Google warns businesses not to disable their websites

Drastic action amid COVID-19 crisis could damage search rankings

Google is warning businesses to not disable their websites during the coronavirus pandemic as it could result in a significant drop to site search rankings, even when correctly implemented. 

Instead, the search engine company is offering advice for keeping websites online but with temporary limits on function.

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As businesses around the world are experiencing a drop in sales or service due to the spread of COVID-19, Google has issued a list of recommendation in a blog post written by webmaster trends analyst John Mueller. 

The company is advising this as the best practice to help protect firms in the long-term. 

"As a last resort, you may decide to disable the whole website," Mueller wrote. "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 when implemented properly. 

"That's why it's highly recommended to only limit your site's functionality instead. Keep in mind that your customers may also want to find information about your products, your services, and your company, even if you're not selling anything right now."

Google's best practice in this regard is to disable the cart functionality on your site. This, according to Mueller, is the simplest approach and won't affect your site's visibility. 

He also recommends advertising what the situation is with a display banner or popup with relevant information for your customer base. This should mention any delays to usual shipping, pickup times or changes to delivery options.

If your website uses structured data, you should make sure to adjust it to reflect current availability. Also, check your merchant centre feed and update Google and make requests to limit page numbers.

The company is making it clear that deleting a website is the last resort, but if a company does decide to do so for one or two days, then it should return an informational error page with a 503 HTTP result code instead of all its content.

If the site is going to be down for longer, Google recommends providing an indexable homepage as a placeholder for users to find in Search by using the 200 HTTP status code.

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