Companies and organisations do not pay enough attention to broken links on their site and that completely befuddles me. I will do a broken link check on random sites now and again to see if they really pay attention to these important issues, once site I visited today had hundreds of issues, I would find that personally frightening prospect to deal with.
What is a Broken Link?
Simply it is a hyperlink within your website that will no longer go to the place where you want it to go, it can be an internal or external page. If a company is managing their website properly there should be a limited amount of these happening but unfortunately they do happen. External links might break more often as you don’t have any control over another resource.
A broken link causes an Error 404, a list of all the http status codes can be found in many places across the web such as this one. It is very important that you set up a templated page for all your Error 404’s to be redirected to, this is usually called 404.html or can be set up differently in content management systems. An Error 404 page will generally include useful information to easily direct to the content they are trying to find, however, you should never rely on this and must check your broken links regularly. Search online for inspiration, 404 pages can be an art form all of its own.
Broken Links Can Be Harmful, Why?
If you go to a website and a link is not working, redirects you to a 404 page, it is the most annoying thing if you are looking for information quickly. For example:
- Link doesn’t work, redirected to 404 page.
- Try to figure out from the 404 page how to search for content you are looking for.
- Search for the content and then have to sift through the results to find the correct information.
By this point a user will be fed up and go elsewhere. In other words your site will loose visitors/clients/customers and that could equate to LOST INCOME – yes, hopefully you are now scared enough to do some broken link checking.
It can harm search engine optimisation. When Google tries to index your site it will be stopped in its track and won’t be able to go any further, meaning your site is only partially searchable by those going to search engines.
How to Deal with Broken Links?
Personally I will run a broken link checker across the site at least once a week but this depends on the size of your site. If your content changes frequently, several times a day then you need to be a judge how often is right for your company.
So you have found broken links and now what do you do to them. On the basic level:
- Has the page that the link goes to come down, if so why, maybe it needs to be reinstated.
- A devolved editor may have updated the content without considering the impact to other pages. It could be the case you need to find out who the subject matter expert is and check/approve new wording/linkage.
- Fix the broken link and of course TEST TEST TEST. Never launch to a live site unless you have ensured the updated page/link works.
Some broken links can be very easy to deal with but others might require some research and communication with colleagues.
External broken links can be a little bit more complex. Many a time I have linked to someone else’s profile on an organisations website, well, people leave and move on to pastures new, so a broken link occurs. That organisation will not tell you of the page coming down, you find out via a broken links report. So, again, depending on the content on your site you may have to do some research, update the page via the content owner/subject matter expert, test and make live. You may wish to create a workflow for approving modified content in your organisation as certain people need to sign off and manage pages specific to their needs.
One option for fixing a broken link is to place a redirect, and there are different types that you may use. Go to moz.com for some practical guidance on using these.
Broken Link Tools
There are a number of tools to perform broken links testing page by page or across an entire site. Many tools will also check for broken images. The following are two to consider but I recommend doing your own research for software that meets your needs.
I personally use Integrity, its a one time charge, the software isn’t fancy looking but it is fantastic for my needs – I need practical not pretty.
Good luck with your Broken Links checking!