Why is unwanted content showing up in Google search results for my website?
A valued customer emailed us recently expressing frustration over content that was unexpectedly showing up in Google search results for his company’s website. It included snippets of pages and posts that he had never seen before. “Why is this happening and how can I get it to stop?” he asked.
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’s common for people to have content on their WordPress websites that they aren’t aware of and don’t intend to share publicly. Because our customer, and 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 discovered 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.
The decision whether to load sample theme content can be challenging. Some people feel that it clutters up their site too much and causes confusion, while some folks swear by it, saying it helps them learn how themes work and gives them a starting point for their new website.
Theme authors face a dilemma when it comes to sample content. Some give all sample content “Draft” status so that it won’t accidentally 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. Recently, some theme authors have started providing a way for you to delete sample content once you are through using it.
Actually, sample content isn’t that big of a deal. The key to dealing with it is knowing that it may exist and making sure that you delete any sample content you don’t want and set the publication status for the remaining sample content to “Draft.”