Jan 16, 2012 at 2:39pm ET by Matt McGee
A number of websites are (or were) planning to “go black” this week while the U.S. Congress discusses issues related to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). The website blackouts are part of a larger social media effort against the bills that our Greg Finn wrote about this morning on Marketing Land.
You may be thinking about joining the website blackout movement, but yikes … what about the SEO implications? How do you take your site offline in protest without messing up your visibility in Google’s search results?
Well, Google’s Pierre Far shared several tips earlier today on Google+ in a post called “Website outages and blackouts the right way.”
In short, the advice is to use a 503 HTTP status code to tell spiders that the website is temporary unavilable. With a 503 status, Google won’t index the content (or lack thereof if you’re blacking out your site) and it won’t consider the site as having duplicate content issues (when all of the pages are blacked out).
But Far adds a couple important caveats to this advice regarding the robots.txt file and what will happen in Webmaster Tools if Google finds your site blacked out. Another Googler, John Mueller, adds additional information in the comments, so you’ll want to read the original Google+ post if you’re thinking about blacking out your website this week for SOPA, or in the future for any other reason.
Of course, also keep in mind that Bing may not handle things the same way if you do blackout your site.
About The Author: Matt McGee is Search Engine Land’s Executive News Editor, responsible for overseeing our daily news coverage. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He blogs at Small Business Search Marketing and can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. See more articles by Matt McGee