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Dear webmasters, if something goes drastically wrong with your hoster, and you can't host your website anymore, please return a "503 Service unavailable" HTTP result code. Doing so helps search engines to understand what's up -- they're generally more than happy to give your site some time to catch up again. 

Returning an error page with "200 OK" will result in us indexing the change of content like that (and if all of your pages return the same error page, then we may assume that these URLs are duplicates). Redirecting to a temporary page will result in that redirect being used for indexing. It's fine to show text to users on a 503 error page, or use fancy JavaScript, etc.

A simple way to handle that - if the webserver is down - is to change the site's DNS to point to a temporary server that returns the 503 for you. 

Once the issue is resolved, we'll generally jump back in and crawl your site to get the indexed information updated. If you weren't able to return a 503, it'll probably take a bit of time for things to settle back down with regards to search, but it'll come back, don't worry. If you need to ramp crawling up slowly, you might also want to adjust the maximal crawl rate in Webmaster Tools (we pick up that setting about once a day). 

At any rate, if your site was affected by issues like these, I hope you're able to resolve them (and the other, perhaps more important issues that often go along with disruptions like these) as soon as possible. If there's something Google can do with regards to web-search to help get your site get back on its feet, feel free to post here, in our forums, or join our office-hours hangouts. 
Alexander Kasper's profile photoCave Man's profile photoJohn Mueller's profile photoRainer S.'s profile photo
grüß Dich John,
80% meiner Kunden, wenn nicht gar mehr, verstehen absolut nicht was gemeint ist.  ""A simple way to handle that - if the webserver is down - is to change the site's DNS to point to a temporary server that returns the 503 for you."" das ist für viele keine simple Lösung, sondern spanische Dörfer und wie sollte das gemacht werden, wenn zb1&1 down ist ist es down , wenn die keinen 503 liefern kann man gar nichts machen, einfach nichts.  Schlicht, weil die Leute es nicht können, keine Ahnung haben was ein temporärer Server sein könnte und wie man die DNS wo anderes hinroutet und was DNS überhaupt ist.
Da steht nicht grundlos "dear webmasters". Wer sich Webmaster nennt, sollte auch wissen was er tut.
Webmaster nennen sich bei uns alle, die eine Webseite online haben aus Tradition bereits und genau die, kennen sich kaum aus. Aber ich habe verstanden.
+Monika Thon-Soun deshalb haben sie ja auch dich :-). Wenn man sich damit auskennt und dafuer interessiert, oder jemanden hat, der das fuer einem tun kann, dann ist es auf jeden Fall hilfreich, wenn man es technisch richtig macht.

Kann man das nicht machen (oder merkt man gar nicht, dass man es machen koennte), dann ist das auch nicht das Ende der Welt, aber dann geht es in der Regel etwas laenger, bis sich alles wieder eingependelt hat.
Aber auch die Sache mit dem DNS ist unpraktisch, bis sich das rumgesprochen hat, ist der Fehler behoben. Sinniger ist IP oder Port umleiten.
I think, this post is a perfect example of German ignorance. The post is in English and addresses English speaking people. But all German users answer in German. This is quite common here on G+ and I find it very annoying.

Please, fellow German users, take the time and comment in English on an English post. It's not that hard.

+John Mueller You are absolute correct about your post. The 200 OK error page is a misuse of the HTTP protocol. I think a default Apache serves the error pages with a correct HTTP code, even in combination with a Tomcat.
Danke John solche info stehen meistens nicht im NFR und werden daher leider selten berücksichtigt.
+Denny Schierz DNS-Umstellungen gehen sehr gut wenn man es im Vorraus weiss (z.B. geplante Wartung, Umzug, usw), oder wenn man weiss, dass es eine laengere Sache sein wird. Fuer wirklich kurzfristige und kurzzeitige Aussetzer ist es wahrscheinlich nicht die beste Loesung :)
+Philip Gillißen  Soweit ich erkennen kann bist auch du der deutschen Sprache mächtig. Sollte John diese Information auch in Deutsch posten, werde ich dies nutzen, solang dem nicht so ist, antworte ich in der Sprache, die er gut versteht, du offensichtlich auch und selbst wenn du mich als ignorant einstufst.  Mehrsprachigkeit bedeutet auch mehrsprachige Antworten ;) 
I am currently using a 503 for a site now, what amount of time can you use a 503 for?
+Monika Thon-Soun: Webmaster sollten schon wissen, wie das geht, Homepage-Ersteller nicht, da gebe ich Dir Recht. Macht auch nur Sinn, wenn die Seiten/der Service länger nicht erreichbar sind/ist.
+Monika Thon-Soun Ja, ich bin der deutschen Sprache mächtig. Nicht jeder kann jedoch in eine deutsche Diskussion einsteigen, wenn er den Beitrag auf Englisch gelesen hat. Und dann finde ich es unfreundlich den Nicht-Deutschsprachigen gegenüber, exklusiv auf Deutsch zu kommentieren.
Wenn der Beitrag in Deutsch gewesen wäre, hätte ich mich nicht eingeschaltet. Es ist einfach einer von sehr vielen Beiträgen, bei denen mich die deutschen Kommentare nerven.
I would like to know, if sending the HTTP status code "410 Gone (permanently)" as answer for any request on a (unwanted) subdomain like is a good way to get rid of Google "knowing" it. If i just delete the subdomain, it resolves to, which lets Google think, it might still be a valid adress.
+Thomas Bindewald returning 410 in a case like that is fine, but it's also fine (from our point of view) to just not have the DNS resolve for that subdomain (if you don't need to show users an error page).
+John Mueller Due some DOS attack towards a server i manage for a customer (with about 11 sites / domains active - only online shops / corporate blogs) i started to configure fail2ban also on the http/s ports. Actually i set a limit of ~300 connections in 10 seconds. If a client (=source ip) makes more connections, it gets banned by iptables for some minutes, which protects the webserver / database from overload. I check the blacklisted ip addresses once a day - googlebot was also banned one day. Is the bot "intelligent" enough to index the sites slower (i think it may be hard for the bot - not all shops use the same ip, but they were in a small range).
+Alexander Kasper usually we'd try to learn from server-reactions like that. If you have a known limit, it's probably easier to just set that as the maximum crawl rate in Webmaster Tools though -- arbitrarily blocking Googlebot could lead to unexpected results (eg if you block crawling of the robots.txt file, Googlebot will generally not attempt to crawl until it's been able to fetch the file again, which might be a day later). 
+John Mueller  is it possible to set a crawl limit for a range of ip addresses instead of sites / domains? To limit only domains wont help in this case because they are running on the same hardware. On the other site i can´t afford to disable the limit because the attacked site (and others on this hardware) will timeout while being attacked. This is also not what googlebot wants to see ;-)
+John Mueller Sorry to say, but if the Webmaster uses a hosting over which he has no actual control (that's what you implied in your plea), he is also unable to change the code.
+Alexander Kasper no, you'd need to set it on a per-site basis. If you have the IP address verified in Webmaster Tools, you can also use the "report a problem with Googlebot" form which is linked from there, to let the engineers know about your IP-level crawl rate request (they will generally try to accomodate, but that might not always be possible). 
+Cave Man in many cases, the DNS hosting is separate from the website's hosting, so even if they don't have specific control over the web-server, it's often possible to modify the DNS (or have the hoster / registrar modify it for you). That said, you're absolutely right in that this requires a certain level of knowledge & functionality that not everyone has (which is why it's good to have a helpful hoster, a good webmaster, or a techy-friend).

Also, as I mentioned above in German, if you can't do this, it's not the end of the world -- we'll figure it out when it works again, but it might take a bit longer to get back to the stable state.
There is a reason, why these http error codes exists - use them...
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