Broken Links: A Problem for SEO, Usability or Both?
Image by Hernan Piñera
On the surface, a couple of broken links on your site may not seem like a big issue – but in reality they could be doing some serious damage.
The online world is full of links pointing from one site to the next. And, as the web is constantly changing, sometimes these links will get broken. Consequently, dead links are part of the architecture of the internet – so as a site owner or SEO professional, it’s something you’ll have to deal with on occasion.
In the SEO world there’s some debate about the true impact of dead links. There’s no doubt that they’re bad news, but some influencers suggest they’re more of a usability issue than an SEO issue.
So, are broken links a problem for SEO, usability or both?
Broken Links Will Damage Your Site’s Usability
There’s no debate here – broken links will negatively affect your site’s usability, which in turn can damage your brand.
We’ve all encountered a dead link at some point and it’s a frustrating experience. Whether you’re trying to view a product or watch a funny cat video, hitting a 404 error page can result in you simply giving up and leaving.
It’s likely that you’ve put a lot of time and effort into getting people to visit (and stay on) your site. So it seems silly to risk them ‘bouncing’ off because you haven’t maintained your links – especially when this can act as a ‘roadblock’ in the conversion process, resulting in loss of revenue.
Consequently, keeping an eye out for broken links is an important part of website maintenance. If you have a huge website, the odd one or two might not be a massive problem, but if your site is relatively small, even a couple of dead links could be a big issue in terms of usability.
Broken Links Can Impact Your Site’s SEO
It’s when it comes to the impact of broken links on SEO that there’s more of a debate. In September 2014, Google’s John Mueller suggested that the search engine views a couple of dead links as a usability issue, when he stated that:
“If you find things like this (broken links), I'd fix it primarily for your users, so that they're able to use your site completely. I wouldn't treat this as something that you'd need to do for SEO purposes on your site, it's really more like other regular maintenance that you might do for your users.”
However, many influential sites suggest that this only applies if the broken link problem on the site is relatively minor. For example, Search Engine Round Table state that, ‘…if GoogleBot only hits broken links on your site and your internal navigation is all broken, it may have a problem indexing and ranking your web site.’
The Impact of Broken Links on Usability Can Also Affect SEO
Broken links can also negatively impact your rankings indirectly, due to their impact on usability. According to Moz, “Usability and user experience are second order influences on search engine ranking success. They provide an indirect but measurable benefit to a site’s external popularity, which the engines can then interpret as a signal of higher quality.”
As a result, changes in user behaviour due to broken links, such as not sharing, returning or linking to your site, could result in the search engines assuming that you aren’t providing visitors with quality content – lowering your rankings.
So, are broken links a problem for SEO, usability or both? The answer is: both. There’s no doubt that they can seriously damage the usability of your site, resulting in visitors only staying for a short time – which in turn can affect your rankings.
And whilst Google may see a couple of broken links as a usability problem, a large number can result in the search engine having problems indexing your site.
Worried about broken links affecting your site’s usability and rankings? Our broken link checker tools, including a single site-checker, multi-site checker and auto-checker, can help you easily find and fix them.