Save Your Site's Rankings When Things Go Dark

Save Your Site's Rankings When Things Go Dark

November 8th, 2012
using a 503 service unavailable to save google rank

Hurricane Sandy has raised awareness in the webmaster world of what to do when your site has to go offline for an extended period of time. Whether your servers have been hammered by a hurricane, your site got hacked, or you're switching to a new server, here's how to save your site's rankings in Google: use a 503 Service Unavailable server response code.

 

John Mueller from Google posted some must-read advice on this at Google+. He wrote:
 
Dear webmasters, if something goes drastically wrong with your hoster, and you can't host your website anymore, please return a "503 Service unavailable" HTTP result code. Doing so helps search engines to understand what's up -- they're generally more than happy to give your site some time to catch up again.
 
Returning an error page with "200 OK" will result in us indexing the change of content like that (and if all of your pages return the same error page, then we may assume that these URLs are duplicates). Redirecting to a temporary page will result in that redirect being used for indexing. It's fine to show text to users on a 503 error page, or use fancy JavaScript, etc.
 
A simple way to handle that - if the webserver is down - is to change the site's DNS to point to a temporary server that returns the 503 for you.
 
Once the issue is resolved, we'll generally jump back in and crawl your site to get the indexed information updated. If you weren't able to return a 503, it'll probably take a bit of time for things to settle back down with regards to search, but it'll come back, don't worry. If you need to ramp crawling up slowly, you might also want to adjust the maximal crawl rate in Webmaster Tools (we pick up that setting about once a day).
 
At any rate, if your site was affected by issues like these, I hope you're able to resolve them (and the other, perhaps more important issues that often go along with disruptions like these) as soon as possible. If there's something Google can do with regards to web-search to help get your site get back on its feet, feel free to post in our forums or join our office-hours hangouts.
What do you think? Have you used the 503 Service unavailable HTTP code? Were your rankings affected? Let us know.

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