If your site’s content has a lot of external links, you depend on them for back-linkage and your online reach. It’s no longer a secret that your site’s popularity is determined largely (besides the quality of content) by the incoming and outgoing links, so you better take care of them. Sure, you can rely on internal server logs, 404 errors and Google Analytics to find out when your users hit broken links, but the problem with these tools is that they are merely reporting. You can be more proactive.
Today’s CMS tools allow you to monitor your external and internal links, so report to you whenever there’s an issue. The latest versions of Joomla, Drupal and WordPress have convenient plug-ins that regularly scan your external URLs and determine their status. Is it a broken link? Is it a redirect? Is it now pointing to a spam website? I especially like the option of doing these scans automatically, and sending the admin (author) an email once a day or once a week. Not only you will know when one of your sources of information is offline or moved servers, some of these plug-ins allow an easy, in-line edit of these broken links. You no longer need to hunt down that article #2839, search for 4th paragraph from the bottom on 2nd page. You just change the link, and the plug-in updates the article, and republishes it. Simple, efficient, and free.
Another side- benefit of these auto-reporting broken links tools – is that you can send a heads-up to your content providers: “hey, it seems you site/article is no longer accessible. Something going on, or are you moving servers?” So go beyond the passive reports on broken links and 404 errors, and set up a responsive system of changing and fixing those broken links when they happen. Keep your content healthy, and keep search-bots happy.
And while we’re talking about 404 errors, by now it should be a given that just presenting your visitors with ‘file not found, sorry’ message, is no longer acceptable. Design a custom 404 error page to contain more information besides that text error: perhaps a search form, a list of latest articles, or a list of popular articles. Take a look at these pages from Style at Home and Canadian Living sites. Not only you’re providing a ‘lost’ visitor with extra reasons to stay, you’re also reducing your overall ‘bounce rate’. Just check your Google Analytics, and thank me later.