[This article is part of a 4-part series on cleaning up your website. Check out the other articles on freshening up your design, copy and links.]
This week I’m writing about how you can clean up your website for spring (click here to see all spring cleaning stories), and one of the most important tasks you can do is sweep out the dust bunnies. In digital terms, that means find and remove your dead links.
Nothing kills the success of a website faster than the reek of links that lead only to Page Not Found errors. Whether the link goes to somewhere in your site or to someone else’s site, it only takes one before a website visitor assumes the website is untended and inaccurate and never comes again.
That’s why cleaning up these pages should be an ongoing task – always stay vigilant against dead spaces on a daily basis or on an as-it-happens basis. You should still do a careful analysis at least twice a year to identify pages you may have missed or locate pages that are not technically dead, but that are no longer accurate. Those you can tag for a content cleanup as the next step of your spring cleaning.
Here’s how to go through your link check:
1. Get Clicking. If your site is small, just a few pages, then you can simply systematically go to every page and click on every link. This method is a great opportunity to evaluate where those links go and make sure they’re still appropriate.
2. Use a link-checking service. You can use these as an online service, or you can download software that does this for you. Here’s a website with several options. This method is most useful when you have many pages or links to many other websites and it’s impractical to check every single page on your own. These services will not evaluate your content, however, so you may have to check most pages at some point to make sure your copy is still up to date.
3. Move to a content management system. A content management system won’t save you from dead links, but it will make the job of maintenance easier. With a CMS as your platform, you can do things like set up a cron job, which can automatically seek out internal dead links. And you have power to create an alias, so you can easily redirect links to new pages or new content.
4. Set up a Report a Dead Link page where your website visitors and staff can do the reporting for you. You can include a form in the website footer that people can use to notify you of a dead link. Or if your site contains many links, create a button next to each one that leads to the link-reporting page (see what we did on the www.jesnapdc.org website for an example).
5. Rewrite your Page Not Found page. No matter how vigilant you are at keeping your links up to date, they’ll still change. You might move a page, delete a page or someone else’s website might go down at any time. So make sure that when someone clicks an inactive link within your site, they come to a friendly message directing them to your search tool or your homepage.
Make sure you perform a link-check for all your web presences, from your website to your blog to your Facebook page - anywhere you have links. Of all spring cleaning tasks, this one has the biggest payoff, and skipping it can be the most detrimental.
Check back tomorrow to pick up the next article in our series on spring cleaning your website. Make sure you don’t miss anything by subscribing to the RSS news feed. Not sure what an RSS feed is? Click here.