Why Having A Website Offline Can Be Bad For SEO

There can be little more disruptive or damaging for an online business than a temporary site outage. Particularly when running an online store, being out of business for a few hours (or a few days) can take a toll.

But what’s even worse than losing business during this time is how Google takes aim at pages that are temporarily out of service. In a recent Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout, John Mueller was quizzed on Google’s approach to sites that go down for a temporary period of time.

Specifically, an SEO asked Mueller for his advice on how to minimise SEO damage while forming major site adjustments. His plan was to shut down his website for a week, to which Mueller advised by doing nothing of the sort.

The reason being that where a page is taken out of business for just a few days, Google automatically begins removing it from its search index.

Here’s what Mueller had to say on the issue:

“I don’t think you’ll be able to do it for that time, regardless of whatever you set up. For an outage of maybe a day or so, using a 503 result code is a great way to tell us that we should check back. But after a couple of days we think this is a permanent result code, and we think your pages are just gone, and we will drop them from the index,”

“And when the pages come back we will crawl them again and we will try to index them again. But it’s essentially during that time we will probably drop a lot of the pages from the website from our index, and there’s a pretty good chance that it’ll come back in a similar way but it’s not always guaranteed.”

All of which paints a problematic picture for those who need to take any (or all) of their pages offline for more than a day or two. The message being that irrespective of whether the outage is planned or accidental, pages will begin disappearing from Google’s index fairly fast.

“So any time you have a longer outage, where I’m thinking more than a couple of days, I would assume that at least temporarily you will have really strong fluctuations and it’s going to take a little bit of time to get back in.”

“It’s not impossible because these things happen sometimes. But if there’s anything you can do to avoid this kind of outage, I would try to do that.”

In terms of a workaround, Mr Mueller indicated that setting up a static version of the website on a temporary basis could help minimize the damage:

“… that could be something like setting up a static version of the website somewhere and just showing that to users for the time being. But especially if you’re doing this in a planned way I would try to find ways to reduce the outage to less than a day if at all possible.”