Limiting functionality minimizes negative effects and makes restarting easier. Temporary closures do not affect rankings or visibility.
Google published a detailed blog post on what businesses should do if they need to pause their online activity due to coronavirus. There is now also further technical guidance on Google MyBusiness Help.
Google’s advice is to keep your site online and limit functionality rather than disabling your whole website, as people will still be able to find you in Search and it makes it easier to ramp up again in future.
“If your situation is temporary and you plan to reopen your online business, we recommend keeping your site online and limiting the functionality. For example, you might mark items as out of stock, or restrict the cart and checkout process. This is the recommended approach since it minimizes any negative effects on your site’s presence in Search. People can still find your products, read reviews, or add wishlists so they can purchase at a later time.“
Good practice includes:
Disabling cart functionality
Keeping your customers informed with banners or popups
Updating your structured data to reflect opening hours, product availability, event changes etc
Informing Google about updates and requesting a recrawl
Google does NOT recommend disabling your whole website:
“This is an extreme measure that should only be taken for a very short period of time (a few days at most), as it will otherwise have significant effects on the website in Search, even when implemented properly.“
However, if you really do need to do this, Google gives the following options (reiterating they don’t recommend):
Use the search removals tool for quick, temporary takedown
To take down for 1-2 days use an informational error page with a 503 HTTP result code
To disable the site for a longer time, provide an indexable homepage as a placeholder for users to find in Search by using the 200 HTTP status code.
Google warns to proceed with caution if you absolutely do need to disable your site.
Negative effects include:
Customers won’t know what’s going on with your business if they can’t find you online; they lose first hand information about your products and services
Knowledge Panels may lose information like contacts and logo
Search Console verification will fail with loss of access to information about your business in Search. Aggregate reports in Search Console will lose data.
Ramping back up will be “significantly harder” if your site needs to be reindexed, with no certainty how long this would take.
Temporary closure leaves rankings and visibility unaffected
Danny Sullivan of Google SearchLiaison reiterated on 30 March that if you mark a Google My Business listing as temporarily closed, it will not harm rankings or visibility.
He also pointed to the Google MyBusiness Help page dated 30 March, which gives further technical advice on updating information and temporary closures for businesses affected by COVID-10.
“Marking your business temporarily closed will not affect search ranking and it will be treated similar to open businesses. You can also update if your restaurant moves to takeout or delivery only. The updates will show on your Business Profile on Google Search and Maps.”
Further Google help
Google is stepping up its help for businesses affected by COVID-19 and trying to manage their online presence.
There is now help for adding structured data for COVID-19 announcements to web pages. Google says this isn’t yet visible in Search results but will be in the near future and you can add data now to prepare.
Google also announced a new technical support group to help official health organizations make COVID-19 information more accessible. It includes best practices for health sites for search visibility and support for health organizations.
It’s a difficult time for businesses at the moment, with massive upheavals as a result of COVID-19.
If your business is affected, do refer to Google’s help docs as these cover the most common questions, as well as giving practical help on how to take steps for your site.