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Do broken links hurt Google rankings?

 11:19 am on Mar 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

In doing some research for a new article, I recently came across a 12-year-old website that has quite a few broken external links, especially on its "links" page. Evidently this site hasn't been updated in a long time and nobody has bothered to check for broken links.

In fact there are many old websites that have a lot of broken links. Does anyone know if this can hurt their rankings? Has anyone at Google ever talked about this?



 12:16 pm on Mar 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

I don't know personally but in situations like this I like to try to look at things logically.

If a site has one or two broken links then there would be no sense in penalising it for this since the links are not directly in it's control. Broken links like this are a fact of life in the Internet.

If a site is old and it has several broken links it would be logical to conclude that it has not been updated for a long time and that it should be downgraded as a result.

My 2p.


 8:23 pm on Mar 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Internal broken links are quite likely a quality issue, always fix those as soon as possible.

External broken links may not be quite so important, but it's a good idea to run a check every few months and fix what you can.


 8:53 pm on Mar 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

yes they affect, broken links and linking to bad neighborhoods

take look to [support.google.com...]


 11:21 pm on Mar 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

I think too many broken links can hurt a site, yes.


 11:21 pm on Mar 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Well I was thinking about external links on old sites that haven't been updated in years. With the passage of time, usually some of those links become broken.


 3:26 am on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

External links are not under a site's direct control - so no automatic ranking problem. However, if the backlink breaks because the site changed the URL after the backlink was already in place, then that could cause a ranking drop.


 9:39 am on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

I think broken outgoing links may well be a quality signal. I recently went through my site with some tool or another and found dozens of broken outgoing links. I fixed them and several weeks later started to see my rankings and traffic creep up.


 12:10 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

try to look at things logically

What does it mean if a high percentage of outgoing external links on a site are broken or no longer take you to the same content as when the link was originally published?

It tells you that the webmaster isn't making much effort to maintain the site.

Back when the SEs were only thinking about "relevance" this would not have mattered.

Now that they are thinking about "quality" it does matter.

Logically, this signal would be most meaningful in a more complex context, which also considers the age of the surrounding content, and the degree to which that content "needs freshness."

For older content which doesn't need freshness, a willingness to go to the effort of periodically verifying that outgoing links are still good is a sign that the webmaster cares about their users.


 12:25 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

Any quality issue like broken links may be a negative signal to the search engines.

More importantly, it's a signal to visitors. No broken link (404 page) is a positive experience for a visitor and therefore they are less likely to continue with you.

Links from your website to other websites will just annoy them. No basic ranking issues there and at least they know you now and will remember your website is broken!

Broken internal links are easy to fix. So just do it.

Broken links to your website are harder to discover and fix. But they have the most value/cost.

They are links that are sending potential customers to your website. Broken and you've lost a lead before you even get a chance to talk to them.

They are links that add ranking to your website. Broken and you throw away that ranking.

If the linker finds they have a broken link on their website then they will most likely drop the link. If they are ranked themselves that's a big loss.


The first two are easy to fix. Use a crawler like xenu or screaming frog to find internal and outgoing link issues, and fix them.

For incoming links (backlinks) register your website with Google Webmaster Tools and check out the Diagnostics->Crawl Errors. Here you will see who has broken links to your website.

Ideally you want to contact them and ask them to update their links. This is not always possible and quite often fails. So the next best thing to do is to set-up 301 redirects to send those visitors to a page that works.

301 redirects often take a bit of tech knowledge. In most cases the website is hosted on Apache and uses php to run the website. In those cases you need to learn about the .htaccess file. It's always worth searching on your system plus "301 redirect" and you should find out how to do things.

You should be able to find all the things I mentioned via Google. If not, pipe up.

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 9:14 pm (utc) on Mar 20, 2012]


 1:30 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks for all the replies. Actually I wasn't thinking about my own websites. I was just curious about old sites I sometimes come across that apparently no longer have a caretaker, and as a result have a lot of broken external outlinks. The old articles on these sites, written years ago, may still have value, and may still deserve a high ranking. So my question is how much do the broken external links hurt their rankings.


 5:00 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

So my question is how much do the broken external links hurt their rankings.
Broken links have been part of the algo for many years. It speaks about the site upkeep and or lack of. Some htm sites have grown so big they are impossible to fix or a better word lack of time to fix. These sites may still be adding new content thus the broken links won't hurt as much probably because of their new more modern linking profile. The sites that are just forgotten probably don't fair as well. They still will rank in the long tail for now but lost the key traffic terms that they might have commanded in the beginning years as lady time moves on so the sites do as well down in the abyss of link rott.

 5:03 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

Surely, it's just good practice to keep the site neat and tidy.

If you have a link, make sure it works, or it's of no value to anyone.


 5:55 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

Well evidently I still haven't explained it clearly. So I'll try one more time by using a specific hypothetical example. Suppose that ten years ago a college professor wrote an article about antique widgets and put it on the university website, then he died a year later. Also suppose that it is the best article ever written on the subject. Also suppose that some of the outlinks he put at the bottom of the article, to serve as references, are now broken, and that nobody has bothered to fix them.

I noticed another thread here called "Google to Target Overly SEOd Sites", but many college and university websites are poorly designed and implemented, especially from an SEO perspective. In this hypothetical example, the dead professor's article is the best ever written on the subject and therefore deserves a high ranking in Google. So does Google demote it because of the broken external links at the bottom of the page, even though it should be number 1 based on its content?


 7:35 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

So does Google demote it because of the broken external links at the bottom of the page, even though it should be number 1 based on its content?

Final ranking depends upon many factors. But here is your answer:

Yes, the ranking score will decrease because -

1. broken external links:-
a. Most probably there was a back link from some of these external links
b. The page refer to a broken link has a bad content (broken link)

2. no update in last 9 years.
a. content freshness - a good quality content loose it's quality score if not updated for long time.
b. competitive content quality - other sites may have generated better content in last 9 years.


 7:52 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

A friend of mine has a several hundred page website she made using the free version of FrontPage Express over ten years ago. She really hasn't updated it much since. It's riddled with broken links and is very poorly designed, really awful. Yet it is a very popular site in her niche and so she continues to get an amount traffic I can only dream of. So Google, Yahoo! and all the rest put her right at the top, broken links and all.


 7:53 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

I give up. Apparently I can't explain it clearly enough to get a relevant answer. I suggest that the moderators just close this thread.


 8:10 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

@aristotle, I read this thread and deduced that broken external links will hurt a site. How much is anyone's guess.


 8:14 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)


Sorry, I should have specified her site is riddled with broken, outgoing, external links. Again, because her site is popular it doesn't seem to matter to the search engines one bit - she still ranks like there's no tomorrow! So there you have it, make a popular website and the search engines will look right past whatever coding problems happen to be there.


 8:29 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

@Play_Bach But that does not mean the site is not loosing some juice. If all the links where fixed/deleted, the site might enjoy even better postioning.


 8:38 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

Maybe. I'm just saying, her traffic keeps going up and up and she doesn't do a thing as far as updates are concerned, has zero interest - fixing broken links would be the furthest thing on her mind. If any site should be penalized for broken external links and other horrors, it's hers. But that's not the way it works, she gets a pass because people in droves still want what her site has to offer.


 8:53 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

@aristotle, your new explanation really underscores the point I've made in a few other threads - that "checklist SEO" is no longer a useful model for us. Instead, as Duane Forrester of Bing mentioned at SXSW, today's algorithms are more responsive and alive to many shifting conditions. "If you press one place, something may pop out some place else."

In the case you describe, the outdated broken links on the article would be a "pressed in place", but the fact that external links and other user data would who how good the page is would "pop out" anyway and the ranking could well be sustained.

[edited by: tedster at 1:26 am (utc) on Mar 21, 2012]


 9:01 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

I go thru all my outbound links a few times a year.

There are ALWWS links that are now 404, and those are the good kind of "broken links" to find.

It's the links to "REPURPOSED" sites/pages that you need to look out for.

Ignore those long enough and you might easily become part of a "Bad Neighborhood".



 9:19 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

Sorry - I wasn't referring specifically to you. In fact I didn't even see your first post until a minute ago. Actually I was referring to Some earlier posts that were just repeating standard SEO lore. Anyway I think I caused a lot of the confusion myself when I chose the title of the thread, since it appears to be a general question about broken links.


 11:18 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

Use a crawler like xenu or screaming frog to find internal and outgoing link issues, and fix them.

Unfortunately a lot of your links will have to be hand-checked. It's an ongoing time investment. Don't know about xenu, but w3c's linkchecker scrupulously obeys robots.txt so it always comes back with a string of "I wasn't allowed to check this link".

Know what riles me? When I find a bad link and decide that as long as I'm there I'll check the other links on the same page.* Then I write it all up, possibly with some extras like "The site is still there but they've changed their URL" and send to the clearly identified contact person... and never get so much as a form letter back. Grr.

* When I'm facing an essential household chore or spell-checking an e-book or equivalent, so procrastination is of the essence.


 1:07 am on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

and never get so much as a form letter back. Grr.

That's what I would expect from the type of website owner who lets broken links accumulate.


 3:23 am on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

Here is a link to a posting I did some time ago on maintaining the links in our 13,000 link directory. My goal is to remove all broken, non-responsive links within 2 months of discovery:



 11:25 am on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

Freshness is definitely a consideration in ranking.

'haven't heard much talk about this site/page in years, it must not be important anymore and oh, it's not maintained. Buh bye!'.

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