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Google Tips for Making a Site Temporarily Unavailable

Google penned an article advicing on how to properly close down a site for a day offering tips to take a break from “always-on” world without affecting a site’s search presence.

The first advise tips to block cart functionality for e-commerce sites to block users from buying things as a simplest approach. To do this, “shopping cart pages can be either blocked from crawling through robots.txt file, or blocked from indexing with a robots meta tag.” Once you disable the cart link, add a relevant message, or informational page to let instead of the cart.

Moving on, Mueller recommends using an interstitial or pop-up to communicate users and Googlebot the site is ‘temporarily unavailable.” In addition, he said, the server should return a 503 HTTP result code “Service Unavailable”, so these temporary content doesn’t get indexed. Because, without the 503 these temporary pages will be indexed as a website content.

It’s safe to use a 503 for up to a week for Googlebot to retry indexing with a “Rety after” header to indicate how long the site will be unavailable. As, after a week, Google will treat these pages as permanent error and may drop theose content from search results altogether.

503 http result code with temporarily unavailable message
503 HTTP result code with temporarily unavailable message

“Blocking a site for longer than a week can have negative effects on the site’s search results regardless of the method that you use,” he said.

Additionally, for active business must reflect the closures in the opening hours for their local listings.

Turning the entire server off is another safe option, provided you have a second temporary server with a 503 HTTP result code for all URLs. In addition, it’s recommended to switch your DNS to point to that server during that time.

Taking the whole website off completely with a HTTP 503 for all URLs is another safe option when moving the site to a different server or data center. Also, it’s recommended to switch your DNS to point to a new server during that time. Additionally, you can display an appropriate informational page for users along with 503 HTTP result code. Follow the steps below:

  • Set your DNS TTL to a low time (such as 5 minutes) a few days in advance.
  • Change the DNS to the temporary server’s IP address.
  • Take your main server offline once all requests go to the temporary server.
  • … your server is now offline …
  • When ready, bring your main server online again.
  • Switch DNS back to the main server’s IP address.
  • Change the DNS TTL back to normal.
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