If your site is offline for more than a couple of days you could be at risk of having your pages deindexed, according to Google Search Advocate John Mueller.
It should go without saying that the less downtime your website experiences, the better. Still, some downtime is unavoidable thanks to maintenance, updates, redesigns, and other issues which can be entirely out of your hands.
This inevitably raises the question of exactly how long is too long for your site to be offline. At what point does this begin to hurt your rankings?
After years of debate, we finally have an official answer from Google courtesy of John Mueller during the most recent Google Search Central SEO office hours session.
How Long is Too Long to Be Offline?
The topic arose when an SEO specialist named Aakash Singh asked Mueller what can be done to minimize the loss of rankings or search performance while his client’s website undergoes an expected week of downtime.
The bad news is that a week is simply too long for a site to be offline without experiencing any negative side effects. In fact, Mueller says that sites can start having pages be de-indexed after being down for just a few days.
John Mueller On How Site Downtime Impacts Rankings
Beginning his response, Mueller explains how Google “sees” sites that are experiencing downtime.
“For an outage of maybe a day or so, using a 503 result code is a great way to tell us that we should check back. But after a couple of days we think this is a permanent result code, and we think your pages are just gone, and we will drop them from the index.”
“And when the pages come back we will crawl them again and we will try to index them again. But it’s essentially during that time we will probably drop a lot of the pages from the website from our index, and there’s a pretty good chance that it’ll come back in a similar way but it’s not always guaranteed.”
The general message is that sites should minimize downtime, even when using the proper redirects or site codes.
Mueller does leave us with a suggestion for avoiding the worst fallout from downtime, but he still emphasizes the importance of getting a site back up as quickly as possible:
“… that could be something like setting up a static version of the website somewhere and just showing that to users for the time being. But especially if you’re doing this in a planned way I would try to find ways to reduce the outage to less than a day if at all possible.”
To hear Mueller’s full explanation, check out the recording from the December 10th SEO office hours session below: