Google continues to dominate the search market, claiming somewhere in the neighborhood of two-thirds of all search traffic on the web (with Bing/Yahoo coming in at a distant second). This is great news for the company that spends its time and money on innovations like the self-driving car and a loony project to create a literal sky-net of balloons floating in the stratosphere to relay satellite signals and provide internet access to the entire planet (like a benevolent Big Brother).
For businesses trying to make an impact in the online arena, this merely means pandering to Google’s every whim and algorithm update. It wasn’t that long ago, really, that monthly indexing by search bots sent webmasters into paroxysms of fear. If a web crawler found a site unavailable, the reaction was immediate and difficult to reverse.
Eventually Google realized the unfair demand being placed on businesses…or maybe they changed their algorithms and practices for an entirely different reason and the result was a happy byproduct for online businesses. Either way, an increase in Google’s web crawling activity a couple of years back gave websites a little more latitude concerning downtime.
So what can businesses expect these days? How does Google now account for website downtime? Here are a few things you should know.
If you want to know how Google will react to website downtime you need to try to look at it from their point of view. They don’t know why your site is down, and they don’t care. To them it doesn’t matter if you’re practicing regular maintenance, you’re having server issues, or you picked a subpar web host.
Google is running a business, like you, and they want to provide the best possible service to their customers. To this end they’ve set up complex algorithms designed to reward the highest-quality content by placing it at the top of the list for related search queries.
If your website is unavailable, by definition you cannot be the best option for customers seeking information or access to goods and services. This is the perspective Google has to adopt in order to keep their own customers happy.
How Much Downtime is Too Much?
According to a 2014 missive from Google’s preeminent engineer, Matt Cutts, websites will no longer be penalized for short periods of downtime. Being down for a few hours or a day when web crawlers come to call is okay. Letting your website take a 2-week vacation – not so much.
Of course, there’s a pretty wide gray area between one day and two weeks. Here’s what happens. When one of Google’s bots checks your site and finds it down, the crawler will return within 24 hours to check back, and continue checking. If you’re having sporadic downtime and the bot finds you up and running the second time around, you won’t be penalized.
If, on the other hand, your site remains unavailable after repeated attempts, the bots will be unable to index your site, which will produce increasingly negative consequences for your rankings.
When your website is down and Google’s bots can’t access it, you’re going to find that a couple of things happen in short order. First, you’ll get a notice from Google telling you that your site is inaccessible. Then your rankings will plummet as repeated attempts to access your website fail.
This could be temporary. If you’re able to get your site back up and running in short order, say within a couple of days, you should be able to rebound rather quickly. Google is not trying to penalize legitimately good websites that are suffering temporary issues with downtime.
On the other hand, extended or repeated bouts of downtime can have cumulative results that ultimately end with your website being delisted. Coming back from that snafu is no picnic.
Regaining Your Footing
If you have proper monitoring software in place you’ll recover from unplanned downtime pretty quickly, and if you are able to pinpoint and address the issue promptly you’ll suffer no consequences where Google is concerned. Extended downtime is another matter. So what can you do if Google strips you of your ranking and ultimately ousts you from the index?
Unfortunately, you may be stuck clawing your way back to the top of the heap. Regaining your former rankings after extensive downtime could take months of work, especially if Google has gone so far as to remove your site from their index. If the worst comes to pass and your site is de-listed, you’ll simply have to roll up your sleeves and virtually start over.