Minimizing SEO Impact During Website Downtimes

May 17, 2017

Websites go down for a lot of reasons, sometimes accidentally and other times it’s intentionally done. There have been plenty of times when we’ve had to navigate tricky relaunches that require a short period of downtime.

Being offline means lost conversions, decreased revenue and missed marketing opportunities. Also, the last thing you want is for your search rankings to be impacted once the website is back online.

Google understands that sometimes a website can take the day off. With this understanding, they’ve given webmasters a few ways to take things offline without affecting a website’s search presence.

1. Only Turn Off a Portion of the Site

If there’s a certain feature or section of your website that needs work or isn’t currently available switch it off but leave the rest of the website up. For example, a shopping cart or purchase functionality can be disabled on a site. Once that’s done use the robots meta tag and robots.txt file to block indexing and crawling of those pages.

Just make sure to add some indication for the user that a feature isn’t currently available on the page so the user experience isn’t impacted.

2. Use a Temporary Landing Page That Won’t Get Indexed

When a website is being built or is out of service it’s common to see a temporary landing page that explains the situation in place of the home page. It’s a good way to establish a presence before a new website is launched, but you have to be careful in making sure your entire website doesn’t lose traction during the process.

If you don’t use a 503 HTTP result code to indicate service isn’t available, Google may index the temporary placeholder page. Should that happen Google would consider that single page to now represent your entire website. Not good if you’ve spent time getting other content on your pages indexed.

3. Keep Shutdowns Under a Week

The 503 trick above isn’t a long-term fix. Googlebot will try to index the website again and after a week of trying and soon the website could be given a permanent error designation. If that happens your web pages may get dropped from the search results. Any shutdown that lasts more than a week has the potential to set back SEO efforts, so time your downtime carefully.

If you find yourself in a bind where the website will be down more than a week use the Retry-After response-header field to head off a permanent error reading. The field allows you to specify how long the site is expected to be out of service. It’s not a guarantee, but it could buy you a little more time with Googlebot.

4. Use a Temporary Server When the Primary One is Down

Servers don’t have to be moved or shut down often, but when it happens your websites go down as well. To circumvent SEO issues, a temporary server should be put in place to serve the 503 HTTP result code. You’ll also have to point your DNS to the temporary server for the time being. Once the DNS and result code are set up you can then safely turn off the primary server.

Need to go offline but don’t want to impact your SEO? Call to find out how SearchRPM can help and to receive a FREE SEO Report!

By Michael Ramirez
SearchRPM Founder
Michael Ramirez

Michael Ramirez is the Founder of SearchRPM, an Austin, TX based search marketing company that’s well-versed in Search Engine Optimization best practices. You can follow Michael Ramirez on Twitter @openmic0323 or on Google+ to see what he’s up to next.