Sun, 03 May 2009

Google's 404 Handler

With my recent updating of my URL structure, I also took advantage of Google's 404 handler service.

The way it works is pretty simple. You enable a custom 404 handler in your web server (in apache, there is a ErrorDocument directive, see your web server docs if you use something else), and point it to a static HTML page. Here's mine: 404.html.

The Apache directive looks like this: ErrorDocument 404 404.html

Next, into this static HTML, you add a reference to a javascript file at Google. When your server encounters a 404, it will trigger Google to do a search for terms in the URL against the index that Google has for your site, and offer a "closest match" if it can find one.

Google's code looks like this: <script type="text/javascript"> var GOOG_FIXURL_LANG = 'en'; var GOOG_FIXURL_SITE = ''; </script> <script src="" type="text/javascript" ></script>
Now, should an old or incorrect link refer to you, the 404 handler will give them a search to find a better page. For example, there is no /carson link at my site, but here's what you get if you try: carson.

Takeaways? First, any self-respecting website should have custom error pages, even if they are static. Second, Google has a helpful utility that can help your site visitors find what they're looking for and it's a simple copy, paste, edit away from your site too.

Khan Klatt

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