Microsoft Declaring War On The 404

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft has found yet another way of promoting its search engine: targeting those people who either mistype a page address or follow a duff link. It's thought that this happens between 2% and 10% of the time when people try to visit a page on a major website.

Normally when that happens, you get what's known as a '404' page. That's a reference to the relevant Internet error code, which means that your computer was able to contact the relevant server, but couldn't get a response to your specific request.

In most cases, you'll simply get a standard message -- depending on which browser you use -- saying that the page wasn't found. There won't be any links and the page will effectively be a frustrating dead end.

However, it is possible for a webmaster to create a customised page specific to their website, including all the usual menus and navigation tools. (You can see an example at

Microsoft has found a particularly creative way to use that option on every site the company owns. They'll now get a message saying the page couldn't be found, followed by a frame containing a results page from the search engine based on the words in the page address you were trying to reach. The results are limited to the particular site you are visiting rather than the entire web. (Source:

The software giant is making the technology behind this system available without charge to web developers. There are several options for customisation, including the ability to change which search engine is used -- which is probably a smart idea given how closely regulators monitor Microsoft's behaviour. (Source:

The feature doesn't work perfectly on Microsoft's site: it struggles to find the appropriate page first time because Live.Com's search doesn't cope well with misspellings or phrases without spaces between the words (which are common on many web page addresses).

However, it does do a decent job of making the user aware there was a problem with the address they were visiting and then giving them a chance to find what they were looking for. And, of course, it actually gets people using, which is pretty tough to do when so many people automatically think of Google or Yahoo when they are searching.

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