An interesting discussion ensued on WPTavern, on whether taking the time to fix broken links on websites was worth the effort. Long established blogs with lots of content would spend their time more productively in other areas than fixing broken links seemed to be the consensus. It got me curious as to broken links on Zapreneur – a South African entrepreneurship and small business blog. The end result was that I fixed 106 broken links in 2 hours.
This article goes through:
- Selection of tools
- Process of fixing broken links
- Immediate Results
Selection of Tools
There are two ways to check for broken links:
Plugin – The most recommended plugin to check for broken links is Broken Link Checker. I have used the plugin and it does an excellent job of finding broken links, and sends you notifications when it finds broken links. The problem is that the plugin is resource heavy. WPengine and Pressable both disallow this plugin. WPengine explains that Broken Link Checker:
Overwhelms even our robust caching layer with an inordinate amount of HTTP requests
This is interesting as WPengine and Pressable both have systems attuned for WordPress.
Software – There are a couple of solutions that run outside of WordPress and require installing software on your desktop. I tested two of these:
- Xenu Link Sleuth – It has not been updated in a long time, but works really well. It does just one thing, and does it fairly well.
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider – This does a whole lot more than check for broken links, and it takes a little while to understand what it does. It works well, and several SEO tutorials recommend this. I will be trying to learn the full capabilities of this software in future.
Online Services – I was extremely wary of trying an online service to check for broken links. I however tried Broken Link Check based on this recommendation. This was the most efficient way to fix broken links as it provided a link to the page or post with broken links.
Fixing Broken Links
As I ran checks for broken links, a worrying picture emerged:
- Main navigation has links that were not working. This was simple carelessness on my part in not setting up my new theme properly. It also helped to explain why my page views were down.
- As I shifted from one membership plugin to another, several links still pointed to outdated registration pages.
- Several outgoing links had changed, and were no longer available.
In total, there were 106 broken links, which for a small website like Zapreneur is huge. Over the next two hours I went through each of the broken links and fixed them. I worked through them as follows:
- Main navigation – This was a simple fix, as I simply needed to save permalinks, and add a base term to my categories.
- Registration and signup links – There were two specific links that required attention. I entered the URL into the search on posts, and updated the links to link towards my mailing signup. WordPress search on the backend picked up every instance on these links.
- Outdated links – Several of the websites I was linking to no longer had linked information available, or no longer existed. In these cases, I simply removed the links. In a couple of cases, where a link was very important, I searched for the relevant information, and found it.
Results and Learning
I have seen the following results, but no causality is implied:
- Increase in the number of pageviews
- Increase in Alexa ranking – I had lost over 2 million places in my Alexa ranking and I think it coincides with broken links in the main navigation. Zapreneur has recovered some ground and will hopefully fly up the charts 🙂
- Finding old articles – Readers have found older articles, with fixes to the navigations.
- Email subscriptions have not increased – Fixing all the old registration links has not improved conversion rates, but I know now that is not due to the registration links not working.
In terms of learning, there are four lessons:
- Always triple check set up after changing a theme. In my case, I literally tested 12-15 themes and somewhere in that mix the navigation was broken.
- Content on Zapreneur is difficult to find, and is an area that requires work to improve the user experience. More than just broken links, content is not discoverable.
- Solutions outside of WordPress installation work well. In a sense, you get the benefits without impacting on the speed of the site.
- There are still a few broken links on the site, and these are related to me not configuring plugins correctly or using outdated plugins. This is now being fixed.
I have added a monthly recurrent item to test broken links using Xenu Link Sleuth . It now takes literally a few minutes to run, and is in my opinion worth the effort.
Image credit: WP Explorer.