The usefulness of cached web pages.

Ever been given a URL or used an older bookmarked website only to get either the dreaded error 400 or error 404? Whether it’s a page no longer available or a website that is no longer accessible (site shut down, or do to expired domain name/hosting) you may be able to glean some information from none other than Google itself.

Google maintains a cache of many websites’ pages with a few limitations. First let’s see if what we are looking for is stored out there or not. Open a new search window (virtually every browser supports the shortcut keystrokes) and use the google search engine by typing (<- or click here to open one now) in the address bar. 

Once the google search page is open simple do a search by using the prefix of “cache:” (without the quotes) followed by the website name you are looking for. Do not include the “http://www.” site prefix as this is not searching the web, but rather Google’s cache. Simply replace the “” in the example with the website you are looking for. “If” Google has crawled and cached it will be displayed as the results.

Now in the event you don’t get what you are expecting (above is an example of such), it’s because Google is displaying what was cached the last time the URL was crawled. The example above is of an old URL I once owned, it is now owned by someone else and is parked on GoDaddy.

While this might be disappointing, don’t dispair, there is another possible website cache you can access. While not as extensive as Google, the “Wayback Machine” stored on may be the solution. It is a little more intricate than using Google’s “cache:” command, but I find the results superior as you can often look at different iterations of a cached site over time based on when it was crawled. Let’s try a second time, enter (<– or click here) in the address bar:

Then in the site search block enter the website of interest as in the example below:

What you will get is a calendar of cached dates. Select the year of interest and then scour the monthly calendars to find the exact cache date. In the example below I’ve selected the year 2011. As it turns out it was cached on the 28th of January of that same year. The date is highlighted blue so you can find the cache dates real easy.

Simply click on the date to reveal the cached information. Don’t be surprised if all the graphics aren’t included.

Here’s the results for my old website:

An interesting thing about the old caches is the links embedded quite often still work! You may have to copy and paste them into the address bar, but so far so good I’ve had great results.

Good luck in your historical website search! You can find additonal help on the following sites: Google Cache: Practical Guide on How to View Cached Web Pages

wikiHow: How to Use the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine

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