Checking for and fixing broken links on your organization's website can be tedious
and time-consuming, but it’s a vital task for anyone who manages a
website. You can save time and effort by preventing a lot of those
broken links, however. The key is to be a bit strategic when you're choosing which page you'll link to, and double-checking the form of that link before you ever hit the "Publish"
Some links are broken to start with...
A simple typographical error can make a link fail to function. If
you’re linking to a web page with a long and complicated URL, the
easiest way to get it right is to select that URL in your browser’s
location bar when you’re looking at the page, copy it, and paste it in
when you make your link.
The most common error in creating a link, from what I’ve seen, is to accidentally leave out the http://
at the beginning of a URL. When someone clicks on such a link, their
browser will try to find the page within the orginating website. For
example, if I were to make a link here to http://google.com and leave out the http:// part, the clickable link would actually be created as http://www.wildapricot.com/google.com — anyone who clicked that link would get the dreaded 404 error: Not Found.
... and broken links can just happen:
A page on another website may be removed or renamed after you’ve
linked to it; or an entire website may vanish from the Web overnight.
It’s inevitable. It’s the nature of the ever-changing Internet.
are a couple of things you can do, however, to reduce your odds of
getting a broken link in the short term.
First of all, be aware that more and more sites are dynamic rather
than static. That means that many of their pages are designed to change
as new content is added. Blogs and news sites are prime examples: what
was shown on the front page yesterday may not be there tomorrow; it may
have bumped off to an archive page.
When linking to a dynamic website, then, look for a “permalink” —
use the URL for the blog post’s own dedicated page for the link.
Archive pages and tag or category pages are always in a state of flux,
so avoid linking to them when what you want to point your readers to is
just one specific article. Do be particularly cautious with news sites, such as those of the
major media sources and wire services. Often, only the breaking news is
public on media websites, and the archived pages may be moved into a password-protected area
after a week or so, where only paid subscribers can see them.
If the same information appears in several sources, which should you choose to link to? That's a tough question.
Assess a site’s overall stability as best you can, I'd say, to increase the odds that your link won't soon break. But admittedly, it's a bit of a guessing game...Small
personal websites are more likely to disappear than those of large
organizations — but, on the other hand, some of the giant commercial
websites seem to get a total make-over almost every quarter, and those
often involve a structural change that breaks existing links to their
site. Smaller entities will nornally try to avoid any site changes that
might cost them those precious in-coming links, but this doesn’t seem to be the case,
necessarily, with the big guys.
In some cases, the best compromise — and it is a compromise — would be to link to the home page of a changeable big website
and rely on that site’s navigation and search functions to help our
referred readers find what they need. It's not an ideal solution, but getting your readers part of the way with one click is a far cry better than just dead-ending their experience of your organization's website at a blank 404 error page.