Link Rot: How Decaying Links Impact Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization

They say that once something is out on the internet, it lasts forever. If only we could say the same for backlinks. Unfortunately, links created on the web have a limited lifespan.

Eventually, the resource they point to becomes unavailable for whatever reason, and your site becomes the victim of link rot. 

Decaying links aren’t often discussed around the web, which is surprising because good SEO depends on your site having working links. Here’s why you should pay attention to link rot and why it can negatively impact your SEO efforts. 

What is Link Rot?

Link rot is the natural process whereby links on a page that point to resources like web pages, images, files, or entire servers eventually become unavailable. A link that no longer works is called a broken link, which can include both internal and external links

Decaying links can occur for any number of reasons, but a few of the most common include:

  • the website shuts down
  • the owner of the website moves or renames a page without redirecting
  • Web domain names are not renewed

The most significant cause of decaying links is human intervention. Owners of a website may decide to overhaul their online presence altogether or decide to move onto other projects while letting the domain name expire. As a result, thousands of sites all over the web can have many of their links broken in one fell swoop. 

How Prevalent is Link Rot?

Thousands, possibly millions of links, are broken every week. The following statistics will paint a clearer picture of the extent of the problem: 

  • On average, websites are only live for around two years [*]
  • A page has an average lifespan of 100 days [*]
  • Links on any webpage will work for roughly two years [*]
  • Approximately 12% of all links will lead visitors to a 404 status (page does not exist)

What’s So Bad About Decaying Links?

You might think that a few broken links are not a big deal, but you would probably be wrong. Here’s why.

Not only can link rot create a terrible user experience, but it also creates problems for the bots that crawl and catalog the web. Naturally, issues in these areas filter down to cause problems for website owners. 

Visitors who get confused about a link they have clicked on, or don’t get the results they expected will leave frustrated. You may also lose customers who cannot complete the sales process because of a broken link. 

Crawler bots use links to navigate around your site. If a link is broken, they get stuck and are unable to index the site correctly. Also, a site with too many broken links will eventually be viewed as a low-quality site. 

How Link Rot Affects SEO

SEO, or search engine optimization, involves techniques used on your website that make it attractive to the search engines, which will reward it with higher rankings.  A well-optimized site will rank higher in Google and other search engines for a given search term than one that is not optimized. 

Many different strategies go into search engine optimization, including: 

  • Using keywords (search phrases) in the web copy and blog articles
  • Including images 
  • The speed of your website
  • Backlinks and internal links
  • and many more factors than can be listed here

Working links provide a significant indication to the search engines that the site is cared for and kept up-to-date, which is why you should address link rot and take steps to minimize it at every opportunity. 

Diminishing Power of Links

Links are a vote in favor of a website. When links are broken, they lose their ability to influence the search results, and may even harm your site’s ability to rank. Links pointing to your internal pages must work as planned, or you will struggle to provide the best user experience to your visitors. 

Who is Most Susceptible to Link Rot?

Content publishers who are consistently publishing new content every week are more prone to link rot, purely because of the volume of content they produce.

Pages that rank on the first page will continue to pull in traffic, sometimes for years after the writer has moved on. All a content publisher’s web pages will contain links.

When there are hundreds of pages and possibly thousands of links, it’s not long before link rot sets in and starts eating away at the hard-won search results. 

Decaying links is a situation that is particularly problematic for evergreen content, which is content that stays current for a long time and is not seasonal. While the content may remain current, the links do not. 

As discussed above, when too many of the links are broken, the site loses value in Google’s eyes, and search results will start to suffer. Google also has metrics that tell the search engine how visitors are reacting to your site.

If the broken links create a negative user experience, Google will know and will penalize the website accordingly. 

Dealing with Link Rot

By now, it should be clear that link rot is a problem that should be dealt with regularly; otherwise, your business and livelihood could suffer. No doubt, you would also prefer your visitors to enjoy their time on your site. 

There are strategies you can use to mitigate link rot’s influence on your site. Dealing with link rot on your own site is relatively straightforward because you have control over the links.

Crawl your site with a link crawler and update your broken links to point to existing web properties. A few crawlers you can try include 

When the links are on external sites, you may need to reach out to the webmaster and politely ask them to correct the broken link.

You could also create a redirect to a relevant web property, but this requires some care. Unfortunately, there will be occasions when you are unable to repair a broken link. 

Maintaining your search engine ranking requires you to regularly and consistently publish and promote new content. Link rot is an unfortunate effect of a continually evolving internet.

With careful monitoring and maintenance of internal and external links, you can mitigate the impact of decaying links and ensure your site has the best chance at a high ranking.

John Kilmerstone

I'm an Aussie living in Japan who enjoys traveling, photography, and blogging. Please visit this website and explore the wonderful world of blogging. Discover how to turn your passions and pastimes into an online business.

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