However great your website is, it’s always likely that you may have to take it offline every now and again. This may be as a security precaution or so that you can perform maintenance work on the site, or for other deliberate reasons. Some website owners choose to take their sites offline at the weekend for religious reasons, or you might be casting a concerned eye at the weather and decide to temporarily disconnect your site before a storm beats you to it.
The problem is that, aside from the downtime itself leaving your site redundant and your business without a web presence, having a site nobody is able to access can only harm its SEO and performance in search engine rankings. After all, the best way to keep your site ranking is to keep developing it and adding content, so if you can’t do this, how can you convince Google that it’s still a site worth visiting?
In a blog post on Tuesday, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller presented some options, the theme behind all of which seems to be that you need to find a way to show that your offline period is deliberate and not a result of coding errors, overloaded servers or any other mishaps that often cause sites to go down inadvertently.
For example, if you run a retail website, Mueller advises that you can block Google’s bots from crawling through the shopping cart page via its robots.txt file. This will satisfy Google, but you still need to make sure you display a message to make sure that would-be shoppers are aware of what’s going on. If the online shop simply doesn’t work or displays an error message, it appears sloppy on your part, so be sure to explain that your shop is temporarily out of service.
Mueller adds that If you need to take your whole site down, it should be replaced with a message or popup explaining that the site is temporarily unavailable, and you should ensure that your server is returning a 503 HTTP result code. This will let Google know to try again at a later date before it penalises the site, and you can find some tips from Google on how to handle this situation here.
We would add to these suggestions by reminding you that just because your site is offline, it doesn’t mean your online presence needs to come to an end. If you know your site is going to be out of action for a while, aim to up your presence on social media. You could even use the message on the homepage of your inactive website to direct visitors to your Twitter or Facebook accounts so that they can stay tuned in on the latest developments.