Yesterday evening Chris Klosowski, Sandhills Development Partner and Director of Technology, tweeted out a problem with the way WordPress.org’s Download page was appearing in Google’s Search results snippets when searching for “WordPress.” Underneath the link, the preview text referenced WordPress.com’s hosting:
WordPress.com is the easiest way to create a free website or blog. It’s a powerful hosting platform that grows with you. We offer expert support for your WordPress site.
Others reported seeing the intended description when Googling, which is designated in the Schema.org tag in the head tag but not printed on the page:
“Download WordPress today, and get started on creating your website with one of the most powerful, popular, and customizable platforms in the world.”
The reference to WordPress.com came from the hosting providers listed at the top of the page, where it randomly displays two upon each page refresh. The Download button used to be at the top of the Download page but ever since mid-January 2021, it has been pushed further down below recommended hosts. This is presumably to help people who want to set up a self-hosted site but don’t know where to get started.
“Google was skipping our defined page descriptions in favor of some in-page content,” WordPress lead developer Dion Hulse said, regarding the issue with the search results snippet.
The WordPress Meta team was alerted to the problem and quickly put a solution in place to encourage Google to look somewhere else on the page for the main content.
“The Download page has info about the mobile apps and hosting for WordPress,” core contributor Corey McKrill wrote in the commit message. “These are in section container elements, which might be the reason that Google is using the content of the hosting container for its search result snippet, instead of the meta description tag. By changing these containers to aside elements, hopefully Google will get the message that they don’t contain the most pertinent information for that page.”
The meta team also marked the hosting recommendations on the download page as exempt from being included in the Google search result snippet, so that it doesn’t pull text from these aside elements.
Here is what the updated search result snippet looks like after the changes were put in place:
Klosowski’s tweet highlighted the perennial tension that arises from the confusion between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. The recommended hosting page has always been a contentious bit of real estate on WordPress.org but especially now that hosting companies are also prominently promoted on the Download page.
In this situation, Josepha Haden Chomphosy, WordPress’ Executive Director, quickly acknowledged that the search snippet promoting WordPress.com was in fact a problem, heading off those who might promote the notion that it was intentional. The Meta team acted swiftly to resolve the issue and return the snippet to its former meta description. It is not known how long Google has been pulling from the text in the recommended hosts sections to populate the snippet, but the code is now more explicit about the fact that those companies are not the most important content on the Download page.