If you’re the kind of webmaster that believes in linking out when appropriate then you should include a link check as part of your regular SEO housekeeping. You should always have a tight control of your internal links, however external links are beyond your control and can and will change.
Online news articles often change their links as they move the articles from the current news stream to an archive area. The news site will normally put in place a permanent redirect. You will not be so fortunate with other sites. Some simply die off, others may delete content or change URLs, at times with out using any form of redirect.
Your first step it to identify the links that have either 301 permanent redirects or that broken altogether. There are many link checking programs available – W3C Link Checker is quite good as it informs you which links are broken and which links return permanent or temporary redirects. It will also advise you of the new permanent link URL where appropriate.
Once you have identified which links are broken, you can either remove the link altogether or replace it with a more appropriate link. For those permanent redirects, change the link URL to the new permanent URL. If image links are broken, find a new image to replace the lost image.
This keeps your site clean, prevents any of your visitors from being frustrated should they try to follow a broken link, and keeps the search engine spiders happy. There is no real way of knowing whether or not broken external links hurt a sites SEO, however, by tidying things up on a regular basis you will reduce any risks. It is always easier to tidy up on a regular basis than it is to have to do a compete overhaul two or three years down the track.
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