Back Button Mystery – IE Only


I recently had a complaint from users of a site I support that the browser’s back button did not work when they visited the site. Further research showed that this is only happening on IE8 and IE9 (and possibly earlier versions that I’m too lazy test) and it is indeed a problem. It appears that the issue is an incompatibility between Internet Explorer and Google Adsense and is pretty much a problem across a significant portion of the web as Adsense is used on so many sites (like this one).

The issue isn’t that the back button doesn’t work…it actually is working. The real problem is that IE is adding every loaded advertisement as a new page loaded and updates the history accordingly. This means that every time you press the Back button, you are moving back through IE’s history of the ads loaded on the page. Once you’ve cycled back through every ad that has been served, pressing Back one more time will finally take you back to the previous page. On the site in question, it takes 11 clicks of the back button to go to the previous page. I’m planning on poking around a bit more but it really appears that there is not a known solution to this problem yet.

As serious as this is, I did find it amusing that the AdSense terms of service expressly forbid serving ads on a page where the navigation buttons are not provided, yet it is their code that is rendering these buttons inoperable on Internet Explorer:

Ads are not permitted in any window that is not initiated by a user’s click. Additionally, we do not permit ads to be placed in any window which lacks navigational controls, including back and forward browse buttons, and an editable URL field. AdSense ad code may also not be implemented on webpages where navigational elements have been removed.

In their defense, it does just state that the navigation buttons have to exist…and not that they have to work.


Thanks to a hint from a commenter, here is a possible workaround:

  1. Go to your google account settings
  2. On the account tab, find the last section on the page (named Services)
  3. Click the “Go to Web History” link
  4. The new page will list your recent searches. Click the gear on the upper right and select Settings
  5. The pause button lets you turn search history off.

For this to work, you need to be signed into Google in the browser and cookies must be enabled.

And of course the ultimate workaround is switching to Firefox or Chrome.

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