Google's Toolbar Reportedly Overwriting 404 Pages Across The Web

Feb 12, 2008 • 7:04 am | comments (12) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Other Google Topics

There are reports that the new beta version of the Google Toolbar is acting a bit evil. Reports are that when you install the toolbar and surf to a 404 page, a page not found, Google will replace the 404 page with their own page.

I have not tested this myself, because I am on a Mac and this is an issue with a Windows toolbar. I do not know if it affects all 404 pages, both default 404 pages and custom 404 pages or just default 404 pages. In any event, this is what Google uses to replace your 404 page:

Google Toolbar 404 Hijacking

I find it humorous that Google, who has horrible 404 pages, is replacing 404 pages for other sites with the toolbar. Besides for the humor and irony in this, replacing a 404 page with something else is purely evil in many webmaster's minds.

Forum discussion at DigitalPoint Forums and Digg.

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02/12/2008 12:44 pm

It only replaces error pages that are not the server default (for example, a default server error page - something thats not in the least bit useful to the average user)


02/12/2008 01:10 pm

If a site has a 404 page or manages 404 entries, Google does not override the behavior. It only overrides default (not managed) 404 behavior. What I would expect from an installed toolbar. Sorry, in this case, not evil behavior.

Barry Schwartz

02/12/2008 01:33 pm

Still Shelley - that is not right imo.


02/12/2008 02:42 pm

Look at the screenshots in a <a href="" rel="nofollow">post</a> I wrote on this topic. Frankly, I much prefer the Google approach. I would expect a search engine toolbar to provide just this kind of behavior. Now, if it overrode custom 404 error pages, I would be peeved. But the only cases I found that Google provided the search page (and only if you had the toolbar installed) is the one example site given in the original post, and the one I found that provided no error handling. Most sites manage 404 errors. Well, correctly that is. For instance, this site does, and Google's toolbar didn't override the custom error page.

Matt Cutts

02/12/2008 04:18 pm

We wrote about this specifically on the Webmaster Central blog a couple months ago: so this isn't something new or that just happened.

Barry Schwartz

02/12/2008 04:21 pm

Interesting Matt


02/12/2008 04:35 pm

And from the blog post, because I know some people won't read it: "404 errors with default error pages When a visitor tries to reach your content with an invalid URL and your server returns a short, default error message (less than 512 bytes), the Toolbar will suggest an alternate URL to the visitor. If this is a general problem in your website, you will see these URLs also listed in the crawl errors section of your Webmaster Tools account. If you choose to set up a custom error page, make sure it returns result code 404. The content of the 404 page can help your visitors to understand that they tried to reach a missing page and provides suggestions regarding how to find the content they were looking for. When a site displays a custom error page the Toolbar will no longer provide suggestions for that site. You can check the behavior of the Toolbar by visiting an invalid URL on your site with the Google Toolbar installed."

Michael Martinez

02/13/2008 12:29 am

I don't see a problem with a helpful toolbar option for unmanaged 404s. While I have criticized Google for the way it handles site searches, at least the user has an option of trying one. Googlers, maybe it would be helpful to offer a default preset site search for unmanaged 404 pages in a future revision of the toolbar.


02/13/2008 06:14 am

Just now i checked, it is not affecting the custom 404 page. Pratheep

Azlan Hussain

02/14/2008 12:46 am

In some server error page regardless whether it's 404, 401 etc, the server will include a message which will advise user to communicate or notify the system admin. In this case I think it's not right for anybody to replace the error page with something else unless similar information mention within. Azlan Online Business with a kampung boy


02/14/2008 04:30 pm

I don't know if some people here actually realise that Google potentially earns money from this. Sure it's helpful to the user, but if that same user clicks an advert on the Google search, Google makes money - and they've just made it off the back of your website, to me that's evil especially if they don't share the revenue with the domain owner.

No Name

02/14/2008 06:00 pm

the "do no evil" company apparently is openly doing evil - no surprise. they have to please the stockholders - capatalism reigns supreem or is it greed?????

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