Google released a set of guidelines and a helpful FAQ to website owners to try and minimize the damage caused by global shutdowns, both online and offline, during the coronavirus pandemic.
The company says the most important piece of advice it can give is to avoid disabling a website altogether, as long as it is possible to continue paying for hosting costs. Some domain registrars, like GoDaddy and Namecheap, offer support to customers who are concerned that they will not be able to maintain websites affected by shutdowns. But Google says deactivating a site can hurt its search rankings when it comes back online.
⚡️⚡️⚡️ Do you need to take a break from your online activity for a while? We’ve just posted dos and don’ts to help keep your site listed in searches. Check it out! ⚡️⚡️⚡️https://t.co/vmTJxWDVnn
– Google webmasters (@googlewmc) March 26, 2020
“If your situation is temporary and you plan to reopen your online business, we recommend that you keep your site online and limit functionality,” writes John Mueller, senior webmaster trends analyst at Google. “For example, you can mark items as out of stock or restrict the shopping cart and checkout process. This is the recommended approach because it minimizes the negative effects on your site’s presence in search. People can still find your products, read reviews, or add wishlists so they can buy later.
Some options, according to Mueller, that a website owner should do instead are disable the shopping cart, post a banner or other form of informational notice on the website to notify customers of limited features and use Google’s Search Console tool ask the search engine to reindex the limited number of pages.
Mueller says deactivating a site should be a last resort. “This is an extreme measure that should only be taken for a very short period of time (a few days at most), as it will otherwise have significant effects on the website in search, even if properly put into place. work, ”he explains. “That’s why it’s highly recommended that you just limit the functionality of your site instead. Keep in mind that your customers may also want to find information about your products, services, and business, even if you aren’t selling anything right now.
If it needs to be done, however, Mueller says there are measures to limit the lasting damage it could cause to the site’s wider visibility:
- If you need to urgently deactivate the site for 1 to 2 days, return an informational error page with a 503 HTTP result code instead of all the content. Make sure you follow the best practices for deactivating a site.
- If you need to deactivate the site for a longer period of time, provide an indexable home page as a placeholder that users can find in search using the HTTP status code 200.
- If you need to quickly hide your site from search while exploring the options, you can temporarily delete from the search.
There’s also an FAQ at the bottom of the page with other useful information, like what happens if you take a site down for just a few weeks, and how to manage inventory if you’re running an ecommerce operation.