Google’s unconventional tips for fixing broken backlinks

Google's advice on fixing broken links for SEO

Google’s Gary Illyes recently answered the question of whether you should spend time fixing backlinks with incorrect URLs pointing to a website, known as broken backlinks. The answer is interesting because it suggests a way of looking at this question in a completely unorthodox way.

Google: Should broken backlinks be fixed?

During a recent Google SEO Office Hours podcast, a question was asked about how to fix broken backlinks:

“Should I fix all the broken backlinks on my site to improve overall SEO?”

Google’s Gary Ilyes replied:

“You should fix broken backlinks that you think would be useful to your users. You can’t fix every link, especially when your site has grown to the size of a mammoth. Or brontosaurus.”

Unconventional advice

Evaluating broken backlinks for those that are most useful to “users” is an unconventional way to decide whether to fix them or not. Conventional SEO practice is to fix a broken backlink to ensure a site receives the maximum available link equity. So his advice goes against standard SEO practice, but shouldn’t be dismissed because there might be something useful in it.

Keep an open mind, be open to different ways of considering solutions. One thing I like about their approach is that it’s a shortcut to determining if a backlink is useful or not. For example, if the link is to a product that is no longer sold or supported in any way, a 404 response is the best thing to show search crawlers and users. So their way of looking at it has some validity.

Why you need to fix broken backlinks

It’s really not a big deal to fix these types of backlinks, it’s one of the easiest SEO tasks to do and it’s a quick win.

While any benefit is difficult to measure, it is worth doing for site visitors who may follow the wrong URL to the web page they are looking for.

Check backlinks after a link building campaign

Backlink checking is also important after a backlink campaign, even months after asking for a link, because site owners will sometimes add their links weeks or months later, but they may have added the wrong URL. It happens, I know from experience.

Broken inbound links that matter and don’t matter

The types of broken backlinks that usually (but not always) matter are the ones that show up as 404 errors in your server logs or in Google Search Console.

There are two types of broken backlinks that matter:

An inbound link that is broken because the linked page no longer exists or the URL has changed. The backlink URL is misspelled.

Below are backlinks that matter less and the reasons are:

Because the broken backlink is from a low quality website that is not sending any traffic. The link is to an outdated webpage that doesn’t matter and should return a 404 response. It’s just a random link created by an AI chatbot, spam bot, or spam webpage.

How to identify broken backlinks

Identifying any type of broken backlink can (probably) be done better by reviewing 404 errors generated from visits to pages that no longer exist or URLs that are misspelled. If the link matters, there will be web traffic from a broken backlink to a 404 page.

You may not be able to see where this link is coming from, although the broken URL may be searchable and possibly found.

The server log can show the IP address and user agent of the visitor to the site that created the broken link, and from there the site owner can make the call as to whether it is a spam or hacker bot, a search engine bot or a real user. The Redirect WordPress Plugin and Wordfence Plugin can be useful for site owners who do not have access to server logs.

A site owner may find that using a SaaS backlink tool can be helpful in finding broken links, but many sites, particularly sites that have been around for a while, have many broken links. ‘entry and using a tool may not be the right solution because it’s a lot of work to find a link that doesn’t even send traffic. If the broken link is sending traffic, you’ll know because it will show up as a 404 error response.

Fix broken backlinks

Fixing links that no longer exist can be done by recreating the resource or redirecting requests from the missing web page to a substantially similar web page.

Fixing a link to a misspelled URL is easily done by redirecting the misspelled URL to the correct URL.

Another way to fix this is to contact the site that links to the wrong URL, but there are three things to keep in mind before doing this.

1. The site owner may decide they don’t want to link to it and remove the link entirely.

2. The site owner may decide to add a no-track link attribute to the corrected URL.

3. There are other sites that may have copied the web page and/or link and are therefore also linking to the wrong URL.

Simply adding a redirect from the misspelled URL to the correct URL fixes the problem without any risk of the backlink being removed or not being followed.

Fix broken backlinks

Identifying broken backlinks is something that many site owners can stumble upon when investigating 404 errors. Some call it link reclaiming, but any discussion of “link reclaiming” is basically about fixing links. broken entry is just another name for it.

Regardless, fixing these types of inbound links is one of the few SEO quick wins that could actually benefit a site owner and could be part of a site audit, especially when it’s limited to finding opportunities in the answers to 404 error because these are links that are either crawled or are being used by potential site visitors.

Listen to the podcast at minute 5:32 for the answer on how to fix broken backlinks:

Featured image by Shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi


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About the Author: Ted Simmons

I follow and report the current news trends on Google news.

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