Link Rot: 38% Of Webpages From 2013 Have Vanished

A new study by Pew Research Center reveals the fleeting nature of online information: 38% of webpages from 2013 are no longer accessible a decade later.

The analysis, conducted in October, examined broken links on government and news websites and in the “References” section of Wikipedia pages.

The findings reveal that:

  • 23% of news webpages and 21% of government webpages contain at least one broken link
  • Local-level government webpages, particularly those belonging to city governments, are especially prone to broken links
  • 54% of Wikipedia pages have at least one link in their “References” section pointing to a non-existent page

Social Media Not Immune To Content Disappearance

To investigate the impact of digital decay on social media, Pew Research collected a real-time sample of tweets on X and monitored them for three months.

The study discovered that “nearly one-in-five tweets are no longer publicly visible on the site just months after being posted.”

In 60% of these cases, the original posting account was made private, suspended, or deleted.

In the remaining 40%, the account holder deleted the tweet, but the account still existed.

Certain types of tweets are more likely to disappear than others, with more than 40% of tweets written in Turkish or Arabic no longer visible within three months of posting.

Additionally, tweets from accounts with default profile settings are particularly susceptible to vanishing from public view.

For the purpose of this report, Pew Research Center focused on pages that no longer exist when defining inaccessibility.

Other definitions, such as changed content or accessibility issues for visually impaired users, were beyond the scope of the research.

The study used a conservative approach, counting pages as inaccessible if they returned one of nine error codes, indicating that the page and/or its host server no longer exist or have become nonfunctional.

Why SEJ Cares

Digital decay raises important questions about the preservation and accessibility of online content for future generations.

Pew Research Center’s study sheds light on the extent of this problem across various online spaces, from government and news websites to social media platforms.

The high rate of link rot and disappearing webpages has implications for anyone who relies on the internet as a reliable source of information.

It poses challenges for citing online sources, as the original content may no longer be accessible in the future.

What This Means For SEO Professionals

This study underscores the need to regularly audit and update old content, as well as consistently monitor broken links and resolve them promptly.

SEO professionals should also consider the impact of digital decay on backlink profiles.

As external links to a website become inaccessible, it can affect the site’s link equity and authority in the eyes of search engines.

Monitoring and diversifying backlink sources can help mitigate the risk of losing valuable links to digital decay.

Lastly, the study’s findings on social media content prove that SEO efforts should focus on driving users back to more stable, owned channels like websites and email lists.


Featured Image: apghedia/Shutterstock

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