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sopa protestYou may have noticed on January 18th that plenty of big websites participated in an Internet blackout as a protest Sites Go Down To Protest SOPA/PIPA, You Can Join The Protest [News] Sites Go Down To Protest SOPA/PIPA, You Can Join The Protest [News] If you visit any tech news sites, you might have heard about a pair of bills proposed in the United States called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). These... Read More of the US government’s proposed SOPA legislation. Despite the SOPA plans being dropped for now SOPA And PIPA Abandoned After Day Of Internet Activism [News] SOPA And PIPA Abandoned After Day Of Internet Activism [News] As the day of online activism opposing SOPA and PIPA continued, supporters quickly began to have second thoughts. Now, the final blows have been struck. Senator Harry Reid has decided to put the Protect IP... Read More , there are still numerous similar acts of legislation being proposed across the world.

If you’re planning on supporting future protests, or just generally curious, you might like to know what Google recommends you do in order to ensure your search rankings aren’t affected in any way while you are protesting. We’ll also let you know the quickest and easiest ways to black out your site.

Use A 503 HTTP Status Code

Google representative Pierre Far suggests that an HTTP status code of 503 is important in order to tell Google that this isn’t your normal page content. Generally this is used when the site is offline for server updates, but it works equally well for protesting.

sopa protest

The reasoning behind this can be seen easily if you consider that Google originally saw that you had a page full of, say, cat pictures and great content about cats. If they then crawl the site and the page says “We’re currently participating in an internet blackout as a protest” it looks to Google as if your page is a pretty awful resource when it comes to cats. Your site would drop in the pagerank system for cat information, which is probably not an ideal situation for your site.

Also, if all of your pages say the same thing, Google is going to think your content is duplicated all over your site and that you’re some sort of spam site. You really don’t want this!

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Basically, the 503 HTML status says to the crawler “Hold on, this page is not what it normally is, so come back later”.

What Not To Do

To return the 503 error, it’s not advised to edit your robots.txt file as a robots.txt file change will ensure your site will not be indexed for a few days afterwards. Changing your DNS settings is also not advised. Basically, don’t do anything that takes a long time to change, to take effect or to revert.

Creating A 503 HTML Status Code For Your Site Using PHP

As long as you have access to your root directory for your website, this is a really easy process. Open up your favourite text editor and write this:




503 Service Temporarily Unavailable

Service Temporarily Unavailable

We're currently participating in an internet blackout as a protest. Please try again later.

Then save your file as 503.php and drop it into your site’s root directory.

Obviously, you can change the human-read text to whatever your message is, including images and regular HTML elements.

A Quick WordPress Plugin To Black Out Your Site

For the SOPA blackout there was a handy WordPress plugin to black out your site. However it used a 302 redirect status code rather than the recommended 503 status code. If you want to know more about the SEO effect of using a 302 rather than a 503, read this article by Matt Cutts.

Despite this, if you’re not bothered by a bit of SEO damage, a plugin like this could allow you to quickly blackout your site without access to your root directory or without the need to learn too much technical detail.

This particular plugin was set to blackout just for the day of January 18th, but for future protests there will no doubt be more plugins available. Just search for one which uses a 503 status and you should be fine.

Let us know what other methods protestors could use on their sites if another Internet blackout is planned.

Image Credit: ShutterStock

  1. Luis Galarza
    February 1, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    We need a strong movement like the one against SOPA and PIPA, but this time against something worst, ACTA!...

    • Angela Alcorn
      February 6, 2012 at 4:13 pm

      Now you know how to participate!

  2. James Bruce
    February 1, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Actually, creating a file called 503.php will do nothing, except if people request 503.php, which they won't. You would need to overwrite your index.php for that to work, or htaccess to redirect all traffic to the 503 page: 

    Options +FollowSymLinks 
    RewriteEngine On  
    RewriteBase /  
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !^/503.php [NC]  
    RewriteRule .* /503.php [L] 

    • Angela Alcorn
      February 7, 2012 at 3:15 pm

      Thanks for filling in the gaps! I'm sure this will help someone. :)

  3. Scutterman
    January 31, 2012 at 11:40 pm

     There's always the option that Wikipedia used - put up a fullscreen splash in front of your regular content. Of course, anyone can inspect element and delete the splash. In wikipedia's case the splash loaded last, so you see that the regular content is still there before it gets covered up, which is how I knew they used a splash in the first case.

    • Angela Alcorn
      February 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm

      It's true, you can do this but that's a lot more work for most people and easy to evade by blocking Javascript.

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