Broken links, such as those leading to 404 errors, can damage your WordPress site in two main ways:

  • It degrades the experience for visitors. Ever click links within a blog post only to find they lead nowhere? If so, you’ll know it reduces the amount of time you’re likely to spend on the page and reduces the credibility of the site in question.
  • It negatively affects your SEO. Google and other search engines understand the impact of broken links on the visitor experience. They prefer to send visitors to pages with up-to-date and intact resources. So if you have broken links, it’s important to remove or fix them as soon as possible.

…a broken link is doing some serious damage to your website, your reputation, and your business. A single broken link can impact your search engine rankings, your site’s user experience, result in lost customers and revenue, or, in worst case, all of the above.
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As well as 404 Not Found errors, there are 410 Gone, 502 Bad Gateway, and various other errors indicating a problem with the link.

Fortunately, broken links are easy to fix and keep on top of.

This post shows you different options you can use. The easiest method, as I’ll show you, is to use a simple WordPress plugin designed for the purpose, accessible from directly within the WordPress Dashboard.

Download this checklist now to help you fix broken links on WordPress.

When Broken Links Are Not a Problem

Broken links do not negatively affect your SEO when it involves links pointing to your site that exist on other sites. The only cost is the lack of a positive SEO signal that would otherwise exist were the link working.

What you can do in such cases is:

  • Contact the site owner where possible to alert them to the malfunctioning link and ask them to correct it. It’s in their interests to do so as much as yours.
  • Redirect such links to the correct page on your site. You can do this quickly with plugins such as Pretty LinkFor example, let’s say you spot a link on a third-party site linking to a non-existent page, such as yourpag.html instead of yourpage.html, You would simply redirect all traffic heading to yourpag.html to the correct yourpage.html.

Other than that, such links can simply be ignored.

Finding Broken Links

One option to find broken links on your site is to use Google’s Search Console (what used to be called Webmaster Tools). It alerts you to problematic links, whether found on your own site or those that point to your site from third-party websites.

After logging in, find the error report via Crawl > Crawl Errors on the menu.

Crawl Errors in the Search Console

For example, here are some sample errors found for this blog:

Site Errors report in Google's Search Console

Clicking on each URL gives you more detail about the link.

The ?p=14 link shown above was a link on some external sites linking to the non-existent page http://blog.vwriter.com/?p=14. Instead, the link should have been http://blog.vwriter.com/outsourcing-content-5-beginner-questions-outsourcing-content-creation-questions-answered/.

The easiest way to resolve it was to simply redirect all traffic heading to ?p=14 to the correct page.

However, redirecting a Page ID like this is a bit more tricky to resolve within WordPress than most such issues. Pretty Link, the plugin mentioned above, doesn’t cut it.

In case you come across anything similar, the following code added to the top of functions.php or custom-functions.php within your theme should resolve it. Remember to backup the file first before updating, and to adjust the number and the URL to redirect to within the script.

The only drawback with Google’s Search Console is that you need to remember to login regularly to keep on top of your broken links.

It’s not the only option you can use. Other online-based broken link checkers include the following:

However, these only scan for broken links on your website, whereas the Search Console informs you about internal, external (i.e. links on your site pointing to other sites) and incoming links.

And again, you need to remember to go somewhere else every so often to scan your site.

WP Broken Link Status Checker - WordPress plugin

To keep on top of broken links on your WordPress site, by far the easiest solution is the WP Broken Link Status Checker. It’s got excellent reviews, has a 5-star rating, is updated regularly, and has had several thousand installs so far.

And because it’s a plugin, it’s accessible from directly within the WordPress Dashboard, rather than requiring you to login to a third party site. This makes it far easier to keep on top of, and is also a useful memory jolt when logged into your blog.

Other such plugins exist of course, such as the Broken Link Checker plugin. Although this has had over 400,000 installs and been prominent in the past, it has a lower rating and hasn’t been updated for several months now.

So I’ll be concentrating here on WP Broken Link Status Checker.

The plugin’s link scanner runs in the background, checking all the links within your content as well as images. It looks for broken links, checks link redirections work okay, and highlights nofollow links.

The one thing that would be the icing on the cake for this plugin is the ability to schedule scans. Ideally you should be able to set it to run automatically say once a week.

The good news is that according to the developer, this type of feature is scheduled for a future release. It would certainly be a welcome addition to the plugin, and make ongoing broken link monitoring more hands-free.

Using WP Broken Link Status Checker

Start by installing the plugin in the usual way.

Install the WP Broken Link Status Checker

Activate the plugin

Activate the plugin

Click New scan from the WP Link Status menu on your WordPress dashboard.

Click New scan from the WP Link Status menu

Check the settings via the various tabs at the top.

Check the settings along the top tabs of the plugin

You should be able to leave them all at their default settings at least initially if you wish. However, it helps to see the type of adjustments you can make in the way the plugin scans your site.

Here are some initial changes you may wish to make:

  • You can adjust the email address that is notified when the scan completes (or turn off the feature if you wish).
  • It’s a good idea to set the name of the scan before running it so you can identify it on the list of scans in the next step.
  • As comments can often be a prime culprit of broken links, you may wish to include comments in the scan via the Content options tab:

Include comments in the scan

Start the first scan by clicking the Save and run crawler button.

Click the Save and run crawler button at the bottom

You may see a message about a problem in creating a ‘salt’ file, and asking you to check the wp-content directory permissions within WordPress. To resolve, make sure permissions are set to the recommended 755 on the directory. If unsure about this, check with your web developer.

Once running, the plugin creates a wp-link-status-salt.php file within wp-content. This is used to aid security and boost performance, and without it the plugin is unable to scan your site properly.

Once running, you’ll be able to check progress via Scans on the WP Link Status menu.

See the scans in progress

From here, you can also choose to stop the scan, edit the settings, and so on.

You don’t need to keep the browser window open for the scan to run, it will just run in the background.

Depending on your settings, you’ll be notified by email as soon as it completes. The length of time depends again on your settings, the size of your site, server performance, and so on.

When the link scan has completed, you can process any errors in the results.

You should mostly see Statuses of 200 OK.

Results of the link scan

Use the filtering controls to ignore the 200 OKs and show different types of error. Options include Request error, 400 Bad Request and 404 Not Found.

Use the filtering controls to only show specific status errors

Any you find listed should be investigated further and resolved.

Investigate errors such as 404s

Finally…

Note this plugin only checks your posts and pages (and optionally, comments) as they appear in the WordPress database. It does not for example scan content in the sidebar, the header and footer and so on.

Remember too to use Google’s Search Console too every so often to keep an eye on any broken links pointing to your site from elsewhere. Resolving these where possible can mean you pick up on extra traffic as well as potential SEO advantages.

Conclusion

To Conclude

Ensuring your WordPress website is free of broken links is critical to both increasing your search visibility and providing a quality user experience for visitors.

Using the plugin referred to above, or one similar, helps you to achieve that with ease.

Don’t have time now? Download this checklist now with the info you need to get your broken links fixed.