When we perform technical SEO, we do broken link audits as part of the initial site assessment to make sure that bots don’t have any issues navigating internal hyperlinks. When bots encounter errors and anomalies on internal links, it can harm search engine rankings and negatively impact the overall user experience.
As mentioned, we perform broken link audits at the start of our engagement with our client. We do this even before starting link building or other major improvements. However, link audits should not be a one-time thing. Links get broken all the time for various reasons, particularly if a website grows rapidly or is managed by people who don’t understand SEO best practices. This means that broken link audits should be done periodically.
How Often Should I Audit Links?
As a general rule, we try to do internal site audits — including broken link audits — every 3-6 months. This might have to be more or less frequent depending on the size of the site, the amount of activity on it, as well as the available labor resources you have available.
What Else Do You Look For in a Broken Link Audit?
It’s self-explanatory that a broken link audit involves checking links to see if they go are supposed to. However, these audits should also be a time to check if links lead to redirects like 301s and 302s.
Redirects are problematic for several reasons. First, they prevent the unimpeded flow of link equity from page to page. Second, they take up a site’s finite crawl budget, which is something to be conserved if you’re managing a larger website. Third, redirects use up server resources, slowing it down and sending negative signals to search engines. Lastly and most importantly, redirects negatively impact the site’s user experience, ultimately reducing time on site, repeat visits, and conversions.
How Do You Perform a Broken Link Audit?
Professional broken link audits these days are overwhelmingly facilitated by automated tools made by developers like Ahrefs, MOZ, Semrush, and many others. However, our preference for broken link audits at SearchWorks is Screamingfrog.
Screamingfrog is a traditional downloaded app that could be used on Windows and Mac OS devices. It simulates the crawling of typical search engine bots to give users a detailed picture of a target website’s relevant SEO characteristics, including reasons why specific pages are not indexable. You can then export the data to a .CSV file and manage it on your preferred spreadsheet application.
Regardless of the tools you use to perform link audits, you’ll want to make sure that they can crawl the entirety of your target website. Many free versions of SEO tools have low URL limits so if you find a tool that you like, it’s worth it to invest in a paid licensed version that lets you audit websites of any size.
How to Do a Broken Link Audit on Screamingfrog
Here, we’ll give you a step-by-step of how we do broken link audits. We prefer Screamingfrog, so our broken link audit demo at 10:20 uses this tool. Other tools may have specific procedural differences, but they should be broadly similar.
After downloading Screamingfrog to your desktop, open the app and do the following:
Step 1: Make Sure “Mode” is Set to “Spider”. This option simulates search engine bots crawling through a website.
Step 2: Enter the Homepage URL. Type or paste the homepage URL into the app’s address bar and hit enter. The app should return your results after a short delay. If you entered a large target website, it may take a longer time to give you your results. If you have a slow connection or if the target site has server issues, getting the results may take longer.
Step 3: Export Your Results. After a few minutes, you should have a spreadsheet containing data on all the URLs on your target website. You may be able to spot some issues from there but to make your data easier to manage, you’ll want to export it and open it in your preferred spreadsheet. Click on “Bulk Export” on the menu bar to begin exporting your data into a .CSV file.
Step 4: Open Your File in Your Spreadsheet App. Open Excel or whichever spreadsheet app you prefer.
Step 5: Remove or Hide the Fields You Don’t Need. While all the presented data will be valuable in some way, you only need the columns labeled “Source”, “Destination”, “Anchor”, “Status Code”, “Status”, and “Follow” for your broken link audit. Remove or hide all the other columns to avoid confusion.
Step 6: Sort Your Status Code Data from Largest to Smallest. This will bring up all the pages with “404 Page Not Found” errors as well as pages with 301 and 302 redirects to the top of your list. These are typically the URLs that you want to address first. You’ll also want to check if other pages return abnormal status codes. To get a refresher on what other pages you should flag, check out this helpful MOZ article on what all the page status codes mean.
Step 7: Mark Problematic URLs. Mark URLs with error codes so that you know to check them out later. Typically, we mark 404s in red to indicate top priority and redirects in yellow to indicate secondary priority, but you can do whatever you need to indicate the pages and links you need to fix.
Step 8: Delete or Hide All Normal URLs. To prevent confusion, hide or delete all URLs with healthy links from the spreadsheet, leaving just the problem URLs.
Step 9: Fix Your 404 Links. You have two options for fixing 404 links. The first option is to remove the link altogether. The second option will update the link so that it goes to a live page. If you’re going to link to an existing page, make sure that it is actually relevant. Otherwise, it’s often better to simply remove the broken link.
Step 10: Fix Redirect Links. With 301s, 302s, and other similar links, the process is more involved. You can check them individually and change the links so that they directly link to the destination rather than passing through another URL and wasting link juice and server resources. With Screamingfrog, you can run a batch check of redirect links by doing the following:
- Copy the redirect URLs on your spreadsheet.
- Go back to Screamingfrog.
- Set “Mode” to “List”.
- Find and click the “Upload” button.
- Select “Paste” and paste the URLs you copied from your spreadsheet.
- Confirm you pasted the right data and click “OK”.
- Find the “Redirect URL” column on the datasheet to see the problem URLs.
- Export the data as a .CSV file and open it in your spreadsheet app.
- Delete all the unneeded columns as before.
- Update your links with the correct destination URLs.
How Long Does a Broken Link Audit Take?
It all depends on the size of your website. With automated tools, it can anywhere from a few hours to a few days. It will also take Google’s bots anywhere from a few days to a month to properly recrawl your site.
When left alone, broken links can seriously impact your site’s performance, user experience, and SEO characteristics. Fortunately, identifying and fixing broken and abnormal links is easy when you have the right tools. The ease with which you can do site audits with automated tools means that you should perform link audits before you embark on any other SEO campaign, as improved on-page and technical SEO will provide a firmer foundation for your other campaigns to succeed.
If you want to discuss your preferred tools and methods for link audits, feel free to get in touch with our team.