The web is constantly changing, and pages get removed or redirected. This makes links to these pages go to a broken page or possibly a page that’s not like the original. This phenomenon is called link rot.
Since January 2013, 66.5% of the links pointing to the 2,062,173 websites we sampled have rotted. We found another 6.45% with temporary errors. We don’t know if they’re still there or not.
This is even more complicated when it comes to SEO. Another 1.55% have other issues that prevent the links from being counted for the purposes of ranking.
That means a total of 74.5% of the links in our study are considered lost, with at least 66.5% being rotted.
Often, the links that no longer work are important. Check out this example of a website that was referenced in a U.S. Supreme Court case. Someone bought the domain and used it to make a statement.
Image describing that a page referenced in a supreme court case has been removed
In a previous study of legal journals and citations from 2014, 70% of the links within the journals and 50% of the URLs from U.S. Supreme Court decisions did not contain the originally cited material.
Another study from 2012 found that 30% of social media links were dead within two years.
Most of the previous studies are fairly small and contain older parts of the web. I assume a lot more of the older web is already gone, if not most of it. For example, most sites stopped using extensions like .html on URLs many years ago in favor of clean URLs. Most sites have also moved from HTTP to HTTPs.
Considering the above, we decided to do the largest link rot study ever. And it’s one of the only ones that cover the more recent version of the web.
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Let’s dig into the data.
About the data
Ahrefs has been crawling the web since 2010. But for the purpose of this study, we’re only looking at the data from January 2013.
You can use the Backlinks report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to check the data for your own site. For Ahrefs, 26.9 million out of 174.3 million links have been lost. Just compare the numbers with the “Lost” filter applied vs. the numbers with the “All” filter applied.
Gif showing how to check for lost backlinks in Ahrefs
There are a few cases we tag as lost that we don’t count as link rot. I’ll cover that below.
As I mentioned in the intro, at least 66.5% of links to the sampled websites have rotted in the last nine years.
The web is complex and messy, and some things change faster than others. I wanted to see how many sites have link rot—and what percentage of their links experience link rot. A huge thanks to our data scientist Loveme Felicilda for pulling this data! This is the distribution for the percentage of link rot by domain across the dataset.