Google Warns Against Disabling Websites During Lockdown

Google has warned businesses that are tempted to disable or temporarily close their online business website during the coronavirus outbreak not to do so, as this could have a lasting, detrimental effect on its (SEO) search engine  rankings.

Why Disable or Close Down The Website?

The coronavirus outbreak has meant reduced orders for many businesses but has also left many businesses unable to fulfil orders, or in a position where many products are out of stock.  Where the website for these businesses is the online shop, this has led to some business owners deciding to disable or close the website temporarily.

Bad Idea

Although this may sound like a reasonable idea from a practical business perspective, Google has warned that doing so could adversely affect the website’s search engine position in a significant way, even after it has been restored.  Google has advised that an “extreme” measure like removing a site completely from its Google's index is “a significant change that can take quite some time to recover from”. 

Google has also said that there is no fixed time for a recovery from a complete website removal and that it has no mechanism to speed a recovery of a website in its search engine rankings after that site has been taken down and then put back up.

Lose Access To Information

Taking your website down temporarily will also mean that Google’s Search Console verification will fail, you will no longer have access to information about your business in Search, and you will lose potentially valuable data from the Aggregate reports in Search Console (as pages are dropped from Google’s index).

Other Reasons

In addition to damaging the position of a website in Google’s search engine rankings, Google suggests that other reasons why temporarily taking down a website would be a bad idea for a business include:

- Confusing customers.  Customers won’t know what’s happening and may even assume that that business has closed. Also, if Customers/potential customers can’t find first-hand details about you and your products/services and are forced to look for third-party information about your business, this may not be as correct or comprehensive.

- Making it more difficult to gain ground in future.  Restoring a website after a break means having to wait for re-indexing.

Better To Limit Your Website’s Functionality

Google advises that it is better, and less risky (in terms of losing rankings) to simply limit the functionality of your website rather than totally disabling the website without following Google’s best practice advice.  Limiting functionality while retaining search visibility can include disabling the cart functionality, displaying a banner or pop-up to explain the situation to customers, updating structured data and local business structured data, checking the Merchant Centre feed, and telling Google about the updates.  This could mean using the Search Console to ask Google to re-crawl a limited number of pages or using sitemaps to ask Google to re-crawl a larger number of pages e.g. product pages.

Other Advice

Google has issued advice about the proper procedure for situations where businesses feel that they need to disable their website for e.g. a couple of days. See: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/guides/pause-online-business#best-practices-disabling-site

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Clearly, disabling functionality while retaining the kind of search engine visibility that it has taken a lot of time (and money) to build up, and is vital to the life of the business is preferable, in most cases, to completely disabling a website without following best practice advice. 

If you feel that you must take a site down for a short period, it is certainly worth following Google’s best practice advice when doing so (see the ‘Other Advice’ paragraph above for the link).