Logs rot, so do links

Link rot occurs when a page linked to from within your web site becomes invalid. Visitors to your site who click on that link will receive a 404 “Not Found” message rather than the quality content they were expecting to find. This matters to you as a web site operator because:

  1. The value of your content is diminished because your well-selected links no longer provide value to your readers

  2. Search engines indexing your site treat the broken links as a sign that your page is out-dated and therefore needs to be relegated to the bottom of their indexes

Fortunately, it’s very easy to deal with link rot. Essentially it boils down to arming yourself with a link validation tool - I recommend Xenu as the best free tool for this purpose - and run it periodically (once a month should suffice for smaller sites). Xenu will point out which links on your site are no longer working and on which pages they can be found so you can take action. The only problem Xenu has is that Wikipedia blocks this application so any links you make to Wikipedia will have to be manually checked (but, you really shouldn’t be linking to Wikipedia anyway, it is not good reference material).

When you find a broken link, you have a few options available:

Fix It

Sometimes website owners change their site’s structure without regard for incoming links. When you operate your own site, try to take all possible steps to prevent this from happening. If you are the victim of this kind of foolishness, you may be able to go to the offending site and find your link’s new path.

Change It

If you have referenced a news article or other topical content, try searching for it on the host site as above. This kind of content is the worst for being removed by its owners when it is no longer current, but often the same content can be found on another news organization’s site. If that’s the case, make the change. The original site won’t benefit from your link, but they don’t deserve to anyway.

Remove It

If your content can be re-written so removing the link doesn’t reduce its usefulness, this can be an option.

Remove the Article

If your post is written in response to content that no longer exists, just delete your post since it isn’t useful anymore. Be sure to protect the validity of any incoming links by checking your site for any internal references to the post. In order to maintain incoming links from other web sites, you may consider writing a brief explanation as to why the content is no longer available and poitning toward some of your newer work.

Credit where credit is due: I thought to write this post because of a prompting from Problogger who featured an article dealing with link checking on blogs this weekend. I found a good number of broken links on my various sites and ended up re-discovering and updating content I hadn’t thought about for some time.