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County Manager apologizes for thousands of broken links on new website

What appears when a broken link is clicked on Arlington County’s new website (via Arlington County)

Arlington’s County Manager has apologized for the frustrating user experience on the new county website, which has left thousands of broken links in the wake of its launch.

The new website, sporting the new county logo, was implemented one month ago and since then those trying to navigate the site or search for information on the site via Google are frequently getting “Page or Site Not Found” errors.

“Not only are members of the community members frustrated, I’m frustrated — as are a lot of county employees,” County Manager Mark Schwartz told Board members yesterday. “We use the website all the time.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Schwartz provided County Board members with an update on staff’s efforts to restore many of the broken links — 6,634 by the county’s count — to working order by Thanksgiving. Progress is being made and users can expect next week a “marked improvement” to the broken links, as well as the website’s internal search engine, Schwartz said.

Despite knowing broken links would pose a problem, Arlington forged ahead with the move to the new website anyway because the old platform was, according to Schwartz, not secure and on the brink of collapse.

“We didn’t do it on a whim. Our old platform was wobbly and about to fall over,” he said. “We were forced to go a little bit earlier than we wanted to, given that the alternative was that our old website — which everyone now misses — was about to fall over.”

He also tried to take a swipe at ARLnow’s article yesterday about the broken links, which included a screenshot of a platform that tracks broken links to websites.

“If it didn’t make me cry, it was funny, in ARLnow there was an article published today saying there were 900,000 broken links on our website,” he said. “We only have 187,000 [links]. I think there’s something broken in that article.”

The number, generated by a broken link checker on the search engine optimization website Ahrefs, in fact refers to the number of inbound links to the county site — from other websites including those of news outlets, local civic associations, etc. — that are now broken.

Result of broken link checker for the county website (via ahrefs.com)

Those who encounter broken links can reach out to the county or use the reporting function at the bottom of the “Page or Site Not Found” page, officials said.

Board member Libby Garvey thanked those who have already written the county with links to fix.

“It reminds me of snow plowing. There might be cul-de-sac somewhere we might have missed and people let us know,” she said. “I know they’re often upset but that helps us get in there because we really don’t know everything all the time.”

Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol said she appreciated Schwartz’s explanation of the timing of the website transition.

“People, Board members included, expect a high level of service from Arlington, and are disappointed when it’s not met,” she said. “Understanding there was some urgency, security reasons being part of that, is really helpful context.”

Still, the website launch promised “exciting things to come” and has yet to deliver, Board member Christian Dorsey said.

“You heightened people’s expectations they were going to get a fully finished product,” he said, drawing attention to other unfinished aspects, such as missing photos or icons and inconsistent grammar and syntax.

In response, Schwartz said every department will have someone click through each page to pinpoint those inconsistencies.

Two fixes will take more time, officials said. First, about half of the broken links are associated with old press releases, which are low on the county’s list of things to fix. Second, there are still issues with searching for PDFs uploaded to the website.

“We’re working through the challenges,” Assistant County Manager Bryna Helfer said.

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