Friday, 24 January 2014

SEO during site downtime or Maintenance

If you take down your website temporarily, you must inform search engines such as Google. As you could read above, this is done by utilizing the HTTP status code: 503 Service Unavailable, that informs the search engines that the server is temporarily unavailable. To do this one must first create a file that returns a 503 status code on the server. When the search engine sees this, it will understand the situation. This can be done by copying the four lines below into Notepad (or the like) and saving it as 503.php. You must then place this file in the root of your server.

The first two lines tell us that it is a 503 status code, and the last line is used to tell when the website is expected to be online again. Google understands this message, so it is possible to tell Google when to visit the website again. You must either provide a number (seconds) or a date. If you live in Denmark like I do and you expect to return on the 5th of January 2012, at 14:00, you must put down:



Notice that I wrote 13:00:00 in the code, even though I wrote 14:00:00 above. This is due to the fact that the time must be provided in GMT/UTC, which is, in my case, 1 hour behind local time.

But it is not enough to just put a 503 message on your server. You will receive visitors (Google included) from many different sources and to all sorts of pages of your website. They must all be redirected to the message explaining that the website is temporarily closed.

On an Apache/Linux server, this can be easily solved by using a .htaccess file to redirect all the pages towards the 503.php file. The .htaccess file is often used for 301 redirects, but that is not our purpose here. We will use a 302 redirect. You may have been previously warned about using this sort of redirect, and for good reason. It can do a great deal of damage if not used correctly. But in this case, it must be used, and in fact a 301 redirect would be detrimental in its place.

Save the 6 following lines as a .htaccess file and place it in the root of your server as well.
The 'R' in the last line indicates that this is a 302 redirect. R is 302 by default. To create a 301 redirect, it would have said [R=301, L]. The clever thing about this file, however, is that we can give ourselves access to the site and simultaneously show everyone else a 503 message. Let’s say you have the following IP address: 12.345.678.910. You then put the numbers in line 4 as shown below:

When you have placed the two files (503.php and .htaccess) on your server, you’re done. You now have peace and quiet to tinker with your website, as long as you leave those two files in the root of your server – and if Google visits, they’ll know that the site will be back later, and you’ve even let them know when to try again.

But what about passing on the message to your visitors?

How to tell your visitors that the website is only closed temporarily.

With a few additions to the 503.php file, which we made just before, we can pass on a message to visitors:
Source: http://moz.com/blog/how-to-handle-downtime-during-site-maintenance 
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