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Google customizes your 404 errors

Posted by Michael Bloch in web development (Sunday March 1, 2009 )

Today was the first time I’d seen this, but I’m told it’s been happening for a while. If you don’t specify custom error pages for your site and an IE user has the most recent Google toolbar installed, then Google shows that user a custom error page… theirs.

But before you scream “outrage!”, here’s what it looks like:

I checked around to see if this is a new feature, but it seems to have been in beta testing for quite some time and is a part of the Google Toolbar Beta 5 installation (but it can be turned off by the user).

A lot of web masters have complained about it, but to me, what Google displays is better than the generic 404 browser error. At least it makes an attempt to hold the person on your site by offering a link directly to your home page, or a handy search box for searching your site.

According to Google, when your server returns a short, default error message (less than 512 bytes), the Toolbar will generate this page.

Evil/non-evil debate aside, the easiest way to prevent this feature being triggered is to create your own custom error page, which we should all be using anyway as a visitor retention strategy. It provides total control over what is presented and is really simple to implement – check out my tutorial on developing custom error pages.


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