Posted On Monday, November 16, 2020
Author: David Armitage (Technical Director)
Most people know what a link is. An image or clickable part of text that will deliver you to another page. A staple of the internet since day dot. So, a broken link is obviously a link that will deliver you to a page that no longer exists, maybe never existed or is just the wrong page. This is terrible for user experience, causing lots of frustration, and can even have a huge negative effect on your business if the link is one of importance.
Being that search engines index the internet based hugely on site structure, which is inferred using links, it is simple to see that a bad link reflects rather poorly on your website in the eyes of the online omniscience that is Google.
Well, to begin with, they may have always been broken. A lot of work goes into building a website and sometimes, amongst all the complexity, something might get typed up wrong and some confusion may lead to leaky or misleading links.
Therefore, during the final phase of development, we make our whole team peruse the project with a fine-toothed comb to make sure that everything is perfect. We then insist that our clients do the same before launch.
A link can also be broken by changing the location of the page itself. Some CRMs (Content Management Systems) may change the address of an article if you were to go in and say, tweak its name for SEO reasons. In this case, the page still exists, it has just changed location slightly. These should be handled differently, more on that later.
Though we do manually check websites before launch, there are services that can check for broken links which we also use. The reason we like to manually check is that the services will generally only find links that lead to non-existent pages (404 error!) and not links that bring people to the wrong pages.
The best tool you can use for this is Google Search Console. We won’t go too deep into Search Console in this article but to summarise, it is a console where you can check what Google knows about your website, see how well you score with them, get advice on how to score better and even see how often you are coming up in the search results and for what search terms. Straight away on the overview homepage you will see a section called coverage with an inclusion of errors. If there are any then you can simply click on ‘Open Report’ to learn more about what the issues are so that you can fix them.
Knowing where your broken links are is 99% of the battle, then all you have to do is go to where the broken link is located and either remove it or change it to the right URL… in most cases.
But what if the link became broken because the address of the desired page was changed (as mentioned above). Well, these should be handled differently. The main reason being that you don’t control all the links to your website. If someone has shared your page on social media, linked to it from another website or maybe it was a blog article that you have promoted in an email, you can’t just enter other people's social accounts, websites and inboxes to fix the link yourself.
In a case where this is the cause of grievance then your best bet is to use a redirect. This is when you tell your web-server “Hey, if anyone asks for a page at that address, then redirect them to this address”.
Google will see this and respect it too, dishing out no penalty for it.
Performing a redirect is possible through a few means and depends highly on the platform your website is built upon. Ultimately, in any case, this is definitely a job for the techies, and you should definitely consult with your webmaster before thinking about undertaking the task yourself.