I think it would be a good idea to "disable" elements that lead to nowhere. There are a load of examples of links that should not be visible unless you can use them.
- Chat: Users with less than 20 rep. cannot participate in chat and get a notification about it. Can/will they enter any chat room after seeing that message?
- Bounty: When a bounty cannot be awarded (yet), show some time indicator and disable the link.
- Deleted links: Don't render the link to users who don't have the privilege to see them (i.e. <10k). Do render the text.
- Accept answer: For some reason you cannot accept answers before some time elapses (10minutes?).
- Comments: After 5 minutes, you cannot edit comments anymore, but the 'edit' link is still available.
I'm not sure I've got them all, but this is not a polling question. Do you agree that links to void should be prevented?
About the importance of clicks. One click has a low cost to the user and to the site, let's calculate that cost.
StackOverflow reaches 13M users per month. Say that 1% of these users click on a dead link. That's 137.000 clicks to void per month.
Say that each click needs 3 seconds to recover. 1 second for the page to be displayed, 1 second for the user to view the page and 1 second to go [back]. (This is a low estimate. I guess I'm as slow as 10 seconds or worse.)
That means 114h of user time are wasted each month (only on StackOverflow). How much do you earn per hour? 10€/h gives 1.140€/month. I have no idea whether this estimate comes even close to the real thing. But who cares about users (frustration) anyway?
Let's talk about the cost of serving 137.000 404 pages to users. A 404 page requires 96,74kb, that's 12,64Mb of bandwidth per month, plus the cost of accepting and serving the request.
To each cost, there's also a benefit. The benefit to the user is unknown to me, and neither do I understand what benefit SE can get from serving 404 pages.
But this is not only about dead links.
Do anonymous users enter chat rooms even when they get a big notification?
What I'd like to know is what's really going on with the click, but only a team member could get to those statistics.