Link Rot: n. The natural decay of web links as the sites they’re connected to change or die.
Source: Jargon File
When the number of months you’ve spent running a weblog starts creeping into the teens, link rot becomes inevitable. If you’re running a weblog that counts its lifespan in multiple years it can be even more of a problem. Is it a serious problem? It certainly can be, even if you create the bulk of your own content because without functional external links hypertext simply becomes isolated text. The strength of the web is its connections. If a web page isn’t providing the information being sought or access to additional relevant information it has extremely limited value.
A related issue that I recently stumbled upon here at Axodys is when an older weblog entry has a high ranking in a search engine like Google, but the primary link that the entry centered around is defunct. Your weblog loses credability and hurts its chances to cultivate repeat visitors. There’s no chance that someone will link to your page if it doesn’t actually provide access to the information it’s supposed to. The “internet routes around damage” and that’s the last thing you want to happen when you’re trying to maintain your weblog.
So what can you do to avoid this problem? I’ve come up with a few ideas, but it’s by no means comprehensive. If you have additional ideas let me know in my conments.
This is probably the most obvious approach and also the most difficult as your weblog grows larger. If you can only devote a limited amount of time to your weblog it’s hard to find time to write new content if you’re spending time on your old entries. That leads me to the following approach:
Put your server logs to work for you and figure out which entries are your most popular. In addition to analyzing your logs adding some kind of web counter can make tracking these issues much easier as well. Once you’ve determined the entries that need more of your ongoing attention you can make sure that they continue to be relevant.
Today I noticed that my post on an IP/NAT Primer is currently turning up second on the list for this google search. When I checked the primary link I discovered that Damien had moved the original file at some point (probably when he switched over to Movable Type. I could have contacted Damien since his site is still active otherwise, but I wanted to try the Internet Archive this time around. I went there plugged in the original URL and sure enough, they had a copy of the original page in their archive. I changed the URL to point to the archive and made a note of the change in my original entry.
This is a really good point. Eventually you’re going to run into links that are not archived anywhere and can’t be fixed. If you’re thorough about creating content in your posts and also include things like block quotes from the pages it links to, your page will retain value even if all the external links vanish without a trace.
The approaches I’ve listed above are by no means comprensive. I’d love to here about any additional approaches/tools/ideas about link rot you have in the comments below.