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Sep 26

How To Manage Downtime During Website Maintenance

Every website has to temporarily go down at some point during website maintenance, whether youre using a website maintenance service or doing it yourself. If you have a website maintenance company you can expect them to know the following. However, if youre doing it yourself these are definitely some things to be kept in mind.

Tell both humans and robots that its only a temporary shutdown.
People only consider the humans who visit their websites. However, from an SEO standpoint, even the robots AKA search engines are important. Both need to be informed that it is a temporary shutdown and when they can expect the site to be up again.

Some people end up pulling all files down, leading browsers to a 404 error message. This way neither humans nor robots understand the real situation and are led to believe that the site may be shut down indefinitely. On the other hand some people redirect visitors to a page with a short message telling them that the site is just temporarily shut down for routine website maintenance work. While this informs of the situation, it does nothing for the robots, and consequently drops your position in search engine results.

Use the correct HTTP status codes.
An HTTP status code is sent out and interpreted by the browser every time it visits your website. Lets briefly go through some HTTP status codes.

200 OK This informs that the request has been successful. It is the standard response for successful HTTP requests.

301 Moved Permanently When your page has permanently been moved to another location, this is the HTTP status code that you need to use. It redirects to another given location. More often than not this is the best method for redirection and in almost all cases of website maintenance in case of relocation.

503 Service Unavailable This is the HTTP code that you need to use when your website is temporarily down for maintenance. It informs both humans and robots that your site is currently unavailable and also tells search engines when it will be back.

How do I inform search engines that the downtime is temporary?
It is important for search engines to know that the downtime on your site is temporary so that they dont disregard your site when pepple are searching. In order to do this, you need to utilize the HTTP status code 503 Service Unavailable. This code tells search engines – such as Google – that your site is only temporarily unavailable.

Save the code as 503.php and place it in the root file of your server. By doing this correctly, you will not only tell search engines that youre temporarily unavailable but also the date and time when your site will be back up.

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