Checking for Broken Links and Link Rot and the Importance of Good Site Architecture

Recently I’ve been experimenting with a plugin for checking broken links, on several of my blogs, and I’m fascinated by what I’ve discovered.The plugin is called, obviosly enough, Broken Link checker, what it does is periodically run through all of your posts and blogroll and checks for broken links. You can put a widget on your wordpress dashboard page so that you can see what the status is everytime you login.

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Having over 8000 outbound links, and over 6500 unique outbound links, I fully expected the first time I ran the plugin, it would discover several hundred broken links, which it did. What I didn’t expect was to find anywhere from 20 to 50 broken links every week!

When you click thru on the broken link report you’re presented with a screen similar to what’s shown below (click to enlarge)

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Now it’s important to remeber that websites go down temporarily, and if that happens to be when your link checker was running, you are going to get a false positive, so I suggest you actually check the broken link. You’ve got several choices you can hit the Discard link (which removes it from the report but doesn’t do anything else). Hitting Details gives you more info about the broken link, Unlink removes the link, Exclude removes it from all future reports (in case you hit a site that blocks the checking), and Edit URL lets you change the URL to point somewhere else.

There are a lot of times when I run the job and check the results, and I find that site owners have removed, changed, or relocated the content, without properly handling the 301 redirect. It’s not just small sites who may not be tech savvy, it’s sites of all sizes, in some cases even military, government sites, and heaven forbid OLD GOOGLE HELP FILES (queue dramtic soap opera music).

In most cases I will try to relocate the correct URL, but if I can’t find it after a few tries, unless I really like you, or it’s really important for the user experience, I’m just going to kill the link. As an SEO everytime a link gets killed, it’s sad. That’s why as an SEO it’s important to understand good site architecture.

  • The number one rule of site architecture is getting it right the first time, if you can, set up a site architecture so you can grow and expand in the future, without needing to radically change your URL’s. Keep file extensions like .html, .php, .jsp and other out of your URL’s so you don’t have to change them if you change the underlying programming technology (or maintain them using htaccess overrides). This can be especially hard if you change CMS’s or use shopping carts, but in the end it’s really worth the effort, so you don’t lose the links.
  • Manage your redirects. You want to use a 301 and avoid chaining them together. I’ve worked on site’s where I’ve seen one URL request pass through 4 or more 301 redirects. It may work from a user experience, but I’m not convinced it works from a search engine, link equity standpoint. However if you follow rule number one and get it right the first time, you really will avoid most of this problem.
  • Consolidate dead pages. A lot of times for marketing efforts pages need to be created that have a very short lifespan. Ideally you would want to keep the page up and put up a note that says the page info has expired, however CEO’s, Marketing managers, and legal departments don’t agree. if that’s the case, redirect the URL up one level to the root, to a more appropriate page, or to the homepage. The worse thing you can do is let it 404 and lose the link equity you gained.

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