Are broken links affecting your rankings?

Search engine spiders don’t like to trip up on broken links and it is surprising how easy it is for them to creep in – particularly as sites grow or if there are several people responsible for updating content.

Webmaster Tools is a very useful tool and will certainly alert a website owner to major issues. However there are other tools that will do a much more comprehensive job of checking a site’s links. One such is Xenu’s Link Sleuth, this can be downloaded free. It goes through the site in a very similar way to a search engine spider and reports back

  • broken links
  • redirects
  • local broken links – ie anchor links
  • orphan links

It will also provide a list of URLs within the site and generate a sitemap, though any automated sitemap needs a lot of tweaking to be of any real value.

Broken link report

Xenu will go through a site and report all sorts of broken links including missing image links, missing javaScript files, style sheets etc which of course is valuable information for more than just keeping spiders happy. It will also check links to external sites so if the URL of a site your site links to has changed, this will be picked up. Again valuable information since you don’t want either your visitors or the spiders to meet a 404 when sent off to find a useful bit of information.

The local link report picks up errors on anchor links – these again are very easy to creep onto a page – change a paragraph and it is easy to forget an anchor link to or from the original.

Redirects

The redirect report shows just how technical a web page has become! Even quite a simple site is likely to have a myriad of redirects within the code. Many of these are not a problem – if you have any Flash on the site for example there will be a redirect that comes into operation if the visitor cannot open Flash. But it is worth just checking to see if there is anything that looks alarming and then to get it checked out with the IT guys.

Xenu and ecommerce sites

Xenu is a free tool and a good one but it does need to be used with caution especially on dynamically generated sites. Ecommerce sites are the most likely to cause problems. Dynamically generated sites can generate dynamic URLs and these can lead a spider to go round and round in circles – this used to quite a problem for search engines and ecommerce sites sometimes had difficulty in being spidered. Xenu can get caught in this sort of loop and this will cause a major headache for the site’s server and may well cause it to crash. So if you are running an ecommerce site, then your ecommerce package will probably include a link checker which shouldn’t have any detrimental effect on the system, so use this. It’s a bit like running Google Analytics on a site like Amazon, GA is a fantastic tool but there comes a point when a free tool is just not up to the job!


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