When it comes to SEO, broken backlinks are often seen as an issue that needs immediate attention. Conventional wisdom dictates that fixing these links ensures your site receives the maximum available link equity, improving your SEO performance. However, in a recent Google SEO Office Hours podcast, Google’s Gary Illyes offered an unconventional piece of advice: fix broken backlinks that would be most helpful for your users. This approach challenges traditional SEO practices but offers a fresh perspective on managing broken backlinks effectively.

Should Broken Backlinks Be Fixed?

During the podcast, a question was posed to Illyes:

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

Illyes 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.”

A User-Centric Approach

Assessing broken backlinks based on their usefulness to users is a departure from standard SEO practice. Typically, the focus is on fixing all broken links to maximize link equity. However, Illyes’ advice highlights a more pragmatic approach: prioritizing links that enhance user experience. This strategy can save time and resources, especially for larger websites where tracking and fixing every broken link can be daunting.

When to Fix Broken Backlinks

User Experience: If a broken link leads to a product page or a valuable resource that users are likely to seek, it makes sense to fix it. This ensures users find what they need, reducing frustration and improving overall satisfaction.

SEO Value: While user experience is paramount, SEO value shouldn’t be ignored. Links from high-authority sites that drive significant traffic are worth fixing to retain the SEO benefits.

Product or Service Relevance: If the link points to an outdated product or service, a 404 error might be appropriate. Redirecting users to similar, relevant content can also be a good alternative.

Why Fixing Broken Backlinks Matters

Fixing broken backlinks is one of the easier SEO tasks and can be a quick win. While the direct benefit might be hard to measure, ensuring that users who follow these links land on the correct page can improve user experience and potentially drive conversions. Additionally, fixing these links can help maintain your site’s authority and ensure search crawlers find all your important content.

Identifying Broken Backlinks

Finding broken backlinks typically involves reviewing 404 errors in your server logs or Google Search Console. These tools help identify broken links by showing where users or crawlers encounter errors. However, it’s also possible to use SEO tools and plugins like the Redirection WordPress plugin or the Wordfence plugin to help track and manage these errors.

Fixing Broken Backlinks

There are several methods to address broken backlinks:

Recreate the Missing Resource: If the content was removed, consider recreating it if it’s still relevant and valuable to users.

Redirect to Similar Content: If the original page no longer exists, redirect users to a similar page that provides equivalent information.

Correct the URL: If the link is misspelled, set up a redirect from the incorrect URL to the correct one.

Contact the Linking Site: Reach out to the site owner and ask them to update the link. This approach, while more labor-intensive, can be effective for high-value links.

While traditional SEO practices emphasize fixing all broken backlinks, Gary Illyes’ advice offers a refreshing perspective: prioritize links that enhance user experience. This user-centric approach not only saves time but also ensures that your efforts have the greatest impact. By focusing on the most important links and using tools and strategies to manage them efficiently, you can maintain a healthy backlink profile without getting bogged down in the minutiae.

In the ever-evolving world of SEO, it’s essential to stay open to new ideas and approaches. Gary Illyes’ unconventional advice on broken backlinks is a reminder that sometimes, the best solutions come from thinking outside the box. By balancing user experience with SEO best practices, you can create a strategy that not only boosts your search rankings but also keeps your users happy and engaged.

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