Google Enhances "404 Not Found" Experience, Creates Broken Page Experience Instead

Aug 20, 2008 • 9:30 am | comments (4) by twitter | Filed Under Other Google Topics

The Google Webmaster Central Blog has a post about new widgets that Google has created that allow you to "embed a widget in your 404 page that helps your visitors find what they're looking for by providing suggestions based on the incorrect URL."

At Search Engine Land, Barry illustrates how this works:

For example, I set up a page at the Search Engine Roundtable at, notice I spelled advertise, with a "Z." Google automatically notices that I have a page at advertise.html, and offers that as an option for people to visit. Here is a screen capture:

However, if you're using a Windows computer, it seems, that advertize.html page doesn't work at all and brings up a blank page instead if you're using Internet Explorer or Firefox. (It does, however, work in Safari for Windows and apparently Opera too.)

I'm not sure if that's a coding issue or what, but I'm assuming that wasn't intentional. (Two different users have already reported this issue, and I've been able to reproduce it. Thanks, Tom!)

Forum discussion continues at Google Groups and DigitalPoint Forums.

Update: Tony explains the issue is due to the page not actually returning a 404 response. So it is my error and this should work fine.

Update #2: Google has fixed the issue and the script should work even on pages that return a 200 response.

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Tony Ruscoe

08/20/2008 04:41 pm

You're using the widget incorrectly. The very fact that you've *created* a page with an incorrectly spelled file name means that the page will return a 200 OK message rather than a 404 Not Found error. This widget is only designed to work on 404 pages.

Barry Schwartz

08/20/2008 04:48 pm

Figured, thanks for the clarification, ill update this post.

Tony Ruscoe

08/20/2008 04:58 pm

Sorry for the double post. Although the widget is designed for 404 pages, it *should* still work on an existing page too, but the page should be a complete HTML document rather than just this piece of JavaScript inside an otherwise blank page.


08/21/2008 08:34 am

Thanks for catching that, Tony! As you mentioned, it's not required that you return 404 for the JavaScript to work, but it is really, really, REALLY recommended for file-not-found pages. Also, only using JavaScript in an otherwise empty file can be problematic for browsers since they do not have a normal HTML page to look at (I would recommend at least using "html" and "body" elements). That said, it looks like the engineers have tweaked it to make it work anyway :-).

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