Why You Should Limit, Not Disable Your Website During COVID-19

Image of Google search page

Written by: Patrick Horan

Topic: SEO

With many online businesses experiencing the downturn during the coronavirus pandemic, some are shutting down their websites. Google has strongly advised against doing this and makes suggestions on what you can do instead.

Why you shouldn’t disable your website

Your customers won’t know what’s happening to your business if your website just disappears.

They won’t be able to read first-hand information on your products, such as repair guides and manuals.

Your contact number and business logo may disappear from Google Knowledge Panels.

You will lose access to details on your business in Search, verification will fail in Search Console and you will lose aggregate reports.

Your website will need to be reindexed if it’s been offline, which could take some time and may appear differently from the original version in Search.

What Google recommends instead is to limit your site’s functionality by doing the following

Mark items as out of stock and restrict or disable the cart and checkout process, which means that people can still find your products and add them to a wishlist to buy at a later time.

Tell your customers what’s happening by using a popup or banner to give them information, such as changes in product availability, delayed delivery times, etc.

Update any structured data which might include current product availability, cancelled events and current opening hours if you have a physical shopfront.

Tell Google about your updates and ask them to recrawl some or all of your pages, using Search Console or sitemaps.

Only as a last resort

While not recommended by Google, if you must take your site down, do it for the shortest period of time possible and follow this advice…

Return an informational error page with a 503 HTTP result code, as this will prevent crawling (Google or another search engine looking for information on your website)
For a longer site takedown, use an indexable homepage as a placeholder by using the 200 HTTP status code.

Takeaways

Don’t just remove your website during COVID-19 but limit its functionality instead. Your customers can still see it, have some information and can be reassured that it will hopefully be back to normal after the dangers of the coronavirus have passed.