Following the launch of Google Toolbar 5 The Google Webmaster Central Blog elaborates on the new features that "help users arrive at your website, or at least see your content, even when things go awry."
They say that it can be frustrating when users see and an error such as "404 – Not Found" while trying to access your website, and "Regardless of your site being useful and information-rich, when these issues arise, most users just move on to something else. The latest release of Google Toolbar, however, helps users by detecting site issues and providing alternatives."
Photo Credits: Google Inc
There are 3 issues tackled by the Toolbar:
- 404 errors with default error pages: In case a user encounters such an error "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."
They suggest that if you have a custom error page then it should return the result code 404 as the content of this page helps the visitors to "understand that they tried to reach a missing page and provides suggestions regarding how to find the content they were looking for." If you have set up a custom error page then "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."
- DNS errors: In case of DNS errors "the Toolbar will suggest an alternate, similar looking URL with a valid domain name." eg like www.google.cmo.
- Connection failures: The Toolbar would display a link to the cached version of your page if your server is not reachable. However the feature is available only if "Google is not explicitly forbidden from caching your pages through use of a robots meta tag or crawling is blocked on the page through the robots.txt file". In case the server is unreachable on a persistent basis, then apart from fixing this problem, you could "check the Google cache for your pages by looking at the search results for your site."
If any of the above issues are encountered by the user, the Google toolbar provides the following suggestions.
A link to the corrected URL: "When the Toolbar can find the most probable, active URL to match the user's input (or link they clicked on), it will display it right on top as a suggestion."
The correction is made in the domain name, the path name and the file name but not in any parameters in the URL.
A link to the cached version of the URL: If a user's not able to access you page and the Toolbar's able to recognize the URL in the Google cache, it displays a link to the cached version. But Google caches the URLs only if "you're not explicitly forbidding this through use of a robots meta tag or the robots.txt file."
A link to the homepage or HTML site map of your site: "Sometimes going to the homepage or a site map page is the best way to find the page that a user is really looking for…if the Toolbar can find something called "sitemap.html" or similar, this page will probably be recognized as the site map page." But you needn't worry if you've named the sitemap page differently, as "if a user decides to go to your homepage, they'll probably find it right away even if the Toolbar doesn't spot it."
A link to a higher level folder: At times "the homepage or site map page is too far out and the user would be better off just going one step up in the hierarchy." Once the Toolbar can recognizes that "your site's structure is based on folders and sub-folders, it may suggest a page one step back."
A search within your site for keywords found in the URL: They suggest that "It's a good practice to use descriptive URLs." and "If the Toolbar can recognize keywords within the URL which the user tried to access, it will link to a site-search with those keywords." Even in the case that a URL has been altered "significantly in the meantime, the search may be able to find similar content based on those keywords."
e.g. "if the URL was http://example.com/party-gifts/holidays/ it will suggest a search for the words "party", "gifts" and "holidays" within the site example.com."
An open Google search box: If there's a case when nothing's worked, there still is a probability that similar content resides somewhere on the Internet. Then "The Google web search can help your users to find it – the Toolbar will help you by adding the keywords found in the URL to the search box."
The Google Toolbar can be downloaded here