I am watching with dismay as the list of broken links on Caveat Emptor grows by the day. The links weren’t broken when I created them, but they broke over time as the target websites archived old posts, changed their structure, or just deleted old posts and articles.
The worst offenders seem to be news media sites—and they really should know better. These sites are constantly archiving old articles, leaving a trail of 404 pages in their wake. Second are other bloggers and lawyers, who rarely preserve permalink structure when moving to a new blogging platform.
Don’t do it. Preserve those permalinks! Changing a permalink (the URL you see in the address bar of your browser) is generally a bad idea. It’s kind of like changing your phone number without telling any of your clients. They won’t find you. It is worse online, however, where search engines measure popularity and trustworthiness by the number of incoming links. If those links are dead, you don’t get credit. And if you don’t get credit, your website will fall further down on the search engine results pages until you manage to build up “link juice” to your new pages.
It also means sites that used to link to you may be reluctant to do so in the future, if they notice that their links don’t connect. Your site is not reliable.
It is easy to preserve your permalink structure, however. If you pay someone to maintain your website, they should be able to help you with it (in fact, they should know better than to alter your permalink structure in the first place). If you are changing or upgrading your site software yourself, make sure you can preserve those links. Your reputation depends on it.