Quick Tips to Prevent Broken Links

Lori Halley 28 November 2008 1 comments

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" button.

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 https://www.wildapricot.com/google.com — anyone who clicked that link would get the dreaded 404 error: Not Found.

... and broken links can just happen:

404 error pageA 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. 

There 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.

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 28 November 2008 at 3:45 PM

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Comments

  • Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot]

    Dmitriy Buterin [Chief Apricot] said:

    Friday, 28 November 2008 at 8:40 AM

    Check out Xenu - the best tool I found so far to automatically check links:

    http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html

    (Free download, Windows only)

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