By and large, every page and piece of content on the Internet has its own unique URL – uniform resource locator. URLs are presented in search engine results, stored as bookmarks, get sent via email between people, used in website menus and within content to interconnect pages and help users navigate around the web. They get printed in brochures, published in newspapers, announced on the radio, displayed on buses, trains, cars and bikes. They get shared on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn and every other social network. URLs are an integral part of the Internet and without them the web would not exist.
So what happens to your URL and page if you rename it or take it off-line?
The short answer is, unless your website is set-up to handle things elegantly, as for the majority of websites, the result will be a 404 – Page Not Found response.
We all know how disappointing it is when we have followed a link in anticipation of finding more information on a subject, to be presented with a blank page or the simple, but otherwise useless page not found statement. How does this affect your business? Well, like you, your visitors will more than likely go back to their search engine of choice and look for another website that can give them the information they need. Even if they stay on your website, they will not have found something they were looking for and this could result in a lost lead or sale.
Periodic checks for broken links
It’s good practise, therefore, to periodically scan your website for broken links. It’s unlikely that you will intentionally rename or remove a page and leave the original URL lying around on your website within menus and content, but it can happen accidentally. Particularly on dynamic websites where URLs are generated automatically, it can easily happen that a page’s URL subtly changes as a result of content updating or adjustment to the website hierarchy, leaving the original URL redundant and presenting a dead-end for users who still have access to it. A periodic scan will ensure your links are in tip-top condition and you can be sure your users will be having a consistent and frustration-free experience on your website.
How to fix or handle broken links
For pages that still exist, but just have a different URL to what they had originally, there are three options
- Change the URL back to what it was – but remember, the new URL may already be out in the wild
- Find all the locations where the wrong URL is presented and change them – this is, however, extremely difficult, especially when the URL is presented on someone else’s website
- Implement an automatic redirection from the old URL to the new one – some technical knowledge is required, but presented with the old and new URLs, it typically doesn’t take a developer long to implement. This is the best option because it also helps users who access the link from external sources
For situations, particularly on large, dynamic websites where pages can come and go automatically, or where the content simply receives a change of URL, options include
- Ensuring the website automatically remembers the URLs that a page lives at, even after it has been officially changed. The website can then automatically and permanently redirect users who try to access the page via a redundant link
- Presenting an intelligent 404 – Page Not Found page that offers the visitor options to alternative but similar content that might be of interest to them
Contact us to discuss your concerns if you feel a link scan for your website would be beneficial or setting up automatic handling of URL changes would be a smart move for you.