Search engine optimization (SEO) for law firms is a complicated topic that focuses on two broad categories: building valuable and relevant content for your audience and getting the technical side of your website right to avoid user (and search engine) frustration. But if your website is riddled with broken links, you might have trouble achieving both.
A single broken link on your website, whether it just links to another page on your site or a credible external site, seems like a minor issue. But when they stack up, they can become a significant problem.
And yet, a 2022 study of top law firms showed that only 13% had no broken links, with an average of 225 non-functioning links per site. An astounding 5% of legal websites had more than 1,000 broken links.
So let’s take a deep dive into the concept, nuances, and best practices for broken links in the context of both SEO and broader website management.
We’ll start by discussing why link building matters for SEO and how that affects any potential broken links. Then, we’ll highlight our favorite tools and best practices for identifying and replacing broken links.
Why Link Building Matters in Law Firm SEO
Broken links matter specifically because of the broader context in which they exist. Link building has long been a part of SEO for a simple reason: the more you link out to other pages, and the more other pages link to you, the more clearly you signal Google and other search engines that your content is a credible informational hub.
Without those outbound links to other sites or internal links within your site, every piece of content to which you direct your audience is an endpoint. The user journey becomes fragmented as visitors guess what steps to take next. Meanwhile, studies and statistics are not cited and thus do not signal to the search engine that they’re actually true and valuable.
But don’t just take it from us. Backlinks from other sites to yours are one of the few core ranking factors Google has confirmed to use in building search engine results. Similarly, internal links help search engines more clearly make sense of how individual pages on your site fit together, informing automated decisions on which to rank and which content might be the most valuable.
That’s what makes link building such an important part of website optimization. Broken links, however, threaten to destroy any SEO value you have built through strategic link building.
The Basics and Types of Broken Links
As its name suggests, a broken link is a hyperlink on your or another website that points to a page that no longer exists. The page might have moved, been deleted, or had a chance in the URL; either way, the destination will be a 404 error in which the website tells users that the site they’re trying to access doesn’t exist.
Beyond those basics, you’ll find three types of broken links to manage in your larger website optimization process:
- Broken Outgoing Links, which go from a page on your website to another website and domain.
- Broken Internal Links, which link two pages on your website with each other.
- Broken Backlinks, which are links from another website leading back to yours.
All of these types of broken links can be harmful, but they all require fixing in slightly different ways. You’ll need a strategy to find and fix them, especially because of the potential harm they can cause as you try to make it easy for your law firm to be found online.
How Broken Links Can (Negatively) Affect Your Legal SEO Strategy
The occasional broken link doesn’t tend to be harmful. An analysis of S&P 500 websites found that the average site had 2.4% non-functioning links. Websites and pages move constantly in today’s dynamic internet, so keeping an entirely clean sheet tends to be impossible.
The issues begin to mount when these links begin to pile up. A preponderance of broken links threatens the user experience because it leads away from the current content or website without providing any added value.
Worse, you might see potentially significant penalties in your SEO value, decreasing your chances of ranking for relevant legal terms.
Broken links are the most common form of crawl errors, which occur when a search engine crawler encounters a 404 Page Not Found error. If a search engine like Google finds too many of them, it will begin to consider your website unreliable and outdated and will begin to push it down further in search results.
Moreover, broken links to or within your own website present a missed opportunity. You won’t get the benefits that the link would otherwise provide, like added authority and the increased ability for your internal pages to be found. Broken links also decrease the time users spend on your website, which is a core factor Google uses to determine the quality and value of a site.
The takeaway is clear: a broken link or two won’t hurt your law firm website. But once those links begin to pile up, the harm to your user experience and SEO could be significant.
5 Tools To Help You Identify Broken Links on Your Website
Manually finding every broken link is difficult. If your law firm website grows to contain landing pages for multiple locations or a comprehensive blog with plenty of relevant topics, it becomes impossible. Fortunately, a number of tools can help you minimize these issues and begin to fix broken links as they appear. These are our favorite options.
1. Google Search Console
Google’s free search traffic tool is a great place to start looking for broken links. You can use two of the reports to begin finding broken links on your site:
- In the Google Search Console, navigate to Search Traffic and Internal Links. Check the pages listed against your web pages. If any page is not listed, Google is not finding it through its crawls–likely due to broken links.
- Next, navigate to Crawl and Crawl Errors. In the Not Found section, you’ll find a report of all the pages Google couldn’t crawl because of an error–likely due to a broken link.
Neither of these methods is 100% precise, and they tend to work best for smaller law firm websites. But especially if you’re new to the concept of finding and fixing broken links, it’s a good place to start familiarizing yourself with any issues from a search engine’s perspective.
2. WordPress Broken Link Checker
If your legal website runs on the WordPress CMS, the Broken Link Checker plugin can become immensely helpful. Once you install it, the plugin begins to automatically scan your site for broken links and sends you a notification on your dashboard as soon as it finds one.
The plugin continues running in the background, making it a great fit to keep your site in good link health over time. The developer has also announced a coming update in which you’ll be able to fix the links right on your dashboard, adding to the convenience of maintaining your website’s internal and outgoing links.
3. Broken Link Check (Browser-Based)
Are you just looking for a simple, one-time check of the links on your website? In that case, few tools are better than Broken Link Check’s Link Checker. Simply enter your website’s URL, and get a report that includes anything from broken hyperlinks to 404 codes in your HTML code.
Broken Link Check is free for up to 3,000 pages on your site. You can decide to see a report of either each broken link once or each instance of a broken link on your site, even if it occurs on multiple pages. The scan takes a bit for large websites but should only take a minute or two for the average law firm website.
4. Ahrefs Site Explorer
As one of the premier SEO tools on the market, it’s only natural to assume that Ahrefs also offers the ability to find and manage your broken links. And the service doesn’t disappoint, allowing you to easily find both outgoing and incoming links from and to your website:
- The Broken Outgoing Links report shows you all pages, and all links on those pages, currently leading to a missing page. It includes the anchor text and context around the link to make finding and fixing it easier.
- The Broken Backlinks report shows you all external pages linking to your website that return a 404 error. Once you find them, you can either reach out to the owner of the external website to suggest another page on your site to link to or create new content that matches the type of content they’re trying to link to.
Keep in mind that Ahrefs is a paid tool. You’ll need to subscribe to the Standard pricing tier for both of the above reports, which starts at $199 per month.
5. SiteImprove Quality Assurance
Unlike Ahrefs, which approaches broken links from an SEO perspective, SiteImprove is largely an accessibility and user experience tool. But because broken links matter from that perspective as well, it has a helpful broken link report as well.
Within the tool, navigate to Quality Assurance, Links, and Broken Links. Go to the Confirmed Broken Links tag to see the full report. Now, you can use the magnifying glass to see exactly where on a page the link is broken or navigate right into the HTML part of your site to find hidden links (like broken links behind buttons or images).
Like Ahrefs, SiteImprove is a paid tool. But instead of standard pricing tiers, it has a custom quote method that allows you to find a price that makes sense for your website. It’s worth a try, although it will also likely be the most expensive tool on this list.
4 Ways To Fix Broken Outbound and Inbound Links
Each or a combination of the above tools gives you the opportunity to find all broken links on your website on a regular basis. But you still have to know what to do next. These tips can help.
1. Relink Your Internal Broken Links
The first step is also the easiest: for any broken links that link from your site to another page on your site, simply remove the link or find the updated URL. This change can be immediate and acts as a low-hanging fruit to maintain your law firm website.
2. Rethink Your Outbound Broken Links
Broken links from your site to others are a bit more complicated. The content may have moved, or it may have been deleted. You now have two choices: find other content on the same or a similar website that makes the same point. Alternatively, you can rethink the content on which the link lives. Either can work, depending on how easy it is to replace the broken link with a new one.
3. Redirect Your Incoming Backlinks
The immediate fix for other websites linking to a non-existing URL on your site is to put a redirect for that URL in place to a different, similar page. That way, users still get to where they need to go on your site, even though the URL might have changed. But too many 301 redirects can harm your site speed and user experience, so this works best as an immediate, temporary solution.
4. Consider a Broken Link Building Strategy
The final and most comprehensive step is a long-term strategy to use broken backlinks to your site to your SEO advantage. It’s a process known as broken link building, and it involves finding relevant broken links to your site and then building content that matches the origin site and user intent even better.
The process is complex and also involves working with the other website’s webmaster to put a new link to your site in place manually. But it has the potential to pay off big-time because the more relevant content and increase in backlinks turn a potential SEO disadvantage into a long-term benefit for your legal website.
Creating an Intentional Strategy To Find and Fix Your Broken Links
Left alone, broken links can be a serious problem for your website. But when approached strategically, they actually offer a key opportunity to improve your rankings and user experience.
Getting there is complex. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. LawRank specializes in law firm SEO, and we’d love to work on your link-building strategy with you. Ready to get started? Contact us today.