Wednesday, November 11, 2009...9:10 pm

Publishers, Government – fix your broken links!

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Having just installed the WordPress Broken Link Checker plug-in, I thought it would be a good idea to run it over the blog to see how disastrous my recent migration to a new web host has been.

So – how bad was it?

Actually, not so bad. Freelance Unbound has “975 unique URLs in 1,345 links”, apparently. How many were broken? A grand total of 17.

Most were mine – mainly from the migration to self-hosted WordPress, and mainly from my two longish series on surviving the media recession and keeping your blog going. These should now be fixed – but please feel free to let me know if any others go adrift.

One was a link to now defunct police blogger Nightjack – it seems appropriate to keep that in as a warning to other whistleblowers not to trust the mainstream media not to shaft your story for the sake of theirs.

But several were from sites that should know better. One linked to a Times opinion column, for example, that seems to have simply vanished from existence. It seems the paper has demoted Jane Shilling from a flagged-up columnist, and in the process lost some, though not all, of her columns. A bit sloppy.

Another was from a report on youth employment skills by government agency UKCES. I checked on a related government site, which also refers to the report, but that link is broken as well. That’s even more sloppy when you consider how often the government witters on about the importance of digital accessibility for citizenship.

Most annoying was the number of dead links to Haymarket Publishing stories. I’ve picked up on a few stories from Revolution magazine, as well as a piece from the Management Today editor’s blog. But after a few months the links had gone. Why is this?

The Revolution stories came from its email newsletter. I signed up for this for some reason a while ago, and it’s been interesting enough to keep subscribing and click through to regularly.

But if you link to a story that you’ve read via the newsletter, it tangles up a whole lot of extra newsletter reference code in the web address. Which then seems to expire. Thanks.

The Management Today site is even worse. I have written before about how Haymarket managed to lose the entire archive for Human Resources magazine, which is part of the Management Today group of magazines. Now it seems that some internal snafu has broken all the links for the editor’s blog.

Luckily, the stories are still there, and I finally managed to track down the one I needed again. But not by the site’s internal search engine. Oh no. That worked, yes. But for some reason the search results were linked to the old, outdated URL. (How is that even possible? Some kind of cache thing? Techie answers welcome.)

I understand that big sites are complicated, and links can get broken when you upgrade a CMS, say.

But links are the lifeblood of the web. It’s really important – especially if information is at the heart of your business – to make sure all your internal links keep working. It’s even more important for government agencies, which are starting to rely on the web to inform and educate citizens.

So – sorry to anyone who may have clicked on one of mine. I’m happy to spend an hour or so of an evening trying to fix them and will keep an eye on them in future.

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