As the coronavirus spreads across the world, it continues to have a massive impact on the global economy. It has left businesses around the world counting costs, and the UK is no exception. The pandemic has brought the UK economy to a temporary standstill and it isn’t expected to recover until the second half of 2021 according to KPMG.
In the meantime, all non-essential stores have been ordered to close by the government to help stop the spread of the disease. However, retailers are allowed to continue to run online and offer a home delivery service. Without online to fall back on, these businesses may need to wait for weeks, or even months, to be able to resume their normal operations. None of us know what will happen next with the pandemic, but there is one thing which is quite obvious – online retail will become even more popular.
On the other hand, the big name shops and businesses such Next, River Island and TKMaxx have started to close down their online operations, as well as their physical stores in response to the coronavirus outbreak. These actions were taken after warehouse and distribution staff felt that they shouldn’t be working in the current climate. If you try to log on to the TKMaxx website you will be redirected to the statement below and be unable to browse any products on the site. However, this may not be the best practice if you’re planning to pause your online business more than just a few days.
On March 30th, we saw that TKMaxx used a 503 result code for all requests that come in from search engines, and from users. This is a recommended practice if you are planning to take your website offline for just a few days whilst working on resolving the issue. In this case, search engines will say ‘okay, we’ll revisit this website in a few days’. Whereas, if you take the server down completely and serve 404 pages, the search engine bots will assume that this is a permanent state. As a result, your site will be experiencing a Technical SEO issue.
As the effects of the coronavirus continue to evolve, Google has published some advice on the Official Google Webmaster Central blog for businesses looking for ways to pause their activities online. This means businesses that have decided to pause all of their operations, not only in-store but online as well, should be careful about making fundamental changes on their websites’ online accessibility, as these changes can affect their websites’ crawlability, indexability and eventually their rankings.
Instead, you can follow the recommendations below to pause online business and minimise the impact on site visibility in search.
Google sees disabling the whole site as an extreme measure to take. Even when implemented properly, it’s likely that it can cause a significant effect on the website in search. This is simply because when search engines are no longer able to see the content on a website, they treat your product and category pages as removed, and eventually, your pages drop out from Google’s index and no longer rank.
If you haven’t decided to close your website permanently and are planning to reopen it in the future, you should keep your website open but limit its functionality. Practices such as marking products as out of stock, or restricting the cart and checkout process allow you to minimise the risk of having negative effects on your site’s presence in search. That way, you can allow users to visit your website, browse your products and buy them later.
This is one of the easiest measures you can take without causing any changes in your site visibility in search results.
Updating your customers by placing a banner on your homepage, or setting up a pop-up message, will help to explain your business status to users and will be helpful in sharing information with your customers about what’s going on.
Sites that are using structured data should be up to date in line with the recent changes in your online business, such as the availability of the products you’re selling.
You can use Google Search Console to keep Google up to date immediately by recrawling the most important pages on your website, such as your homepage and this can be done via the URL Inspection tool. For a larger number of pages, you can use your sitemap.
If you decide that closing your website temporarily is the best option for your business, make sure that you do it in an SEO friendly way. Otherwise, you may need to start all over again or in the best-case scenario, you may lose some time before your website regains its position back in the search results.
If you have any questions or queries regarding any of the content above or would like help with your Technical SEO, please get in touch with Patti, we’d love to help.
Search Marketing Executive