Today was one of those heartbreaking days for the staff at ThereArePlaces.
We work hard trying to create a great website with travel information that just might help you take your best trip ever. As you may know, we support the site based on advertising and advertising requires that we deliver quality content when you come to visit ThereArePlaces.
Yesterday, we started noticing 404 errors in our logs. 404 errors mean that the files that people were expecting to see, were not delivered when they should have been displayed. We checked our pages and determined that the problems was not with our site, but somewhere else.
After a numerous hours looking at the problem we discovered that the source of the errors was in the Google Search Index. When you search Google for something like “best places to visit in Madrid”, it may return a link to our site. Usually that is just great and we are pleased to see you. Usually the link from Google works just fine, but for some reason, Google is now publishing links to various of our pages and the links are malformed and breaking our code.
In our case, the way the link is malformed in Google results in the images not displaying and many of the links on the pages not working correctly.
Although we can see the problems when we click on some of the links in the Google index, we do not experience the same problems when the pages are linked to from our own site. In other words, if you started out at ThereArePlaces all of the pages, photos and links will display correctly. If you enter from Google, some of the links will not work correctly, while other will be OK.
When you arrive at one of these pages via a malformed link in the Google index, the images do not show and most of the links on the page do not work correctly.
The broken links were not supplied by us, as we provide Google and other search engines with a Sitemap.XML file that contains the correct form for all of the pages and images on our site. What is frustrating is that we cannot tell when another broken link is going to appear in their index or even determine how it got there. The only response we can make is to either redirect you, or to put a note on the page indicating that if you cannot see the images, click the link we supply to solve the problem.
We apologize for this problem, but when things go wrong with Google there is no immediate or apparent way to resolve the problem. We appreciate your patience and will work to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
By the way, we are not blaming Google for the broken links, as we are not sure what is causing the malformed links. As we noted, some of the links in Google are correct, while others are wrong.
For those of you who are gear-heads, the problem in the Google Search Engine is that it sometimes shows a link to our site with a “%5C” inserted somewhere in the URL. The “%5C” is the code for a backslash or “\”. The proper form in a URL is a forward slash or “/”. The backslash breaks the URL.
Thanks and our apologies.
During the last couple of days, our team has focused on trying to make sure that the hyperlinks in the ThereArePlaces site work and are not broken. We are not looking for sympathy here, since links should always work, but sometimes do not. We thought we would give you some insights on why that may be and what a difficult problem it is to keep hyperlinks up-to-date.
ThereArePlaces has 50,042 hyperlinks, split between 36,712 internal (linking to some place within the website itself) and 13,330 external links connecting to other websites. In order to test our links, we are forced to use automated tools. Yes, when we create a new page, we research all of the links, insert them on the page and manually test them. We do a complete retest when we edit or augment a page and that happens frequently. In between, we periodically test all of the links on the site using our automatic tools.
Do links change that often?
Generally, links are stable, but most changes result from companies going out of business or redesigning their sites. The worst sources of links, unfortunately, are ones that we focus on – the “official” websites. Yes, the websites from governments, tourist authorities and tourist attractions are the hardest ones to keep current.
We are not sure why this should be so (it defies logic) but after four years of doing this we are experts of sorts. It we were the “authoritative” website for specific information, such as opening times and dates for an attraction, we would not want to “break” the URLs that users use to connect with this information.
The urge to redesign websites is always great, but once Google, MSN Yahoo and other search engines have indexed you, most websites really do not want to move a page to a new location and start over as this creates dead links in the search engines and potential users cannot find your information. Many companies will redesign their website and keep the URLs originally used to link to the information.
Governments and official tourism groups think nothing of completely changing their entire structure, often throwing out valuable information in the process. They do not provide “redirects” to the new location when they move something; they just move it and let the link become inoperative.
As an example, about ten days ago we published a new section on the Best Castles in the United Kingdom, which had links to the website of the British Royals for additional information on Windsor Castle and Mary Queen of Scots. Not a week later, we see a note in our news feeds from the UK that the “Queen has launched here new website”. Yes, our links, which worked last week, were now broken. If we had not seen the news release, we would not have thought to look. We fixed these broken links and others yesterday, but shudder to think that from time to time our users are clicking broken links on our site.
Fixing links is like a game of Whack-A-Mole. Just when you beat the last one down, a new one pops up. You can never do enough to make your links perfect and we need your help. We finished changing links at 3AM today (we try to work on the site when traffic is low) and know that somewhere in our 1400 pages, some link has probably already been broken by a third party changing their site or by us making a linking mistake on ours. We apologize, for either situation, and ask you to send us an email about the offending link and we will fix it. Our address is shown below.