Site Down – Now What?

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If your website is hosted on GoDaddy no doubt you were panicking yesterday as your site was down and you weren’t getting emails.  This leads to the question:   How do search engines like Google deal with a site that’s down for hours?

GoDaddy hosting was down for about 8 hours yesterday.  This is because of an attack on their DNS servers.  If you don’t already know, DNS servers are the servers responsible for translating domain names to IP addresses (and vice versa) allowing external sources to find your site via it’s IP Address.

In brief how the system works is this:  A request for a domain name is made.  The request is sent to the closest DNS server which then relays the request up the stream until another server can handle the request and then map that request to the IP address.

However, if the site’s DNS server is down, that DNS server can’t respond to the request and therefore there is no way to “find” the site in question.  So when GoDaddy’s DNS servers went down yesterday, every site hosted on GoDaddy servers were invisible to the rest of the web.  Even though they were up and running, most people couldn’t get to them because the sites could not be found.

Another way to think of it is like this:  You are placed inside a pitch black room.  There is a doorway out but you can’t see it.  The only way for you to find it is by listening to someone giving you directions (3 steps forward, turn left, now two steps, turn right, reach out – there’s the door handle).  If there is no one to give you directions you would not be able to find your way out.

What do the search engines see?

When your site is not visible because DNS is not working what the search engines see really depends on how often they update their own DNS cache.

This is because, in order to save time, some search engines may cache the DNS records on their own servers.  They essentially have a copy of the records found on the DNS server that is down.  Therefore they can still find your site with little effort.  However if they don’t have the records cached it could lead to problems.

You see, search engines expect to see websites up and running 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.  Even if your site goes down for a few minutes it could cause problems with the search engines.

While they are generally resilient and forgiving when it comes to errors like this you still run the risk of a search engine de-indexing your site if it remains inaccessible for long periods of time.

How will I know if my site was de-indexed?

To find out of your site was de-indexed by Google or Bing, follow these 3 steps:

  • Step one:  first search for a phrase you know your site is found for.  Do you still rank at or near the position you used to?
  • Step two:  If you can’t find a ranking you think you used to have, or you don’t know of a ranking your site has or had, try just searching for your domain name.
  • Final Step:  If you still can’t find your site via  a domain name search, plug in “site:” with no spaces before your domain name to see if Google and Bing still have your site pages at least cached.

If you have done these 3 steps and still cannot find your site then it is quite likely that Google and/or Bing have removed the site from the index.  So the next question is it temporary or permanent?

Once the site service is restored, you could run these same 3 checks and then again about 24 hours later.  If the site is still gone after 24 hours I would recommend you resubmit your site via Google Webmaster Tools here:  you don’t need a Google Webmaster Tools account to submit here, but if you do have an account, log into it first and then proceed to the “Health” menu, then “Fetch as Google” to help kick start the process.

While you are here you can look through your reports to see if Google has sent you any messages.

Bing also has Webmaster Tools which you can use to resubmit your site as well as get some reporting on.  All you need is a Microsoft account (such as a Hotmail or live account) and you can do many of the same things as on Google Webmaster Tools.

So if you are worried about the impact of your site because of the GoDaddy outage you can use these steps and tools to minimize the negative results.

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