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How to fix the Google Webmaster Tools 'preferred domain' bug




How to fix the Google W.T. 'preferred domain' bug

An annoying bug in Google Webmaster Tools prevents you from setting your preferred domain as the www version. This frustrating bug is also known as the "Part of the process of setting a preferred domain is to verify that you own ...." bug.

You can spend hours trying to find a solution to this - or just give up in frustration, as most site owners do. This bug was introduced in a change to the layout / procedures in GWT and has frustrated hundreds of thousands of site owners since its introduction. It prevents you setting the preferred domain version, and is doubly annoying since the entire purpose of the setting in the first place is to allow you to set your preferred domain format, and eliminate duplicate URLs for the site. In other words Google provide a facility to select the correct, canonical URL for the site - then stop you doing so.

When you try to set the correct URL, an error message appears, "Part of the process of setting a preferred domain is to verify that you own.......". Eventually, this can drive you crazy, trying to find a fix. It's very difficult to see the solution, as it is so illogical.

And here is the fix:
  • You need to submit and verify TWO websites (even though only one exists)
  • You must submit both versions of the site's domain / URL - the www and the non-www domains are seen as separate sites for some reason
  • You must also verify the non-existent domain as well
  • Just use the same verification file or verify-code
  • Then select your preferred version, eg www.a3webtech.com
  • This will now complete successfully
  • Then DELETE the nonexistent other site from your site list
So, here it is, step by step:
1. If you are just setting up, then first submit your new site. If (as 99.9999999% of site owners will) you wish to use the canonical version of, for example, www.a3webtech.com, enter it now or ensure it is in your site list. Verify your site by inserting the given code tag in the header of your index page (website front page) or upload it as an HTML file to the webroot (by using FTP or cPanel).
2. Then click 'Add A Site' and add a new, nonexistent second site to your list of sites, exactly like this: a3webtech.com (but obviously with your own site name) - you will now see that you own two sites.
3. Now verify the second site using the previous procedure. As it is probably exactly the same verification code, all you need to do is hit the Verify Now button - you probably do not need to load the new code tag in the header or upload it as an HTML file, as it is identical to the code for the www site. If verification fails, though, you might need to add the header tag or HTML file. This might be because there are two 'owners' of this site in GWT.
4. Then go to the Settings area and select the correct preferred www version. Choose 'Display URLs as www.a3webtech.com'. This will now complete satisfactorily. You can either delete the second non-www site*, or just leave it there, unused.

All is now well.
* Why choose the www version of a domain ?
Good question. There are some good reasons for either choice, but for commercial reasons you will choose the www version as the reasons are superior. Using the non-www version is a good choice for those who want to display a geek/nerd label, though. And you choose just the one version because otherwise your site's 'strength' is split across two (or more) URLs, as every version of the domain counts as a different site in some cases. It's why your SEO consultant has fixed your site so that only one version of any page can be reached: the canonical version or the single, accepted one. That means you cannot use www or non-www for any page anywhere including the index page, and there is only ever one URL for either the index page or any internal page. 'Only one URL' means that there must only be a www version or a non-www version, among other things. Check it :)

Why does this bug exist ?
Who knows. It's possible though that someone might redirect traffic to the alternative site domain (a type of pagejacking). In any case an explanation of how to fix the bug should be given on the page, within GWT. 

It's yet another example of the fact - very obvious to all except those responsible, developers - that usability and documentation are not a developer's strong points :)

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