WordPress.com sent an email alert out to WordPress.com users today stating that there was a technical issue with sites set to be hidden from search engines. Unfortunately, they’ve assumed that this is not what someone would want and they’ve turned on the site visibility to ensure search engines will find the site.
We recently discovered that an error in our system caused your site, [site url], to be hidden from search engines by default.
We’ve updated your site for you so that search engines can now find it and include it in search results. But if you prefer to stay hidden from search engines, you can update your site’s visibility in your Settings.
My students and clients create sites we call sandbox or experimental sites on WordPress.com to learn how it works and experiment with content and design. It is essential that these test sites remain hidden from search engines as their job is to be broken and horrible looking and be filled with crap content for testing purposes. This is the process of learning.
Therefore, I feel it is a wrong decision by WordPress.com to assume that these sites wish to be indexed by search engines. It would have been better to inform them of the issue and request the user check their site visibility settings rather than make the sites public.
If you get such an email, log into your site directly on WordPress.com:
- Go to Settings > Reading > Site Visibility
- Check the settings. If you wish the site to remain hidden from search engines, set it accordingly.
If your site’s visibility to search engines was turned on, don’t stress. It is likely that the site wasn’t indexed well enough or soon enough to encourage visitors, if you acted immediately. If you find this months later, don’t worry. Simply change the site’s visibility status and continue using the site for experimentation, if you desire. There is much more that goes into the process of exposing a site and its content to the world than being indexed by search engines. Just relax.
As for WordPress.com and Automattic, I recommend that you always err on the side of conservatism and don’t assume for your users. I understand that such assumptions are part of the responsibility of site maintenance and management, but trust them to be able to flip a switch as they wish and to protect their privacy before their publicity.