Probably you haven’t noticed yet as I haven’t told you yet: starting from 2011 I’m stepping up my efforts on SEOptimise. I write more regularly for the blog and I’ll help the SEOptimise team with their blog SEO among others. So I start with the basics: broken links.
Blogs amass a record number of broken links over the years as they often deal with short-lived developments or news.
The Web deteriorates fast and with it your site quality when you link out. In my last post I argued that linking out is important for SEO. That’s true but you have to keep in mind who you link out to. Seeing hundreds of websites either disappear or move without proper redirects can teach you a lot about the Web and links. What did I learn?
Google, Microsoft and Yahoo don’t care for broken links
You might assume that companies owning search engines themselves would get the issue of broken links on their own sites. They don’t. There are plenty links to fix here. Google is really awful, many URLs do neither return a 404 nor a 301 to the new version. Yahoo and Microsoft sites like MSN tend to offer proper 404 pages bu does not bother to redirect to newer URLs. So in case you care about longevity you better just link to the blog posts that announce a new service by Google as these tend to stay online longer.
Startups tend to disappear after a year or two
In my highly popular tools list which I compiled over the years but even with a list covering web analytics I saw a considerable number of dead links. I’ve seen that before on my own blog over at SEO 2.0 – tools disappear fast, especially tools based on third party services liketter. Almost all of the first generation Twitter tools from around 2008 had disappeared by the time I update it in late 2010. At the same time most of the blog links were still working. Even those that get acuired are often gone, either by getting swallowed completely by the company that bought them or by sheer neglect.
Sites by people who comment for SEO vanish fast
When installing Broken Link Checker for WordPress and letting it run for a while on a blog that has been online for a few years you might experience a shock: hundreds of links are broken! Soon you’ll discover though that most broken links stem from blog comments. Most of these are not your regular commneters but those who offer less value and comment mostly for SEO purposes. It’s amazing how many comments, track and pingbacks lead to nowhere after a while. It’s often generic sites the likes of expert-internet-marketing-services.biz that vanish the fastest.
Some well known SEO publications do not redirect all posts to new URLs
Pronetadvertising.com was one of my favorite sites over the years. Also Kevin has linked their posts as far back as 2007. They are still around but some seemingly still valid posts have changed URLs or disappeared completely. I could restore some of those links manually both on SEOptimise and on SEO 2.0 I was surprised though to see SEO experts forget this. There are many reasons for such issues, sometimes the blog gets rid of old outdated posts. In other cases the company restructures or the blog gets underfunded in the long run so that obvious tasks like redirecting to new URLs get forgotten.
Even flagship blogs sometimes go offline after a few years
This is probably the saddest part of checking broken links: witnessing the demise of your idols’ blogs. Well known and respected industry blogs doshdosh.com and tropicalseo.com are just two sad examples of blogs from acknowledged experts that are no more. So long out is always a bit of a hazard n the long run. Even the best of us can fail to keep up their blogs after a few years.
Black hat SEOs hijack your legitimate links
Linking out to bad neighborhoods is even worse than linking to broken pages as your site is not just full of holes due to broken links but also may inadvertently become part of spammy link network. Thus you have to check redirects as well not just 404s. Often links get redirected to
How can you check your blog/site for broken links?
You can use lots of free or affordable tools.
- Google Webmaster Tools
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider
- Broken Link Checker for WordPress
- Xenu LinkSleuth
- Website Auditor
- Web Link Validator
- Orchid Box Broken Links Checker
How to link out for longevity?
Link out to news sources from stable websites or blogs not the actual tools you describe. The tool might be long gone while the article will be there for years. So you better link to an NYT article about a new feature by Google than the Google feature itself which might disappear altogether in a year. Remember Google Wave and Google SearchWiki. There were gone within a year.
How to fix outgoing links without breaking your posts?
- Link out to archive.org for important sites. When doshdosh.com went down I linked to the archived versions of Maki’s articles.
- Use a site:brokenlinkurl.com “headline of linked post” to find it elsewhere on the site.
- Unlink the the link altogether when it doesn’t hurt the value of the post
- Delete the whole post whenever a post only consists of the link or is built around on it. Many early posts on SEOptimise were tumblogging short notes consisting mainly of a link.
- Make a screen shot and link to it for pages where you expect a quick change (like AFP stories on Google News or Wikipedia that might get deleted soon)
- Save a local copy and set up a mirror once the original disappears you can use the Firefox extension ScrapBook o save web pages with ease
Why check and fix broken links at all?
The SEOptimise blog exists since 2006, yes it’s already five years old so it’s only logical that many links are not valid anymore. Google seems to assume that older blogs have lots of broken links as I couldn’t see much of an positive impact in search results after fixing of hundreds broken links on my own blog over at SEO 2.0.
At the same time I’ve seen static pages jump back to top results after an update with the obligatory link check. It may depend on the level of change or on the fact of adding a new date.
Still I highly recommend fixing your old postings as it directly harms the user experience and ultimately your reputation when visitors end up on outdated content full of broken or misleading outgoing links. Sometimes even internal links break. As search engines often show older content people will end up on your outdated pages as well.
So at the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether Google really takes broken links into account as a direct ranking factor.
You have to fix links anyways to stay a credible source over the years. It’s also not just about the broken links. Years old advice or suggestions are often not true anymore or there are better solutions by now. Thus I sometimes replace old links with new ones to a completely different resource.