A broken link is a hyperlink on a website that leads to a target page that is not or can no longer be reached, or to a linked file that is no longer on the servers. The result of a click on a broken link is usually the display of a 404 error page or possibly a redirect to a functioning section of the domain.
Causes of Broken Links
Human error is the number one source of error: A person responsible changes something in the HTML code of the page, also affects existing links and inadvertently ensures that they point to nowhere. Typical errors in this context are as follows:
The reference is made to files that are no longer available (either due to a deletion of the data or a restructuring of the file directory).
The link leads to sections of a website that have been renamed or moved. They are still available, but no longer at the address saved in the link.
A revision of the URL structures of a domain can result in a link still having an old, incorrect structure.
File extensions may have been set incorrectly. A reference could result in www.examplepage.de/index.html instead of www.examplepage.de/index.php.
In one way or another, it always comes down to a link pointing to a website or a file that is not available at the specified address.
Broken links to external websites
Broken links are also very common when they refer to an external source. Website operators usually spend little or no time checking the offers of other website operators. If you refer to an external source, you usually do not notice if this domain is switched off or changed. Websites whose hosting costs are no longer paid also fall into this category.
Extensive Wikipedia articles are a good example of this. There, in the references at the end of the website, you can often find links to websites that either no longer exist or that have deleted the existing article or moved it to another location. In these cases, website operators have the option of contacting the operators of the external websites and addressing the deficiency. However, one should not calculate high chances of success.
Effects of Broken Links
According to usvsukenglish, the broken link has a measurable effect on the evaluation by search engines such as Google or Bing. If the search engine crawlers find dead links on a website, this is included in the search evaluation. From the point of view of website operators, it is therefore important to remove those links that lead to nowhere as quickly as possible. Search engines rate these non-functional links as a significant impairment of the user experience – which is also true in reality.
The existence of dead links thus has a direct effect on the visibility of websites when searching for certain keywords.
Apart from these measurable metrics, broken links are also a disadvantage for real users. Visitors who click on links that only work irregularly are unlikely to come back. The website looks bad and maybe even completely abandoned. It not only casts a bad light on the administration of the website, but also on the company behind it. Website operators should remove a broken link as quickly as possible so as not to risk an increase in the bounce rate.
Look for broken links
There are several ways to find broken links. On small websites – such as private blogs – the total number of links is usually so small that a manual search is already successful. However, larger projects require automated measures.
Numerous content management systems à la WordPress or TYPO3 offer plug-ins that were designed to search for broken links on a website. Within a short time, these plug-ins show which links are working and which are not. A change can then be made quickly and easily.
A good customer or visitor service listens to the advice of its own users. Comment functions or hint features to inform website operators are used by some users to report errors such as broken links.
A broken link can sometimes also appear directly in the results of the search engines, the SERPs. From the point of view of website operators, this is particularly annoying, as searchers are immediately confronted with a non-functioning website. This can be remedied by creating a sitemap (which may be laborious) and listing all the functioning pages of a domain.
To a certain extent, prevention can also be achieved with a careful approach. Anyone who activates new pages or makes changes to the server, URL structure, network, etc. should check in advance whether this will affect existing URLs.
Google can help
Website operators can find a solution that comes directly from Google and is not tied to specific content management systems in the Google Search Console. The tool, which can be used free of charge, offers many useful functions and shows, among other things, which dead links the search engine’s crawler was currently able to find. It may be that not every broken link is found without exception. Nevertheless, the Search Console is a good and, above all, cross-website way of starting the search for broken links.
Dealing with Broken Links
If a broken link leads nowhere and the content that was actually planned there is no longer available, there are two options.
The link is completely removed. This solves the problem, increases search engine ratings, and doesn’t confront visitors with a blank website.
The link is left in place and new content is placed on the referenced webpage. This allows the link to be retained and visitors get the content they were actually looking for. This is the more elaborate, but often more elegant, method that is more likely to satisfy visitors.
Website operators have to decide for themselves which method is more suitable in specific cases.