How to Get Online Content Removed

By Kent Campbell on 8/7/17 1:02 PM

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Search engines, bloggers and video sites remove thousands of posts every day. Why? Knowing what can be removed, and why, can help clean up and improve how a brand is seen very quickly.

For some reason people trust strangers

Because 64% of people trust search engines for research, what people see online about a brand is important. Reviews can be removed if they violate the terms of service for the review sites, but what about non-review content? 

The fastest way to change search results is to remove it completely from the website upon which it exists. If that doesn’t seem feasible, or doesn’t work, the second choice may be to ask Google and Bing to remove something from their indexes. But that doesn’t remove the content from the site itself, it just makes it far more difficult to find.

Will site owners remove web content?

In our experience a webmaster will often not remove online content because, after all, they put it there in the first place. They usually put it there for a reason. But sometimes they will remove it. It often comes down to finding what they want more. We've offered people some pretty interesting things on behalf of our clients. You might be surprised what works.

But asking someone to remove online content can have its down sides as well. 

For example, Reputation X works with attorneys who have made the mistake of sending a legal demand letter to a webmaster only to have the information added to the original page and then have many people comment on the content - making it longer. This refreshes the content of the page and can make it rise in search results instead of go away.

Why does content rise in search results when it's refreshed? 

Search engines like fresh content more or less depending on the kind of content it is. News content must be very fresh. Blog content less so, but its still important. More on how fresh content affects search results and rankings in this post

So consider carefully before you ask the webmaster to remove a page. If you think it will come back to bite you later, use another method.

Action to take to have content removed at the source

If you believe it prudent, ask the webmaster of the site upon which the information lies remove the page completely. You can often find the owner of a web page using a Whois tool like Whois.net or DomainTools. If a website does not have domain privacy enabled the name, address and phone number of the owner of a website will often be visible. You can also try the Contact Us area of the website (in fact, you may try that first). If the page is utterly removed it will normally disappear from Google and Bing’s indexes automatically within a few weeks.

If they won't remove content, maybe they'll change it

Ask the webmaster of the site containing the information to remove the search phrases 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. The next time a search engine crawls the page it will not find the search phrase and should, in time, demote and then remove the search result.

Maybe the webmaster will make the article invisible

Ask the webmaster to add a NOINDEX tag to the header of the HTML on the page. Your company name still exists on the page, but the NOINDEX tag tells search engines not to crawl the page any longer. Within a few weeks, the page is normally removed automatically from search results.

How to remove search results from Google

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

Identify theft or financial harm is grounds for removal

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.

Sexually explicit information can be removed

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

  • You're nude or shown in a sexual act
  • You intended the content the content to be private and the imagery was made publicly available without your consent (e.g. "revenge porn"), or ...
  • 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. 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 sites with malware or phishing software, trademark violations, personal information.

Europeans can use Right to Be Forgotten, but Americans cannot (sigh)

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.

Often used: The DMCA (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 we 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 made the request to have the information taken down.

If the webmaster cannot be contacted, or shouldn’t be, the next step is often to remove search results from Bing or Google directly. This is called “de-indexing”. There are limited cases where de-indexing is possible. 

Pushing bad results down, and good ones up

Suppressing search results is far more difficult than simply removing it. But it’s most often the only option.

How does suppression of online content work?

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

The best reputation management techniques make the web better. Bing and Google rely on users finding 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”.

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

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 other reputation companies efforts fail.

Topics: Articles

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