There are several ways to remove negative content about you or your company from search results. Sometimes it's as simple as asking to have it taken down from the original publisher's site. However, there are occasions when it can't (or won't) be removed. But even then, content can still be purged from search results under certain circumstances.
This article discusses the differences between three methods of online reputation improvement:
- Removal of content from search results
- De-indexing a page from search engine results
- Suppressing (pushing down) search results
Removal of a web page
The most effective approach is to have the original article or page itself taken down at the source by the webmaster. It will then disappear from search results because search engines such as Google discover the page is gone and automatically delete the result.
This can often be accomplished with a simple email request to the webmaster with an explanation of why the information should be removed and why it would be in their best interests to do so. Many sites not only pride themselves in featuring factual information but count on the trust their visitors and customers have in the validity of their content, so they will be happy to remove it to avoid damage to their own reputation.
In other more extreme cases, it may be more difficult and might even require legal assistance in the form of a cease and desist letter, but this serious approach should be taken with a great deal of thought and possibly legal consultation.
However, the information may have been republished on other sites across the internet. So while the original content may have been removed, these other versions are still active. In these cases, further steps may need to be taken.
Remove search phrases from the content
If a webmaster isn't willing to remove the content, they might be open to removing key search phrases. Doing this may help the page become "less relevant" and disappear from search results completely or at least cause it to fall down in the rankings to where it is seldom, if ever, seen.
However, Google's artificial intelligence system RankBrain may still find a page relevant even if it doesn't have the exact search terms on the page. RankBrain will still give values to words, even if they aren't common or high-value search phrases, and it will rank the content accordingly in search results.
Leave the page- but add a NoIndex tag
NoIndexing is a way to remove search results from Google and still leave the content on the original web page. Without removing the content, a webmaster will add a tag that will inform search engines to ignore the page and not report it in their search results. While it doesn't show up in searches, the page is still visible to visitors who are paging through the site.
This small but powerful tag makes a search engine pass over a web page and ignore it. The tag goes in the HEAD area of the HTML code and looks like this:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex">
If you're going to use a NoIndex tag to make a page disappear from search results it must be used on the page and not in your robots.txt file. Google has done away with the use of the tag in that location. Here is Google's official page about how to use NoIndex.
A NoIndex tag can also be useful on duplicate pages on your site to keep search results from being cluttered. This is especially helpful for pages such as printer-friendly and internal use pages. This helps ensure that search engines pick up the most relevant and presentable versions of your content.
De-indexing content from search results
De-indexing is different than simply adding NoIndex tags to a page to get Google or Bing to stop listing them. With de-indexing, the site is removed from the search engine index but not from the source web page.
De-indexing happens at the search engine level, while no-index happens at the web page level
Both NoIndexing and DeIndexing have the same effect and remove search results from Google or Bing (or Yahoo). It's the internet equivalent of removing your house from all maps.
Whereas NoIndex is done by the publisher on their site, de-indexing is the removal of the site from Google or Bing search results and is done directly with the search engine. The publisher is not directly contacted.
De-indexing, or removal from the search index, can only be accomplished when the content in question is in violation of a given search engine's terms of service. This can be hate or violent speech or Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Google has made it easier to report violations of its terms of service in an effort to prevent "doxing" or the malicious posting of PII.
In addition to De-Indexing with Google, if a website is posting information that is in violation of the terms of service of the actual hosting provider, you can file a removal request directly with the hosting service. This would include violent or hate speech as well as certain instances of PIL, such as banking info or personal information, and would result in the webpage or content being taken down.
Search result suppression
Suppression pushes search results down, "replacing" them with better and more relevant ones. This is an effective way to suppress everything from negative business reviews to old articles and content that has been redistributed across the internet.
When someone performs an online search for your brand name or your own name, the negative search result is buried so deep it is seldom, if ever, seen. The goal is to have the positive and newest information appear on page one of search results, which naturally pushes negative results to later pages.
How search engine suppression is accomplished
During a suppression campaign, online reputation companies manage the development of very specific web properties common to similar entities (people, brands, etc.).
For example, doctors and dentists tend to return search results very differently from attorneys. The approach is to create results that will be seen first when people search for your specific sector or correlating search terms.
Reputation firms analyze individual situations and design web development and content plans to fill specific gaps in searches. Every situation is different and should be approached as such. The firms then apply advanced and proven search marketing techniques to promote the right search results and drive those negative results down.
Content removal FAQs
What is content removal?
Content removal involves removing negative content at the source. This includes deleting the page completely, adding a NOINDEX tag to hide the page from Google search results, and removing search phrases to make the article less relevant.
What is De-Indexing?
De-indexing removes the site from the search engine index but not from the source web page. This means that the content still exists, but it will be difficult for someone to find the page in search results. This is primarily a result of violations of Google (or other engines') terms of service and has to be within very specific parameters of hate or violent speech or Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
What is content suppression?
Content suppression is the act of pushing search results down in rank by replacing them with more relevant, positive content. Content suppression can be very effective at improving your search results if you have negative content on Google's first page.
About the author
Kent Campbell is the chief strategist for Reputation X, an award-winning online reputation management agency. He has over 15 years of experience with SEO, Wikipedia editing, review management, and online reputation strategy. Kent has helped celebrities, leaders, executives, and marketing professionals improve the way they are seen online. Kent writes about reputation, SEO, Wikipedia, and PR-related topics, and is an expert witness for reputation-related legal matters.