A recurring theme I see on all the website audits that I do is the issue of broken links. By broken link, I mean a link that when clicked, throws up an error page and doesn’t go where you want it to go!
They can frustrate the hell out of your site visitors, are not very professional, and can potentially lose you a customer.
But they commonly occur – this post will help you identify if you have a problem, where it is and how to fix it!
Broken links can occur for all sorts of reasons, and for no apparent reason, and so it is worth regularly checking to make sure all is OK with your site.
The easiest way to do this without physically going through and checking every link, is to use a tool to do the job for you. Below I list my favourite tools – all are free to a certain extent and I show where there maybe a cost.
1. Google Webmaster Tools (free)
As a site owner you can have access to a lot of useful tools provided by Google to help you keep an eye on your site and what is going on. If you don’t have access to these tools, this will tell you how – via your Google Analytics is the easiest.
One of the tools offered displays the broken links (‘not found’) on your site.
This tool can be found under ‘Crawl Errors’. By clicking on ‘Not found’, the links which are broken are displayed to you.
The only problem with this information is that you don’t actually know the page that the broken link is on – just where it points to. And this can make locating it quite hard.
2. Screaming Frog (free for <500 pages, £99/year otherwise)
This is my favourite tool – it is more complex as there is so much in it, but it gives you all the information you need to know.
You need to download the tool, and run your site through it. You can click on the Response Codes tab, and then filter for ‘Client Error (4xx)’. You then see a list of all the broken links.
By clicking on each link, at the bottom of the screen you will see more details and some tabs. Clicking on the In Links tab allows you to see what page the broken link is actually on – this then allows you to go find it!
3. seomoz (free for <250 pages, otherwise need a Pro membership)
seomoz provides a range of fantastic tools. There is free membership to some of the tools although this can limit the amount of data accessible.
To check your broken links for a site with less than 250 pages, you can sign up as a free member. Then run the ‘crawl test tool’. You are emailed a .csv file that you can then open in excel.
In excel you will see lots of juicy data that you can explore. However for this purpose, do a filter on the HTTP status code column, for 404. If you have no 404s then you are in good shape! If you do have 404s, the first column will show the URL of the broken link, and the ’4XX (Client Error)’ column shows the referring page.
Now go fix those errors!
Now you know where the broken links are, you can see what the problem may be. Perhaps there is a simple typo error in the link, or maybe some pages have been moved around so they are no longer where they originally where.
If you have access to your website pages (eg via a content management system such as WordPress) you will be able to fix such errors yourself. Otherwise you may need to ask your developer.
Once you have corrected the links, run your chosen tool again and make sure that all now looks OK. For Google Webmasters Tools you will need to wait until Google crawls your site again, to make sure the errors no longer exist.
Custom 404 pages
A 404 page is the page that is shown when a visitor finds a broken link. Rather than displaying a system message page like I have shown at the top of this post, you (or your developer) can create your own customised 404 page. This then makes sure that if a link does become broken in the future, at least your visitors will be able to stay and navigate within your site.
So what are you waiting for??? Go check your links now!
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