Google’s Unique Approach to Repairing Broken Backlinks

  • June 17, 2024
  • SEO
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Recently, Gary Illyes from Google addressed a pertinent question regarding whether it is worthwhile to invest time in rectifying backlinks with incorrect URLs that point to a website, commonly known as broken backlinks. His response offers a unique perspective that diverges from traditional SEO practices.

Google’s Position: Should Broken Backlinks Be Addressed?

During a recent Google SEO Office Hours podcast, an inquiry was raised concerning the value of mending broken backlinks:

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

Gary Illyes of Google responded:

“You should fix the broken backlinks that you think would be helpful for your users. You can’t possibly fix all the links, especially once your site grew to the size of a mammoth. Or brontosaurus.”

Unconventional Approach to Fixing Broken Backlinks

Illyes’ recommendation to consider the usefulness of the backlinks for users represents an unconventional approach to dealing with broken backlinks. Traditionally, SEO specialists aim to repair broken backlinks to ensure the site receives the maximum link equity available. However, Illyes’ advice encourages a strategic approach to backlink management, focusing on user experience over strict link equity maximization.

This approach should not be hastily dismissed. It offers a practical method to determine whether a backlink is beneficial. For example, if a link points to a discontinued product or unsupported service, returning a 404 error might be the most appropriate response. This perspective provides a valid reason for selectively addressing broken backlinks.

The Importance of Fixing Broken Backlinks

While it may seem daunting, fixing broken backlinks is relatively straightforward and provides a quick win in SEO efforts. Although the direct SEO benefits might be challenging to quantify, ensuring that visitors reach the correct webpage is undoubtedly valuable.

Evaluating Backlinks Post Campaigns

Even after a backlink campaign has ended, it is crucial to review backlinks regularly. Sometimes, site owners may add the links after a delay, and errors can occasionally occur, leading to incorrect URLs being used. Such mistakes, although common, necessitate careful monitoring and correction.

Types of Broken Backlinks: Significant and Insignificant

Commonly, broken backlinks that emerge as 404 errors in server logs or Google Search Console are the ones that typically matter:

Noteworthy broken backlinks include:

  1. Backlinks that lead to non-existent pages or URLs that have changed.
  2. Backlinks with misspelled URLs.

Less critical broken backlinks are:

  • Backlinks from low-quality websites that do not generate traffic.
  • Links to outdated pages that rightfully return a 404 response.
  • Random links created by chatbots, spambots, or spam web pages.

Detecting Broken Backlinks

Identifying broken backlinks often involves checking for 404 errors triggered by visits to non-existing pages or misspelled URLs. If the broken link is significant, it will produce noticeable web traffic to a 404 page.

Occasionally, locating the broken link source can be elusive. Searching for the erroneous URL can sometimes help. Server logs might reveal the IP address and user agent responsible for the broken link, enabling site owners to identify whether it’s a user, a bot, or a malicious entity. Tools like the Redirection WordPress plugin and the Wordfence plugin can also assist those without direct access to server logs.

For extensive sites with numerous backlinks, relying solely on SaaS backlink tools may not be practical, as it can be labor-intensive. A broken link that genuinely matters will typically manifest through 404 errors.

Strategies for Fixing Broken Backlinks

Addressing broken backlinks can be achieved in several ways:

  • Recreate the missing resource.
  • Redirect the broken URL to a substantially similar page.
  • Correct misspelled URLs by setting up redirects to the correct URLs.

Contacting the site with the incorrect backlink is another option, but it comes with risks:

  • The site owner may choose to remove the link entirely.
  • The site owner might add a no-follow attribute to the corrected link.
  • Other sites that copied the web page/link might also require correction.

Implementing redirect rules for misspelled URLs often resolves the issue without risking link removal or nofollow attributes.

Link Reclamation and SEO Benefits

Finding and fixing broken backlinks, often referred to as link reclamation, is fundamentally an SEO tactic to recover lost link equity. This task can provide quick SEO wins, especially when integrated into routine site audits by focusing on 404 error responses that indicate potential valuable traffic or crawling activity.

Listen to the full discussion in the podcast at the 5:32 minute mark for insights on fixing broken backlinks:

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi

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