Just when I thought I was doing something to make my blog better, I was quickly reminded that doing so can create broken links on your site.
For a while now, I’ve been trying to clean up my categories.
When I started this blog more than 13 years ago, I didn’t immediately have the option to use categories and tags.
Over time, tags became available, but by then, I was used to using categories, so I didn’t bother adding tags until much later than I should have.
The difference between categories and tags
Conventional blogging wisdom tells us there is an important distinction between the two.
Categories should be considered your “table of contents.” That means they’re your broader subject areas, the key topics you write about.
Tags, on the other hand, should be considered your “index.” They’re the more specific, “deep-dive” sub-topics within the main topics.
If I were writing a post about The Price is Right, for example, it would be filed under the TV category, but under tags that might include Television, Game Shows, CBS and maybe even a Price is Right tag. (I’ve written enough about that show over the years that there is a tag for the show itself.
Broken links are a blogging no-no.
A broken link is a link that doesn’t point to a valid page after some change is made. The change causes the “break.”
In this particular case, the problem began when I tried to simply my URL post structure. Rather than using one that relied on dates, which added length and a lot of unnecessary numbers to each post’s URL, I thought I’d simplify things to this format:
It’s a lot easier on the eye that way.
WordPress allows you to select the format for post URLs. Here are the default settings you can choose from and the format I use:
Broken links can be a problem for a blog for two big reasons: for one, it’s a bad audience experience because someone interested enough in clicking a link in a post then receives an error stating the page can’t be found. Let’s face it: that’s a very annoying thing to happen when we’re reading a blog, click through to a link because we’re curious about something and find a door slammed in our face.
But broken links can also be a problem for SEO, which stands for search engine optimization. That’s a fancy way of referring to the process of making sure your site is what comes up when people search a topic you’re writing about in search engines like Google, Bing and others.
Crawlers are busy little guys (they’ve only got an entire Internet to scan over and over again), so when they run into a broken link, they stop crawling that page and move on to the next one, meaning any pages it hasn’t crawled won’t be indexed or receive a ranking.
Anything that hurts your site’s SEO is something that needs your attention right away. Whenever possible, you want to avoid causing broken links. But if you can’t avoid doing so, you have to be ready to act as quickly as possible to unbreak them.
The simple change that can cause broken links
As I’ve been working to clean up my categories, one of the things I’ve been doing is merging some categories into one and eliminating categories that should never have been categories to begin with.
I used to use a category called “Hot Buttons” about controversial stories. But I realized that I wanted all posts to be filed under one single category and then under multiple tags. Something like “hot buttons” could be fine as a tag on a post that was categorized under a specific topical category.
But it shouldn’t be a category unto itself.
Let’s say I write a post about a controversy in the church. Back then, I’d have filed that post under “Hot Buttons” and “Faith.” But if I remove that “Hot Buttons” category, and somewhere in the blog I’ve linked to that post using a URL that has “Hot Buttons” as the category, like this:
…instead of this:
…then the link will be broken: WordPress won’t automatically redirect to the proper link URL.
So in trying to simplify the layout of my posts, I’ve actually complicated things by creating a broken link!
The best-laid plans…, as they say.
I’ve been using a free plugin called Broken Link Checker, which periodically scans my site looking for links that no longer go to their original destination. The plugin has alerted me to several internal links that are pointing to URLs that need to be updated. So I’m in the process of correcting those.
It would be great if WordPress could automatically correct links that result from changes made to the URL within the blog, but until that happens, we bloggers have to remain vigilant in checking our sites for broken links and repairing them as quickly as we can!
Patrick is a Christian with more than 26 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.