How to Delete Something from the Internet

A lawyer might tell you to get a court order or use other legal methods to delete information online, but that's expensive and usually unnecessary. This guide will outline how to remove online content without needing an attorney. 

The problem

It's unfortunate that a journalist, blogger, or random person can seemingly toss off an article that devastates your life, then grab a latte and simply move on with their life. After all, you're the one who has to bear the brunt of their actions. But there are steps you can take to get something removed from the internet that is damaging you.

7 ways to remove something from Google

How do you get something removed from a Google search? There are seven ways to remove content from Google searches without going to an attorney. 

Quick stats on damaging content

If your brand (business or personal) is having problems with negative search results, you aren't going to like this statistic: 65% of people trust search engines for research. When something negative appears in search results like those of Google, most people and businesses want to know how to remove it.

Here are a few more interesting statistics on search results and reviews:

  • Only 5% of people look past the first page of Google.
  • 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
  • 60% of consumers say that negative reviews made them not want to use a business.
  • 49% of consumers need at least a four-star rating before they choose to use a business.

What people see online about a brand, whether personal brand, company or products, and services, is important. Whether search results are true or not is less important - people tend to believe search results either way.

One bad search result can sour a brand and drive it out of favor in a blink. Studies show that most people will not do business with a company once they read a single negative review. Ouch.

Can Google remove information from a website?

Google cannot delete information from a website. Still, once it's been removed, Google will remove the listing from its search results within a few days (usually).

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Steps to delete online content

1. Ask the author to delete their own content

First, the bad news. In our 15+ years of experience, we've found that a Webmaster will most often not remove online content because - after all - they put it there in the first place. Perhaps it's just human pride. But sometimes, they will remove it. Either way, it's worth a shot to ask.

It often comes down to finding what they want. What motivates them?

Incentives used to remove content

We've made some pretty interesting offers on behalf of our clients to get them to remove online content. Here are some examples:

  • We've given to charities in their name (or their kid's little league team)
  • We've provided direct payment to the author
  • We've paid the owner of the site to take something down
  • We've shown them the error of their ways. For example, someone accused but found not guilty can sometimes how proof of innocence, and good publishers may take it down (most publishers are "bad," by the way)

People are motivated by many things. You might be surprised by what works.

Think about your approach

Every author who may have published something negative online is different. A little research can go a long way in finding out what motivates someone and what is most likely to convince them to consider your request.

Note: It's also usually easier to work with people rather than corporations - companies have lawyers, and lawyers often get paid to be combative.

Many times, you may not want to contact the author because they may use your appeal as a reason to create more contact about your brand - making things worse. So think before asking someone to remove content. You don't want to make things worse.

Now that you've thought about it - if you feel contacting the author to get online content deleted is the right approach, here are a few ways to get people to take down a blog post, article, video, or other online content.

Motivating someone to act

  • Appeal to their altruistic side: "You had every right to post that review. I hope I've made it right. At this point, the post is really damaging my business - would you mind removing or updating it?"
  • Try the charity angle: "I see you support the local little league. I know removing the post you wrote might take some of your valuable time. I'd be happy to donate to the _____________ little league in your name or anonymously as a thank you for taking it down."
  • Take the capitalist route: "I'd like to sponsor the page you wrote about our business. We'll request a few modifications, and you'll be well compensated for your time." Note: Modifications may mean removing the business' name, adding a special meta tag to make Google ignore the page (noindex), or removing the page altogether.

Asking someone to remove content can have downsides

This has been mentioned above, but it's worth mentioning again. Reputation X works with attorneys who have made the sometimes huge error of sending a legal demand letter to a webmaster only to have the information added to the original page. Then, people comment on the newly refreshed content. Google often responds by making the negative content rise in search results.

Email is convenient, but voices communicate better

A phone call is usually a better method of communicating with someone for the following reasons:

  1. It's better the request comes from a human, not an email. The human voice can communicate emotion far better than written methods. If you have a true story of how the post is affecting you, a phone call is the way to go - if you can.
  2. Here's another reason to use a phone call if you can: A voice conversation can't be copied and pasted onto the internet directly. If a person wants to do you harm, the last thing you want to do is give them an easy way to copy and paste your plea onto the internet.

Why do search results rise in search results when refreshed? 

Search engines like fresh content because it is seen as more relevant and timely. This is true for all online content, but the impact of freshness depends on the type of content it is. The news content must be very fresh - it's news, after all - and by its nature, has a limited shelf life. Blog content is less so, but it's still important. If you want to learn more about the algorithm, check out this post

Email script to as someone to remove web content

Here's a simple email script that you can use. Customize it for a person or company as you see fit:

“Hey [author name], 

I hope you’re doing well. 

I’m [your name], [your designation] at [you company name]. 

One of your recent posts mentioned [state the inaccuracies in the post]. Not only is this incorrect, but it also gives our company a bad name. 

[Article URL here] 

I am kindly requesting you to edit your article and remove the inaccurate information that I’ve just highlighted. Alternatively, you can remove the article completely or even add a special tag to it that will cause Google to skip the article, but your readers can still read it. The tag is called a NoIndex tag, and your webmaster will know about it and can add it in less than a minute. 

I’d be happy to discuss this in more detail if you have any questions. 

I’d appreciate it if you can make this change ASAP; it's really hurting us.

Thanks,

[Your name]

[Company Name] "

 

Don't get angry

You might be angry that someone is (apparently) trying to destroy your life, or your lifes work, but don’t be aggressive. See how the author responds. You can, of course, change this email script according to your requirements. If you don't receive a response, or you receive a "no" answer, continue reading. 

 

2. Have content removed at the publisher level

If the author won't remove the content, or you think it is a bad idea to even ask, consider asking the webmaster or publisher of the site upon which the information lives to remove the page completely.

This doesn't often work on personal blogs because the webmaster, publisher, editor, and author are often all the same person. But it may work on medium-sized sites like local or small-town news sites. 

In this case, the person to ask might not be the same person that wrote it. It might be their Editor. 

How to find who owns a website to ask for a removal

To find the owner of a site, use a Whois tool like Whois.net or DomainTools. A little research can point you to someone in charge. But sometimes, that information is protected by domain privacyIf a website does not have domain privacy enabled, the name, address, and phone number of the owner of a website will often be visible. A whois record might look like this:

whois information for new york times

You can also check the Contact Us page of the website, or look up employees of the company that owns the site using LinkedIn.com 

When you find the right person, try modified versions of the steps outlined in the tactics to get online content removed section above.

Notice that no lawyers have been called yet. :-) 

3. If authors won't remove content, they may change it

Perhaps the powers that be refuse to remove the content from their websites. In this case, ask the webmaster of the site containing the information to remove the search phrases from the page.

Remove the search phrase from the page

For example, if your company name is mentioned on the page and/or description of the page (in the HTML), and/or Title of the page (also HTML), the webmaster can change the words, so your company name no longer exists on the page.

Here is an example of the "change keywords" tactic:

Let's say you own a company called "Enron." And a local publisher wrote a story with the headline "Enron CEO Caught Juggling Kittens." You'd ask the publisher to change the headline to something like "Local CEO Caught Juggling Kittens."

The author of the article would edit it to remove all mentions of the company, but the article would still remain. Google would almost certainly drop the page visibility in search results. Why? Because the search phrase mentioning your brand is now gone.

Dropping in search, but not disappearing

The web page may not completely disappear because links from other pages may still mention the search phrase when they link to your site, but the page would no longer be as relevant to search engines and would lose visibility. That means a drop in search results and reduced visibility when someone searches for your brand online. 

This can work if the article has been up for quite some time and is no longer generating traffic and income for the publisher. Small publishers will sometimes make this sort of change in return for compensation or out of the goodness of their hearts.

Spoiler alert: In our experience, editors rarely act from the goodness of their hearts. 

4. How to make a page invisible to Google

A web page doesn't need to be deleted to disappear from Google. Ask the publisher to add a NOINDEX tag to the header of the HTML on the page. They'll usually need to have their webmaster do it.

It can take a webmaster as little as one minute to add a NoIndex tag to a web page. The time isn't the problem; it's motivating the people in power to make the call that is the issue.

The good news for the publisher, the article remains. But Google ignores the article and will drop it from search results. So will other search engines like Bing. Your company name still exists on the page, but the NOINDEX tag tells search engines not to crawl the page anymore. Within a few weeks, the page is normally removed automatically from search results.

This is what a NOINDEX tag looks like:

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

Where do you put the NOINDEX tag?

You put the NOINDEX tag inside the HEAD code in your HTML. The HEAD code is located at the top of your code. In the example below, we placed the NOINDEX (and NOFOLLOW) code just above the closing statement of the HEAD. It looks like </HEAD>.

where-noindex

5. The Google removal request

There are some cases where a search engine will remove information. Here are some examples:

Identify theft or financial harm as grounds for removal

Reputation X has gotten many pages removed due to terms of service violations. This month alone we've gotten more than a dozen pages removed for this reason. We refer to the complete removal of search results from Google as a “googlectomy." Google describes the information they will remove as things like bank account and credit card numbers and signature images or other information that could cause financial fraud or identify theft.

Google may remove something if the site charges for the removal (exploitive)

If a website has posted something negative about you, and they require a fee to remove the content, Google may remove it from their search engine for you.

This does not apply to business review sites. This method does not remove the post. It only removes the post from search results. Here is the form for you to use. When you use it, make sure you select "exploitive removal practices". This is what the form should look like when it is almost completely filled out:

remove google results for exploitive practices form

Sexually explicit information can often be removed from search results

Sexually explicit information posted without consent will be removed from Google’s index. To qualify, it has to meet these criteria:

  • You're nude or shown in a sexual act without consent
  • You're underage
  • You intended the content to be private, and the imagery was made publicly available without your consent (e.g. "revenge porn")
  • You didn't consent to the act, and the imagery was made publicly available without your consent

Legal reasons search engines may remove content

Google and Bing will also remove copyrighted information. This falls under the “legal removals” area. It's considered a "DMCA" removal. Google will ask which service you’d like information removed from, for example, Google web search, Blogger, YouTube, etc.

Types of content that may be removed include:

Europeans get Right to Be Forgotten; others don't 

Personal information will be removed from Google if a web page is in breach of European privacy laws, sometimes known as “Right to be Forgotten” laws; if your government ID number or bank account exists on the page; or if there’s a hand-written image of your signature.

For copyright infringement, use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The DMCA protects copyright owners. Google often respects this, and they have a removal process for doing so. But we’ve found that using legal means works far more often than a simple DMCA take-down request on their site.

So, yes, lawyers do have a reason to exist (in fact, they’re some of our best clients)!

The Downside of the DMCA: Chilling Effects / Lumen

Google may send a copy of each legal notice they receive to Lumen (formerly Chilling Effects) for publication and annotation.

This means that even though you have something removed from Google’s search results, there will still be a notice at the bottom of the search results page saying something has been removed.

When a searcher clicks on the notice, they may see a notice that shows the name of the person or entity that requested to have the information taken down.

6. Push bad content down and good content up. Suppression.

If none of the above methods will work, there are still some options to clean up your search results. If you've tried it all and were unsuccessful at removing the content, you can still take a proactive approach to push harmful content down in search results by creating your own positive content to rise to the top. 

If this didn't work...

  • Asking the author to take down the content
  • Asking the publisher to remove the content
  • Having the author or publisher change the content
  • Getting a special Google invisibility tag added
  • Asking Google to remove the content

Try this...

  • Suppressing/pushing down the content so it's far less visible is the way to go

How does suppression of online content work?

Secret: Suppression isn't so much suppression as it is promotion.

The best reputation management companies make the web better. Here is the logic behind suppression of negative search results:

  • Bing and Google rely on users to find their search engines valuable.
  • To do this, they return the best possible search results.
  • The best search results are those that most appropriately fit the searchers' intent - this is called “relevance."
  • By developing much better content and promoting it properly, search engines treat the new content better than the old negative content. 

Suppression, or pushing down negative search results, is the act of creating better content and promoting it to drive negatives down. Suppression is a viable alternative if information cannot be removed at the source or at the search engine level. 

How to suppress negative search results?

In short, give Google what it wants. At Reputation X, we measure the strength of a given page based on an authority score - a number on a scale of one to one hundred. If the page to be buried has a high score, content must be created and promoted that is of a higher score. The higher the authority score, the more resources are needed to affect change. We select and create the right online content, then link it together using SEO best practices meant to stand the test of time.

That’s why our results tend to stick when the efforts of other reputation companies fail.

Click here to read about suppression services

7. Special case: Removing negative reviews

Want to know how to remove a Google review? Google does remove them at times. To check if a review violates Google's guidelines, check this page.

Reviews can be removed if they violate the terms of service for the review sites. Yelp will remove these types of comments, thus saving your star rating. Check Yelp’s content guidelines to see if the review violates any of them and flag it.

Sometimes it takes months to get reviews removed, sometimes it's quicker. We think it has to do with manpower as review removal isn't yet algorithmic. 

Some of the most common review content that warrants removal includes:

  • Threats
  • Harassment
  • Inappropriate content
  • Spam or fake content
  • Off-topic content
  • Illegal content
  • Sexually explicit content
  • Conflicts of interest

Yelp report review

We hope this guide to deleting things from the internet has been helpful, and we wish you the very best in attaining your goals. 

:-)

The Reputation X team. 


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