What is a ‘dark site’ and why would you need one?

I am responding to a brief this afternoon, where the client – a major energy company – asks for the provision of a ‘dark site’ as part of their solution.

I have only built one or two dark websites in my time and they were quite a few years back; which made me think to write a blog: what is a ‘dark site’ and why would you need one?


The answer is that you probably don’t

A dark website is a purpose and pre-built built website designed for times of crisis management; an explosion, a plane crash, a bomb, a disease outbreak or whatever it might be. A major product recall, a hamburger chain poisoning its customers, glass in toothpaste. The aweful list goes on.

The dark website is planned and developed prior to the crisis, allowing the business, government department or whoever, to rapidly launch the dark website immediately after the crisis occurs; otherwise, the website is ‘dark’, in that it is hiding in the dark where is cannot be seen or accessed by the public.

The reason I have titled this section ‘the answer is that you probably don’t’ is because only a sliver of all the businesses and organisations out there require a dark website; businesses and organisations that have the scope and scale to have crisis’s large or extreme enough to warrant a dark website.

Your average chicken shop website probably doesn’t need a dark website, would be my advice.


Why not just use the corporate website?

For a few reasons.

The first is response time. Businesses and organisations need to respond immediately after a crisis in order that they can control the crisis and be seen as a reliable voice to the public and media. Websites ordinarily take days, weeks and months to build – and in a crisis, you have minutes.

The second reason  is that the corporate website is unsuitable. Not only is there the issue of timeliness (see above), though corporate websites are designed for different purposes than dark websites. They are designed to promote the business and impress customers and investors.

That is not the message the panicked public wants or needs.

A dark website says we are serious, a message that is read into by media and the public. A dark website shows that dealing with the crisis is of paramount importance and that says a lot about the business or organisation behind the dark website.

It speaks volumes.

The dark website does not need to replace the corporate website, though if it does (and I know how much of a monster I will come across as saying this), please don’t open a new crisis with Google: plan your potentially rapid transition and don’t simply turn off your main website.

Easier, display a major link on your homepage and across all pages of the website, in social and the like, linking to your dark website.

Potentially, register the dark website at its own URL so that traffic can be diverted directly to it.

Whatever solution works for you:

Gulf of Mexico dark website

Malaysian Airlines Dark website


What are the essential ingredients?

Easy: the nature of the website and its content.

  1. Consistent, factual and timely content.
  2. Clear links to the authors/spokespeople of the content and message.
  3. Feeds from social or to social.
  4. The ability to register for updates (email, SMS).


In a time of crisis, the last thing a business or organisation needs is an inability to own the message; similarly, the business or organisation needs to demonstrate its commitment to the issue, especially to media.

Everyone is online. Half the world visited the Malaysian Airlines website after MH70 disappeared.

A dark site is the best way to introduce yourself to your new and startled users; at this point, they don’t care about your latest profit announcements and it is certainly the last thing you want to be promoting.