Handling Website Down Time & Minimizing SEO Losses

It’s disappointing for me and I know you will also not appreciate the downtime of a website you want to visit. Search Engines also works on these basic fundamentals and Search Engines discourages such activities which leads to unsatisfied customer and user behavior.

Even if you have best hosting and IT support you cannot guarantee 100% website and server response time; and some time it’s not possible to accomplish certain action without making your website down and this may involve website revamp, server migration, DNS propagation etc.

I have set up auto-forwarding at Google Webmaster Tool which schedules the mail whenever crawler finds some un-usual down time on my my blog. You might have also noticed such notifications at your Webmaster Tools:

HPPS Code 404 fix error

HTTP Status Code 404

“Over the last 24 hours, Googlebot encountered 111 errors while attempting to access your robots.txt. To ensure that we didn’t crawl any pages listed in that file, we postponed our crawl. Your site’s overall robots.txt error rate is 7.0%”

“While crawling your site, we have noticed an increase in the number of transient soft 404 errors around 2014-04-21 20:00 UTC (London, Dublin, Edinburgh). Your site may have experienced outages. These issues may have been resolved. Here are some sample pages that resulted in soft 404 errors:”

This is the clear confirmation from Google Webmaster Tool that the website was not found and this completes the HTTP header request with 404 error. This is the situation of clear confusion for users and search engines that what is actually happening and multiple 404 errors results for many days results in very bad user experience and eventually loss in rankings.

Before we move ahead with the solution we must have fair knowledge about the HTTP requests.

HTTP Status Code

The moment a browser sends the request to server for any information the server returns the response in the HTTP status code.

http-status-code- ram kr shukla



200 HTTP status code shown in the picture above is the most common header request and reflects that the request was successfully processed and you can also check the status code of your website at HTTP header request tools.

Minimizing the downtime impact with 503 HTTP Status Code

The SEO impact of downtime can be minimized through 503 HTTP Status code and this code means that the service and webpages to which you are looking at are temporarily unavailable. And this is the clear intimation to the robots to come back after some time as services are temporarily down. Returning this code to server is very easy and can be done by just adding few lines of code at 503.php page. (Create if you don’t have this page at your server)


header(“HTTP/1.1 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable”);
header(“Status: 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable”);
header(“Retry-After: 3600”);

You can set request for Robots re-visit as per your convenience but make sure that your services are up by the instructed time frame in the code.

Configuring 503 at Apache/Linux Server

This can also be done very easily at Apache/Linux server by just redirecting all the website pages to 503.php files and this redirection can be done very easily by .htaccess file. Note that the redirection should must be 302 and never allow 301 redirection for 503 HTTP status code configuration.

Add the codes below at .htaccess for 302 redirect

Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteCond %{REMOTE_ADDR} !^00\.00\.00\.00
RewriteCond %{REMOTE_URI} !^/503.php [NC]
RewriteRule .* /503.php [R, L]

How to handling webpages when they are permanently gone or have 404 responses?

404 not found errors  can be triggered when-

1. Web page permanently deleted
2. Spelling mistakes at the time of coding
3. misspelled links on other sites with 301 redirects.
4. URLs have redirection loop- redirection back after initial few redirects

You cannot have a full control on 404 error indexes which is shown on Google Webmaster tool but you should try to fix the top errors and move on. For the pages and content which have moved to a new location then add 301 redirect from the server level and if the pages are permanently gone then you may consider sending 410 or 404 HTTP status code.

Note- you must not try to redirect 404 pages to the home page as this may be problematic and can adversary impact the websites SE performance. The redirection can either by done by Meta Refresh redirects and by 301 redirects. Avoid Meta Refresh and use 301 redirect at such cases.

Soft 404 Errors- These are the latest good practices which are followed by most of the websites; although it cannot terminate the 404 error but instead you can show soft errors by showing some type of customized content and asking users to navigate rest of the website potential pages. You can find great information about soft 404 errors at Google Webmaster tools.

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