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If Regulators Squawk: Pharmaceutical Product Website Kill Switch

Wednesday, March 07, 2012
Biotech & PharmaContent Management SystemsWeb Design

In the normal course of business events, it may happen that some government bureaucracy or other could decide that the content in your pharmaceutical product website does not meet their tight and often confusing standards. Unfortunately, while you’re editing the content and going through the approval process, you might need to make the offending content inaccessible to the public – in other words, you have to kill the website.

The only good news is that it isn’t that hard to make your site disappear. The key is to take a few steps to be prepared. Also, you won’t actually need to delete the website – you’ll simply hide it from public view.

Here’s how to build your own “kill switch:”

1. Prepare for the worst

1.1. Create an emergency landing page. This should contain whatever critical information your team thinks is necessary for visitors to see if they come to the site’s URL, like contact information or a contact form. For some pharma product sites, you will also need to have a link to your prescribing information and safety information and any running promotions or discounts (often in PDF format). This emergency landing page should be named index.html.* Also, you might want to include any analytics codes in the page so you continue to track stats while the main site is down.

Keep this page accessible in case of emergency.

1.2. Register with Google Webmaster Tools. Be sure you are registered with Google’s Webmaster Tools to manage your company’s website.  You will need this authority to remove all pages from Google’s index so people won’t accidentally find old page content or URLs cached by Google.

Google will walk you through a process to confirm you are the actual site manager.

1.3. Register with Bing Webmaster. Similar to Google, Bing has a webmaster feature and can remove your site from its index so people won’t accidentally find old content or URLs. You should be sure you register your site here, too.

1.4. Create a 301 redirect script. This script redirects from all existing URLs to your new emergency landing page.

Here’s the text:

redirect 301 /

When you add this to your .htaccess file, anyone who goes to a URL from the “dead” site will instead be immediately redirected to the emergency homepage. Keep this code accessible in case of emergency.

1.5 Create a robots.txt file. This file will prevent most search engine robots from indexing the site pages, and removes old pages from the Internet Archive’s popular “Wayback Machine.”

The file should contain this text:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /

Hopefully, you will never have to actually use your “kill switch;” however, if you do, here’s the process:

2. How to kill a website: the process

2.1. Upload emergency index.html. If your site currently defaults to index.html, either rename or move this file and put the emergency landing page index.html file in its place.

2.2. Edit your .htaccess file. Add the 301 redirect text to your .htaccess file. Your webmaster or IT team may have to do this for you.

2.3. Upload the robots.txt file to your website’s root directory. Your webmaster or IT team will know what to do.

2.4. Remove all pages from Google’s index. Login to Google Webmaster Tools, and follow these instructions:

2.5. Remove all pages from Bing’s index. Bing shows how to do this here:

2.6 Move the old website. Copy the entire old website to a password-protected directory so your team can access it.

Again, I hope your company never has to take down a website, but a little bit of preparation can help if you do find yourself in a situation that requires you use a “kill switch.”

Also see our previous post: Pharmaceutical Product Website Management: Helping IT and Compliance Do Their Jobs

Have any questions, comments or other ideas? Please let me know. – Eric Weidner

* You can name the emergency page anything you like (like whatever.html) since you’re doing a 301 redirect to a specific URL, but we think it is simpler to name it index.html.