Broken links on your website are bad user experience. When customers click on dead links and they go to 404 pages over and over, it hurts your credibility. This erodes trust in your website, which affects conversions and sales.
While Google says they don’t lose sleep over broken links and 404 (page not found) errors, many SEO consultants attest that excessive broken links can have a very substantial impact on where your site ranks.
Link rot is inevitable, because websites and pages that you link to disappear or change their URLs. But most site owners don’t have to time to check for broken links.
WordPress site owners that do make the effort to check for dead links are probably using a solution that isn’t the best option available. Let’s talk about what that is and provide some better alternatives.
Why Google’s Top Search Result Isn’t The Best Solution
If you Google any variation of check broken links in WordPress, Google will point you towards the Broken Link Checker plugin as the top search result. When activated, this plugin runs in the background and returns a list of broken links on your website, and give you the option to edit or unlink the bad links.
But hold up for a second.
Interestingly, WPEngine bans Broken Link Checker from it’s managed WordPress hosting and Media Temple disallows the plugin on it’s Premium hosting. Both hosts exclude Broken Link Checker because it uses an inordinate amount of server resources and makes an excessive amount of HTTP requests.
In plain English, hosting companies don’t like this plugin because it bogs down your site server, making it slower.
What Are Some Alternatives To Broken Link Checker?
If you don’t already have a Google Webmaster Tools account, I highly recommend you get set one up. One of the many things you can do through Webmaster Tools is check for broken links on your site.
Once you get Google Webmaster Tools set up on your site, you can navigate to Sitemaps > Crawl > Crawl Errors and see what pages Google cannot find. You can also find this information on your Site Dashboard in GWT under the Site Errors tab.
This will only track URLs on your site, but will give you insight that Broken Link Checker will not. Click each link in your Crawl Errors list, and you’ll find info on what pages link to that missing page. You can click-through to that page and find where the bad links are. When you’ve fixed the broken links, simply mark them as fixed.
You might get false positives if you have changed the slugs on Categories or Tags. These tend to be picked up if you have Sitemaps submitted to Google. You can redirect these if you keep seeing them as errors.
This is a free link-checking service from the World Wide Web Consortium. The downside is that you can only check one page at a time unless you check the box that says “Check linked documents recursively, recursion depth:”. This means it will follow all the links that stay on your site and check for errors. This can take a while, and you will still need to fix them manually. The upside is it will tell you the reason why it sees each link as broken or un-followable.
Broken Link Check
Broken Link Check is a free online tool that checks your whole site for broken links. What I like about Broken Link Check is that for each broken link, it gives you the URL where the broken link was found and the highlighted source code (src), so you know exactly where to look. You can then manually fix the broken links on your site.
Xenu’s Link Sleuth / Integrity
Xenu’s Link Sleuth is a downloadable application for Windows 95 through Windows 7 that scans your site and returns the status of each link. Red is broken, green is OK.
Xenu’s Link Sleuth doesn’t work on Mac, but a very similar program called Integrity does. Integrity requires Mac OSX 10.6 or higher, but there are legacy versions for OSX 10.4 and 10.5 on the Peacock Media page.
Screaming Frog has a free version of their software for Mac, Windows and Ubuntu that checks up to 500 URLs. The premium version (£ 99 yearly) has unlimited URLs checks and is built to analyze your website from an SEO perspective.
Dealing With Broken Links
There are a few reasons a link might be broken. There could be a typo, or the link may have changed. The URL structure may have changed from http to https. The site you are linking to may have deleted the page or changed the address without redirecting the URL.
If you have an internal broken link, you can change or unlink it. If you are linking to an outside site, you can unlink it or link to something different.
Link rot happens. It’s rare to find URLs that have existed for fifteen or twenty years without changing. The main thing is to focus on what the experience is like for your customer. If they find one or two broken links, they might dismiss that. But if they encounter multiple broken links, it makes it look like your website is in disarray.