I've been wondering about this for a while, but cannot find any articles on it. When your website contains a dead link to a resource that is either not there any more, or was never there to begin with, do you get penalized? As I see it, there are some different use cases, and I doubt they'll all be dealt with equally.

  • Linking to other web pages
  • Linking to resources (images, JS, CSS etc.)
  • Dead links to use in JS (e.g. faulty Ajax calls)
  • Dynamically added links to dead resources (e.g. when an Ajax call is made, and the content contains a link that is dead)

How do search engines deal with these issues? Are they neglected, and simply not followed or does the containing website get a penalty?


Google (tries to) think as a user. So imagine you're a user and click a link, expecting a result, but it turns out to be a dead link. Bummer.
Now translate that to a system useful for a bot: Some penalty if a dead link is found.

Now there are two options that can occur:

  • Hard end; file not there, default server/apache message showing file not found with sloppy headers. This will give you the most penalty as it is also user unfriendly.
  • Soft end; there is no file, but you configured your server in a way that you now display a page made by you, offering the user a better message with some options to continue (e.g.: /Home)
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    Could you provide some resources, or is this how you think Google works? – Bram Vanroy Dec 1 '15 at 10:40

Having a 404 that the SE finds is not going to hurt you, it will eventually remove it from its index, but if you have a broken link pointing to a 404 then yes, it hurts seo.

If you have external links pointing to the missing links, you should 301 then to a relevant page.

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  • How does it actually hurt SEO? Is there a penalty given? What resources do you have to back up this claim? – Andrew Lott Nov 30 '15 at 12:17
  • 404 can be bad for rankings for numerous reasons. Broken links can affect your SEO efforts. – Josip Ivic Nov 30 '15 at 12:22
  • That's a pretty blanket statement. It's more nuanced than that, so more detail would really improve your answer. – Andrew Lott Nov 30 '15 at 12:35
  • well mate, give him another answer then. I think that my answer is enough to consult him. – Josip Ivic Nov 30 '15 at 12:49
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    404's happen, however, a lot of 404's can speak to quality. Where one begins and the other ends is not known. At some point, a number of 404 outbound links do speak to your sites quality. I do realize that Google says that 404's do not hurt your site, but that was never exactly true. It is true under normal conditions. However, if a lot of 404's exist for an unusual period of time, this speaks to how up-to-date a site is. It is always a good idea to use something like ScreamingFrog to audit your site at least once or twice a year. – closetnoc Nov 30 '15 at 17:00

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