If your website links to outside sites then you have to watch out for ‘link rot’ — good links gone bad. It’s fine to use software for this, but you need a human eye too.
Link rot degrades a site
When visitors to your site click a link they expect to end up on some other page: the page they thought they were heading off to. But they might not end up where you thought you were sending them.
Let’s say my site has a link like this:
Read Example Group's Annual report at http://www.example.com/reports, and a visitor click that link. Several things could happen:
the visitor ends up at the expected Reports page. Good.
Example Group’s website is temporarily ‘down’. Not so good, but these things happen.
Example Group reorganised their website and moved their reports to Publications; what’s more they didn’t put any measures in place to make sure visitors from the old link would still end up at the right place. The visitor sees a page that says “404 File not found.”
This is annoying for the visitor who feels frustrated, and for me, as my website has just become slightly less useful and credible.
Example Group has abandoned their website. The link goes to a real page, but it’s full of porn or viruses or other undesirable material.
This is very bad: my site is now not only less useful but actually linking to porn, which reflects very badly on me, and may cause some of my potential audience to reject my site, me and the cause my site is associated with.
Regular checks are vital
It’s crucial that you regularly check all the links on your site. You can easily find software to do this — one well known application is Xenu Link Sleuth — but you also need to cast a human eye over the links.
Here’s why: a software link checker will detect whether a link calls up a page or not. If it does, then the link is not broken and the software checker reports no problems.
If that link turns up a page, but it’s become a porn site, or the content has moved to a different address the software will still report no problem. That’s the kind of thing only a human can see.
At Communitynet Aotearoa we routinely check the 1,000 or more links in our Links database. We’ve turned up numerous broken links, defunct websites, broken pages, and one address that had turned to porn.
It’s a tedious job, but to preserve the integrity of your site it needs to be done.
Written for and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, June 2007 and may have been modified from the original.