Does Fixing Outdated Damaged Hyperlinks Nonetheless Matter to search engine marketing?

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Repairing broken links has long been considered a SEO best practice. But if you’ve gotten into situations where you’ve fixed a broken link and nothing happened, you are not alone. In today’s episode of Whiteboard Friday, SEO expert Cyrus Shepard explains if these fixes are still important and walks you through steps to increase your chances of seeing the benefits.

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Video transcription

Hello Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I am Cyrus Shepard. I am a full time SEO consultant working with Moz here. Today I want to talk to you about a topic that I saw on Twitter that I thought was very interesting: Is it still important for SEO to fix old broken links?

I thought this would be a good question because fixing broken links is a SEO best practice. You read about it all the time. But if you’ve been doing SEO long enough like me, you’ve gotten into situations where you’ve fixed a broken link, or found a page with hundreds of broken links, maybe thousands of broken links, you fixed it, you got it on rerouted a new destination and nothing happened.

So does this happen all the time? Is that common? Has Google changed how it handles broken links? What is happening here, what are best practices, and what steps can we take to increase our chances of getting some benefit from broken link repair? That’s what we’ll talk about today.

Why we fix broken links

So let’s start with why we’re fixing broken links. This is the basics, the introduction.

Links pass link signals. Google uses links for things like PageRank and anchor text. So if they can find links, they can give you a ranking boost. If a page shows a 404 error when those links are broken when they get to a page that is not working, those link signals have no chance of happening and that can harm your SEO. Usually these are caused by one of two reasons.

First, the link itself is just bad. It points to a page that doesn’t exist on your website or something similar. There’s a strange parameter in it. Somebody typed it wrong. But often pages on your own website will break. They remove a page and don’t redirect it to another page. A combination of these factors means that you can sometimes find tens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of links on a given website as this is a very common scenario.

That’s why we repair broken links to regain that link juice and get the ranking advantage that Google is looking for. So it’s supposed to work, and often it works, and often it’s great. But there are times when it doesn’t work.

Why it might not work

So what can be going on here during these times that it doesn’t work? So here are four reasons why repairing broken links is not effective in certain situations.

1. The links didn’t count

First of all, the links may not have counted at all. The truth is that there are a lot of links that Google just doesn’t count. These can be spam links, manipulative links, or links that are not editorial. Just because a tool reports a link as broken or points to a non-existent page doesn’t mean that the link actually has any value. So that could be one reason why fixing the broken link might not work.

2. The links were of little value

Second, Google may have counted these links, but they were classified as low quality or not re-classified. Consider a link on a page that is a broken link from a 10 year old page. It doesn’t have a lot of traffic or no traffic. It’s buried below. Nobody visits this site. Google doesn’t even rate it.

Would you expect Google to put a lot of effort into fixing this broken link? Probably not. So, if you fix broken links, you often won’t find new links of little value and out-of-date pages. They may not be of much value, and repairing them may not be of much use.

3. You have redirected to an irrelevant URL

Third, and this is a very common reason, you’ve corrected the link but redirected it to an irrelevant URL or a URL that isn’t that relevant.

We see this a lot with websites that post an entire section and redirect everything to the home page. You are getting rid of a subdomain. You redirect to a category page or something similar. Google often reports these as soft 404s, meaning they see your redirect, but don’t think the page you’re redirecting to is as relevant as the original page or the page that was buggy or should appear in the first place.

This is another reason why Google may not pass these link signals through those links when they see a soft 404 or when they see you are redirecting to a page that is just not as relevant as the original.

4. Google must not rely on “live” links

The fourth reason it might not work is this phenomenon, this theory that Google might not rely on live links, that these link signals don’t necessarily have to be there all the time for Google to assign a value to them.

Now, if we do redirects, Google advises us to keep those redirects in place for a year. Why should you say a year now? The theory is that after one year every value in these left signals has already been exceeded. Rand Fishkin noticed this phenomenon and called it ghost links a few years ago, where links that no longer exist may have already exceeded their value.

So sometimes we don’t really know how Google is handling these older links. But sometimes links may not need to be live in order for them to pass value, so a fix won’t really have an impact. Again, we don’t have much insight into how Google works in this area, but it’s possible that the link signals simply passed on their relevance anyway.

5 Best Practices for Building Broken Links

So what can we do? In these situations, what can we do to maximize the repair of old broken links on our website? Here are my five best practices.

1. Fix broken links

First, you should fix broken links. Keep fixing broken links because we don’t know which links Google isn’t counting, and there are several, often many, times that it works and you see an advantage.

Plus, it’s just a good user experience. When users switch from one URL to another, they don’t want to see broken pages, and these link signals can convey relevance and value to Google.

2. Prioritize pages with high authority

Second, prioritize pages and links with high authority. Your website could contain thousands of broken links or millions of broken links. You don’t have to fix them all. However, what you want to prioritize are the high quality links, the pages with many links pointing to them, or links from pages that are of great value in themselves.

We rate pages here at Moz according to a value called Page Authority. Many SEO tools have different metrics that help rank pages based on links. So correct the pages with the highest number of links, your highest page authority or the number of points you used, and prioritize links from pages themselves that also have high page authority. These are going to be your most valuable links that you need to fix.

3. Prioritize links with fresh signals

Third, we want to prioritize links with fresh signals. We want to avoid these 10 year old pages. Well, we don’t necessarily have to avoid them, but we want to prioritize the most important ones. What are freshness signals? In general, we want to prioritize links from pages that themselves receive traffic that is regularly updated and that links to them.

There are many, many different types of freshness signals. Some time ago I wrote an old post. We link it in the following transcript. But we definitely want to prioritize the links that have the highest value.

4. Redirect to relevant URLs

Fourth, we want to make sure we are redirecting to relevant URLs. You don’t want to redirect everything to your homepage or necessarily redirect to a category page that is off-topic.

One question to ask yourself is, does the page you are redirecting ranked for the same keyword types as the old URL? Or would it provide a good user experience for someone coming over the old link, or would the user be confused? The closer you are to the original page in being up to date, the more likely it is that these link signals will get from one destination to another.

Ideally, you are linking to the exact same page and it’s just a broken page and you can fix it and it’s relevant and it’s all great. But in cases where you can’t redirect to a relevant page, as close as you can or maybe you shouldn’t redirect at all as 404s are fine. They are a natural part of the internet. Having a 404 isn’t always a bad thing.

5. You don’t have to fix every link

Which brings us to best practice number five, you don’t have to fix every link. This happens all the time. Broken links are a natural part of the internet. Moz, if we go into our broken link report, we have tens of thousands of broken links. It would not be worth our time to fix every one of them and it would be a waste of money and effort. But fixing the good ones, fixing the ones with high authority, fresh signals, and redirecting to relevant URLs or the original URLs, these are the ones that will have value.

So you don’t want to give your developers a list of 10,000 broken links and say, “Hey, fix all of these.” They will be mad at you and you will not see the value in it. So, if you need some tips on how to fix broken links and find those high quality links, we have a video by Dr. Pete with tips on exactly how to do this with Moz. You can use many other tools.

Google Search Console and others are great at this. So yeah, fix those broken links. You don’t have to fix them all. This is how you get the value. Leave us your tips in the comments below. Thanks to all.

Video transcription from Speechpad.com

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