E-mailed links don’t work? Fix ’em!

Question: Sometimes I receive an e-mail with a web link in it, but when I click on it, the web page fails to come up. What can I do about this? —F.H.

Answer: There may be one of two different things happening. It may be simply that the web page address is incorrect, or the address could be so long that it has wrapped to a second line and your e-mail program has linked it incorrectly because it only “see” the first line (or both things could be happening!). Here’s how to fix it.

If the link is underlined and highlighted blue, then it is clickable. So click on it. Your web browser window should open and display the page.

If it displays an error like “page not found”, then look at the top of the web browser where the web address (sometimes called the “URL”) is located. Make a note of the web address that was used and go back to your e-mail and compare the two.

Often, if the web address in the e-mail is very long, it may have wrapped to a second line of text in the e-mail. Chances are that the second line of the Web address did not get highlighted blue as part of the link, and therefore it was transmitted incorrectly to the web browser when it opened. When this happens, it’s like dialing a phone number and leaving out one or more digits from the end of the number. A “page not found” error is the web browser’s way of saying you’ve “dialed a wrong number”.

To fix it all you have to do is cut and paste the part of the web address that didn’t get used into the web browser, and hit your Enter button to try again.

If the following web page from Amazon.com didn’t display properly — http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000488VH/
ref=pd_gw_tst_1/104-4075729-2891169
— it might only send the first 72 characters of the address to the browser, which means that the last 13 characters — 75729-2891169 — weren’t part of the address that the web browser tried to call up. This tends to happen when the sender’s e-mail browser is set to send “text-only” e-mails. By default, the sending e-mail program puts a text wrap command after 72 characters of a line of text. Check to make sure that no blank spaces have crept into the web address, and make sure none of the characters in the address have been deleted or missed during cutting and pasting.

If the web address wraps to a third line, you’ll have to copy and paste that too, so the whole web address gets into the browser.

If the web address still doesn’t work after trying the tips above, contact the person who sent you the address and ask them to send it again. They may not have sent you the whole address.

If you frequently send web addresses and your recipients often complain that they don’t work, check to see how your e-mail program is sending your e-mails. E-mail programs send messages in either “text-only” or HTML format. HTML stands for “Hypertext Markup Language”. It is a programming technology invented to build web pages. When used in e-mail, it enhances the look and feel of messages, allowing the use of different fonts and graphics. It also makes sure links are clickable.

If you want to eliminate the problem of broken links when sending e-mail, set your e-mail to send in HTML format. In Outlook 2000, that can be done under the Tools menu. Go to Options, select the Mail Format tab, and change the Send this message format pull-down menu to HTML, and click OK. In Microsoft Outlook Express 5.5, in the Tools menu, choose Options and under the Send tab, you’ll see a Mail Sending Format section. Choose HTML and click OK.

If you use Netscape Messenger 4.7, choose Preferences in the Edit menu. Click on Mail and Newsgroups and under that heading choose Formatting. On the right, under Message Formatting, choose Use the HTML editor to compose messages. Click OK.

If you prefer to send “text-only” e-mail (which by the way, is safer to use because it’s less susceptible to carrying viruses, etc.), you can eliminate sending broken web links by changing your characters-per-line length to the maximum. In Outlook, the default is 72 characters per line and the maximum is 132 characters per line. If you do change, your Web browser will make each line longer and chances are that most URLs will fit into one line of text without wrapping it in the middle. Those settings can be changed if you set the mail program to “text-only” and look for a “settings” or “advanced” button of some sort.