How Your Website Being Down ACTUALLY Affects Your Rankings

Whether you work in search engine marketing and are an SEO or simply own or run a website or two, finding out that your website is down is one of the worse things you can discover.

When you hear this news, a state of sheer panic ensues and, if you’re anything like me, the flight element of your biological fight and flight response triggers, and as if everything was a blur, find yourself pleading for the fix with the nearest friendly developer.

Now, you might have your own reasons for reacting like this (although the likelihood is that you don’t react like this, at all), but my reasons are that I fear for the website in question, of which has fallen victim to becoming ‘down’, losing any rankings and visibility in Google and ultimately missing out on valuable hard-earned organic traffic.

Luckily, John Mueller – everyone’s favourite webmaster, has recently discussed this exact topic, which should hopefully provide some much-needed clarity and calm for other webmasters across the globe if they find themselves in the aforementioned scenario.

This discussion took place in a Reddit thread titled ‘Can I recover lost Google rankings after almost 5 days of downtime?’ The context of the original poster’s question noting that their organic search traffic was growing steadily before a technical issue took the website offline. After getting it back up and running it’s lost 10,000 organic visits per day.

To put a long story short, John Mueller answered ‘yes’, and that a website going down temporarily likely won’t have a negative impact on search rankings. So, let’s take a look at the full discussion.

Recovering your website’s rankings after it goes down

“Sure, that should pop back in a week or two. If it takes longer then the drop wouldn’t be from the downtime.”

If a site goes down temporarily, Google does not see and judge this as a quality issue and instead sees it as a technical difficulty.

“Just to elaborate a bit more, this is essentially just a technical issue — it’s not something that our algorithms would see as a quality problem.

A site breaking temporarily is not a sign that the website is bad and doesn’t deserve to be shown as visibly.”

Mueller goes on to say:

“If the URL returns HTTP 5xx or the site is unreachable (I think unreachable falls into this too, I’m not 100% certain though), we’ll retry over the next day or so. Nothing will happen (no drop in indexing or ranking) until a few days have passed.”

“If the URL returns HTTP 4xx (like 404, 410, etc), we’ll start dropping these URLs from our index. There’s no drop in ranking, but when your pages aren’t indexed, the total traffic will drop.”

“Since this is done on a per-URL basis, and since we tend to recrawl important URLs (super simplified) more often, you’ll almost certainly see a visible drop in search traffic when we start dropping URLs.

We recrawl most URLs somewhere in the range of hours to months, so you’ll generally see a noticable drop in indexing over the first week or so (your 5 days are right in there), with that tapering off for the next months (as we recrawl & drop the remaining pages).”

John Mueller states that, as long as the period time that your website was down was not too long (meaning days or weeks), then your rankings will simply just bounce back.

“When things come back (assuming this is within the range of days to weeks, and not months after they drop), usually what happens is since we retry the important pages a bit more often, those will come back a bit faster.

As they come back into the index, they’re usually back exactly how they were in the past, but it might be that it takes a bit of time for all of the signals to get reassociated with it, and depending on how much of the site got dropped, the internal linking etc also needs to be back first.”

“In the cases I’ve looked at, coming back after downtime tends to go faster than the dropping out because of downtime.

My guess is (too lazy to check / ask) that we have some protections against dropping out of the index (slow crawl rate way down), and when things come back, we get excited and try to get that back as quickly as possible (increase crawl rate above normal).”

If your rankings take longer to come back, there was a different issue with your website or an algorithm update.

“If you’re seeing a drop in ranking after indexing is back, I would assume that it’s not due to the indexing issue, but rather due to awkward timing of quality changes being recognized across your site.

We make algorithm updates regularly, and our systems reevaluate sites over time, and while downtime wouldn’t trigger a reevaluation, it can happen at around the time time anyway.”

To conclude, before you completely relax, a website going down is still an issue and something to avoid.

“Do not assume that a drop in rankings after a temporary drop in indexing will fix itself — that’s something you need to address, not something to wait out.”


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