I'm going to start this article with the conclusion, so if you read no more than this first paragraph you can walk away knowing the most important thing this article has to say. And here it is: Fix your broken links.
That's it, you're free to go now. The rest of this article is just stories, opinion and my thoughts that reinforce the point above. But if you need more convincing, read on.
So many times I see businesses investing thousands of dollars building their websites, tinkering with SEO improvements, or increasing/improving their content, only to neglect one of the most basic problems that may be a significant contributing factor in reducing their conversion rates: broken links.
Every broken link a visitor encounters causes a loss in credibility and possibly prevents the visitor from getting the information they need in order to "convert" into a customer, a lead, or a member of your community. Even worse, every visitor that encounters a broken link on your site is given a nice kick in the but out the door. They literally have to push their way back in order to stay on your site. Most won't.
I'm a fan of the Better Business Bureau. I believe that having the BBBs "accredited business" symbol on your site adds an additional element of trust that can be the deciding factor for those contemplating doing business with you. The few hundred dollars a year it costs to be a BBB accredited business is worth it.
I've been a member of the Better Business Bureau for the past five years and have an A+ BBB Rating. Until recently I was accredited in Reno, NV, but I have since moved and needed to get re-accredited with the local BBB in Canton, Ohio. Unfortunately, the BBB isn't globalized and an accreditation in one location does not transfer to an accreditation to another. (That's a broken link of another sort, if I ever saw one!)
Several days ago I was on the local Better Business Bureau site looking for information on becoming an accredited business. (You can't "apply", you can only inquire. That makes me feel like I'm part of an exclusive club!). Looking to contact them to get the information I needed I navigated to their "Contact Us" Page. On that page I found a link to a "quickform". This is what I got:
Does anyone else find it ironic the customized broken link / redirect page reads "Start With Trust?"
There are so many things wrong here I don't know where to start. First thing's first. They need to fix the broken link! If the quickform doesn't exist then remove the link. If it does exist... well, you'd think someone would start to wondering why they don't get any submissions.
But now let's move on to the result of the broken link. The fact that the BBB has a custom 404-Error page is wonderful. But the page itself has many problems.
First of all, the message tells me only "Page Not Found." Hmmm, not very helpful there. How about a polite message that says "Oops, the page you are looking for has gone missing?"
Which leads us to the other problem with this page, it has no links, except one, the logo. If you know to click there you'll be led only back to the home page but first you have to know to do that and then you have to re-navigate to find what you were looking for. How about adding a few links to the most main destinations of the site?
What makes this page most inefficient is that it varies so widely from the rest of the site:
This page at the very least should come with navigation similar to the home or other main pages. Follow these steps above and you eliminate a good chunk of your broken link issues.
But that's just a band-aid. The real solution comes from eliminating all broken links to begin with. Use a program like Xenu to check for broken links no less than once per month. You never know if something has changed that needs to be fixed.
Bad Link: Play Dead
It's also not a bad idea to track any incoming broken links. This happens frequently as site's change. Links from other sites point to pages that don't exist. The first thing to do here is to be sure you've implemented 301 redirects from the old pages to their newer counterparts. You might also want to contact anyone who links to you and ask them to change the link location.
You can't fix every broken link from external sites, but you can implement a custom error page and fix all broken links from within your site. Encountering any broken link tends send visitors away from your site, causeing you to lose credibility as they go.
What was the most important thing you could learn from this post? If you don't know you skipped the first paragraph. Fix your broken link issues:
Ok, so I lied, this is slightly more than one simple step. But all these steps boil down to one thing: fixing broken link issues that deplete your credibility.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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