What is Xenu Link Sleuth?

The Xenu Link Sleuth is a free and popular program used by many search engine optimization (SEO) specialists to crawl websites and check links. Although it has been promoted as a tool for finding broken links on a website, SEO experts actually use tools like the Xenu Link Sleuth to do more than just check for broken links.

At its core, the Xenu Link Sleuth is a web bot. It crawls available files and pages on the website to which it is targeted. Its key purpose is to check the links, primarily by following each link to the page or file to which that link is pointing.  Along the way, it collects information about each page it crawls on the website and the server response codes that are received when a hyperlink is checked and followed.

Here are some of the ways that Xenu Link Sleuth are often used by SEO experts:

  • Broken link checker – SEOs need to correct broken links on their site, as broken links could harm a web page’s rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs). Xenu Link Sleuth provides a detailed summary of all links, while indicating which ones are reporting an error message (usually a 404) from the server.
  • Title tag checker – SEOs need to be sure that pages indexed by search engines have the correct title tag. Although title tags may not have much affect on rankings, they do affect click-through rates from SERPs. The Xenu Link Sleuth results table include the title meta tag for each page crawled.
  • Image alt tags – SEOs should make sure that images have alt tags, which provides text copy that are displayed when the image cannot be displayed or is still loading.  This alt tag can assist some search engines with the indexing of images. This alt tag also can be read aloud by browsers to help visually impaired website visitors.
  • Link volume – Although link quality is important, link volume is also of concern to SEOs. Xenu Link Sleuth provides summaries of how many links are pointing to the page that was just crawled, as well as how many outbound links a web page contains. If a page that an SEO wants to rank high as few internal links pointing to it, then it may be worthwhile to create more inbound links to point to that target web page.
  • Page and image sizes – Xenu Link Sleuth’s results table will indicate the size of each page and file crawled, including image files. If a page or file is too big, it may result in slow download speeds… which could affect SEO rankings. Large image files, in particular, are often optimized through compression and resizing to create smaller files (though the quality may suffer slightly in the process).
  • Analyzing competitor websites – Because the Xenu Link Sleuth primarily crawls publicly available web pages and files, it can be used on any website — even a competitor’s website. By analyzing a competitor’s website, an SEO expert can get insights into the strengths and weaknesses of a competitor’s web presence.
  • Building links on 3rd party sites – Backlinks are still an important part of SEO, and top SEO experts use tools like the Xenu Link Sleuth to help build backlinks on 3rd party websites that point to the SEO expert’s own website. One way to do this is to use Xenu Link Sleuth to analyze a directory website. If Xenu Link Sleuth finds broken links to content relevant to the SEO expert, that SEO expert can recreate another version of that lost content (and place it on his or her site). He or she can then contact the owner of the directory website and inform them of the broken link on the directory… and request that the link be redirected to the SEO expert’s own content.

 

Xenu Link Sleuth was created in 1997 by Tilman Hausherr, of Germany. Written in Visual C++, the Xenu Link Sleuth quickly became popular because of its streamlined programming and fast results.

The name Xenu is a reference to a key figure in Scientology, though the reference is more in jest than actual belief. In fact, Hausherr is a frequent and prominent critic of Scientology. The logo on the primary download page for Xenu Link Sleuth is the face and head of an ET-like alien. According to L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer who founded and led Scientology, Xenu was the dictator of the “Galactic Confederacy.” Over 75 million years ago, Xenu brought billions of his people to earth on a space ships looking much like DC-8 airplanes and then destroyed them all with hydrogen bombs. The spirits of those aliens supposedly form around people today and cause them harm.

 

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