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Across the country, governors and mayors are implementing “shelter in place” or “safer at home” orders which are requiring a significant number of businesses to temporarily close during the COVID-19 epidemic.

In response, business owners are making hard decisions to cut costs and tighten belts to make it through these weeks. One such question on many business owners’ minds is whether to continue paying to maintain their website, or if they should take it offline in order to avoid paying hosting or maintenance costs.

Google Says Don’t Shut Down Your Website

It may be tempting, but disabling your site for any amount of time – even just a few days – can have long-lasting effects on your search engine rankings. Not only does it completely shut down the ability for people to find out about your products and services for the time being, it essentially removes your site from Google’s index.

In this situation, Google will have to reindex your website when you come back online, putting you back at square one.

What To Do Instead

In new recommendations, Google is suggesting that businesses limit their site’s functionality rather than go completely offline when you need to pause operations.

The company suggested a number of steps you can take to suspend your online services while still keeping customers informed and preserving your search visibility. These steps include:

  • Keep users informed with a popup or banner explaining how your business has changed. Follow Google’s guidelines for banners and popups to ensure that you’re not interfering with the user experience.
  • Adjust your structured data to reflect event updates, product availability and temporary closures. You can also mark your business as temporarily closed through Google My Business.
  • E-commerce sites should follow Google’s Merchant Center guidance on availability and, if necessary, disable cart functionality.
  • Inform Google of site updates by requesting a recrawl through Search Console.

If You Absolutely Must Take Down Your Site

As a last resort, Google does recommend a few things you can do to protect your search visibility if you must take your site down:

  • For a temporary takedown, use the Search Console Removals Tool.
  • If you’re taking down your site for one or two days, you can return an informational error page with a 503 Service Unavailable code.
  • For longer site takedowns, put up an indexable homepage placeholder for searchers using the 200 HTTP status code.

Don’t Overreact, Think Ahead

It is easy to get caught up in the current situation and lose sight of the long-term picture. While the COVID-19 epidemic is a serious concern for businesses, it will eventually pass. When it does, you want to be ready to hit the ground running, not starting again from square one.

GoDaddy is one of the most popular hosting providers for small businesses, but it appears the hosting service may also be making changes to sites on its platform which could significantly slow or break sites entirely.

The service is injecting a piece of JavaScript code as part of its Real User Metrics (RUM) technology, which allows the service to track and measure the performance of websites. However, none of this information is provided to the sites on GoDaddy’s service in the form of analytics but is instead used solely by the company to improve systems and server configurations.

With this in mind, it is hard to see any benefit to continue allowing GoDaddy to install code for RUM on your site.

All US GoDaddy customers agree to opt-in to using RUM as part of the terms of service and the company does little to inform you of how it uses the technology. In a help document, the company also concedes it may have a negative impact on websites:

“Most customers won’t experience issues when opted-in to RUM, but the javascript used may cause issues including slower site performance, or a broken/inoperable website.

If you’re using Google’s AMP, you have pages ending with multiple ending tags, or your site performance is slower, you may want to opt-out of RUM.”

Considering how important site speed is to both search engines and actual consumers, it is highly likely RUM could be costing you traffic AND conversions.

Thankfully it is easy to opt-out of the RUM service if GoDaddy is your hosting provider. Just follow these steps:

  • Access your cPanel hosting account by going logging in to your cPanel and clicking on your hosting account.
  • Click the three-dot menu button, and then click “Help us.”
  • Click “Opt out.”

Once this is done, the code will be immediately removed from your site.