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Your website’s been up and running smoothly for quite some time but then one day you discover the dreaded “404 error” on one of the pages. Broken links can affect your business by impacting your search engine rankings, your website’s user experience and also cause a dent on your reputation. While working on SharePoint objects like sites, lists and libraries, content pages or files, users often face errors due to broken links and these can be caused due to numerous reasons.
Common Causes for SharePoint Broken Links
- Forgetting to change internal links while moving or renaming a webpage.
- Failing to update references to a SharePoint library or list after moving documents.
- Restructuring libraries and lists without informing users.
- Content migration from one location to another without implementing a Redirect Page.
- Renaming files while archiving or organizing content.
- Contents in the redirect destination are moved or renamed after the redirect has been implemented.
The Glaring Pain Point
The reasons for broken links could be many but unless you proactively address them they will continue to hurt your site and rankings. One might shrug it off as a minor one-off issue but as you start digging your content (whenever the realization dawns upon you), you might come across many such errors that have made your site practically unusable.
And to top it all, the biggest problem users face is that more often than not, they aren’t aware of the broken links or don’t know how to find them!
What Do Broken Links Cost a Company
You’ve worked hard to build your company’s online reputation with engaging User Experience, reliable SEO and marketing tools to increase the footfalls. However, errors such as those arising from broken links can render your efforts useless and cost your business in the long run.
- SEO Takes a Beating
Search engine crawlers stop scanning a page when they come across a broken link. This means that the concerned page will not be indexed and won’t receive a ranking. The more such broken links, the lesser effective your SEO will be.
- Website Traffic Reduces
Your users will be put-off by page errors due to broken links, which will discourage them from visiting other pages on your site. This will hamper your website ranking as search engine algorithms find a reduction in web traffic.
- Unfavorable User Experience – Bad for IT!
Broken links can be very annoying for frequent users and they will automatically migrate to other user-friendly sites. A website’s popularity is based on the kind of experience it provides to the visitors and errors such as broken links can definitely impact your IT department and company’s first impressions.
- Create Bottlenecks in Work Processes & Employee Efficiency
If broken links on sites or broken forms on SharePoint lists are not fixed, then your website’s purpose of attracting potential customers, converting them to leads and generating revenue will be lost. Worse still, the loss in business would then slowly damage your reputation too!
SharePoint Document ID Service to the Rescue
Since SharePoint works on a GUID system instead of a file-name system, one cannot solve the broken links error just by replacing the old file with a backup one. In such a scenario, fixing broken forms by migrating list data to a new list would just be an uphill task.
SharePoint 2010 introduced the document ID feature, which when activated, assigns a unique Document ID to every type of document uploaded to SharePoint. The good thing about this feature is that the Document ID property is a URL. When one clicks the URL, the document is searched easily and it works even when the document has been renamed or moved to another location.
The Document ID gets updated/assigned in any of these types of Item events:
- Document IDs enable you to manage documents by tracking them irrespective of their location. This proactively addresses the broken links problem.
- The document ID assigned to the document follows it throughout its lifecycle
- Document ID can also be maintained when moving content. Just remember to use the Site Content and Structure administrative page in Site Setting while moving documents otherwise –it won’t retain the document ID!
- Document IDs can be applied to Document Sets and to any Item that has a base content type of Document. I also put this as a ‘limitation’ so I suppose it depends on how you look at this. The advantage here is that you can inherit from the Document content type to make sue of this easily.
- Can be configured to have a custom format. This can be useful to help simplify or to help ‘identify’ types of documents by the ID. However, changing the ID prefix after it is used in pages or links will not change the links where you have them, you need to manually go to update those if you already used the ‘old’ link. You can however change the Document ID in all files that use the old format, just not links that you created which point to them, those are not updated. So you should always set the Document ID format before distribution/use of it.
- You can customize the Document ID Service by creating your own ‘Provider’. This requires development knowledge but you can override the Microsoft.Office.DocumentManagement.DocumentIdProvider class and customize things such as the ID, service URL, other behaviour. Source: https://habaneroconsulting.com/insights/sharepoint-2010-document-id-service#.WALmPPkrJhE
- This may be more of a ‘TIP’, but you can insert a reference to the Document ID in a header or top area of a Document to advise users to ‘use this link’ to link to it. This can be done from within MS Word by clicking Insert->Quick Parts->Document Property->Document ID Value.
- Although the Document ID feature is a significant step forward in helping us to prevent broken links, in SharePoint 2010, 2013 and 2016, retrieving a Document ID link for a web page, document or list item takes a few steps. A user would need to navigate to the Item and then copy the Document ID link in the property page. You can add this property to the default List View, which will make it easier for a user, however not all users are knowledgeable on this. Users need to know that they must copy the Document ID link (from View Item page) rather than right click ‘Copy URL’ of document – which most of them are ‘used to doing’.
- There are some exceptions where the Document ID is not always maintained. For example, when you download the document and upload it to another site, a new document ID will be assigned. Similarly, when you use the Move command with Send To or Copy, or copy using Windows Explorer (and then deleting source copy), it creates a new Document ID. So as mentioned earlier, if you need to move documents and maintain the IDs, use the Site Content and Structure administrative page in Site Setting while moving documents (or a tool that supports this).
- This only works on content types that are derived from the Document Content Type (such as Documents and Web Pages) will have unique IDs enabled, SharePoint List Items do not support Document IDs.
- SharePoint 2010 (before March 2010 CU) ONLY – (fixed in SP2013, 2016 and Office 365) If you download a copy of a document, change the file name, and upload it to the same library, both documents will have the SAME Document IDs! This is not an issue in most environments as they would have updated versions after the SharePoint 2010 earlier releases.
New SharePoint 2016 Feature: Durable Links
SharePoint 2016 Durable Links is an effective tool providing link integrity management for documents on SharePoint and Office Online Server. It works by assigning resource ID to individual documents and the resource IDs themselves are stored in the content database linked with the source documents.
So, when a user selects the Durable Link to a particular document, the SharePoint Server 2016 searches for it using the resource ID and opens it in the Office Online Server. This way, Durable Links help in preserving the integrity of the documents’ linking URLs, even when they are renamed or moved.
To demonstrate how it works, take for example any document that can be opened on Office Online Server. It will have an ID added at the end of the URL like this: http://sharepoint-site/document-library/document.docx?d=w065d0fcd105b45148d4b6c2f287231ce
You can see here that the first part of the URL is Path Based. Now, if the document is moved to another document library and renamed to say, Proposal, then the new link will be like this: http://sharepoint-site/proposals/proposal.docx?d=w065d0fcd105b45148d4b6c2f287231ce
The first part of the URL that is path based will change to show the new path and document name, however the ID behind d=remains the same.
So, what happens here is that when a user comes across the old URL, SharePoint will redirect the user to the document location, which in turn opens the document in the Office Online Server.
- SharePoint Durable Links provides another great step forward to help prevent the broken links problem in SharePoint documents as it automatically appends a resource ID to documents and makes it easier to use.
- Durable Links works with documents that can be opened on Office Online Server i.e. MS Office files and PDF; however, it doesn’t seem to work with web pages or list items. (NOTE: In Office 365, as of date of this article, durable links does NOT work with PDF files (but the Document ID link does). PDF durable links (with q=xxx) only seems to work with on premise SharePoint 2016)
- As mentioned above, SharePoint Items such as Calendar items, Project Lists, Task lists, Custom lists, etc. (or non-office documents) are not supported file types by Durable links, so links to web pages are still susceptible and should then have the Document ID Service enabled.
- Durable Link IDs are stored in the SharePoint content database, which means if you move the document to another Site Collection (that is in another content database), the link will still break as a new resource ID is allocated.
- Also, there are still some exceptions wherein the Document ID is not always maintained. For example, when you download the document and upload it to another site, a new resource ID will be assigned. Similarly, when you use the Move command with Send To or Copy
- Durable Links depends on the Office Online Server (OOS), which will require new hardware and another server to support. (OOS is the new Office Web Apps and works in conjunction with SharePoint Server 2016).
Although there’s still room for improvement, SharePoint 2016 Durable Links definitely improves on functionality that the Document ID service failed to do in terms of handling broken links proactively. We’ll surely see users making the most out of SharePoint and transforming their link integrity management processes to become more fool proof.
Office 365 / SharePoint Online – Get Link
I put this separately as it is a different way for getting a Link. It also seems to use a type of ‘docid’, see below link:
This looks to be a link that will not break but I will test that out and post my results here.
For now, it looks like you can right click a file, and choosing ‘Get Link’, then select if you want a Restricted, View or Editable link – pretty cool.
It seems to be more of a ‘Sharing’ feature as you need to decide the type of ‘access’ first… So this does not seem to be a type of ‘link’ you would want to post in a file or a web page, as you may want people to have the access to the file based on their permissions, not based on the type of link you use.
Nevertheless, this is a good way to share a link, but it is not yet available for SharePoint 2016 (or any older version of SharePoint) as of today but possibly in a future patch.
The New Kid on the Block: SharePoint Broken Link Manager
It wouldn’t be right not to let you know this:) but I work for an organization that has developed a product to help address this issue – Broken Link Manager for SharePoint and Office 365. I have changed roles as a SharePoint architect, admin and developer for about 15 years, and through my time working with SharePoint tools, I honestly think this toolkit is really great. The product will build a report on all links found in your SharePoint Sites, and provide ability to auto-correct these links from within the tool. Perfect for after moving a site, list or library and after a SharePoint migration.
If you have broken links in SharePoint on-premise or SharePoint Online and need to ‘automatically’ convert them to use Document IDs or valid links, then you can use this tool to do just that.
Here is a sample report that can be generated by this tool to help manage and oversee broken links by site over time:
For more info:
Read Review: SharePoint Reviews.com
Read Review: SharePoint Broken Link Manager Review by Vlad Catrinescu (SharePoint MVP)
Currently working at Cognillo (https://www.cognillo.com), he has helped architect and develop SharePoint Enterprise products for customers such as the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, U.N. Security Council of Netherlands, Australian Government, U.S. Dept of Treasury, U.S. Dept of Justice, Canadian Dept of Defense, Scotiabank, JPMorgan CHASE Bank, Intel, Ford Motors, Microsoft, NASA, DARPA, SNC Lavalin, Penguin Books, and more.
He is a proud father of 2, and when he has any spare time, he loves to paint portraits of his kids.
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