A guide to removing content from Google

When legendary US showman PT Barnum said: "there's no such thing as bad publicity" he didn't bank on the Internet. Or Google search results.

A guide to removing content from Google

When legendary US showman PT Barnum said: “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” he didn’t bank on the Internet. Or Google search results.

In a world where most customers habitually use Google search or alternative search engines to check out a business before parting with their cash, there absolutely can be such a thing as bad publicity.

Before we look at how a request for online content to be removed could be made, let’s identify the reasons why businesses and individuals want to have more control over Google search results.

Why Google search results can do more harm than good

Whether concerning a business or an individual, much of our reputation in the 2020s is built online. And that means it can also be lost online.

Google search results provide the bread and butter of communication with customers for most – if not all – businesses. That’s why so much effort is put into all the different channels of communication available online – from the website itself to endless social media accounts, blogs and other online content.

However, when it comes to certain forms of online content, such as customer reviews or media coverage of personal information, inaccurate information on an external blog post or a negative tweet that goes viral, control is lost.

Given that all of the above will form the basis of online search results, it’s easy to see why a business or involved individual might want to remove content from Google.

Negative content ranks higher in Google search results and other search engines

Any business that’s building a reputation can be held back by outdated content or any given page that appears in Google search results that includes negativity about them.

Search engine results inform everything about a business, from media coverage to web page content. So if these results show high up on the first page of the search engine results, the customer is more likely to form a negative opinion.

The longer any outdated content on a news site or negative search results show up, and the more of it there is, the more chance that the brand reputation will be negatively impacted. It also makes it more difficult for customers to access relevant information.

How relevant is negative content or details showing on Google search?

Right now, a third of business owners say that negative content showing up on high-ranking sites is impacting search engine results. And this is having a negative impact on their reputation and the bottom line.

There’s also the emotional toll negative or outdated content can take on the business owner or individual concerned. Therefore, attempts are made to remove personal information or other details that could negatively sway customers, clients, or the general public.

Now we’ve established why the first page of a Google search is so important for the brand or brand concerned, let’s go through some ways that businesses can request removal from a website owner or from Google.

What’s Google’s stance on a request for removal?

While it may feel like Google can’t be challenged due to its size and reach, it does consider a removal request by considering:

  1. Does the request for the removal process comply with the law?
  2. Is the request removal for the protection of Google users?

Google’s legal obligations to remove links from search results

The legalities involved in this kind of request means that Google must remove content if it breaches its obligations.

Google’s legal obligations do vary between countries, and the company is vocal about its commitment to removing any content that is considered to breaching the law.

However, sophisticated as Google is, it doesn’t have the kind of power to identify legal breaches without reliance on authorities and individual reports.

When they receive such reports, the company analyses the request and may remove pages or remove URLs, temporarily hide content or follow some other process.

The stats that show the importance of search engine results

Let’s go back to the start and assume that your business is having issues with less than stellar search results. While you may be tempted to dismiss Google search results as not that important, statistics show otherwise.

For example, more than two thirds (65%) of people do trust search engines when it come to researching a brand. So, if that negative link shows up easily, you’re going to want to know how to get rid of it.

Before we go any further, here are some more stats that should convince you that customers viewing content from Google search can be influenced by negative results.

  • Just 5% of people will even bother to look beyond the front page of a Google search. In other words, it doesn’t matter if the first few links of negative content aren’t justified or fair – if that’s what’s there, people will assume it’s the truth,
  • Around 85% of consumers say that they trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation from a friend or family member. That’s even though manipulation of online reviews is possible.
  • Almost two-thirds of people (60%) are clear that a negative review about a brand will make them turn away and find somewhere else to spend their money.
  • Just under 50% of people will only use a business if it has at least a four-star review rating.

The truth of the online content about a brand is less important than its visibility in many cases. People just veer towards trusting Google search results and search engines.

And therefore, a single bad review or link to a negative article on news pages can adversely impact the brand.

5 ways to remove content from Google’s search results

Here are some ways to influence what shows up around your brand or organisation via search engines.

1. Contact the owner of the content to take it down

This is an unofficial process, and n our experience rarely works. However, in theory it’s possible to ask the webmaster to simple remove the article or link from their sites.

Whether they will choose to remove a URL simply because they’re asked depends on the owner themselves. It’s unlikely that they will remove information about your brand, simply because they uploaded the article or more content about it in the first place.

However unlikely it is that the owner will remove the URL from their website, it’s always worth finding their contact details and asking. It’s likely to boil down to their motivation in uploading the URL in the first place.

It’s worth offering incentives in exchange for the information removed from their website, but again this will depend on their own reasons for wanting the URL live. In some circumstances, a website owner will happily remove content or personal details that can be proven to be untrue. But this is not something you can rely on.

What’s the best way to ask for removal of content directly?

Obviously, the motivation behind every piece of negative content or personal information that’s thrown up by Google’s search results is different.

Taking the time to find out why the piece was written in the first place could help you find out how best to approach the content owner to get it taken down.

It’s always best to work with professionals if you are asking to remove URLs, and to deal with people individually rather than an organisation or web site. Any request could be taken badly by the web site owner and make the situation worse, so always tread carefully when making this kind of request.

For example, if you appeal to the wrong person in the wrong way, they could then use this as even more negative content on their web page or site and make it even more problematic.

Possible approaches to the content owner

However, having done the research you may still feel that the best way to approach this is to contact the owner directly.

Let’s assume you have decided to submit a request and contact the URL owner or website manager. Here are some approaches you could take.

You could frame the removal request in the simplest terms. Just inform the owner that while you absolutely acknowledge their right to have posted the review, you’ve now dealt with it and rectified the issues specified and the URL is now damaging your brand.

It’s feasible this simple appeal to their better nature may be enough to remove links or pages that are damaging to your brand.

Alternatively, you could offer to donate to a charity they support in return for the owner removing the URL from their website. Or you could offer to sponsor the content yourself with a few modifications. These include things like adding a meta tag that will ensure that the URL doesn’t show up in Google’s search results or simply removing the page totally.

Risks of asking the owner to take content down from their website

There are risks to this approach and there is no single process that can be relied on to work.

For example, if you ask the owner to remove the URL, it’s entirely possible that will take this request and use it to create more content that damages you. If they update the old version, it will invite more comments from people, and this only goes to refresh the content.

Refreshed pages are even more likely to be picked up by search engines and show up t the top of any search results. This would be entirely self-defeating for your purposes and would make the web page or pages in question even easier to find.

Any content that is added to the old version with new personal information about your brand on the back of your removal request is considered by Google to be highly relevant.

In other words, search engines love fresh content. News will be picked up more than a blog, but the latter is also important. Google’s algorithm wants new content on whatever website or page and will always promote it higher.

2. Go the publisher to make the removal request

Here we’re assuming that the person who created the content has refused to take it down from the web site in question. Or you might, having done your research, decide it will be more effective to go to the publisher level with your request to remove content or delete a URL from a website.

Obviously, if it’s on a personal blog this isn’t applicable as the content creator is likely to be the same person as the publisher or webmaster. But if we are looking at a local news website, for example, or medium sized sites that publish opinions and news, it can work.

First, find out who the site owner is. Access to this information can be found using a tool such as DomainTools, or you can usually just find it by reviewing the site itself.

The Contact Us page is a good start, or if you have no access to the information you need through that route, you could try other sites like Crunchbase.

When you have the details, follow the steps above and ask the owner or publisher whether they will remove the link or pages in question.

3. Ask the website or content owner to alter the content

If the process of removal is unlikely to go ahead, it is a good plan to ask the webmaster or site owner to amend or change the content so that it’s no longer damaging.

This could mean requesting that the key search phrases that are picked up by search engines are removed. The rest of the content can just stay up on the website, as it won’t be picked up by Google’s index.

For example, if the company name is found in the HTML description of the page that’s concerning you, the webmaster could alter the words. This would mean your company no longer shows up in the page description.

Or you could ask the webmaster to strip out all mentions of the company itself, without taking down to the whole piece. If they agree to do this, the page visibility would be side-lined by Google search results and would drop down the rankings.

This is a good option if the page or site has had the article up for a long time. If it’s not generating any traffic for the publisher or website itself, then they’re less likely to outright refuse.

Again, some form of compensation could be used at this point. There is a few ways to phrase this, kind of request.

4. Ask the webmaster or publisher to use a NOINDEX tag

A NOINDEX tag can be added to the HTML page header. If the webmaster agrees to do so, then the name of your brand will still be on the page but search engines will stop crawling for it.

A few weeks later, it’s likely that the page will automatically be removed from search results.

5. Ask Google to remove information

Otherwise known as a Google removal request, we touched on this strategy above. It involves the total removal of search results from Google due to violations of the terms of service.

Google lays out the kinds of things it will consider removing. These include a page that contains personal information such as credit card details, bank account information or anything else that could feasibly lead to identity theft or financial fraud.

Google’s removal process for exploitative practices

If you’ve searched for your brand name and found negative content on a website, then you can ask for it to be removed. If the website charges to remove said content or link, then Google might remove it from their search engine on the basis that this is exploitative.

This means that the post or link itself isn’t taken down, but it no longer appears in search results. To request this kind of removal, it’s necessary to fill out a form and select ‘exploitative removal practices’.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to a review of your brand on any website.

Google itself says that its: “… mission to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful means that Google very rarely removes links from search results. However, under some circumstances, we may agree to the removal of links to pages that have content about you and are hosted on sites with exploitative removal practices.”

What about revenge porn or sexually explicit information?

This is one of the most distressing reasons that someone may want to remove content from web pages. Google has a clear stance on this kind of removal. The search engine says that this kind of content posted without consent of the person that it is linked to will be removed from the Google index provided certain criteria are fulfilled.

These criteria are:

  • The subject is shown in a sexual act without consent.
  • The subject is underage.
  • The subject intended the content to only be viewed privately and the images were never intended to be publicly available (ie. revenge porn’.
  • The subject failed to give consent to the act and the images were made available without consent.

Copyright ownership and other legal removals

There are some other legal reasons that search engines will take information down. For example, if the content is deemed a copyright infringement. This comes under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and concerns the following types of content:

  • Specific forms of personal information, such as National Insurance numbers.
  • Violations of trademarks.
  • Sites that host phishing software or other forms of malware.

When these are deemed a copyright infringement legally, then Google and other search engines such as Bing, will remove them from the site in question.

The DMCA protects users from copyright infringement and Google tends to respect it. Indeed, they have a formal removal process in order to process this kind of request for removal.

The Right to be Forgotten – but only in the EU

The Right to be Forgotten is part of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Since 2013, the EU Court of Justice has considered the right to be forgotten a fundamental human right.

However, it only applies in some cases even under the data protection regulation . It was introduced for users to exercise their right to remove any private or personal information from Internet search results and, in certain circumstances, other pages and directories.

The Court says that for information to be included in the Right to be Forgotten it must be inadequate, irrelevant, and inaccurate. The information would be something along the lines of a government id number, bank account info or personally identifiable information.

While these criteria are vague, this is likely to be purposeful. The Court of Justice states that every single case should be looked at individually. It’s a balancing act and in other parts of the world, simply doesn’t exist.

For example, in the US there is no law to protect individual users in this way. The Right to be Forgotten means that Google has to comply with the removal of the specific data under specific circumstances from Google’s index.

What if none of the above methods work?

If you have tried asking the author and publisher to remove the content, change the content, have asked for an invisibility meta tag and have asked Google to take down the content and none of it has worked, then there are other tactics.

Having tried it all with no success of removing that damaging content from the Google index, you could try suppressing the content.

This just means taking control of your own content to manage your online reputation. A proactive approach, it may include launching a new website and populating it with your own content, for example.

It’s not really about supressing or pushing content down the Google rankings, as much as it is an extension of a marketing and PR campaign. Think of it as promoting good content.

How does reputation management work?

Using content to build and manage an online reputation absolutely improves the web for everyone – if it’s done well. Google and other search engines want reliably good content in order to increase the value of their service.

And the best search results are those that are relevant. By creating superior content and promoting it effectively, negative search results drop down the page. So, if it’s not possible to remove the negative or damaging content from the source (ie, by asking the webmaster or content author as outlined above), then this is a good option.

By creating strong pages of relevant content and ensuring a high authority score on those pages, the positive content will show up on the search results.

Can you remove a page due to negative reviews?

The simple answer is ‘maybe’ and ‘sometimes’ depending on the host. Google can and does sometimes remove reviews if they are considered to violate their terms of service.

The kinds of reviews that may be removed include content that is considering threatening or harassment, if it’s inappropriate, if it’s fake, if it’s not on topic, if its illegal, if it’s explicit or if it is a conflict of interest.

Why use a professional reputation management firm?

As you can see, removing content that you don’t want the world to see is not straight forward.

There are legalities to consider, and various approaches to take. We’d always advise working with a reputation management professional firm to ensure that every step is taken without any detrimental repercussions to your brand.

Whether you need professional reputation management depends on the scale of the issue. There are steps you can take yourself, particularly with regards to data protection and copyright infringement. However, if you find that certain historic content is impacting your brand negatively, devising a reputation management strategy along with a company like Igniyte is your best bet.

They have all of the necessary technical know-how to come up with a plan that works for the specific needs of your brand.

The important thing is that there are steps you can take to either remove or supress content that is negatively impacting you and your brand. It’s just about finding the right approach.