How to manage the website of a company in administration

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  • January 20, 2009
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

Companies in the UK are going into administration on a daily basis here in the UK and very little attention is being paid to the websites during the administration process. In most cases the website is taken over by the administrators and the staff who have been working on the site are either made redundant or don’t have chance to explain how it should be handled.

Woolworths website

Administrators are normally working to try and find a buyer for the troubled company so you would expect them to treat the website (which is often one of the companies biggest sources of income) with a little care and attention. As we’ve seen in recent weeks quite the opposite is true and in most cases the online presence couldn’t have been handled any worse.

Below is the definitive guide to what administrators should be doing when they take over the running of a companies website.

Turn off the shopping cart
Most administrators seem to think that all website traffic comes via the homepage and that they can put a message on there and everybody will stop using the shopping cart. This is totally incorrect – people arrive to product pages and buy products from there and in a lot of cases recently the shopping cart has still happily accepted orders even when the homepage says orders can’t be fulfilled.

If the company is no longer able to trade then turning off the shopping cart should be step 1.

Add an SEO friendly error message to the site
This step is very important to get right and is quite technical. The two key aspects are as follows:

  • Inform customers of the situation
  • Preserve search engine trust & rankings

Every page on the site needs to return a 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable HTTP status code in the same way as you would if your site was undergoing temporary downtime. The example below tells Googlebot to retry after a week.

<?php
header("HTTP/1.1 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable");
header("Status: 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable");
header("Retry-After: 604800");
php?>

Once you have served this code on every page of the site the pages can be altered to contain a message to customers. This message needs to be accurate and informative. The statement Woolworths website gives is not acceptable:

Our site is currently undergoing essential maintenance. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Please check back later.

Inform affiliates
If the company has an affiliate program then an email needs to be sent out straight away informing them of the situation. Affiliates are likely spending money on PPC campaigns and will be very upset if they waste a lot of money without getting paid for the sales generated.

Turn off PPC campaigns
You would be amazed at how many companies keep PPC campaigns running after they go into administration. If orders can’t be fulfilled then why pay for traffic to the site?

Keep people updated
If the situation changes or new information becomes available then why not add it to the website and keep loyal customers informed? Maintaining customer loyalty is paramount if the company is to be sold to a new owner.

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