Outbound Links in Your Web Content Can Rot Away
On the web, sites change their structure and naming system, domain names are sold, websites go dark. We have no control over what another site owner does. One study found that one in every 200 links breaks each week, and that each web link has a life expectancy of just over two and a half years. Another study found 38% of the links on the New York Times website were inaccessible or lead to the wrong content.
Why Worry About Dead Links?
Broken links on a web page affect a user’s experience. Sometimes called link rot, it breaks an implied promise to your visitor.
“Since users are irritated by linkrot, it is in your interest to reduce the amount of dead links in your own pages. The overall quality of the user experience strongly influences people’s assessment of the credibility and value of a site: if a site doesn’t work well, users will abandon it. Not only are dead links disappointing to users, they also rob your users of the value they were supposed to gain from going to the destination site.” —Jacob Nielsen on NN Group
Dead Links Affect Your Site’s Search Ranking. Maybe.
I have worked with SEO consultants who insist that linkrot is a negative ranking factor. John Mueller of Google has said that the Googlebot isn’t concerned with broken links. Yet he says fixing these links is an important part of website management. If users are frustrated with your site and bounce out, your rank will be affected.
Handling Link Rot on News Round Up Pages
I have been working with a client to periodically produce a page of news links in their niche, cryogenic storage. My client selects news items and I post them to social media. After a few news items accumulate, I will build a blog post. We’ve been sharing these links since 2015.
Finding Dead Links
I use Screaming Frog to crawl the website and find broken links. An outside monitoring agency finds and reports dead links as well.
Fixing a Dead Link
If I can find the content on the original site, I will update the link.
Sometimes I can find it on the Internet Archive, and I’ll replace the original link with that.
Not All Broken Links Can Be Fixed
If I cannot find the web page anywhere, I will put a gray box over my description, indicate the complete URL, and note that it is no longer available.
The gray box alerts the visitor that this text is different. I supply the full original URL as starting point for further research, if someone would like to do so.
I’d love to test these design choices with actual users, but the time and cost of testing would be inappropriate for content intended to be ephemeral.
The Cost/Benefit to Fixing this User Experience Issue
How much time and cost should be spent fixing broken links? The the Cryogenic News Round Up is meant to be timely, not timeless. It is not a resource likely to be used by serious researchers. These pages are rarely visited after they are first published, so it is hard to justify more than monthly maintenance.
Is link rot irritating your visitors? I can help.