If you’re like most people, you intuitively know that when something’s broken… it ain’t good. A broken TV? Bad. A broken car? Worse. But what about broken links in WordPress?
What are they? What’s so bad about them? And how can you find them? In this post, I’ll get into all those issues and more. By the end, you’ll know:
- What broken links are and how they negatively affect your SEO and user experience.
- How to find broken links using a WordPress plugin
- How to snoop out broken links with some free third-party tools
So What Is a Broken Link?
Ok, let’s start with something we’ll definitely both agree on. Whenever you link to an internal page (your own website) or an external page (someone else’s website), you want whoever clicks on the link to… actually go to that page.
I don’t think that’s a mind-blowing assertion.
Well, a broken link is basically any time that process does not work.
That is, someone clicks on the link and goes to:
- An error page
- A nonexistent page
- Anything that doesn’t work.
You can get more technical with things like header response codes and 404 pages… but all you really need to know is that it’s a link that doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.
Why Are Broken Links Bad?
Alright, step one is established. You know what a broken link is. But are there any problems with actually having broken links on your website? You betcha!
Broken links hurt your site in a few different ways. Let’s go through them in order:
Broken Links Make For a Frustrating User Experience
I doubt I need to explain this one too much because it’s probably happened to you. I mean, when you click on a link expecting to find some cool product or piece of content, only to be met with an error… it’s not a nice experience, is it?
User experience is all about making it easy and pleasant for people to browse your site. And if your visitors are constantly running into broken links, their experience will be neither of those.
Broken Links Are Bad for SEO
It isn’t just about user experience – broken links are also bad for your WordPress site’s SEO. This mostly occurs with broken internal links because broken internal links make it hard for Google to crawl your site.
Why? Because Google’s crawler robot makes its way around the web by following links. It would be like if you sat there and clicked on every single link on a page. And then every link on the next page. And so on!
Well, if those links are broken, it’s going to be harder for you (or more importantly, Google’s robot) to navigate around a website.
And while that won’t sink your SEO by itself, it certainly doesn’t help.
Broken Links Can Hurt Your Bottom Line
If you sell anything or market other people’s products, broken links can just flat out hit you in your wallet. Imagine that you’re linking to someone else’s product and getting paid a commission.
Well, if that link is broken… that means you’re sending traffic to a link that is no longer earning you money. You’re wasting your traffic.
You’d actually be surprised how often this can happen – other websites change links all the time. So even if you have an agreement, they might forget to tell you that they changed the link.
How Can You Find Broken Links in WordPress?
We’ve established that broken links are bad… so what can you do about it? Do you have to manually go through your site clicking on every single link like those poor Google robots?
No, don’t worry. This is not a manual process. I’ll show you how to quickly do this using a free WordPress plugin called Broken Link Checker.
To get started, you need to install and activate Broken Link Checker.
Once it’s activated, head to Settings → Link Checker to actually configure the plugin. The plugin is set up so that you don’t need to change anything for it to work properly. But if you want to, say, set up an email address for notifications or change which links Broken Link Checker looks at, you can do that here and in the associated tabs.
Again, don’t feel like you have to change anything here.
Once you’re happy with the configuration, you can head to Tools → Broken Links to actually find out whether your site has any broken links.
To help with this article, I set up a dummy test site with both broken internal and external links.
Here’s what my Broken Link Checker dashboard looks like:
As you can see, Broken Link Checker clearly marks whether or not each link is internal or external.
Then, to fix any of the broken links, you just need to hover your mouse over the link and choose from one of the options:
The options let you quickly edit the URL to a new working one. Or, if you don’t have a working URL to replace the broken URL, you can opt to just unlink it.
And that’s pretty much all there is to using Broken Link Checker for WordPress. It’s pretty simple!
Are There Any Problems With Broken Link Checker?
While Broken Link Checker is a great solution for finding and fixing broken links, some people complain that it ends up slowing down their WordPress dashboard. So if, after installing Broken Link Checker, you notice that your WordPress dashboard is running slowly, you have two options:
- You can disable the Broken Link Checker plugin when you’re not using it and only enable it when you want to search for links.
- You can use a third-party broken link finder tool. Speaking of…
What Are Some Other Broken Link Finder Tools?
If you don’t want to use the Broken Link Checker plugin because of the slow dashboard issue, or if you’re just flat out not using WordPress, you can go with one a third-party broken link tool. There are a bunch out there, but here are three of the most highly rated:
- Screaming Frog – Screaming Frog is a full-service SEO tool – not just a broken link checker. But as part of its SEO functionality, it makes it easy to ferret out any broken links on your (or anyone else’s) site. The software is free for this use and they even have a guide for how to find broken links using Screaming Frog.
- Broken Link Check – if you don’t want to download anything, Broken Link Check gives you an easy cloud platform to find broken links. It’s not quite as flexible as the other tools, but it is super duper easy to use, so it’s got that going for it.
- Xenu Link Sleuth – Ok, Xenu Link Sleuth has the weirdest download page ever. But if you’re willing to get past that, this free tool can help you quickly find broken links on any website you point it at.
Wrapping Things Up
We covered a lot in this post. At this point, you should know what broken links are and all the nasty effects they have on your WordPress site. Then, you should know how you can actually sniff out and eliminate these links so that your site only serves up the finest functioning links available.
If you’re on WordPress, I’m a big fan of just enabling/disabling Broken Link Checker as needed. But Screaming Frog is also a quality tool that has a number of uses beyond just checking for broken links. So, pick your favorite and make sure all of your links stay working!