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Custom Server Error Handling Could Lead To Duplicate Content Penalty On Your Website

Server Errors Should Not Point To Your Homepage!

While reading the Web Master World Google Adsense forums recently I came across an interesting thread about the mistakes people had made with their websites and how it had cost the visitors and money.

One comment especially caught my eye, one member stated how he had instructed his server to direct any errors towards his homepage, rather than rely on the server to simply display a "202" or "404" error and for him to lose that visitor. Great I thought, that's exactly what I do with this site. If you miss type a URL or there is a broken link, I've told the server to send you to the home page so you can continue looking around the site and not leave.

So what's the problem? It's a situation and an action that will lead to your home page being stuck with a duplicate content penalty by Google, with a loss of Page Rank and SERP results. Why? Well let's think about what happens when the Googlebot search-engine spider visits your site.

The Googlebot is happily digesting content, following links, but then try's to access a link that you've spelled wrong. The server see's the incorrect request and serves up your home-page instead. Googlebot thinks then that your homepage resides at two different addresses, so slaps it with a duplicate content penalty. Whoops!

It's easy to remedy this, either instruct your server not to do anything about errors and just serve the standard error messages, or make custom error pages for server errors. Most hosting companies will let you use one generic error page, or a different one for each error, it's up to you.

Quickly I created my own custom error page, so if you now type in an URL incorrectly for this site you should be directed to that page, where it invites you to email me how you came across the error or you can continue navigating around the site. Try it & see.

The above is probably the reason why at the time of writing this article, (Oct '06) my homepage 1) Doesn't have the highest PageRank in my website (Big Boys Toys does according to Google Sitemaps) and 2) When requesting the list of pages indexed by Google, the homepage isn't the top result.

Now I have hopefully addressed this issue I should see the PR of my homepage increase, and with that visitors and revenue!

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