How to Find and Fix Broken Links and Backlinks

In this post, we’re going to do a deep dive into an important topic of technical SEO: finding and fixing broken links on your website.

Let’s begin with a definition:

What is a broken link?

A broken link is a hyperlink that points to a non-existent resource on the web. Usually, this occurs when a previously-published webpage has been taken down or its URL (address) has been changed.

Broken links can be internal (i.e., links between pages on your own website) or external (i.e., links to pages on other websites). Backlinks can become broken as well. These are incoming links from elsewhere online pointing to a page that is no longer live on your website.

If you discover broken links on your site, it’s nothing to feel bad about. “Link rot” is actually a natural byproduct of the internet. However, even though some deterioration of links is inevitable, you can make sure your site is in good shape for both technical SEO and user experience by finding and fixing broken links.

How harmful are broken links?

Having a few broken links is normal, but you encounter some problems if there are too many broken links and backlinks on your website in total. Here are a few issues to be aware of:

For site visitors

A broken link will hurt user experience. When you refer readers to a resource and they discover that the page is dead after clicking through, this can result in a loss of credibility for your site, as well as an increased bounce rate as users decide to leave and not return to your site.

For SEO crawlers

A website with a higher number of broken links could indicate that the site is low quality or out-of-date to search engines. This could also hurt indexing and ranking for your other pages if unnecessary crawling resources are wasted attempting to access too many non-existent pages.

For SEO

A broken backlink represents a loss of potentially valuable link equity from other sites pointing back to yours, which in turn can hurt your site rankings in search. Excessive broken backlinks may also hurt your referral traffic, if backlinks are sending users to a page on your site that doesn’t exist.

Obviously, it’s a good idea to minimize the number of broken links and backlinks affecting your website. However, finding these links manually can be a tedious job – especially for sites with hundreds or even thousands of pages – which is why we want to share some different ways you can find broken links more easily.

How to find broken links?

Theoretically, if you want to uncover broken links, you could simply visit every page on your website and click through all of the links to see if any of them aren’t working. But this is not a good use of anyone’s time.

You need a way to quickly, easily, and efficiently find your site’s broken links. In Ahrefs, there are several reports that can help you find broken internal links, outbound links, and backlinks.

Finding broken outgoing links

How do you find broken internal and external links on your site?

One simple way is with Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (free) or Ahrefs Site Audit.

These tools check your website for hundreds of SEO issues, including the broken pages and pages with broken links on them.

Here’s what it looks like after the crawl:

broken internal links in Ahrefs

The issue’s details will show you all affected URLs on your website. Read on to learn how to fix those broken links.

In case you don’t want or cannot crawl a website fully, you can get a quick view on the website’s broken internal and external outgoing links in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

For broken internal inks, go to the “Best by links” report, switch to the “Internal links” tab and apply “404 pages” filter. This will give you a list of the broken internal pages for any website. Click on the number in the table to get a list of pages linking to the broken one.

broken links in Ahrefs Site Explorer - 2

To find broken external links on any website, go to Site Explorer -> Outgoing Links -> Broken links.
Broken outgoing links in SE

How to fix broken links

Whenever you discover a broken link, you have a few key ways to fix it, depending on which of the 3 link types you’re looking at. Let’s briefly talk through what you can do with each type of broken link!

1. Fixing broken internal Links

Fixing broken internal links is easy because you have full control over all of the pages involved. If you uncover an internal link pointing to a nonexistent page on your site, either remove the link or choose a new page on your site to link to.

You can also avoid broken internal links by always checking whether there are internal links pointing to a page on your site before you take that page down. If so, the best thing to do is manually remove or adjust those links – or, in a pinch, set up a redirect from the dead page to a relevant live page.

2. Fixing broken external links

Fixing broken external links is similar to how you would fix broken internal links, but with more limited options. Since you only have control over your own pages, you’ll need to edit the pages you have with broken outgoing links on them and either remove the bad link or choose another external page to point to.

3. Fixing Broken Backlinks

Fixing broken backlinks is different since the pages containing these links are on websites over which you have no control. So here’s what you can do:

Reach out to the linking website. For important backlinks from “strong” websites (i.e. those with a high domain rating and/or high relevance to your site’s topic), you can manually reach out to the webmaster or site owner for these sites and request that they link to another page on your website instead.

Redirect the 404 pages. You can set up a redirect on any of your 404 pages with a good number (and quality) of links, pointing it to another relevant page.

Recreate the “dead” page. You can rebuild and republish a page with the “dead” URL to essentially revive the page and try to reclaim the “link juice” that those links are passing onto your site.

Should you fix all broken links?

It’s not a given that your broken links are worth the time and effort it takes to fix. Although many SEO experts and agencies may advise otherwise, we believe it’s not worth fixing every broken backlink and 404 page your website may have.

In fact, most of these links aren’t going to move the needle and will just be a waste of time. While it’s true that having dead pages with backlinks could result in wasted link equity, the actual link quality (and the resulting SEO benefit) is often minimal.

When compared to other SEO activities you could be spending your time on, fixing broken links is generally not a high priority. It’s most important for improving site UX if the broken links are hampering website navigation or frustrating visitors on your traffic-most pages.

Wrapping up

Broken links and backlinks waste “link juice” and contribute to a poor user experience on a website. Although it may not be the most critical SEO issue, you should make an effort to find and fix them.

You can schedule automated audits in Ahrefs’ Site Audit to monitor your website for broken links and backlinks.

Nick is a product marketer and a seasoned SEO specialist at Ahrefs. He is also a regular contributor to the Ahrefs Blog, dedicating his remaining time to enhancing the Ahrefs SEO Toolbar.