WEB DESIGN -- Cleaning Up Broken Links

Often enough hyperlinks, also known as "links", don't work because they were not resolving correctly in the first place. New sites get hosted, old sites die off or simply become stale and need to be weeded out. Free link checking tools are available and need to be used on a routine basis to clean out the inevitable link rot that accumulates.


Why Links Go Bad

There are a lot of reasons why links that used to work all too often go bad:

- The hosting service is temporarily or permanently not working.

- The site has not paid it's hosting or domain fees for the year. Hopefully a temporary problem.

- Often enough the page is still there, but the file name or path to it has changed.

- Or the site or page has become obsolete and finally removed.

- The link works, but has been re-directed to a shut down message by the hosting company because the annual fee has not bee paid up.

- Links on the site can be linked to the PC's hard drive instead of to the Internet.


Do consider cleaning out links to sites that are no longer current. An example might be a site featuring an up coming event (e.g. a Pathfinder Camporee) that is now history.


Errors By Design

Once in awhile I copy/paste a section of my website and then fail to edit all the links embedded in the text. A link may work fine, but it hyper links to the wrong place. There are lots of ways to make mistakes that are discovered much later.


There is an Adventist church site out there with the church's photo and other key graphics wired to the webmaster's PC instead of the Internet. I've explain the problem to the webmaster about once a year, but he is convinced that because it works for him it should work for me. The moral of that story is that you should, at least once in awhile, do your link checking from an entirely different location on the Internet (e.g. a friend's PC).


Link Check Services

There are commercial link checking services that will happily check your site every day, once a week, what ever the deal is, for a price. One such service gave me a free two week trial even though I promised them I would not be buying their service. They found a few problems that had slipped past me somehow. So I did learn from the experience and my church site runs cleaner as a result.


Recruiting Your Visitors

I often enough see a site where the webmaster invites visitors to let them know if they find any broken links. It is best to assume that nobody is going to tell you about the broken links they encounter, which is almost always the case. Link checking your site really is your job and not something to expect of your visitors. Do not assume that the lack of complaints means that everything is well.


HTML Editors

FrontPage is capable of checking the links in your site's collection as well as the embedded links to other websites. It can also identify which pages load slow on the likes of my slow country phone service. DreamWeaver can also do link checking that does not include outside links.


My Favorite

Xenu's Link Sleuth is my favorite link checking tool. Bill Aumack told me about it and I've had great success with it ever since. It is excellent, capable of testing your entire site and can be downloaded for free. The link checking is multi-threaded to speed up the process. It reports redirected links (e.g. when a site upgrades to a domain). Redirects can also occur when the hosting service is redirecting to a shut down message page. You can have it test your website as served by your PC or use it to check any site on the Internet. If your site uses frames or Javascipt, you can use it to find out what the search engines can and cannot find on your website.


How I Do It

Every couple of weeks, at least once a month, I do my link checking. I maintain a Excel spread sheet to which I copy all the external broken links and include the date when I found the link broken. I can come back a couple weeks later and see if the link is working again. If it is a favorite site I may leave it in place for awhile longer. Often enough the site still works, but the page I've linked to has moved, perhaps they changed the file name from pathfinders.html to Pathfinders.html. Take the time to try and trouble shoot problems like that before tossing the site.


Author: David Buxton


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