How the Right Error Codes Can Save Your Search Engine Rankings During Website Downtime

When your website monitor notifies you that your website has gone down, your first reaction is probably to worry about the customers who are trying to access your site during the downtime. What you may not realize is that the search engines may be crawling your site at the very same time. What happens if a search engine crawls your site during a website outage? If you don't have the proper error codes in place, the search engine may assume that your website is offline permanently and may remove you from its results. Since approximately half of all website traffic originates with a search engine search, this can have a significant impact on the traffic that your website receives.

Protecting Your Investment

For most websites, a lot of time, money, and effort is spent on SEO, ensuring the best search engine rankings possible. You don't want unexpected website downtime to affect those rankings. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to prevent that from happening. First and foremost, don't simply put up a page explaining that your website is temporarily down for maintenance or that you are working on getting the issue resolved. While this will tell your website visitors what is going on, the search engine robots won't know how to interpret this message unless the right HTTP status codes are put into place. Without the right HTTP status codes, the search engine robot may think that the short message to your visitors is your new website content – and there goes your search engine rankings.

Which HTTP Status Codes Should You Use?

There are a number of HTTP status codes that webmasters can put to use depending on the nature of your downtime. If your site has been temporarily moved, you need to use a 302 redirect. This status code will tell the search engine robots that the redirect is temporary in nature and that your site will eventually be back to its original operating state. If you are taking your site down for maintenance or is experiencing an outage, you need to implement a 503 status code. This code tells the search engine robots that your site's server is currently unavailable. This means the search engines will know that the unavailability of the site is only temporary in nature and the outage will not be likely to affect your search engine rankings. Implementing the HTTP status codes is as simple as saving a PHP file to your server. The file must be placed in the root of your server. For a 503 error code, the file should look like this: < ?php header ("HTTP/1.1 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable); header ("Status: 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable); header (Retry-After: DATE TIME) The "Retry" field should be the time at which you believe your site will be back up and running again. For example, if you expect your site to be up and running again on September 19 at 8PM CST, you would enter the code as follows: Header (Retry-After: Thurs, 19 September 2013 20:00:00 CST) This gives the search engine robots an idea of how long your site will be down for and gives the robot an opportunity to revisit the site once it is back up and running again. While implementing these codes may take some time and effort, the time that you spend implementing the codes is likely nominal compared to the amount of time and money you have invested in SEO strategies. These codes can save your search engine rankings by allowing the search engines to see that your site is not gone for good. It's just suffering a temporary outage.