Broken Links, Pages, Images and 404s Hurt SEO and Affect Google Rankings

Google clearly wants to send its web searchers to high-quality websites.  Does that mean that it penalize your website if you have broken links?  Do 404 errors cause you to lose rankings?  Should your SEO (search engine optimization) plan include fixing things like bad links, broken images and 404 err0rs?

broken heartAbsolutely!

404 Errors and broken/pages links clearly cause you rankings to suffer… at least based on what I have seen!

I recently setup keyword tracking for a new client and tracked 286 keyword phrases.  I immediately spent hours fixing broken links, which included:

  • Removing or fixing over 1000 broken images
  • Setting up about 100 301 redirects
  • Fixing several dozen broken internal links within the site

What tools did I use?

  • Google Webmaster Tools were what I used to find external links pointing to pages that no longer existed and were generating 404 errors… I fixed those with 301 redirects (see my WordPress Go-Live Checklist to see what tool I use)
  • Screaming Frog SEO Spider is what I used to discover all the broken images and broken links within the website.

What were the results?

Within one week, from the 286 phrase I tracked, the website moved up 1713 spots.  That means, on average, each keyword phrase moved up 6 spots in the search results!!  And, it happened immediately! Here is a screenshot from my software:

404 errors and seo

One thing is unclear… WHY did broken images, bad links and 404 errors hurt this site?  Was it because Google actually penalized them?? (or filtered them negatively as the case may be?).  Was it because they were leaking page-rank or page juice? I don’t know!  What I do know it it works.

I know something else too: During the last week we have captured hundreds of additional visitors who were landing on 404 pages when they entered the site.  Additionally, when people surf through the site, they are also having an improved experience.

If you want to find out more… there is some discussion and debate out there on the issue… many of these experts say that these errors don’t hurt your SEO!  Obviously, my small case study above would seem to indicate otherwise.





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Showing 55 comments
  • Stefan

    Hello Trent,

    Thanks for confirming what i was thinking about. But, I have question. I have website with millions of pages, and it was very well in google, hitting 60 000 unique visitors per day, all from Google.
    What happen is that developer made a bug by adding characters in url like slash and other, and that created like x3 x4 more pages some was with same content, other 404.

    My question, is what to do with duplicate pages ? I cannonical, but seems not helping. Also, what to do with high number of 404 pages. I am talking about xxx, xxx pages.


    • Trent Blizzard

      Stefan, that sounds like a big problem… probably too big to analyze and answer in a blog reply! But, here goes:I would not only canonical duplicate pages… I would actually remove them completely if I could. with 404s, get busy with redirects! xxx,xxx redirects!

  • Kroliki

    How do you actually use Screaming frog to discover internal broken links?

  • Cliff

    Is it better to do specific 301s to get users to the page they should be in, or will a blanket homepage still handle the damage? In terms of UX, the page should be what a user expects, but in the event of thousands of 404s, would a homepage redirect be penalized for having little relevant content?

    • Trent Blizzard

      Cliff, I do specific 301s to get users to the page. I guess I would rather let them land on a 404 page then blanket redirect into the homepage. You could always make your 404 page more like your homepage to help people that land there find their content. Nonetheless, nothing beats a 301 page for guiding real people to the content they want and showing Google you take it seriously.

  • Brandson Brian.S

    Yes, Broken links damage SEO Especially in Google. have a site ranks first in Yahoo, Bing and other search engines but in Google, it doesnt rank anywhere. The domain had all the keywords for the domain to rank but it was not. Until i fixed over 2,ooo external broken links

  • seo-guru

    There is a new tool to check internal pagerank , you just need to submit your website and they will send you a table of all your ranking through email. (even with list of broken urls)

    • Trent Blizzard

      SEO-guru — thanks for sharing… but, I tried out this service. NAAAAH I say! It sent me a small report and asked me to pay $10 for the full report. I don’t want to pay $10 for this… and couldn’t really recommend it to anyone.

  • reuben njuguna

    I have also used a tool called ahrefs, which helps to fix broken links, though it shows a tonne of them, some are replicated.

  • Gabu

    Thanks for sharing

  • James

    Do 404 plugins that pull up a page rather than an actual 404 error resolve this issue for URLs?

    • Trent Blizzard

      James, NO, the definitely do not. A 301 redirect or actually fixing the link is the only solution.

  • Drew Griffiths

    Excellent thanks. I was going to be a cheeky idiot and say you have 1 broken links on this page, but it looks like it’s from a link added via a comment!
    Great article – I found siteliner quite handy for internal broken links

    • Trent Blizzard

      Drew – thanks for not pointing that out. I find broken links to be like nose hairs… I groom them periodically, but they are always there and they keep coming back. One here or there is not the problem, it is when there are too many.

  • allendonna644

    If you’ve not heard of ‘broken link building’ before, it’s essentially a tactic that involves letting a webmaster know about broken links on their site and suggesting an alternative resource (perhaps your own site or a particular piece of content, alongside any others).

    There’s a couple of ways that link builders approach this, which include –

    Collecting a big list of ‘prospects’ such as resource pages or pages around a particular content theme or search phrase. Then checking these pages for broken links.
    Another method is simply picking a single site, checking the entirety of it for relevant resource pages and broken links (and potentially creating content that will allow you to suggest your own site).

  • Sebastian

    I just found out that i have several broken links pointing with 404 error (over a thousand).
    I noticed that a lot of this links concern a page that has no sense, which means i don’t know where to redirect this articles to. Also, i couldn’t find out how users get to those specific links.

    Example: a lot of 404 errors (scanned through the Redirection plugin) are pages that points to articles like this:
    Where sebastian.j is my name yes, but the real author page is /author/podoseb
    When i go to the Google Search Console to view where the link is coming from and i go to that page (which is i can’t find any link which points to the link: example-article/sebastian.j

    I have no idea what to redirect this links to. Can you help me here?

  • Vince

    It’s really amazing that Google is really serious with their “organic” ways. We’ve all used Google for research and it really sucks when you hit a website that’s in the first page with poor navigation, no image available or broken. And. if you have the patience to really dig through all the pages and found the link that you’ve been looking for, BOOM! It gives you a 404.. It really frustrating. I love that Google is really thinking about it’s users. How to give them the best experience when using their search engine in finding stuff around the internet.

  • Aaron

    I just did this to my site and fixed a ton of errors with 404, old migration links, etc. Lets see what happens when google index’s

  • Dan

    I don’t think this makes the impact that most think. Google is quite aware that 404’s and broken images are normal.

  • enfusion

    404 error for those who are dedicated to SEO we have controlled, however initiates in this world often fail in this regard.

  • Betty

    Use SEO Post Content Links plugin on wordpress. It saves the linking in the database and doesn’t touch your existent content testsstatically. So, you’ll NOT need to wait when your site is loading. Content linking SEO plugin can be used for cache.

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