Fixing Dead Page Links on Your Legal WebSite

Find the links and redirects

Dead Links

By Jonathen Ginsburg – If your a lawyer, and have an online pr esence, and it has not happened to you yet, it will.  At some point you will make the decision to kill a page on your web site.  Perhaps, like me, you will decide to update an entire site – upgrading from that 1995 vintage look created by your neighbor’s kid to a robust site built on WordPress or Joomla..

Dead Links Happen When a Page is Deleted and not 301 Redirected

Whatever the reason, a web page that used to exist no longer exists, you have a problem.  Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines have long memories.  When their indexing programs (called “spiders”) attempt to verify pages that have been indexed for years, these spiders will report back a dead link. Typically, this will return an error message that says “404 Page Not Found”. This is called a 404 error.

Most links will remain 404 errors forever, if there is a link to your dead page from a site like Findlaw, Lawyers.com, www.legaltorch.com, etc. The goodwill your now absent page developed due to its longevity, relevance, or that authority page that linked to your legal website is now gone.  Worse, the search engines will conclude that your site is now a bit broken because readers who may have bookmarked that page or other sites that may have linked to it now find a trusted resource  missing.

Too Many 404 Errors Can Hurt Your Legal WebSite in the Eyes of Google

If the spider reports back too many missed pages, the remaining pages on the site will suffer as well.  Just as a credit reporting agency will lower your credit score when you have missed payments on a few accounts, Google will lower your site’s authority score if you have too many dead link pages, and your site will not rank as high for relevant and profitable search terms. The page and site also loses the authority it gained from the link it may have pointing back at it from an authority site.

How Do I Fix This Broken Link?

Ok. Your a lawyer, perhaps a bankruptcy attorney. Your very busy, but you don’t trust SEO people, or in house SEO. You are hands on. A true master of your profession, right down to your online legal and social presence. How can you quickly do this and get back to work on that legal brief? What, then, can you do about this problem?  Sometimes, after all, substantive law changes, the personnel at your firm change, or you undertake a major redesign.   You’ll be happy to know that there is a solution.

Step 1: Identify The Broken Links On Your Site

First, you need to identify the specifics of the problem.  Fortunately there are several free, easy to use tools to help lawyers get this job done, in this regard.  The most popular of these tools comes from Google and is called Google webmaster tools.  If you have a Google account (i.e., a Gmail address) you can sign up for webmaster tools at https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home.  Once you sign up you can add your site, which you then verify ownership in one of several ways.
<2>Step 3: Learn To Find the 404 Errors

Once your legal website is included in the webmaster tools, you can then monitor any “crawl errors” under the site health tab.  A crawl error means that Google is expecting to find a particular page but that URL is now returning either an error page (called a 404 error page) or, worse, nothing at all.

Step 4: Set Up 301 Permanent Redirects to the New Landing Page

After identifying crawl errors the next step is to fix them.  If your site is built in WordPress, you or your webmaster can add plugin that will allow you to redirect the dead link to a live page on your site.  Two WordPress plugins I have used for this purpose are the Safe Redirect Manager plugin by Taylor Lovett or the Simple 301 Redirects plugin by Scott Nelle.

Install The Plugin and Redirect

Once the plugin is installed and activated you create a rule called a “redirect” pointing the old, dead URL to the fresh, new, live page.   Click on the image below to see a screen shot of the Safe Redirect Manager program in action.   The file names on the left (“Redirect from”) are the old file  names whereas the file names on the right (“Redirect to”) are the new, live page names.

simple redirect of files

If you do not use WordPress you can redirect pages using a special file called an .htaccess file but changing this file is not a do it yourself project.

Other Things You Can Do

You attorneys, paralegals, or legal secretaries can do this right at the firm. They can also confirm the redirect rule in your webmaster tools account, which is not essential but will speed up Google’s process of restoring the good karma to your site. Although creating redirect rules is a simple process, you can outsource this task to your webmaster or even the neighbor’s brainy kid.  More importantly, now you know that all those dead links can be brought back to life and your site health restored.

More information:

Video of redirect plugin in action – click here

Types of redirects (advanced) – click here

How to use redirects correctly, including video by Matt Cutts of Google – click here

Posts by Jonathan Ginsberg

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