Having broken links on your website can significantly hurt its performance. Luckily, free and easy-to-use broken link checker tools can help you identify and fix broken links to improve site health. In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll explain how to use these invaluable tools to crush link rot!
What is a broken link checker exactly?
A broken link checker is a specialized website crawler that identifies broken hyperlinks on your site. It automatically scans all pages on your domain to surface dead links, broken images, and other errors that break navigation for users.
These tools are powered by technology called web crawlers. Crawlers systematically browse websites by following links from page to page. As they visit each URL, crawlers record response codes and content to determine if links are working properly.
For example, a 200 response means a page loaded successfully. A 404 means a dead link. By crawling every link, broken link checkers build a list of the broken URLs on your site.
Some common types of broken links include:
- Pages that have been deleted – This returns the infamous 404 error page.
- Misspelled internal links – A small typo breaks the navigation.
- Non-working external links – The other website removed the content.
- Links to former subdomains – Your old blog.yourdomain.com subdomain got removed.
Identifying and fixing these errors is crucial for both user experience and search engine optimization…
Why broken links hurt your website
While they may seem minor, a few broken links can significantly hurt your site. Here are some key reasons you should care:
Bad user experience
Broken links are incredibly frustrating for visitors trying to navigate your site. They hit dead ends that provide no helpful information.
This suggests your content is low quality or poorly maintained. Users will quickly click away to other sites that feel more credible and functional.
According to studies, 40% of people will abandon a website after encountering just one broken link. That‘s a huge missed opportunity and potential loss of leads!
Lower search engine rankings
Search engines aim to provide the best possible results for users. So they penalize sites with lots of broken links in rankings.
Google and other search engines have algorithms that analyze website performance and structure when determining rankings. Broken links signal outdated, low-quality content.
One survey showed that sites with broken links have 55% less search engine traffic on average. By consistently maintaining your site‘s link health, you‘ll improve SEO and increase traffic.
Now let‘s look at how to use broken link checkers to avoid these pitfalls…
Step-by-step guide to using a broken link checker
Finding and remedying broken links with an automated checker only takes a few simple steps:
1. Select a broken link checking tool
There are many broken link checker options out there, both free and paid. I recommend using a free tool to start.
BrokenLinkChecker is a top free choice. It offers up to 500 link checks per day and integration with Slack and email to receive notifications.
Dead Link Checker is another good option with a free tier. It checks up to 100 links per day.
2. Add your website domain
In your selected tool, input the root domain of the website you want to scan for broken links.
www.example.com. This will crawl all pages under that domain.
You can also enter specific pages to check just a section of your site.
Example input screen from Dead Link Checker
3. Configure scan settings
Most tools provide options to customize the link checker‘s crawl:
Crawl subdomains – Check links on subdomains like
Limit scan depth – Only crawl pages within a certain number of clicks from the root URL.
Restrict to broken links – Only output dead links to simplify results.
Exclude pages – Provide URLs you want the crawler to ignore.
Tweak these to best suit your site‘s structure and desired scan scope.
4. Run the broken link check
Once configured, kick off the crawl and checker process. The tool will now begin analyzing your site for broken links based on the settings you chose.
For small sites, this may complete within minutes. Larger sites with thousands of pages can take hours to fully scan.
Most tools show the crawl progress so you can monitor how many links have been checked so far.
5. Evaluate broken links identified
After the site scan completes, the tool will provide a list of all broken links discovered. Depending on settings, this may show both the broken URL and referring page with that dead link.
Review the list, looking for any noticeable trends or priorities:
- Are certain site sections generating more broken links?
- Are lots of links broken to a deprecated subdomain?
- Are many external links dead?
Identifying patterns helps focus your repair work on the core issues.
6. Export results for further analysis
In addition to viewing results in the tool‘s interface, export the full list of broken links in a spreadsheet or API format.
This allows more flexible sorting, filtering, and analysis using other tools to pinpoint priorities. You can also use the exported list as a checklist to methodically work through link repairs.
7. Fix high-priority broken links
Don‘t let your broken link results just collect dust! Use the list to begin updating dead URLs.
Start by fixing broken links on high-traffic pages, or links to critical site content. Also focus on areas where many links are broken, like deprecated subdomains.
Depending on the URL, options to fix include:
- Redirecting the link to an active replacement page.
- Updating incorrect anchor links to now-valid targets.
- Removing or replacing dead external links.
- Adding 301 redirects for renamed or moved pages.
Follow my tips in the next section for the best repair strategies.
8. Schedule recurring link scans
Sites continuously evolve, so broken links will creep back in over time. Prevent this by setting up the scanner to re-check your site on a regular cadence.
Most tools support daily, weekly, or monthly recurring scans. Set a frequency based on the pace your site changes.
Scheduled scans serve as a broken link "monitor" to stay continuously aware of new issues as your site grows.
Smart strategies for fixing broken links
The proper fix for a broken link depends on the specific error:
For renamed internal pages:
- Create a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new active URL. This passes SEO value to the new page.
For deleted content:
Redirect to relevant alternative content if available. For example, redirect a deleted blog post to your blog home page.
Remove the dead link if no closely related content exists. Don‘t leave a frustrating broken link!
For moved pages:
- Update internal links pointing to the old URL structure. Use relative linking between pages when possible.
For invalid external links:
Contact the site owner to refresh outdated or broken content if it‘s valuable.
Replace the link with an alternative resource if possible. Or remove it.
For link fixes that require development work:
- Create GitHub issues to efficiently track them for your dev team. This simplifies prioritization and resolution.
Following these fixes will dramatically improve site navigation and cut down user frustration.
Now let‘s look at how to take your broken link management to the next level…
Advanced broken link checking tips
Once you‘ve mastered the basics, a few advanced tactics can level up your broken link workflow:
Check links in Google Search Console
Google Search Console shows indexed links and identifies crawl errors on your site. Inspect these before scans to catch serious errors.
Integrate with GitHub or Jira
Tools like Integrately can automatically create tickets for broken links in GitHub or Jira. This seamlessly drives tech team resolution.
Set up Slack or email notifications
Get automatic notifications when scans complete or new broken links are found, without constantly checking manually.
Filter for impactful 4XX status codes
Expand your scans to catch 404s along with serious errors like 410 Gone and 451 Unavailable – both signs of serious access issues.
Analyze link text and anchors
Review link context like text and anchors for additional insight into broken links.
Compare reports over time
Compare link checker exports week-over-week or month-over-month to see changes in link health.
Check HTTP cache headers
Review cache-control headers on broken pages for optimization opportunities to improve performance.
FAQs about broken link checkers
What kinds of links do broken link checkers find?
Link checkers identify any URL on your site that returns an error status code like 404 or 500. This includes bad internal links, broken external links, invalid anchors, malformed URLs, etc.
Can they fix broken links automatically?
Unfortunately no. The tools only find and report broken links. You need to manually take action to update the dead URLs based on the checker‘s results.
How large of a site can they handle?
Most browsers can crawl tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of pages, depending on how fast the site loads. Large sites may need to set limits on pages checked.
Should I use a free vs paid tool?
Free tools are great for starting out. Paid tools offer added features like more crawl capacity, analytics, integrations, etc. Evaluate your needs.
Can I test just part of my site?
Yes, you can enter specific URLs instead of your root domain to restrict scans to certain sections or pages.
How often should I scan for broken links?
I recommend starting with at least a monthly full scan. For large, frequently updated sites, weekly or even daily checks catch issues quickly.
Fix broken links for better UX and SEO
Left unchecked, broken links can frustrate users, hurt your rankings, and present an unprofessional image of your website. But identifying and remedying these issues is easy with the right tooling.
Take control of your site‘s link health using this guide to start finding and squashing dead links. Your visitors and search engine bots will thank you for the smooth, glitch-free experience!
Have you used a broken link checker before? I‘d love to hear what worked well or any challenges you faced in the comments below!