When a site is down for maintenance, it’s important to know the right set of procedures to apply both from a search engine and human standpoint. Making mistakes when your site is down for maintenance could affect your search engine results, as well as confuse your audience. In this article, we’re going to teach you the proper steps you should be taking when temporarily shutting your site down for maintenance.
Choose the Right Time for Maintenance
The very first thing you should do before you shut down your site for maintenance is choosing a suitable time to do so. You should ideally shut down your site outside of peak hours to reduce the damage. However, to know exactly when your peak time is, you should look at both your analytics and sales volume. If you only check analytics for visits, you might shut down you site during peak business hours.
Inform Humans and Search Engine Robots that the site is Temporarily Down
It is smart to inform both robots and humans that your site is down for maintenance so they don’t think that the situation is permanent. Many times, server upgrades will require that you shut down the site temporarily. If you’ve bought extra RAM from a place like offtek.co.uk and you want to install it on your server, you’ll have no choice but to temporarily shut down your site in order to make the upgrade.
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If search engine robots come to your site and simply see a 404 page, they might not come back. Search engines might completely remove you from their index and you’ll have to do a great deal of work to have the site re-indexed.
Setting Notifications for Search Engine Spiders
One of the most important things when shutting a site down for maintenance is making sure that search engine robots get the right message when they get to your site. A 404 response means that your site is broken, and that’s the last thing you want search engine robots to assume.
Instead, your site should send out a 503 server response. A 503 will tell robots that your site is either down for maintenance or because of a temporary overload. And according to Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, they seem to prefer 503’s over 200’s or 404’s.
How to Set up a 503 Response
There are seven methods to setting up a 503 response. The most common one is by creating a php file that will return a 503 status code server side. Search engine robots will understand the situation as soon as they get this response. You can get an example HTTP 503 file here.
You’ll be able to insert a certain time after which robots can come back to crawl your site right into the code. Once you’ve done configuring your code, all you have to do is upload it to your server. However, before you use this method, you have to know which version of php your server is running, if at all.
So, to make sure that everything goes smoothly, make sure that you backup your data, set up a response page for humans and robots, and make sure you understand which server version and technology you’re using before you set up a 503 page. This way, you won’t run the risk of getting re-indexed and you’ll retain your visitors.