Broken links, both internally and externally, are bound to happen from time to time. For instance, external blog posts and resources that you link to from your own website might get pulled down or redirected by their respective owners. You have no control over what someone does on their website, and it’s not like a blogger sends a mass email to every site in their link portfolio letting you know they deleted a specific post or pulled the blog down entirely. When a search spider hits a broken link on your site their crawl down that “road” is effectively blocked and it registers as an error. The question is—can those broken links hurt your website?
Keeping up with your site maintenance and making sure there aren’t too many broken links, from an SEO perspective, is important because it helps ensure that each page of your site is crawled and indexed by the search engines. Every page on your site, no matter how deep, has the potential to become a landing page for the right visitor. You want to make sure none of the pages on your site are floating off on their own, inaccessible from any other page. However, in my experience, a few broken links aren’t usually a huge deal for long term SEO success, but it’s proportional. If your site has 1,200 pages and only 63 broken links you’re doing pretty good all things considered. It’s even more impressive if you own an e-commerce site where product pages are constantly being created and taken down, sales start and end and the content on your site is constantly changing.
However, broken links are the death of your site’s user experience. You want to make it as easy as possible for someone to do business with you, and a broken link can completely derail the whole experience and quickly send your visitor packing. When you link to something, especially if it’s an internal link, your visitors are expecting to be taken to a certain page. Failure to deliver on that expectation can put a bad taste in your visitors’ mouths, especially if the page they are trying to get to is part of the buying process. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes—if you really wanted a specific product and all the signs pointed to that product being available (photos, links, description, etc) but every time you tried to pull up the individual product page you were shown a 404 message, how long would you stick around trying to find that product? Customers shouldn’t have to work to do business with you and most of the time they aren’t willing to when your competition can make the whole process much simpler and more streamlined.
Broken links are bound to happen from time to time, and chances are you might not even realize something is amiss. That’s why it is so important to monitor your Google Webmaster Tools and Analytics accounts and keep an eye open for any messages indicating you have broken links on your website. You want to make sure everything on your site is in ship shape, both for your SEO and your visitors.