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Your Site Now Visible to Search Engines

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.

Hi there,

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:

  1. Go to Settings > Reading > Site Visibility
  2. 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.

7 Comments

  1. Jo
    Posted February 18, 2016 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Why is this different from all the other cookies and privacy issues?

    • Posted February 19, 2016 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      This has nothing to do with cookies and other privacy issues.

      When a WordPress site’s visibility is set to hide from search engines, hopefully search engines respect this and will not index the site and add the information to its database so it will turn up in search results. Such users don’t want their site to be “found,” but they want it open to the general public for viewing.

      For example, all my students sites have this feature turned off so search engines will not index their test sites. This allows me to view their site because I have a link to it so I may grade their work, but the general public won’t stop by and start commenting or telling them that the site is broken and such because no one should be able to find it without a direct link.

      The site is still open, which means it is not private, and anything someone publishes is open for public viewing, but search engines aren’t indexing the site.

      Does that help, Jo? Thanks.

  2. Posted February 19, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Good Day to You Lorelle,

    I know of an instance when someone started creating a post in their WordPress Dashboard, saved the draft before it was finished (intending to finish it later), and getting a warning from Automatic, because the post was published and didn’t follow their Terms.

    Ever since learning of this, I always change my “public” setting to “private”, while creating the post, then change the setting back to “public” when the post is ready to publish.

    This probably won’t help your students, because you and your class most likely, need to view and share the content of those test sites.

    Perhaps my tip will be of some value as well?

    I have shared this and followed you on Twitter.

    Thank you for sharing this!

    My Best to You
    Arth

    • Posted February 20, 2016 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Changing site settings from public to private while writing a post is a big waste of time, don’t you think? Just ensure you save the post as a draft each time. The buttons are in different places. Or are you talking about setting the post visibility to private? Still, what a tough thing to fuss with every time. I’d hate to try to add that to all I have to remember to do every time I publish, LOL!

      It worries me that something you published didn’t follow their terms of service. It has my curiosity.

      I’m sure you have plenty of tips and techniques to share of value with me and others. Keep blogging and pushing the limits.😀

  3. Posted February 20, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    How old were these sites that got the email? I believe I understand the issue, because in retrospect it is kind of obvious, but realistically, if it is what I think it is, then making them public by default was the correct call.

    • Posted February 25, 2016 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      Hey, Otto. The sites were the age they were at the time this post was published. It was a WordPress.com glitch. I still believe that they should have left the sites not visible to search engines and tell them how to make them so if they desired instead of the reverse. There are many reasons to hide a site from search engines beyond what I’ve described, while not making the site private, so let it stay that way. If people wish to be found, they’d jump on it. Instead, many jumped on it because they didn’t wish to be found, and for them, their site was visible for enough time to be probably indexed, which puts them in the eyes of the public they may not wish for.

      As you know, I was on the road full-time for a very long time, and when we got our first landline in our non-moving home, the first thing I told the phone company was to NOT NOT NOT share or sell my phone number, and paid for the “privilege” of keeping it from spammers and ad calls. My first four phone calls were spammers, with my name. I called the phone company and day two to tell them that I had ordered the extra privilege to NOT have my phone number sold, and was informed that this was not done, and the sale was immediate to the spammers, and “now” they would not sell my number. Today, years later, my answering machine fills up in one to two days with spam calls. The phone is useless to us and we’ve ignored it except for emergency calls, all because supposedly by phone number was available to spammers for 48 hours, or the phone company has been lying for all these years I’ve been paying for that privilege.

      From where I and my students and clients stand, that is what the risk of turning on the search engine visibility did for those who didn’t want it on in the first place.

      Thanks!

  4. Posted February 22, 2016 at 12:19 am | Permalink

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