Pay per click advertising is a true test of your website’s ability to convert users who visit it with little to go on. Any click that doesn’t convert is money lost. What happens, then, if an enterprising web designer changes up the site structure and leaves one of your ads pointing to a broken link? Every click is guaranteed to fail. You lose money with no possibility of recovering your losses from a well-timed conversion.
Thankfully, there are a few ways you can identify broken links. Don’t let them hurt you more than they already do.
Manually Checking for Broken Links
Before you set up any sort of automated alert, you should make sure you don’t have any broken links. This is because the alerts you can set up rely on an abrupt change in your ad performance. Here’s how you can check for broken links manually.
1. Show 404 errors on your site. To test this, visit any nonexistent page on your site. Just go to www.yourdomain.com/thispageisfake/. Copy that URL and paste it into a server header check tool, like this one from SEO Consultants. The tool will give you a readout of your server header. You should see a line labeled “HTTP Status Code.” That line should, ideally, read “404 Not Found.” This means your server accurately displays 404 errors on URLs that don’t exist. If any other status code exists, you will need to configure your server to display 404 errors. Take this opportunity to create a custom 404 page for your website.
2. Obtain a complete list of ad targets from your AdWords account. You will need to log in to your account and open the AdWords editor. Export your account as a spreadsheet, CSV file. Select any campaign you want to check, or all of them by selecting to export the whole account.
3. Gather a readout of all destination links. One particular column in your exported file will be the ad copy destination URL list. Each cell will be a unique ad with a unique target. If you have multiple ads with the same target, you will have duplicates. This is fine, you can leave them where they are.
4. Ideally, you will convert all of these plaintext URLs to hyperlinks within your spreadsheet program. You can use a number of different methods to do this. One of the easiest is to run a macro in your spreadsheet program. You can find the code for a sample macro here. Note that the T1:T in the third line of the code is the column of the URLs. If the actual column in your readout is different, change the letter here to make sure you convert the right column. When you’re done, save the document as an htm or html file.
5. Use a tool such as the Xenu Link Sleuth to scan all of the links in that file. You can find Xenu’s program here. It’s very simple to use. Run Xenu, click file, click Check URL and load your htm file with all of your ad destination URLs in it. Check the “check external links” button to make sure it checks all links, then set the program to running. Depending on the size of your list, it may take a while to scan through every URL in your document.
When you’re done, Xenu will give you a color-coded list of URLs it scanned. You’re looking for any URL in red, with the status listed as “not found.” If you find any of these, copy the URLs and set them aside. These are pages that no longer exist and are displaying a 404 error.
6. Now that you have a list of any broken links in your campaign, you can go back to Google AdWords and identify every ad that points to one of those URLs. Locate valid URLs – or create new landing pages – for each broken link. Save the campaigns and enjoy no longer losing money for wasted clicks.
An Automated Alternative
This process is long and requires software, some coding and some manual labor to perform properly. If you prefer, you can invest in an automatic solution that does all of the work for you. PPC Hero’s AdWords Broken Link Checker is one such tool. It’s not free – far from it – but ideally you will only need to run it once, which you can do from the free trial offered by the company.
There are other automatic tools out there, with similar free trials, pricey full versions and easy use. Feel free to investigate and find your favorite.
Don’t Let It Happen Again
This whole process is just to give you a solid foundation from which to monitor future developments. Once you set up an alert, you won’t need to export, edit and scan your URLs again.
In Google AdWords, navigate to your campaign tab and select “create a custom alert.” This will allow you to create a whole range of possible alerts. For example:
• Set the program to alert you when your costs are creeping up, so you can monitor your ad spending without having to roll back or cancel a campaign.
• Set the program to alert you when your click volume or impression volume drops below a certain level. This will tell you if something is broken or if some change in search has caused your keyword to greatly decline in search volume.
• Set the program to alert you when your conversion rate drops. A dramatic drop is an indication of a problem with your landing page. This is the alert we will set up momentarily.
Don’t worry about limiting the number of alerts you set up. You’re always able to set and adjust more alerts or remove old alerts if they prove to be annoying to follow. Adjust until you have monitoring you’re comfortable with.
To set up an alert that monitors for broken links, you want to set up an alert on any campaign to monitor the CTR of your ads. You can tell it to monitor for a sudden negative change of more than a certain percentage. A drop of 50% would indicate a serious problem, for example. The important parts are the frequency of monitoring and the notification type. Set it to check daily or weekly, depending on how often work is done on your site. Tell it to email you when a problem is detected.
As simple as that, you have an email alert that will tell you when something is wrong with an ad, which may indicate a problem with a landing page. This should help you catch any problems before you lose too much money.