According to PEW Research – “Geographically, Jews are concentrated primarily in North America (44%) and the Middle East- North Africa region (41%)…”. With such a percentage, it is impossible to ignore the issue of keeping Shabbat on websites, including commercial websites. So what should a Shomer Shabbat site do in terms of organic SEO?
Shabbat comes every week and lasts about 25 hours. Every action that we perform on the site with such frequency and cycle will have consequences for SEO, especially on sites that are scanned with high frequency by Google. Googlebot does not know the Sabbath but only recognizes a pattern on the site. Therefore, it is important to put thought into choosing the appropriate approach and the way in which it is implemented on the site.
Shabbat observant websites generally choose one of the following approaches for Shabbat and holiday times:
- Temporary suspension of the site
- Temporary referral from all website pages to the “Kosher” page
- Pop-up banner asking visitors not to use the site on Saturday
- Blocking monetization options on the website (purchase, advertisements, etc.)
- Continue activity as usual
Halachic opinion on Shabbat observant sites
In order to get a halachic opinion, we turned to the ‘Zomat Institute for Science and Torah’ with a report on the issue of Shabbat observant sites and this is the answer of the late Rabbi Israel Rosen (among his duties was the founder and head of the ‘Zomat Institute for Halacha and Technology Affairs’)
- A. Our position is that from a halachic point of view there is no prohibition to have a website on Shabbat that someone who is not observing Shabbat, or who is abroad, enters it for information as well as commerce.
- All religious institutions do not close their website on Shabbat, including the ‘Zomat’ institute (and actually you can also purchase books or products through it).
- I have no obligation to prevent others from violating Shabbat, and there is no element here at all of ‘before a blind man you will not set an obstacle’ (Jewish proverb – ‘לפני עיור לא תתן מכשול’).
- In relation to the commercial aspect, this is also not considered ‘Shabbat wages’ for various reasons, and this should also be said for those who have a machine for selling beverage cans or sandwiches or an automatic laundry. There were several articles about this in the volumes of ‘Domachin’ (published by the ‘Zumet’ Institute), in connection with the ATM of the Mizrachi Bank open on Shabbat and more.
- Indeed, there is reason to worry that those who enter a religiously owned site on Shabbat will encounter a landing page (on Shabbat and on a holiday) stating that today is Shabbat/Holiday and due to the sanctity of the day, the owners of the site wish to postpone entry to Shabbat evening or the following day. As mentioned, this proposal is for reasons of atmosphere and education and the sanctification of God, but not pure halachic.
- Furthermore, if there was indeed a profit from Shabbat sales (which can be calculated) – it is recommended for reasons of education and the sanctification of God and a good feeling and a ‘virtue for success’ to donate this profit (after deducting expenses) for the benefit of Shabbat observance, or to an institution that deals with it. As mentioned, this is also only a recommendation and not a formal halachic obligation.
According to Rabbi Rosen’s ruling, there is no need for special operations on the site during Shabbat. According to this approach, all site features are the same on Saturdays and weekdays. This approach is optimal in terms of SEO and in terms of the user experience on the site.
The correct way according to Google to operate a Shomer Shabbat website
The correct way to deal with the issue is to use http status code 503.
This is what John Mueller’s answer to a question in the Webmaster Central Blog about the Shomer Shabbat website shows:
In February 2017, Google even addressed the issue on the Webmaster Central Blog in a post under the name Closing down for a day.
Google announced that the key to the correct implementation of a Shomer Shabbat site, in an SEO-friendly manner, is the use of the 503 status. The meaning of the status is that the site is temporarily down for maintenance. This signals to Google not to crawl the site right now and to come back at a later time and makes sure that the site is not crawled and indexed by Google in its Saturday configuration by mistake. There is even an option to report to Google’s crawler exactly when the site will return to normal state by ‘Retry-After’ header.
As long as status 503 is activated, it is possible to take a number of Shabbat observance solutions, for example:
- Leave the site live and display a pop-up covering the site with the message “This site is not available until the end of Shabbat”
- Take down the website and display a custom error page inviting the visitor to return at the end of Shabbat
Important tips for the Shomer Shabbat site
After the Sabbath, notice that the site stops returning a 503 status and returns to a 200 status. After about a week when Googlebot receives a 503 status from a site, it begins to treat this as a permanent error and remove the pages from the search results.
Also, if the account of a local business in Google my Business is linked to the site, it is recommended to reflect the fact that the business observes Shabbat in the opening hours of the business.