Hiding from Google

We had an unusual call from a client yesterday. They wanted to post something at their website and make it hard to find.

This is not such an unusual goal when you have a white paper or ebook you want to swap for a visitor’s contact information. In such cases, your goal is to increase your mailing list, not to get the content out to as many people as you can. That content should be gated.

There are also plenty of cases in which a page or section of a website is intended for logged-in clients, team members, paid-up site members, or is for some other reason password protected. In these cases, it’s like having a public website and a private one.

And we had a client last week who wanted to focus on a particular set of products, and to make other products less prominent on the website in order to maintain a certain image for the company. That makes sense, too. Naturally, they want all their products to come up well in search for people who are looking for that particular product, but you don’t need everything to show up on your home page.

But yesterday’s caller just wanted a page to be hard to find. They wanted it stored publicly on the website, so they could share the link with others, but they didn’t want it to show up when people came to the website, nor in search.

Here’s how you can accomplish this:

  • You can place a “no index” meta tag in the header of your page. The meta tag should look just like the line below, and must be placed in the head section. You can also use a robots.txt file, but don’t try to combine the two. The robots.txt file will prevent search engine spiders from reading the meta tag.

<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”>

  • Now, if you have a WordPress site (and this will be true for some other content management systems and even traditional websites, in some cases), your pages will all share a head section. Telling search engines not to index your whole website will have some very negative SEO results, as you can imagine. There are WordPress plugins that will help you hide a specific post or page from search engines.

But you can also do this organically. For the client in question, we just went ahead and made it unlikely that anyone would find the post. That’s a more cost-effective option, and since their goal was just to make it less likely that anyone would find the post, this method will work just as well for them.

  • Have as little content as possible. In the example, we posted the information as an image, not as text, and didn’t use any alt text. A jpg file of a document says nothing to search engines. We also didn’t include any additional words in the post — just the picture of the document.
  • Don’t connect the post with the site navigation. Since we didn’t have any links from other pages on the website to the hidden post, there are no links for the search engine spiders to crawl, and no easy way for a human being to find the post, either.
  • Keep the post out of your RSS feed. The site we were working with has only certain categories of posts in its news feed. By manipulating the category, we made sure the post wouldn’t be found accidentally by subscribers.
  • Backdate the post. Make sure that your post isn’t pulled onto the homepage by your blog feed by giving it an earlier date.
  • Disconnect any automatic social media posting. Obviously, if you don’t want someone to read a page, you should not post it on Facebook or LinkedIn. However, if your website is set up to share posts automatically, you might not think about that fact when you post. Be sure to disconnect automatic posting before you publish, and remove all social share buttons, too.

If you do all these things, you can feel fairly confident that search engines will not index your page. If it’s not indexed, you can feel very confident that it won’t show up in search.

By the way, we have seen many of these things being done unintentionally by people who would like to have their posts and pages found in search. If you post that flyer for your gala as an image and keep it out of your navigation, you shouldn’t be surprised if no one shows up.






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