Broken links – why are they so important?
How many times have you visited a website and found that annoying message ‘404 page cannot be found’ or worse; ‘Oops!’? First impressions count and a broken link is at best disappointing to the website visitor, and at worst a reflection of the company whose site you are visiting. A well tended site with people who care about their visitors shouldn’t have broken links, right? Well, this is what Google thinks too! The giant search engine’s whole focus nowadays is on user experience, they want people to use their search engine, so it has to be the best at offering up the closest answers to the enquirers search request.
The truth is, external links break down all the time. You can’t prevent other business from changing their website structure, page names or even basic URLs. You can’t help it if they don’t play nicely and remember to redirect and change URLs to pages that replace them, BUT, you can vet your site to check if you have any of these broken links caused by their bad management so that YOUR visitors are not being irritated.
Google care so much about this that they have even made a ‘broken link checker’ extension for their browser, Chrome, and it is free!
Whilst one or two broken links can be forgiven, many more and your bounce rate (the % of people that leave your site from a page) will rocket – especially if they are on a mobile!
The worst and unforgivable broken links are the internal ones; ones that should take you to a page that is within your website and fail dismally. These demonstrate sloppiness. You have full control over those and they should be addressed when you remove an old page or change the site structure. It is not difficult but it is surprising how many sites suffer from this.
Checking for broken links on your site is easy; there are quite a few free tools available to do this – and to avoid adding broken links to this page, as tools come and go, we would suggest just typing ‘broken link checker’ into your browser – there are plenty to choose from!
What causes broken links? Typical causes include:
• A typo when putting in the URL
• A change to the page URL on the website – it may have been moved under another menu etc
• The page was removed with no redirect put in place by the developer to take you to a suitable replacement
• The server is temporarily down or times out
• The website no longer exists
• The page has moved from HTTP to HTTPS and not been configured properly to redirect.
Although currently, the search engines do not heavily penalise you for these things, (especially if they are out of your control) they do recognise that a website with a lot of broken links is frustrating to the visitor, not a good experience and is probably not being well maintained. That alone is enough to tell the clever little algorithms not to visit and index pages so often; ‘crawl budget*’ is diluted and ranking and visibility will eventually drop off. The other and perhaps most immediate effect is that your visitor will bounce off your website never to be seen again!
*Crawl budget – search engines pop onto your site more often than you probably think, they rarely scan the whole site in one go and they ‘budget’ the time they give you. This ‘budget’ is defined by many factors, including how important a search engine thinks your website is. This is determined by a number of defined factors, which change at regular intervals when they update their search algorithms.