404! How to Fix Broken Links on Your WordPress Site
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Has this happened to you? You’re running a search, and the results serve up what looks like the perfect article to answer your question or need. You click on it with anticipation, and…you get a 404 message. Page not found. It’s a broken link. Whomp-whomp.
Disappointing as heck, right? Those 404 messages don’t necessarily screw up your SEO rankings, but – obviously – they affect the user experience. Well, when people land on your website (they found you!), we don’t want people searching for you to have a big bummer moment. So, le’t see what we can do to ensure your site is free of broken, or “dead,” links.
First Things First: What Is a Broken Link?
Hey, we’re sure you get the idea – and have gotten the 404 messages. But let’s just be sure we’re on the same page about why it happens.
Broken links are, well, broken because the destination website has been moved or deleted (e.g., a business rebrands or goes out of business), an invalid URL was entered in the first place (e.g., typo), or the link web page was removed (e.g., a dated entry was deleted rather than updated.)
Three Steps to a Website Free of Broken Links
Number One: Find ’em.
You can’t fix a broken link if you don’t know you have them – or if you do, which links are broken. This is actually the biggest hurdle to ensuring you don’t have broken links. Fixing requires some tech and everyday know-how, but it’s straight-forward, but you have to track them down first.
Now, don’t start down a spiral of overwhelm thinking about clicking on every singly link on your site to see if they’re working. UGH. How dreadful that would be. Fortunately, there are tools for that!
Tools for Finding Broken Links
The simplest one – and the one you’re most likely to already have available – is the Google Search Console. Here are the steps:
- Sign into Google (Duh.)
- Navigate your awesome self to the Google Search Console.
- Click on your account.
- Head on over to the “Crawl” drop-down menu, on the left-hand side bar.
- Now, clickety-click on “Crawl Errors.”
That function will return a list of broken links. You can click on each one to get the details.
Number Two: Side-Step Them in the First Place.
Captain Obvious here to tell you to avoid broken links in the first place. (That is: Don’t break things!)
Seriously, though, simply refreshing and updating old content – instead of deleting or moving it – will allow you to avoid and prevent unwanted 404 error messages.
It’s not 100% possible to say you should never delete or move content, but avoid it where you can. You’ll save some maintanence time and energy.
Number Three: Fix by Redirect
The best way to to avoid the 404 messages is to do a 301 redirect to reroute those broken links to the relevant content. What’s a 302 redirect? It’s like a forwarding address for post office delivery or call forwarding for a phone number, only for web pages . (Are you old enough to remember call forwarding? Is that still a thing somehow?)
For example, you have a broken link because you moved the content that had been associated with that link to a new page/new URL, simply set the broken link to redirect to the new page/URL where the content now lives.
Here’s a different scenario. You have a broken link because you deleted that page, as the content was no longer valid or relevant (e.g., a blog post on Facebook’s 2014 algorithms). You didn’t simply move the page to a new URL; it’s just gone. So now what do you do?
Redirect the broken link to what you have on your site that’s the most similar and relevant to the original content.
301 Redirect Plugin
All you need to fix the broken links at this point is a paired list of links: The broken ones and the URLs where they need to be redirected.
The 301 Redirect plugin is simple to use. Once it’s installed, simply select “Redirect” from the “Tools” menu. Add the old URL in the “Source URL” field and the new URL in the “Target URL” field, and – voilà! – your link is fixed!