Google has released a set of guidelines and FAQs useful for website owners to try to minimize the damage caused by global closings, online and off, during the coronavirus pandemic.
The company says the most important advice it can give is to avoid completely deactivating a website as long as it is possible to continue paying the hosting costs. Some domain registrars, such as GoDaddy and Namecheap, offer assistance to customers concerned that they may not be able to maintain websites affected by the closings. But Google says deactivating a site can hurt its search ranking when it comes back online.
⚡️⚡️⚡️ Should you suspend your online activity for a certain period of time? We’ve just posted some do’s and don’ts to help you keep your site in search. 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 Google Webmaster Trends Analyst. “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 the search. Users can still find your products, read reviews, or add wish lists so they can buy later. ”
Mueller says a website owner should instead deactivate the shopping cart, post a banner or other form of information on the website to inform customers of limited functionality, and use Google’s Search Console to ask the search engine to re-index 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 time (a few days at most), as it would otherwise have significant effects on the search website, even when properly put implemented, ”he explains. “This is why it is strongly recommended to limit only the functionality of your site. Keep in mind that your customers may also want to find information about your products, services and business, even if you’re not selling anything right now. ”
If that needs to be done, however, Mueller says there are measures to limit the lasting damage it could cause to the wider visibility of the site:
- If you need to urgently deactivate the site for 1 to 2 days, return an information error page with an HTTP result code 503 instead of all the content. Be sure to follow best practices for deactivating a site.
- If you need to deactivate the site any longer, provide an indexable home page as a placeholder that users can find in the search using HTTP status code 200.
- If you need to quickly hide your site from the search while you are considering the options, you can temporarily remove it from the search.
There is also an FAQ at the bottom of the page with other useful information, like what happens if you deactivate a site for only a few weeks and how to manage inventory if you operate an e-commerce transaction.