The Problem With Broken Links
Why Track 404 Errors?
The problem isn't that broken links exist. The problem is that your visitors are finding 404 not found error pages on your website. When visitors encounter broken links, they leave. In fact, 74% of people leave after encountering a 404 not found error.
That means you are losing visitors (read: potential customers) because of those broken links. Worse, broken pages create a group of people who are disappointed by your website. People disappointed by your website are less likely to return to your website and less likely to share your website with their friends.
Sporadic Nature Of Broken Page Activity
The bigger problem is that visits to not found error pages are sporadic. One day, nobody will encounter your website's 404 error page. The next day, one hundred people might find your site's not found error page.
When visits to broken pages increase, you need to know about it immediately. Or, if you start losing more visitors because of a broken page, you need to know about that right away as well. You work hard to get people to your website, don't lose those visitors because of 404 errors.
How Often Should You Check Broken Links?
Unfortunately, most people do not check their website's broken links frequently enough to find these spikes.
The usual rule of thumb is to check your website for broken links every week or every month. By the end of the week or end of the month, you have already lost dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of visitors because of broken links.
To find those spikes, you have to track your broken page activity every minute of every day. That way, you fix your site's broken pages before visitors reach those pages.
A Better Way To Track Broken Links
What Questions Should You Ask About Not Found Pages?
- How Many Visitors Reached A Broken Page? How many visitors reached a 404 not found error page on your website? Knowing this helps you understand which broken pages cause the most trouble for your visitors.
- Where Did Visitors Find Broken Pages?
Most people find your website's broken pages somewhere other than your website. That might be from another website, an email newsletter, a search result, a social network, or a visit from an outdated bookmark.
You need to know all the places on the web sending people to your site's not found pages. Without that information, you do not have a complete understanding of your website's 404 errors.
- What Did People Do After Encountering A 404 Error?
Did people stay on your website after encountering a 404 not found error? If they stayed on your website, what pages did people look at next? Knowing what pages they went to after the 404 helps you understand what people really wanted from your site. That gives you a great start at fixing the 404 error.
Of course, most people will leave your website after finding an error. In fact, we've seen around 60-70% of people who reach a 404 error leave that website. You need to know how many visitors left so that you understand how many potential customers you are losing because of your site's 404 errors.
Options To Find Broken Links
How Crawl Tools Work
The standard tool for checking broken links is a broken link crawl tool. Crawl tools check every link on your website to determine whether or not the link leads to a broken page.
After crawling your site, these tools tell you which links within your website are broken (along with some other information). Crawl tools can be helpful to quickly evaluate links within your website. However, there are two major problems.
Two Problems With Crawl Tools
- The biggest problem is that crawl tools only check your website for broken links. What about all the other ways people find broken pages on your website? We've seen more people reach 404 not found pages due to links on another website than due to links within your website.
- Plus, crawl tools can't offer any type of priority regarding your not found error pages. Which 404 error pages are people actually reaching on your site? Which broken pages cause people to leave your site?
The Limitation Of Crawl Tools
Setting Up 404 Tracking In A Web Analytics Tool
Tracking 404 not found error pages in a web analytics tool, like Google Analytics, is possible. However, doing so requires a fair amount of customization with event tracking and segmentation.
Of course, even if you are a master of your web analytics tools, the data you will get about 404 errors is incomplete. While these tools are helpful in other areas, they are not designed to track the kind of data you need related to your 404 errors.
Incomplete Data About 404 Pages
The biggest piece of data missing about 404 pages is the post-error activity: what do people do after seeing a broken page?
Web analytics tools tell you about the next page people went to after seeing a 404 error page. What you really want to know, though, is what page the visitor reached after the next page visited.
Here is why: if people stay on your site after encountering a 404 not found error page, they will probably return to the home page to find what they were looking for. From the home page, they will then continue to the page, or pages, they were actually looking for.
Because web analytics tools only tell you the next page visited after reaching a 404, you don't get a complete understanding of what people were actually looking for when they clicked on the broken link.
Instead, what you really want to know is the page (or the pages) visitors reached after returning to the home page. You can use that information to help you determine the best way to fix the broken page (for instance, where to redirect the broken link).
Web Log Analysis
Finding 404 Errors In Your Web Log
Web log files can offer a helpful look at the inner-workings of your website. Among a lot of other data, web log files can provide a list of which pages on your website returned a 404 error. However, that data doesn't do enough to help you understand the impact 404 errors have on your website visitors. Worse, the data provided doesn't make it easy to help you fix your site's 404 errors.
At best, web logs will provide a list of files on your website that returned a 404 or 410 header response code. Web logs will tell you the page that led to that broken page. However, it can be really difficult to determine what page(s) people visited next. Plus, it can be difficult to determine if somebody even stayed on your website after reaching that 404 error.
No Soft 404s
If your website returns soft 404 errors (meaning your broken pages do not have a 404 or 410 header response code), web log files will not work. If you website returns soft 404s, broken pages on your site will look like every other page on your website in your web log.
Because web log files can be complex to download and review, you will likely check for 404 errors in your web log file once a month or, maybe, once a week. Unfortunately, by the time you find one 404 page you may have already lost dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of visitors because of those 404 errors. You need an easier way to check for 404s every minute of every day.
External Link Tools
What It Is
One way to find 404 errors on your website is to review external websites to see if any external website contains links to broken pages on your site. For example, a tool like Moz's Open Site Explorer can help you identify broken links to your website that exist elsewhere on the web (and help you find a lot more than broken links as well).
Helpful For Search Marketing
Looking for broken links to your site on another, external websites can be especially helpful for search marketing purposes. Within search marketing, links from external websites help improve your rankings within search results. A broken link from an external website won't help search marketing efforts, or at least not as much as a non-broken link.
Helpful, But Still Not A Complete Picture
At best, external link tools provide a list of broken links. Because these tools do more than look within your website for broken links, external link tools offer more information than broken link crawl tools. However, there are still lots of other ways people can find broken pages on your website that are missed by external link tools.
For instance, these external link tools simply cannot track links on social networking sites, links in email newsletters, links in search results, or broken links resulting from old bookmarks.
Why SpringTrax Was Built
We built SpringTrax to be the best of all broken link check tools. Having developed and managed hundreds of websites, we know the importance of handling errors on your website and we know the strengths and weaknesses of the tools currently out there.
Five Ways SpringTrax Is Better
- Every source, all in one tool. At SpringTrax, we find broken links from every source. That includes broken links resulting from your website or resulting from other websites. However, we can also uncover broken pages your visitors reach from links on other sources, like emails, social networks, search results, or old bookmarks. That allows SpringTrax to give you a complete report on every 404 errors your visitors encounter on your site.
- Prioritize your broken links. Unlike other tools, we will give you a clear sense of priority so that you know which 404 not found error pages are the most important to fix. Your time is limited, so don't waste it fixing thousands of unimportant broken links. Instead, use your limited time to fix the hundred broken links that are costing you visitors and customers.
- Know what your visitors do after seeing an error. SpringTrax tracks the visitor’s entire post-error journey on your website. That way you know everything the visitor saw after reaching an error instead of just knowing about the next page visited. This gives you a complete understanding of the impact 404 errors have on the people visiting your website.
- Fix your 404 errors. SpringTrax takes everything we know about your website's 404 errors to help you determine the best way to fix your site's broken pages. At SpringTrax, we provide detailed step-by-step instructions so that you can fix your 404s quickly and easily.
- Stay up to date with your site's broken page activity. SpringTrax continually monitors which not found error pages your visitors encounter. When we see lots of visitors reaching a 404 error on your site or leaving your site due to that 404 error, we'll alert you to the problem right away.