The Complete Guide to Broken Backlinks: How to Find and Fix Them

Backlinks are incoming links from other websites to your site. They are a key ranking factor for search engines like Google. However, over time some of these backlinks can break, leading to 404 “page not found” errors.

Broken backlinks don’t just hurt user experience. They can also negatively impact your search engine rankings, website authority, and brand credibility if left unaddressed.

This in-depth guide will teach you everything you need to know about properly identifying, diagnosing, and fixing broken backlinks to restore their SEO value.

What Causes Backlinks to Break?

There are several common reasons backlinks end up failing:

  • The linking page gets removed or relocated. The URL now returns a 404 error.
  • The linking site changes its URL structure or domain. Old backlink URLs now lead nowhere.
  • The linking domain expires and goes offline entirely.
  • The link anchor text contains a typo or incorrect URL.
  • The website redirects the old URL to a completely irrelevant new destination.
  • The server hosting the linking site develops a technical failure.

Essentially any change that makes the old backlink URL inaccessible on the linker’s end can cause the backlink to break from your side.

Impacts of Broken Backlinks

Having too many broken backlinks pointing at your site can create both user experience and SEO problems:

  • Frustrates visitors when they hit dead ends and error pages.
  • Makes your site seem neglected and outdated.
  • Removes the SEO value of backlinks leading to nowhere.
  • Hurts your domain authority as valueless links decay.
  • Allows competitors to outrank you from lost link equity.
  • Leads to ranking and traffic drops as the backlink profile weakens.
  • Damages credibility through excessive 404 errors.
  • Devalues existing and potential new backlinks to your site.
  • Harms user trust in your brand as a reliable source.

Too many broken links make your site appear low-quality both for search engine crawlers and human visitors. That’s why you need to stay vigilant about monitoring and maintaining your backlinks.

Finding Broken Backlinks

Manually checking backlinks on your site is highly impractical. Instead, use backlink analysis and auditing software to identify broken links at scale.

Backlink Analysis Tools

Tools like Ahrefs, Semrush, Moz, Majestic and Linkody provide automated tracking of your backlink profile. Sort and filter to see all the broken backlinks leading to 404 and other errors.

For example, here are the steps to find broken backlinks in Semrush:

  1. Launch a backlink audit for your target site.
  2. Go to the “Target Pages” report section.
  3. Tick the “Target URL error” filter to show only broken links.
  4. Scan and evaluate links causing 404 and other errors.

You can also filter for dubious redirects masking broken backlinks.

Backlink Tracking Setup

Configure your backlink tracking tools to send you custom alerts and notifications when new broken links are detected on important pages. Address issues quickly before loss of equity.

Monitor your highest value links, brand name mentions or links from authoritative domains for priority fixing.

Link Intersection

Compare broken links found between multiple tools to identify the highest priority dead links for outreach. Cross-verify data is more reliable.

Crawl Backlinks

Use a site crawler or bot to crawl backlinks and flag any returning 4xx or 5xx errors. Crawlers can help uncover links your tracking tools may have missed.

Diagnosing Broken Backlinks

When you find broken backlinks, investigate them further to determine the proper fix:

  • Visit the URL to verify the error – don’t assume it’s truly broken.
  • Check if the page still exists under a new URL.
  • See if the site has only temporarily removed the page.
  • Determine if the domain is penalized or entirely deindexed.
  • Distinguish whether the error is temporary or permanent.

Diagnosing the specifics helps decide how to recover the lost value from broken links.

Reach Out to Site Owners

Email website owners of broken backlinks asking them to:

  • Update the outdated URL to your new page if relevant.
  • Remove the broken link if your content is permanently gone.
  • Replace the link with a good alternative page on your site.

Show them how fixing broken links also benefits their site’s SEO health. Follow up periodically if needed.

Fixing Broken Backlinks

Once you’ve diagnosed the cause, apply the appropriate solution:

Update Resources

  • For renamed pages, update backlinks sources to your new URL.
  • Revive expired domains hosting important backlinks.

Provide New Content

  • Create replacement content if backlinked page is deleted.
  • Ask sites to link to your new page instead.

Request Removal

  • If your content is gone forever, ask sites to remove the dead link.
  • Eliminate confusion by getting rid of false paths.

301 Redirects

  • Redirect broken backlinks to relevant working pages.
  • Retain SEO value instead of losing to errors.

URL Parameters

  • Use URL parameters to show alternate content on old backlink landing pages.
  • eg. ?brokenlink=true

Push Notifications

  • Notify previous linkers of changes to your site through push alerts.
  • Keep them updating links to always work.

Disavow Toxic Links

  • Disavow completely irrelevant or spammy backlinks.
  • Prevents them from harming your site’s reputation.

Page Archiving

  • If you must remove quality content, archive don’t delete pages.
  • Backlinks can still transfer equity to archived pages.

Remediating broken backlinks takes persistence and legwork. But restored backlinks are worth the effort through retained rankings and conversions.

Preventing New Backlink Breakage

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to broken backlinks. Avoid future breakages by:

  • Using permalinks for content instead of numbered URLs.
  • Having a link-friendly site architecture.
  • Updating internal links whenever you rename or move a page.
  • Implementing proper 301 redirects to route old URLs.
  • Providing site maps and access to archived content.
  • Proactively informing backlinkers of major site changes.

Keep your site’s technical health optimized to prevent interruptions that lead to broken links, like downtime, domain expirations, or page errors.

Make it easy for others to link to your content and keep those links working over the long haul.

Ongoing Broken Link Monitoring

Be vigilant about monitoring your backlinks to surface breakages quickly:

  • Schedule regular backlink audits. Monthly works well in most cases.
  • Enable backlink tracking and alerts in tools like Semrush and Ahrefs.
  • Monitor important links more closely using page-level tracking.
  • Routinely crawl backlinks to uncover any errors tracking tools miss.
  • Update your disavow file periodically to scrub bad links.
  • Watch for unusually large drops in backlinks that indicate breakages.

The earlier you catch broken links, the sooner you can recover that SEO value. Don’t let them decay undetected.


Broken backlinks are a natural byproduct of any evolving website. By identifying and remedying dead links promptly, you ensure your earned SEO equity stays intact.

Use this comprehensive guide to start finding, diagnosing and fixing your most important broken backlinks. Maintaining a healthy backlink profile will directly strengthen your long-term search visibility and redirect lost traffic back to your site.

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