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  Broken links and other site errors. Web Sightings

StrategyBroken hyperlinks and other site errors are a serious problem and there are a number of reasons for this:

  • A large number of websites are being closed down, changed or moved.
  • Websites are not being properly maintained. As with any software project, 25% to 50% of the original time spent on development needs to be spent on maintenance.
  • Website information content, software, and architecture is constantly being changed along with the tools used to create and serve sites.
  • Websites are not often properly managed and the management of areas such as web site security are inherently more complex and difficult to manage.
  • The variety and number of technical complications such as different scripting languages has increased and it is impossible for webmasters to have knowledge in more than a few areas.
  • Budgets for a web presence are not often adequate enough to fund the creation of content in the sites, let alone all of the additional maintenance activities required for sites with more than minimal content.

Errors frustrate users who are becoming less patient. Users typically go to fewer sites to get information, and they will tend to gravitate towards the more reliable sites rather then a hit and miss approach.

As part of the regular maintenance cycle of your website, it is important to have a schedule to check all of the links on your site.

In fact, a good plan is to cycle through pages using a pre-determined schedule on a monthly basis so that correcting links becomes a normal part of your ongoing business processes in the same way you would proofread a newsletter or a mailing to your donors.

Make an investment in software that cycles through your site and checks for all broken links on a regular basis, particularly if your site is one that references a larger number of external links.

Your site should include a feedback form with one of the options being to inform you of a broken link.

It's important to think about your users when re-designing or changing your site. Include a notice on the front page if you're moving the site, and also think about the possibility of emailing your constituent base if the site is moving or if there have been major architectural changes that would cause links to be broken to end users. It also gives you an opportunity to market changes to the site at the same time.

If you do have a lot of external links, think about how you place them in your site. For example, if referencing a document on another site, it may be better to just reference the home page of the site rather than the specific document address. The home page address is less likely to change as compared to content buried deep within a site.

To help users with your own site, make sure that the domain name is registered and pointing correctly to your site.

When you do move large blocks of content, put a page in the site at the old location that will automatically forward users to the new location so they don't have to try and guess where it might be located.

If your site is changing constantly, it can partly be because you haven't spent adequate time in planning how you want the content to be organized, how the content is going to grow and how the users will be interacting with the site. Time invested in design up front, will save money time and effort in the long run, just like any other software development project.

Even with persistent review it is still likely that some links will be broken and that other errors may result.

You should have well constructed error pages that trap any site errors and inform users what they need to do.

Some of the following suggestions are useful for the construction of these pages:

  • Design them to look like the rest of the site.
  • They should describe what went wrong in language that the users can understand.
  • They should have navigation links to popular pages or alternate links within the site so users can get to where they want to quickly.
  • There should be ways to contact the organization to resolve the error.

A final note. If you find broken links on this site, please let us know, and we'll try to get them fixed ASAP. (Thanks to Sasha Bateman who pointed out that this particular feature was missing from this page.)

 
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