How do websites accidentally go offline and what happens to your rankings?

Last Updated on November 19, 2020

It’s never a good moment when you realise your website has gone off-line, especially if you are not sure how long it’s been down.

Most people don’t visit their own website everyday, and unless they have a site monitoring system set up, weeks can go by with the website being down and no one noticing other than people trying to access it and getting no reply.

So just how can websites ‘accidentally’ go off-line?

In my experience, websites usually go off-line for very simple and avoidable reasons, these include:

  • The domain name registration expired
  • The domain name records were altered
  • Website hosting bill has not been paid

Domain Registration Expired

Websites are almost always accessed via a domain name such as A domain name registration gives you a license to use that domain name for the period you have purchased. If that period is for a year, then in 1 year’s time, the domain name will be up for renewal. If you neglect to renew the domain name, the name will lapse and will no longer be associated with your website. With most domain systems you will get a ‘grace period’ where the domain is in a holding pattern and you have the first right to renewal even though it has expired. However, if you don’t renew within this period, you can lose your domain name to another company. Now unless you have a domain name that is also a trade mark, you will have a difficult time recovering the domain. In fact, you would quite probably have to buy it back.

Domain name renewal notifications are often sent out by email – with some registrars posting renewals as well. If you don’t get the email, and they are not posting the renewal, then it’s inevitable that the domain name will lapse.

Often I discover that people register a domain name with an email account that they stop using for some reason (like a Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo email account). If you use an email like this to start with, but intend to set up email on your domain name such as [email protected], then I strongly recommend that you change your domain registration email contact to your domain email and make it a generic email like info or admin.

The whole internet system relies very heavily on emails as a way of notification and verification. If you don’t get the email or can’t retrieve the email, you can get very stuck.

Once you’ve renewed your domain name your website will come back online within a few hours (though this can vary with some sites taking up to 24 hours to update).

Domain Name Records Altered

Domain names have what are called ‘zone records’. The zone records control things like where the email goes, and where the hosting goes, and they can also be used to set up sub-domains. The record that is most important for website hosting is the ‘A record’. The ‘A record’ is the IP address for your website hosting. If this record is changed so that it no longer uses the correct IP address (a set of numbers), the site can go off-line. This can happen if you accidentally ‘park’ your domain name with a registrar and they automatically set the A record to their IP address. Now, instead of getting your website, you will get the domain name company’s ‘under construction’ page.

The best way to avoid this is to not change your domain name records unless you absolutely know what you are doing. In other words, hire a professional.

Once the domain records are corrected, the website will come back online.

Website Hosting Bill has not been Paid

Any reputable web hosting company will give you plenty of notice that your website hosting payment is due. These notifications will be sent to the email you set up when you signed up for the website hosting. So if you used an old email address that you’ve since abandoned, you will fail to get the notifications. With larger companies these things are often automated and it’s nothing personal. The site simply goes off-line. You should be able to get the site back up and running again by simply paying the bill, as most web hosting firms will leave it a while before removing the website completely from their server. So technically the website is still there, it’s just being hidden.

Paying the bill will get you back online. Unless of-course the website has been deleted. You will then need to recover your website from a backup and put it back online (upload it to the web server).


So what happens to your search engine rankings?

It really depends on how long the site has been offline. Just a few hours and you should be fine, even a few days. But if you go offline for weeks or more, then you will drop out of the search engine results completely, you won’t even be found for your business name.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that once the site is live again, you should be found in Google within a couple of days, and you should also recover your search engine positions. At least this has been my experience with sites I’ve helped after this type of situation. There can always be exceptions to this of course and many other variables could affect how long it takes for you to rank again.

To help with getting re-indexed by Google I’d recommend using an XML site map if the site does not already have one. You can also manually submit a URL to Google.


How to be notified there is a problem with your website

  • Register with one of the website monitoring services – simply Google ‘website monitoring service’ to find one. Many of the services are free if you are just monitoring one website. You will be emailed when the site goes offline and online again – and this can happen on a regular basis as hosting companies never guarantee 100% uptime with their plans (it’s always 99.9% uptime, which can be up to an hour a month offline).
  • Register your website with Google’s Web Master tools – Google sends out notifications via this service if they have trouble crawling your website

Of course, there is also the simple measure of visiting your website each day. You could schedule this into your day when you first check your email. Perhaps even make a staff member responsible for this check.

If you need help at all with getting your website back online get in touch.


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