a 404 error due to an incorrect URL being used in the link, you may be able to fix it by contacting the relevant webmaster and requesting an update.
Broken links can also be a good source of new and valuable backlinks. Where a site has a broken link pointing to a site other than yours, you may be able to claim that link for your own profile by creating a replacement piece of content and suggesting that the relevant webmaster links to your content instead.
Broken Links FAQs
What causes broken links?
Broken links can be caused by a number of things, but the most common reasons are target pages being moved to new URLs without a redirect, web pages or sites being removed altogether without a redirect, or typos and other mistakes that occur when the link is first created.
How do I check for broken links?
There’s a range of tools available which you can use to scan your website for broken links. Popular SEO tools such as Ahrefs and Semrush have features that will crawl your site for broken internal links and highlight lost links in your backlink profile that may have been broken. Google Search Console also highlights broken links and other errors.
Questions to ask your link builder