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Q: problem with GOOGLE search engine ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: problem with GOOGLE search engine
Category: Computers > Internet
Asked by: douglas69-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 05 Mar 2003 11:10 PST
Expires: 04 Apr 2003 11:10 PST
Question ID: 172204
Why do web URL results with  ? and %  characters in the LINKS get
transalted into  %3F  and then you get error messages when you click?

For example, if you search on GOOGLE.COM for something, and the
resultant URL includes a ? or & character, you can click through. 
However on GOOGLE.COM enhanced partners ( AOL.COM and CNN.COM ) if you
click on the idential same resultant URL you get a PAGE NOT FOUND

Any ideas?  Who should I contact about this problem?

( for an example, try a search on "PRISCILLA HAUSER" on GOOGLE, and and you will immediately notice the problem ...
this can be replicated with any web site that uses ? and & characters

Clarification of Question by douglas69-ga on 06 Mar 2003 05:11 PST
... try clicking on the 1st response link from this query ....

... the same search result, this time in position # 3, from this
result ...


they are both the same response...  ( please note these are not the
sponsored results but the search results )
Subject: Re: problem with GOOGLE search engine
Answered By: theta-ga on 06 Mar 2003 05:27 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi douglas69-ga,
   I checked out the sites you mentioned, and the problem seems to
occur only on AOL. Google and CNN work fine for me. I tested using
IE5,IE6 and Opera 7.01 on a Windows 98 computer. So, we can safely
disregard the possibility of this being a browser error.
   The problem you are experiencing appears to be due to a coding
error at AOL. Dynamic URL's are incorrectly encoded and displayed on
the results page.
   The URL's for web pages can contain only a small set of characters.
Other characters, which are not part of this set, have to be encoded
and then included in the URL. URL encoding of a character consists of
a "%" symbol, followed by the two-digit hexadecimal code for that
   However, some special characters have special meaning and can occur
in the URL without encoding. See this example URL:
   Here, the first question mark(?) character indicates that the
characters following it are variable=data pairs. This ? should not be
encoded. Similarily, the equals(=) sign seperating the variable name
indicates that the data value is assigned to the variable specified.
This too does not have to be encoded. However, all the data values
must be properly encoded. So, the second data value (data?2) which
contains the ? character, will be encoded as data%3f2. So the properly
encoded URL will be:

For more information, check out the following page:
     - URL Encoding

The problem with the AOL site is that it encodes ALL the special
characters it finds in the URL, regardless of its meaning in the
current context. As a result, when the target site's webserver
receives this encoded URL, the server is unable to decipher that a
part of the URL contains data that is being passed to it. It looks for
a file or directory matching the decoded URL, and on not finding it,
displays an error message.

To get this fixed, you can contact the AOL search team via their
feedback form:
         - AOL Search: Feedback
           ( )
I have already sent a problem report apprising them of the problem.

To check if the problem lay with Google or its search partner, I
performed the search on Google and some of its Search partners:
 -> Google ( ://
 -> AOL ( )
 -> CNN (
 -> AT&T Worldwide (
 -> EarthLink (
 -> (
 -> Netscape (
 -> Compuserve (

  The problem occurred only on AOL, Netscape and Compuserve. This
clears Google, since its and the other partners site worked fine.


Hope this helps.
If you need any clarifications, just ask!


Google Search Terms Used:
     PRISCILLA HAUSER          ;-)
     html url encoding
     google search partners

Clarification of Answer by theta-ga on 06 Mar 2003 05:38 PST
Hi douglas69-ga,
   You were correct about CNN. Intrestingly, CNN displays both the
correct and incorrect links for the URL. The results are displayed in
the following format:
[Page Title]  Priscilla Hauser - Tole Painting - Crafty Traditions -
[ page text ]  ...
[ page text ]  ...
[Page URL]
- 43k

Here, if you click on the Page title(the first line) you will get the
error, but if you click the page URL(the last line), the destination
page opens just fine. The reason for this problem remains the same.

I'll check out the other partner sites and get back to you.


Request for Answer Clarification by douglas69-ga on 06 Mar 2003 06:46 PST
Since all those sites are supposed to be " GOOGLE - ENHANCED ? " I
would think that someone at Google might want to look into this ....
you would think this is a major problem and that Google would want to
know about.

Does anyone at Google read these Q & A 's ?   And, if you have a
contact at Google Answers, maybe you should forward a copy of this.

Thanks for your answer... at least I dont feel that its just me which
was my concern in the first place!

Clarification of Answer by theta-ga on 06 Mar 2003 07:24 PST
Hi douglas69,
   Thanks for the 5 star rating. :-)
   As for the Google search partners, I believe Google gives them
plenty of leeway on how they can format their results. Hence, any
problems that may occur as a result, are the responsibility of that
particular site.
   I have already informed AOL and CNN of the problem. Hopefully, the
problem will be fixed soon.
Glad to have been of help.
douglas69-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: problem with GOOGLE search engine
From: floorten-ga on 06 Mar 2003 02:22 PST
This works fine for me. Which browser are you using?

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