Reducing broken links and page not found messages

Many of you will be familiar with 404 page not found messages. They’re the incredibly frustrating pages you see when you’re trying to find something on the web, but it isn’t where you expected it to be.

You’ll see 404s for a number of reasons, including:

  • You click a link to a page that’s been deleted or moved
  • You’ve been emailed a link with a typo
  • You type an incorrect link into the web browser’s address bar

While we can’t do much to stop people guessing URLs or making typing errors, we can try to reduce the number of broken links on our website.

Over the past 18 months we’ve made it easier for people to let us know about errors using a form on our 404 page, and we’re running more automated and manual checks to find broken links across our site.

As a result, we’ve reduced the number of times that visitors to the York website have seen a 404 message by 34%.

However, in the last 12 months, our website visitors have still seen our 404 page over 150,000 times, so there’s definitely more work to be done.

How you can help

Making it easier for people to report problems is a good start, but ideally we’d like for there to be fewer broken links in the first place. There are a number of ways to achieve this, with the help of web authors across the University.

Within the Web CMS

Use section links

When you’re using the CMS, and linking to another page within the CMS, make sure you use a section link, rather than copying and pasting the web address.

One of the benefits of the University using a Web CMS is that if a page is moved, all of the section links will automatically update. And if a section is deleted, the person deleting the page will see a list of other CMS pages which are linking to it, giving them the chance to edit the relevant pages, or contact the page owner to let them know

You can link to any page within the CMS, not just the ones that you have access to edit.

Linking to external pages

If you’re linking to an external page from the CMS, remember to include http:// or https://, or the link won’t work and will result in a 404.

Email links

If you’re adding in someone’s email address as a link, use the ‘Insert/edit link’ option, and add ‘mailto:’ at the start of the address,
eg ‘’

Adding a mailto link in the CMS

Creating or updating page names and web addresses

When you create a new page, you have the option to set the URL, using the Output URI field.

If you leave this blank, the CMS will use what’s in the Name field, after stripping out any capital letters and spaces.

You should always fill in the Output URI field, rather than allowing the CMS to create the URL automatically. Keep it short, and add dashes between words. 

So, for example, a page with the name ‘My page about some stuff’ would automatically have a URL ending in /mypageaboutsomestuff

If you set the Output URL to “some-stuff”, the URL would instead be /some-stuff, which is much shorter and easier to read.

Setting the output URI

Be careful! If you change the name of a page, and haven’t set the Output URI, the web address will change to be the new name. If you have set an Output URI, your URL will stay the same unless you specifically change it.

If you do change the URL of your page, any section links will update automatically, but if people haven’t used section links, or have linked to your page from elsewhere, these links will break.

Check your live pages

Remember to check your pages once they’ve published, paying close attention to any links you’ve included.

You can install a web browser extension such as ‘Check my links’ for Chrome to help you quickly check any live web page.

Redirects for high profile pages

Don’t move or rename pages unless it’s absolutely necessary.

If you think you need to move a page or change its URL, contact to discuss the implications, and to arrange redirects if needed. A redirect will forward people from the old web address to the new one.

Emailing links to other people

If you’re emailing a large number of people, and your message contains a link, always double check that it’s working before you press send.

With a little bit of extra care, we can hugely improve the experience of visitors to our site, and help them to find the information they need.

Published by

Aimee Phillips

I'm a User Experience Designer in Communications at the University of York. My role includes carrying out usability testing, and ensuring accessibility is at the heart of everything we produce.

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