Managing broken links and redirects

Have you ever clicked on a link that didn’t work, or took you somewhere unexpected? A few weeks ago, I visited a site from a promotional email that I received, and then clicked on the link for their contact page. And instead I got a 404 error. I couldn’t even reach out the person to let them know their link was broken because, well, the contact page was broken, and the email was sent from an account that wasn’t monitored. Sigh.

Broken links on a website are more or less inevitable. If you’re linking to an external website and they change their URL structure, your links might no longer work. For your own content, if you’ve ever changed a permalink and didn’t put a redirect in place, the link to the old permalink would show as a broken link.

Maybe you have a service or product or optin you no longer offer and you don’t need that page anymore. You shouldn’t just delete the no-longer-need page and moving on without a second thought. You’ll need to redirect the traffic that used to visit those pages to an alternative location first.

I’m going to show you how to do that.

Finding and Tracking Broken Links

There are a few ways that you can check for broken links. Firstly, it’s possible to see these in your website analytics. Look for the section that shows 404 errors. This will show you any pages that a visitor attempted to load but they were unable to do so.

A second option is to use a plugin or software tool. There are some WordPress plugins that only offer this functionality, such as Broken Link Checker or Link Checker. Note: I’ve used Broken Link Checker for years and it has been my go-to for this. However, it was recently taken over by a new developer and they’ve changed it up some and I haven’t had a chance to fully evaluate it, so feel free to take that recommendation with a grain of salt. Sometimes this functionality is included in other plugins, such as SEOPress, which is my preferred SEO management plugin, or Redirection, which is a plugin for creating and managing redirects. An example of an external software-based tool is BrokenLinkCheck.com. There is a free version available, as well as a paid option for larger websites.

Finally, you can do a manual check. This is an easy option if you have a smaller website, as you’ll just browse your website like any visitor would. Click on every link on your site and make sure you are directed to the expected content.

Redirecting Links

Before deleting old content or making any changes, it’s important to have a plan in place. Where do you want a user or search engine bot to go instead of the old page? Taking a moment to plan here will avoid a disappointed user from seeing an error page, rather than the content they were hoping for. If you’ve stopped offering a product or service, can you redirect your visitor to a similar product or service you offer? If you were running a promotion or optin campaign, can you redirect your visitor to a similar campaign or invite them to join a waitlist or your email list so you can notify them when you’re running another campaign or offer?

Redirections can usually be managed through your website hosting platform, or you can use a plugin on your WordPress site. I often use a plugin called Redirection. and SEOPress also has a redirect manager. Manually creating redirects in your .htaccess file should be done with extreme care because one bad or out of place character can cause your entire website to not work.

When setting up your redirects, “Source” refers the old URL, and “Target” refers to the new URL. For example, if I was running a challenge and want to send people to a waitlist when it’s over, my source URL might be https://example.com/challenge/ and my target might be https://example.com/waitlist/

screenshot of Redirection plugin management page

In the above screenshot, the “Ignore Case” and “Ignore Slash” settings are helpful.

  • “Ignore Case” makes the Source and Target URLs not case-sensitive.
  • “Ignore Slash” means the Source URL would be redirected if it has a trailing slash or not, so /challenge and /challenge/
  • the Source and Target URLs start with the slash instead of including the domain (“/” instead of “https://example.com/”.

Once you set up the redirects, you should always test to make sure they work as expected. It can be a good idea to test from a different browser or an incognito window of your browser to make sure caching isn’t affecting it. Try to go to the old page in a different browser tab or window. If the redirect is working correctly, you’ll find yourself redirected to the page that you set. If it’s not working, you’ll want to troubleshoot the issue and double check everything that you entered.

The Redirection plugin also has a handy option to track 404 errors. Errors that show up here could be for content that was previously deleted or moved, or it could be for URLs that people are attempting to access to compromise your site using known vulnerabilities, such as looking for old versions of your site that might not be currently maintained, or URLs for known plugins that can be exploited. For any of the issues that show up on the 404 page in the Redirection plugin, you can set up a redirect to ensure that visitors are redirected to an appropriate alternate page.

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