I’ve spent much of the weekend on a little blog project: removing broken links that have shown up over the years.
When you blog for as long as I have — more than 12 years and counting — you’re going to encounter broken links. That’s a given.
Broken links point to sources outside the blog (and occasionally even within the blog) that are no longer valid.
They can happen when other sites’ content go into an archive or are otherwise pulled from public view.
They can happen when someone deletes an individual post for whatever reason.
They can happen when a blogger decides they’ve had enough and just deletes their blog or their entire website.
They can happen when an entire blogging platform shuts down.
It’s that last example that hit home for me as I began cleaning out broken links. As some of you know, and as a few of you actually remember, this blog began at AOL in their “Journals” platform. It was a small, tight-knit connection of bloggers who were learning the craft together.
After a few years, when AOL didn’t see enough money in the Journals platform, it decided to pull the plug. It did give us some notice, at least, so that we could relocate our blogs, if we chose to keep them going, to other sources like Blogger.
Many people, unfortunately, just decided to abandon blogging altogether, while others decided to start over in a new domain.
But for blog posts here at Patrick’s Place that date back to before AOL pulled that plug, there were plenty of comments and a handful of my posts containing links pointing to those original AOL Journals sites.
Since AOL killed the Journals platform, a link that pointed to any blog that was once there (with a URL that began “journals.aol.com/…”) returned a “Server Not Found” error.
So the “Broken Links Checker” tool found 724 links to AOL blogs that no longer exist.
It’s important to note that I didn’t delete any comments connected to those broken links: I only removed the links themselves that point nowhere.
But still, it was sad to me to be reminded of how many blogs, most represented multiple times within those 724 instances, vanished when AOL Journals shut down.
So what’s the big deal about broken links?
There are a few. I’d say there are two primary reasons you don’t want broken links on your blog. The first is more obvious, but the second is just as important.
The first involves user experience.
You’re reading a blog, interested in the point an author is making in his or her post, and suddenly you see the author has referenced another page as part of the argument. You’re interested. You click the link and get a “page not found” error.
As user experiences go, it’s a frustrating one. It makes it look like the author copied down the URL incorrectly, even though it’s usually not even the author’s fault. Even so, it’s a potential letdown for your audience, and once you know that potential is there, why wouldn’t you deal with it?
The second issue involves SEO. Yes, those dreaded three letters.
SiteImprove.com points out that the “crawlers” that scan your blog to index pages for search engine optimization don’t react well to broken links. When the crawlers run into a broken link, they stop crawling that page completely and move on.
The site says that means any pages it hasn’t crawled “won’t be indexed won’t be indexed or receive a ranking.”
Those are two good reasons to remove broken links.