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How to Manage Your Search Strategy During Unplanned Server Downtime

Posted on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Analytics, Featured, News, SEO

On Monday thousands of sites hosted by GoDaddy went down without warning and without a timeline for when service would be restored.  Even just a few hours of site downtime is a serious problem that has cost companies $26.5 billion in lost revenue, along with PR nightmares and negative press.

In these rare hours when your site is down, you can’t take action like you would with planned site downtime.  So instead of having a meltdown over lost costs, here are the few critical steps to follow to make sure your search efforts are not decimated by site downtime.

When you first discover that your site is down:

1)      If you have an unplanned outage, be sure to pause your SEM and Display campaigns to prevent wasted spend.  Google, The Yahoo! Bing Network, and Facebook will continue to serve your ad and charge your account when your site is down.  Furthermore, this can negatively affect your campaign ad metrics.  You will not be refunded for clicks just because your site was down.

2)      Post an apology to customers explaining the situation on all your social media properties, especially Twitter and Google+.  Your Google+ status update may show up in the right rail of your search results, and Twitter is still a go-to location for breaking news and complaints.  Make sure your customer service phone number, email, and alternative contact methods are freely available so that you can continue to address any customer issues.



3)      On the SEO front, there’s not much you can do while your site is down.  You can check your site’s status in Google Webmaster Tools where you’ll probably have a warning message from Google about crawl errors or unresponsive servers.  But fret not, Google understands that websites have server issues.  If Googlebot tries to visit your site when it’s down, it will return at some point.  Just sit tight, drink some soothing herbal tea, try some deep breathing exercises, or talk to your deity of choice.

When your site is live again:

1)      Inform your customers that your site is live again via social media.  As best as you can, explain the cause of the site downtime and take this opportunity to apologize once again.  Don’t pretend it didn’t happen – everyone already knows!

2)      If you’re ready to unpause your SEM and Facebook ads, give the go ahead to do so.  But be aware that the next day’s data may be skewed, and be sure to watch conversion numbers over the next few days to make sure that your tracking isn’t broken.

3)      NOW you can start to take action to measure the potential SEO impact of the unplanned server downtime.  See when Google last crawled your site by checking the cached version.



It is possible that Googlebot didn’t get a chance to crawl your site while it was down, especially if you’re a smaller site that gets crawled infrequently.  If this is the case, expect to see minimal impact on your site’s SEO health.

4)      Re-submit your XML Sitemap to Google.  This is the fastest way to provide Google with a list of every page on your site.   Additionally, make sure the XML Sitemap is referenced in robots.txt:


Finally, log into Google Webmaster Tools to test and add your new XML Sitemap.  It will take a few days for Google to index the URLs from your XML Sitemap.  The percentage of indexed URLs post-downtime should be close to the percentage pre-downtime.  This is a great way to measure how your site was impacted by the downtime.  Ideally, Google should index about 90% of the URLs in your XML Sitemap if your SEO health is in good shape.

5)      Have Google re-crawl your site.  There are two simple ways to do this –

  1. Submit your URL to Google via https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/submit-url
  2. Have Google fetch your site as Googlebot from within Webmaster Tools.



It is common to ask Google to re-crawl your site after some major cleanup and changes – this does not affect your rank.

6)      Check Google Webmaster Tools religiously for the next week.  Data on the desktop version can be delayed between 2 and 6 days, so check your data every morning.  You should be doing this anyway, so take this opportunity to create a good habit!  Note any issues that may be a red flag:

  1. Traffic
  2. Crawl rate
  3. Number of pages indexed
  4. Any warning messages from Google

7)      Hooray!  Your site is back up!!!

How to be prepared for future unplanned downtime:

1)      Set up alerts for anytime your site is down – whether it be via your web developers, Google Docs, or the crawl error alerts on Google Webmaster Tools.  If you have a consultant or agency handling your SEM and display campaign, make sure they get these email alerts directly as well especially if they are handling bid management.

2)      Make sure that you can get a hold of the person/team handling your SEM and Display campaigns in this type of emergency, or that you have a way to pause them yourself.  This is one of those times when you are allowed to call your Account Manager’s cell phone at an odd hour.

3)      Prepare your social media community managers to communicate these types of issues with the world.  Customers expect immediate acknowledgement and accountability.  Consider having management pre-approve messaging for the community managers to post at a moment’s notice that is in line with your brand or business.

So there you have it!  These types of downtimes are fairly rare, but the fallout from unplanned site downtime can cause your business to bleed money and get into a reputation management imbroglio.  So just like we have fire drills at school and work, prepare for these types of emergencies in order to minimize the negative impact of unplanned site downtime

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2 Responses to “How to Manage Your Search Strategy During Unplanned Server Downtime”

  1. David says:

    Very useful and timely response to help, thanks.

  2. This is a good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere.
    Short but very accurate info… Thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read article!


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