“Does site downtime hurt Search Engine rankings? ”
This is a question that is hotly debated by webmasters, search engine optimization specialists, bloggers, hosting companies, etc. A lot of people say that a little bit of downtime, say 20 minutes, in a day, can hurt SERPS (search engine results page) for your website. Others say that you can have a little bit of downtime here and there and it will not matter much.
Well this question was touched on in one of a Google Webmaster Help videos with Matt Cutts recently. Check it out and the question that was asked.
I got a “Googlebot can't access your site” message in Webmaster Tools from my host being down for a day. Does it affect my rankings when this happens?
Matt Cutts initial response to this question was,
“Well if it is just for a 1 day you should be in pretty good shape. If your host is down for 2 weeks then there is a better indicator that the website is down and we don't want to send users to a website that is actually down but we do try to compensate for websites that are transiently or sporadically down. We make a few allowances and we try to comeback 24 hours later… So it is just a short period of downtime I wouldn't really worry about that.”
While I mostly agree with what he said in the video, and after explaining that the Googlebot was having trouble crawling sites a few weeks ago, Matt Cutts commented, “If it is just 24 hours I really wouldn't stress about that very much.”
Well… a friend of mine recently had his websites on a JustHost dedicated server and it went down for 1 day. He told me hasn't been able to get back his SERP rankings since the downtime. Despite what was said you should realize downtime can hurt your search engine rankings in Google. I've heard this from a number of experienced webmasters.
However, I want people to think about how the Googlebot spider works when indexing pages. I will not go into everything as it would take too long to explain but just do a quick overview.
When you do a Google search you are not actually searching the web instantly, like a lot of people assume, but you are actually searching Google's stored version of the web. For instance when this article was first posted it DID NOT immediately get indexed by Google and was searchable. Why? While this blog gets ok traffic my current pagerank is 3, which is decent but not too high. Sites that post content more frequently and that have a higher pagerank are going to get crawled before mine. Websites like FoxNews and NY Times will get crawled first since they have a higher pagerank, more content, and are in Google News.
So if my website was down for say 1 hour it is actually pretty possible that Google will not even see my website is down since the Googlebot may not crawl it. While Google is really good about crawling new webpages very fast these days they can't get to every new piece of content posted simultaneously. If you were running FoxNews and had downtime 24 hours that would be a much bigger deal since they get millions of visitors a day and the Googlebot expects there to be content frequently.
So my answers to the question “Does site downtime hurt Search Engine rankings?” would generally be the same as Cutts. I caution anyone asking this question to consider the type of website you are running, how much traffic you get, and your user's expectations which will influence Google's. Choosing a reliable web hosting company is very important if you want good uptime and don't want to have to worry about websites going down. I prefer Site5 and you can read my Site5 review to get a better idea about their web hosting services.
So that is my professional opinion on this topic of site downtime and search engine rankings. By the way if you want to monitor website downtime and uptime I highly recommend a service called Uptime Robot. It will ping your website every 5 minutes to see if it is up and if it isn't you can get a text message, email, or RSS feed notification. Best part about Uptime Robot is that it is completely free website monitoring service.
Has website downtime ever hurt or affected your search engine rankings? Have you ever had your website hosted with a hosting company that had frequent downtime? Share your experiences below as I am sure a lot of people have something to say about this.