Your SEO guide to finding and fixing broken internal links

Understand the impact of broken internal links on SEO and user experience and learn tips and tools to find and fix them effectively.

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Broken internal links on your website are bad for user experience and search engine visibility.

But among the long list of technical SEO improvements you can make to your site, identifying and fixing broken links can fall by the wayside. This is especially true if you’re trying to do this at scale on a site with thousands of webpages. 

Fortunately, regular audits and a whole suite of SEO tools make broken links an easily solvable problem without needing vast technical expertise. 

This guide will highlight everything you need to know about the critical process of fixing broken internal links on your site. 

As implied by the name, broken internal links point to a non-existent page on your website.

Internal links become broken when they point to a page that returns an error, no longer exists or can’t be found. 

Links become “broken” for a number of reasons. Depending on the number of stakeholders who work on your website as well as your site’s size, it can be easy for these errors to fly under the radar.

Here are the primary broken link causes to look out for. 

  • The page in question has been deleted/removed from the site.
  • There is a typo in the link’s URL.
  • A change was made to the page’s URL without an update reflected in the redirect.
  • Pages are structured or have had their naming convention changed during a site migration. 

Pay special attention to your links if you plan on undertaking a site migration in the near future. A comprehensive 301 redirect map can prevent the loss of search equity and ultimately help save you time by preventing mass broken links site-wide. 

Impact on SEO 

Broken internal links can have major repercussions from an SEO standpoint. First and foremost, Internal links with strong anchor text are a ranking signal used by search engines like Google. 

Broken links can impact the ability of search engines to index a site properly. Pages that are not correctly linked or are unreachable might not get indexed at all, leading to lost opportunities in search visibility.

Additionally, a well-linked internal structure distributes link equity throughout a website.

Broken links interrupt this flow, potentially diminishing the value of a page or even the entire domain.

User experience (UX) 

Ultimately, improving the end-user’s experience is the core mission of any website. No matter what marketing or web development aspect your role covers, a website’s smooth and rewarding navigation should be everyone’s goal. 

Encountering a broken link or 404 error can quickly frustrate users and deter visitors from further exploring your site. Repeated encounters with broken links can erode a user’s trust in your website. 

For users and search engines, a site riddled with broken links might be perceived as neglected or outdated, causing questions about its content quality and legitimacy. Over time, this mistrust can decrease repeat visits, longer-term on-page engagement, and even the ability to rank.

While broken internal links may seem like a small oversight, their cascading effects on user experience and SEO can be detrimental to a site’s overall health and performance. Luckily, there are several fixes you can employ to identify and fix these pesky errors. 

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The first step to fixing broken internal links is identifying where they may be present on your site. 

Manual checking

This approach is exactly what it sounds like – going page by page to verify which, if any, internal links are not directing to the correct page.

While this method is thorough, it is certainly tedious and not a practical solution for large enterprise websites with thousands or tens of thousands of pages. 

For these reasons, most SEO professionals will turn to tools designed to solve broken link problems at scale. 

Utilizing online tools

Google offers several tools for finding and fixing incorrect links and 404 pages within your domain. 

  • Use Chrome’s Inspection feature by right-clicking on a webpage and selecting Inspect from the dropdown menu. The Console tab will highlight any 404 errors indicative of broken internal links.
  • Similarly, you can visit Google Search Console directly to identify all 404 error webpages within your domain property. Identifying these errors implies the existence of a malfunctioning internal link leading to the error on your website.
  • Another method involves using Google Analytics. One of the most useful features of the GA4 rollout is the automated tracking of 404 error responses. This data can be retrieved in the Pages and Screens report section, where the error page can be searched directly.

Outside of Google, several popular SEO tools also offer capabilities to detect and resolve issues like broken links. Some examples include: 

  • Screaming Frog: A desktop website crawler designed primarily for SEO professionals, Screaming Frog can quickly scan a website and identify broken links. Within your crawl, use the Response Code option to isolate 404 pages. Then, filter for inlinks to view just internal issues. 
  • Ahrefs: This backlink database tool also offers a Site Audit feature, which combs through a website, highlighting various issues, including broken internal links. The detailed report segregates the links based on their HTTP status codes, making it easier to locate and rectify 404 errors.
  • Semrush: Semrush’s Site Audit tool is designed to uncover on-site issues that might be hampering a website’s performance. Among the issues it detects are broken internal links. Navigate to the Issues tab after running an audit to see the list of links requiring immediate attention.

Incorporating these tools into your SEO toolkit can streamline the process of identifying broken links, each offering a reliable means to ensure your website remains free from the disruptions caused by broken internal links.

CMS-specific solutions

You might not have to look too far outside your setup for a broken link solution. 

Popular content management systems (CMS), including WordPress and Drupal, have integrated or supported plugins and modules that identify problematic links. 

These plugins integrate with the platform’s core functionality and are designed for ease of use, ensuring you don’t need to be a seasoned developer to maintain your site’s SEO health. 

One of the most effective ways to fix broken internal links while retaining SEO benefits is by employing 301 redirects. A 301 redirect essentially tells browsers and search engines that a page has permanently moved to a new location. Importantly, this type of redirect still passes on PageRank to the redirected page.

Employ 301 redirects if a page on your site has moved permanently or a page has been deleted, but you can redirect users to a similar page. 

For example, you’ve combined an About Us and a Meet the Team page into a single URL. 

All previous links to each of these individual pages can be redirected to the new combined webpage, given that the user will still see the expected content when clicking the link. 

You should never 301 redirect to an irrelevant or unrelated page, as this can damage your user experience and subsequent site rankings. 

Content management systems like WordPress offer redirection plugins to help simplify and automate this process. 

Sometimes, a 301 redirect might be more of a labor-intensive fix than is needed, especially if the broken link is due to a simple typo, making a redirect non-applicable.

In this case, once you identify broken links using one of the aforementioned tools or methods and the anchor point for the link on your site, simply replace the old URL with the correct or updated URL. Test the updated link to ensure it directs users to the right location.

If the content linked is outdated, irrelevant, or no longer exists, it’s often best to either remove the link altogether or replace it with a more relevant resource.

For links pointing to outdated content, evaluate if there’s a newer version or a more recent resource on your site. Replace the old link with the new resource.

If no replacement exists, consider linking to a relevant external resource, ensuring it’s credible and adds value to your content. If neither of these options is available, remove the link to maintain content integrity.

Regular audits

Stop broken links in their tracks before they become a major problem for your site. To prevent a major faulty link build-up, schedule regular link audits. 

Tools like Screaming Frog or CMS-specific solutions can be set up to periodically scan your site, ensuring broken links are identified and rectified in real time.

Training and guidelines

With any size website, it’s undeniable that some percentage of your broken links will result from human error. 

Mistakes can happen when creating or updating content. As such, it’s imperative to train content creators or anyone responsible for touching the backend of your website about the importance of proper internal linking. 

As an SEO professional, you might consider providing best practices on content upload, including the basics of:

  • How to create and fix links, with directions specific to the CMS used by the site in question.
  • The significance of double-checking URLs.
  • The importance of updating links when pages are moved or deleted.

By instilling this sense of awareness, many broken link issues can be nipped in the bud, ensuring a seamless user experience and improved SEO performance.

While individual broken links might not seem like a big deal, they can quickly add up to have a major adverse impact on your user experience, ability to rank and general SEO health. 

By following the guidelines set out here, you can not only easily identify broken links but also take preventative measures to minimize the effects of broken links on your site in the future. 

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Alex Klugerman
Alex Klugerman is a New York city-based SEO professional. He is currently a Senior Analyst on the Recommends team at Fortune, with a focus on content, product and technical SEO strategies.  Alex's knowledge and areas of interest encompasses various aspects of digital marketing, particularly content creation and marketing, as well as the dynamic and evolving interplay between artificial intelligence and the SEO landscape.

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