I’m pretty sure that everybody in the mainstream media now appreciates that the web is a pretty big deal. Newspapers and TV stations have finally accepted that future corporate health and wealth depends significantly on their web strategy.
Why, then, do I constantly find broken links and unhelpful 404 error pages on mainstream media sites? Here are two recent examples that I know about because I had blog posts linking to them.
- The Kansas City Star is a biggish paper, with a quarter of a million readers. You’d think they could maintain links to articles (broken link, just redirects to their home page) that are less than two years old. In SEO terms, their article on horse soccer would have easily beaten out my blog post about their article. They could have had the 2000-odd visitors who have hit my site searching for that term in the last 20 months. Given that one example, how many thousands of visitors are they leaving on the table because of broken links?
- Here’s a more heinous example. TSN used to have a whole section of their website at http://magazine.tsn.ca. My post linking to their article about CFL salaries has gotten about 25,000 visitors in the past two years or so. Those visitors should have belonged to TSN. As far as I can tell, that whole TSN Magazine section is gone, and there’s no redirects or 404-handling in place. 25,000 doesn’t sound so bad, but that’s just one article. Imagine that there are 100 articles missing, each which could have drawn roughly that many visitors. Two more zeros gets you 2.5 million visitors–a non-trivial number.
It’s possible that there are some wacky IntarWeb things going on between Morocco and these sites (Islamists don’t want me to read about horse soccer and CFL salaries!), but I don’t think so.
Broken Links Like It’s 1998
Given how desperate mainstream media companies are for web revenues, it’s shocking how often I spot broken links on their sites. I have no idea how widespread the issue is. It’s easy to imagine that TSN or the Star is missing at least 2% of potential visitors (and thus advertising revenue). If I’m running their website, that 2% matters. A lot.
Everybody has broken links. It’s a boring problem, and hardly rocket science, but corporations should know better. Their websites need to handle the error gracefully. Why, in 2008, is that still thwarting media companies?
There’s also a kind of social responsibility angle here. Every time somebody breaks a link, it has implications beyond their own site. Now I have to go chase down new articles on horse soccer and CFL salaries. In the meantime, searchers are being disappointed. That reflects poorly on me and the destination site.