Link Rot: Why Dead Links to and From Your Site Matter

Staying on Top of Your Broken Links is Important for Your SEO. 
Published on 
April 30, 2024
Updated on 
April 30, 2024

Link Rot, or link decay. Every website is affected by it at some point, it’s how you monitor and respond to it that makes all the difference. 

While you might not have a single broken link on your website right now, the older your content becomes, the higher the chances it will happen to you too. 

In the below article, we’re going to delve into what, exactly, link rot is, how it affects your website and potentially your SEO and how you can make sure that your site isn’t suffering because of it. 

Link rot defined

Link rot is a metaphorical way of describing the process by which a website’s external (and internal) links stop working. 

External link rot

You almost certainly have been on the other end of link rot (as a user of a website or reader of a piece of content) when you have clicked on a link, expecting to be taken to a different page, only to end up seeing this: 

That’s because the hyperlinked page no longer exists. Maybe the website the page is hosted on has been inactive for a long time and there is some kind of critical error preventing the page from properly loading. 

There is a wide range of reasons that pages disappear or stop working, including: 

  • Pages being renamed, deleted or removed during the course of running a site.
  • Sites stop operating because the business no longer exists–the owner moves on or stops maintaining the site. 
  • Content is removed by institutions and governments.
  • Hackers corrupt the content and redirect URLs to different locations.

Whatever the reason, link rot and broken links are annoying–both for users and publishers of content. 

It is also a fact of life online. 

Ahrefs did a study that found that some 66.5 percent of links “rot” within 9 years. Think about it. For every three external links you include in your content, two of those are going to stop working within less than a decade. 

A decade sounds like a long way off, but the majority of website owners don’t really have a plan for link rot. It’s not something most people think about (especially non-link builders) when they’re creating their content. 

The permanence of the internet can lead you to assume that anything published online stays there forever. In some sense that’s true, the way back machine internet archive does keep track of pretty much everything. 

But there is a big difference between a functional, navigable, live backlink and the archived version of a page. 

Internal link rot

The link rot problem is not exclusively an external link issue. It is sometimes the case that your own links break. 

Even stable sites that are regularly maintained (e.g., your site) can experience broken links. 

The issue might be caused by a plugin, or a piece of custom HTML or CSS that you’ve added. 

The good news is that, whether we’re talking about external websites or your own, addressing and fixing link rot is pretty straightforward. 

Fixing broken links

There are basically three steps to take when addressing broken web pages:

  1. Find broken links 
  2. Fix your broken internal links
  3. Update or remove broken external web content 

Step 1: finding the link rot

The first thing you need to do is to find your broken links. Even for a small site, trying to do this manually would be extremely time-consuming. 

Now imagine doing it for a 10-year-old site with thousands of pages. So impractical as to be impossible. 

You need a tool to help you discover rotten links. 

The Broken Link Checker plugin on WordPress is one of the more popular tools for scanning your site for broken external and internal links. 

This tool will automatically scan your website once a week to find your link rot. 

It’s then up to you to act on the results of that list. 

This brings us to step 2. 

Step 2: Fixing your internal link rot

You can fix link rot much easier on your own site than you can on other websites. 

Your link checker tool will give you your list of internal links, and then you simply audit them to find out what the issue is. 

If the link rot is the result of a typo, you can easily fix that. 

Most broken web links, however, are the result of missing or moved content. Typically, you can address this issue with a 301 redirect. That is where you instruct the server to tell a browser to send any traffic trying to reach a dead page to a new page at a new address. 

There are a variety of ways you can set up a 301 redirect. Depending on the content management platform you are using (e.g., WordPress), there are specific plugins that will help you easily change the address of a particular URL. 

You can also do it directly from Google Search Console. To do it here: 

  1. Go to your Google Search Console dashboard, and choose your website from the property menu. 
  2. Click the “URL Inspection” button. 
  3. Type in the full URL of the page for which you have created the redirect (the new URL, not the old one).
  4. Hit “Request Indexing”

Google should index that new URL within a few weeks (or perhaps even sooner). 

You can now rest easy, an your SEO should stay relatively the same as it was before. 

Why addressing your internal broken links matters

You want to stay on top of your internal broken links for two reasons, both of which ultimately have to do with search engine optimization. 

The first is that having broken internal links makes your website less pleasant to navigate (both for search engines and users), which means a worse user experience and crawlability. Google doens’t like either of these things. 

The second is that any linking site (i.e. a backlink) that discovers one of its external links is no longer working, and which, like you, is committed to finding and fixing broken links, may decide to replace your link with a link to someone else. 

Backlinks are a foundational park of search engine optimization and a key ranking factor. You want as many high authority backlinks in your backlink profile as you can get, so it makes sense to spend some time ensuring that anytime someone clicks on an external link that takes them to a page on your site, that page is up and functional. 

Step 3: Fixing external broken links 

Fixing dead links on your own website is definitely easier than trying to fix any broken external links. 

This is because, of course, you have no control over what someone else does with their website. They might not be as on top of their broken links as you and might not even care. 

If you have gone through your list of broken external links and made sure that none are the result of typos, there is really only one thing left to do: replace the page with a different one. 

You could, if you were so inclined (maybe the piece of content you were linking to was so good that you think it’s worth it), notify the site owner and inform them of their broken link. They might be thankful for it, and you could, perhaps, earn yourself a guest post opportunity, or at the very least a new contact, in the process. 

Minimizing dead links on your site

While there are plenty of tools out there to help you keep tabs on your links and find and address link rot where it occurs, the better strategy is to preempt link rot by doing a few key things. These are: 

  • Try to only link to stable sites and reputable primary sources.
  • Be cautious about linking to personal websites (personal blogs, etc.).
  • Be careful with third-party link shorteners

Linking to stable and reputable sites

Linking to stable reputable sites is an external linking best practice both from an SEO perspective and as a way to mitigate against link rot. 

New York Times articles or links to places like the Columbia Journalism Review or other large sites that have been around forever (and likely aren’t going anywhere) are the safest bet, as well as the most authoritative links (provided they are relevant to your content, of course). 

Avoiding personal websites

Personal websites typically mean blogs. The reason these are not safe external link bets is that the people running these blogs are usually doing it as a hobby. They are also probably quite regularly changing and removing content. 

That is not to say that all personal blogs are a bad bet. There are plenty of personal websites that are major websites in their own right. 

But always know that when you link to a site that doesn’t have some big institution or organization behind it (especially one with a storied history), you run the risk of link rot. 

The trouble with third-party link shorteners

Link shorteners are tools that help you turn very long URLs into something more manageable. 

Think of how long some Google image search results are, for example. If you are including naked URLs in your content that link to other websites, be aware that if you decide to use a third-party link shortener to make the URL more manageable and easier to understand, there is no guarantee those services will be around forever. 

If they go out of business, there is no one there to ensure those shortened links still work as they are supposed to. 

In summation

To wrap things up, link rot is a normal part of running a website, and it is not something to constantly worry yourself about. 

It is, however, something to take seriously and something to audit every once in a while. It doesn’t take long to run one of the link-checking tools, and it won’t take long to fix what’s broken. 

Staying on top of your broken internal links is especially crucial because not doing so puts your link building and SEO at risk. If you spent time and money building backlinks, you don’t want to lose them because you failed to catch and fix a page error or ensure a proper 301 redirect. 

If you would like to find out more about how an industry-leading link building service with contract-free pricing and transparent editorial policies builds Google-friendly backlinks, get in touch with dofollow today and let’s chat. 

Why Trust Us On SEO

Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.

Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.

While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.

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