Dead links, or 404 Not Found errors, can be annoying. Have too many, and they can increase your website’s bounce rate, and lower it’s search engine optimization performance. Follow our guide to learning what dead links are, what causes them, and how to find and remove them from your site.
Types of dead links
There are different sorts of dead links. The simplest are spelling errors in URLs, for example if somebody types www.exampel.com/info into a browser instead of www.example.com/info, they could be met with a dead link, if the /info page doesn’t exist on that domain.
There’s little you can do to guard against visitors making spelling mistakes. The good news is browsers often auto-fill common sites or repeat visits, minimizing this risk. You can also do your bit by keeping links short and simple. Users are less likely to misspell www.example.com/info than they are www.example.com/information-terms-and-conditions.
Other links, however, you do have control over.
Renamed and deleted pages
An URL slug (the part after the domain name) is usually based on the page title, e.g. /info, /about, or /terms. Each page and post on your site has a unique slug. Sometimes site owners will change slugs after a page has been published—for example during a site rebrand you might decide to shorten /terms-and-conditions to /terms. The decision to change the slug might be made for all the right reasons, but every link containing the old URL is now a dead link.
Equally, if you delete a page, you’ve created more dead links. Every alteration you make to any URL comes with this possibility. The simplest solution is not to change or delete pages once you’ve published them, but that isn’t always possible as websites grow and develop. What you have to do instead is try to minimize the damage those changes can cause.
Finding dead links
The first step is finding your dead links. Within your own site, this is easiest to do when you make the change that causes them. Say you change your /terms page to shorten the slug. You then need to find all the places where you’ve linked to your old terms slug and update it. With some slugs that will be easier than others. If you have pingbacks (or trackbacks) activated, they can show you where your incoming links come from.
When incoming links are external—from sites other than your own—there isn’t anything you can do to change them. Instead the easiest way to stop them becoming dead links is to use 301 redirects. A redirect tells any browser that tries to go to Page X to go to Page Y instead. A redirect can be set up with a simple instruction in your .htaccess file, or even by using a plugin.
External dead links
Chances are if you’ve linked out to other sites, you’ve got dead links where they’ve been updated as well. Finding these is harder, but can still be done. There are broken link checkers available online, or for more extensive checks use SEO crawler software like Screaming Frog. This software will search all the links on your site and produce a list of the ones that lead to 404 Not Found errors. You can then remove or update the link.
Finding and removing dead links might seem like more trouble than it’s worth, but it does have some key benefits. Firstly, dead links are annoying. If the links on your site are broken, it negatively affects your site’s reputability. And if inbound links are broken, people will be confronted with errors instead of your wonderful content, and they’ll bounce. High bounce rates and significant numbers of dead links are both red flags to search engines. If you want to boost your SEO, it’s a good place to start.
If you want help eliminating dead links from your website, or don’t feel confident making changes to your .htaccess file, pick a plan and let TechTe.am’s friendly experts do the hard work for you!