Link rot is the (generally natural) process of links out on the internet pointing to pages or other resources that have become unavailable. In other words, link rot refers to pages hosting links that eventually die (point to 404 pages).
Link rot is pretty common — perhaps much more common than you’d think. Back in 2014 NPR’s All Tech Considered did a piece in which they called link rot a “virtual epidemic”.
In fact, new research from WooRank found that 12.2% of backlinks end in a 404 status.
That’s more than 1 out of every 10 links resolving in an error! That’s potentially a huge amount of link juice and visitors your site is losing out on. And quite possibly without you ever knowing it.
Just like there are 2 different parts of link rot, there are 2 different approaches to tracking how your site is impacted by it. Finding and tracking link rot on your own site is pretty simple and straightforward. All you need is a good crawler or link checker tool.
Check My Links is a great Chrome plugin that will scan all the links on a page. It will find not only broken links but links that have redirects as well.
But how do you track broken links on someone else’s website?
Aside from visiting random pages and running Check My Links, It’s actually surprisingly simple. All it takes is a custom Google Analytics report.
To track backlinks to your site that result in 404s follow these steps:
Now save this report and open it. You’ll see all the information you need to find your broken backlinks:
Don’t want to take the time to run Check My Links and don’t have the time or budget for an SEO crawler? You can slightly modify the above report to track broken links on your own site.
The Previous Page Path dimension will show you the URL of the page on your site that hosts the broken link.
Note: In the external backlinks report, you might see some rows that list “google” or “direct” as the full referrer. Sometimes GA can mistakenly classify organic and direct traffic as referral traffic. You can add a filter to the Full Referrer dimension exclude this traffic, or just ignore it and pay attention to the rows that have full URLs. Those are the actual backlinks.
Once you’ve uncovered your broken backlinks, the next step is to recover them. This is known as “link reclamation.” Recovering your lost backlinks is almost as important as building new links, so this is definitely something you need to focus on.
Reclaiming your internal links is simple and easy since you have control over them. You simply go into your CMS and update the links in the text. Or into your page templates if the links are in headers or footers.
For your external links, you have two routes you can take:
Annoyingly, link rot is an issue that will never be 100% solved. In fact, research has shown that the links on a page rot at the rate of 20% over 2 years, and 50% over 3 years. So if you’ve got a page with 100 links, 50 of them will be broken after 3 years.
Fortunately, you now have the tools and reports set up so you can quickly find broken links, both internal and external, so you can prevent the deterioration of user experience and search engine optimization.