A valued customer emailed us last week expressing frustration over what was showing up in the results for his company’s website in a Google search. It included snippets of pages and posts that he had never seen before. “Why is this happening?” he wondered.
Published vs Draft
In WordPress, pages, posts and custom post types (as defined by the theme), have a “publication status.” When the status is “Published,” the content is visible to the world (and bots like Google). “Draft” status means the content is hidden from the public but visible on the “back end” of WordPress to anyone logged in. There are other statuses, too, but for the purposes of this discussion, we will leave it at “Published” and “Draft.”
It is very common that people have accessible content on their WordPress websites that they aren’t aware of and don’t intend to share publicly. Because our customer and other visitors to his website could not directly navigate to the content in question using the site’s menu or links, he had never come across it. Leave it to Google to find and index it though!
After doing some checking, we discovered that our customer had quite a bit of content published on his website that he wasn’t aware of. We suspected that much of it was “sample” content that he elected to download with his WordPress theme.
We told him to delete anything that he didn’t want and to change the status to “Draft” for anything he wanted to keep for possible future use but didn’t want in the public domain.
You can verify that content has a draft status by checking for the word “Draft” next to each title in the list of pages/posts on the WordPress dashboard.
Submit a Sitemap
Although the extraneous content will eventually disappear from your search results, you can help it disappear much quicker if you have a Google Search Console account and can submit a new sitemap. Submitting a sitemap will alert Google that changes in content have been made and it will re-index your site sooner than it might otherwise.
We generally don’t load sample content with themes because we feel that it clutters up sites too much, but some folks swear by it, saying it helps them learn how themes work.
Theme authors face a dilemma when it comes to sample content. Some give all sample content “Draft” status so that it won’t accidently get indexed as happened to our customer. Other authors publish their sample content by default to make it easier for novice WordPress users to work with. There is no standard on this in WordPress. This lack of standardization is part and parcel of a large, open-source project, like WordPress, with a huge number of contributors.
Actually, sample content isn’t that big of a deal. The key to dealing with it is knowing that it may exist and checking to make sure that you intend for all “Published” content to be published.