We posed an intriguing question to ourselves: How many people have their staging servers indexed, and how many of those are also hosted on WPEngine?
During the course of our SEO work, we’ve frequently run into clients who have their staging servers indexed. This happened often enough that we began to wonder if there are any specific hosting servers to blame for this phenomenon.
In the end, we think that it’s a matter of who the webmaster is and whether or not they’re savvy enough to know that they should not be indexing the staging site.
But even though it’s the webmaster rather than the hosting provider who’s responsible for managing important indexing details, less experienced site administrators can encounter duplicate content issues stemming from indexed staging servers.
Why Should Staging Servers Be Noindexed?
The reason behind this optimization point is that the staging site can be a 1:1 duplication of the client’s main site. This is what we find to be true in the majority of cases, and it’s a significant cause of client site performance issues on Google.
It is well-known that Google does not like duplicate content, and neither do websites themselves.
However, many webmasters do not look to see if their staging site is indexed, including its IP address. Both can be damaging to the site’s overall ranking and traffic performance.
Our Findings Regarding WPEngine
At the time of writing, we’ve discovered that approximately 2,050,000 WPEngine sites have this basic issue that isn’t resolved.
Here is how we arrived at this conclusion.
Using the site: operator, we performed research into Google based on the domain name with a wildcard.
In other words, site:*.wpengine.com
Using this Google operator, it’s possible to see how many sites with staging addresses on wpengine.com are indexed.
While this won’t reveal sites that have their own staging.domainname.com on WPEngine, it does give a rough approximation.
This means that sites which are not addressing this issue properly could be missing SEO opportunities and failing to overtake their competition.
As such, resolving this issue may make SEO much easier for these sites.
What Is the Best Way to Resolve This Issue?
Do a quick check and see if your site is actually being indexed through the staging subdomain or its IP address.
You can do so by using the site: search operator for your full staging address and entering it on Google search. Your query should look like the following:
This will provide you with data directly from Google that shows, in detail, the staging subdomain(s), IPs and other elements that are currently indexed.
All you have to do is make sure the offending URLs are removed from Google via the robots.txt file, noindex directive, or Google’s URL Removals tool.
We recommend exercising extreme caution when you are using Google’s URL Removals tool, however, because if used improperly it can cause irreparable damage.
Fixing This Issue Will Improve Your SEO
You would be surprised how many times we run across this issue in an SEO audit, and it’s not limited to WPEngine sites. It happens so often, in fact, that we have made it a checklist item in our official audit process.
This is why it’s so important to not leave any stone unturned during the audit process: You may find something that is causing such an issue (like duplicate content) that would make it almost impossible for you to compete at all.
Why not make it easier on yourself at the outset and achieve higher rankings in the process?