Sometimes negative search results take the form of images. Often these negative images are very difficult to remove from the internet. When they can be removed, it is usually from a blog post, mugshot site, or article where they were initially posted, and the site publisher must take them down. You can also turn to Google, which will remove some images from search results under certain circumstances, but it is rare. So how do you have an image removed from Google? We'll explain.
Steps to fix online image problems
Try to remove it at the source
Approach the source where the image was initially posted and ask for it to be removed. If it is a blog post or someone who understands the image is not representing the facts or that it was privately owned or illegally uploaded, they may be willing to remove it.
If the information is not accurate
If the site is a news or business site that relies on representing itself with factual information and you can prove to them the image is indeed not accurate, you may have success with a simple pulldown.
Obtain a license to the image, then ask for it to be removed
This may involve payment or even the purchase of the license for the image from the owner. Interestingly, even if you hire a photographer to take your picture, you may not own the image. That's because the photographer is a contractor. It must usually be explicitly agreed in writing that you own the image the photographer is taking. More on this here.
Be nice, sue last
Your best approach is to be professional, polite, and transparent with your request. You can threaten legal action, but this should be a last resort.
So what do you do if a website publisher refuses to remove your image?
How can you get Google to remove the image?
If attempts to remove the image at the source have been unsuccessful, you can turn to Google. When an image violates a trademark or goes against other community standards, Google may remove it.
This usually applies to images that are copyright violations, considered "revenge porn" or contain certain personal information such as credit card numbers, medical information, or government identification.
In order to find out if an image qualifies for removal from Google search results, visit their page on the subject. If you believe the image is in violation, Google has taken several steps to streamline the application process to have it taken down.
What if Google will not remove the image?
Suppose you have been unsuccessful with the initial website that posted the image and Google. In that case, you can reduce the visibility of the image, effectively removing it from Google search results using these steps:
- Create more compelling images
- Name the new images correctly
- Embed the new images in the content of many sites
- Use text to surround the image and make it all about the subject
- Embed those images on 3rd party sites
- Extra tip: Make them shocking or unforgettable
To remove images from where most people see them, they should be replaced by something else - something better - that people searching want to see. Just uploading a bunch of images up on various websites isn't going to work.
Search engines want relevant images to return in search results. When an embarrassing or distasteful image appears in results, the search engine thinks it's the best image to show. The trick with reputation management for images is to get Google to understand that negative content isn't as relevant (as "good") as positive content. When this happens, search results change, and the harmful content will be pushed down. Its visibility will then be greatly reduced, sometimes even disappearing.
How to make negative images drop in search
A relevant search result is essentially the one people want to see. If someone performs a Google search for 'Lindsay Lohan pictures,' the search engine will return a series of images of the actress/pop star.
People's behavior affects search results
Over time, various people click on a subset of these images of Lindsay more often than others. Whenever someone clicks on an image, the search engine says, "Ah-ha! I did well - this is an image the user wants to see for that search phrase!." The search engine remembers it and is more likely to return that image the next time someone searches using that key phrase.
But let's say the image returned by Google or another search engine is not often or maybe never clicked on. Or, let's say it is clicked on, but the visitor immediately clicks back (called a 'bounce').
When a bounce happens, the search engine notices and records it. You might say the search engine exclaims, "I put this image up, but people don't like it - so it must not be that good." If this happens often enough, the search engine will push the image down in the results because it believes the image is less relevant than others might be.
How a good image becomes more relevant
To reduce the visibility of negative images on Google, better and more flattering images must be introduced into the search ecosystem and made more relevant to people performing a search. This starts the cycle of driving the new images to the forefront of searches. But how does someone make an image (or many) relevant for online reputation management purposes?
Step One: Create better images
First, think about what might drive people to click on an image representing the search phrase but is more positive than the current problem images. Remember, search engines provide the images, but people judge them through clicks. Images that are better lit, better formatted, or even shocking can make enough of a difference that people will click on them instead of a negative one.
When Reputation X works with executives, we often commission a dozen or more images of the person shot in various lighting conditions with different clothes. Google's image recognition AI (artificial intelligence) understands the content of images better all the time, so it will recognize the new images and test them with searchers.
Step Two: Name the image correctly
Google's image recognition software is good, but you can help the search engine understand things better by naming the image in a way that Google AI will accurately process. It's a common problem that people don't consider and can not only help in image reputation but basic SEO in general.
In the example below, the image is named "lindsay-lohan-mug-shot.jpg." Notice it has the key phrase we want search engines to find it for in the name. It's not named something generic like 'image-123.jpg'. Providing a descriptive name helps search engines learn what the picture is about. Do this with all of your images, but make sure the names are somewhat different each time.
Step Three: Embed the image online in the right places
Embed each image on several different types of web pages. This can be your own websites, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, press releases, third-party articles, and more.
There is some extra work you can do if you control a website. You can't do this for Facebook, but you can do it for a site you own and operate. You can use ALT code that looks like this to help search engines out even more:
alt="Lindsay Lohan image"
You'll see in the above example how we added an ALT tag to the image. So now search engines know beyond a doubt that the image is about Lindsay.
For example, here is a picture of Lindsay Lohan. It is a link from IB Times that has been embedded in this web page (for editorial purposes only).
Note that below the image we added a caption as well: "A picture of Lindsay Lohan." That code looks like this: <p class="wp-caption-text">A picture of Lindsay Lohan</p>
The entire code done in WordPress looks like this:
<img class=" " alt="Lindsay Lohan" src="http://s1.ibtimes.com/sites/www.ibtimes.com/files/styles/picture_this/public/2011/10/20/176677-lindsay-lohan-mug-shot.jpg" width="500" height="626" /><p class="wp-caption-text">A picture of Lindsay Lohan</p>
Of course, if you are using WordPress or many other content management systems (CMS) you probably won't have to do HTML. Instead, just fill in the areas where it says ALT text and Caption with the key phrase - but remember to name the image.
Step Four: Well-written keyphrase embedded text
The text around an image helps as well. On each website (or other web properties), surround the image with relevant, well-written text that includes the key phrase.
Search engines take their cues for image relevance by examining not only the image and its HTML tags but the surrounding text and general theme of the page (and website if possible). So make sure the text around the image clarifies what it is for.
Step Five: Embed the images into third-party websites
Everything you've read above is about "on-page" optimization - things you can do to improve the search engine ranking of an image on a site you own or, to some extent, control. But when you get other sites to embed the images into their own articles, the strategy begins to blossom. This is because search engines look for the best and most relevant images to display and pay close attention to how popular an image is on other sites. They watch how often an image is clicked on and how often it is used across the internet.
Using Wikipedia to change images that Google shows
If you work to reduce the visibility of an unflattering image and the subject has a Wikipedia page, you're in luck. Wikipedia images are subject to Creative Commons licensing. When a flattering image is released publicly using the Creative Commons mechanism, it can often be added to Wikipedia. Google tends to show images that are on Wikipedia in search results. This can get the new image added to the image strip shown in Google. Do this a few times, and the negative image in search results can be "pushed off."
Reputation X uses this method to improve the online image of celebrities and others with Wikipedia pages.
The secret ingredient to image reputation management
Though not frequently used, one surefire way to do this is to create a shocking or highly sharable image. Why is it infrequently used? Because most executives don't want to upload anything controversial - but when they do, it can work incredibly well. Here's an example:
A picture of an elephant is one thing, but a picture of an elephant standing on a cloud wearing a top hat is unique... and gets noticed. The more an image is noticed, embedded, and shared, the more search relevance it will receive. The more relevant it is, the higher it will rank in search results - far above the negative content in many cases.
If you spend some time following these steps, you will see your negative images fade away. However, if you need more assistance, contact Reputation X to see how we can help you with all your online reputation management needs.
Image Removal FAQs
How do I remove images?
Contact the initial publisher to remove the image. Be professional and polite. If the publisher does not remove the image, contact Google. If the image violates Google's terms of service, you can submit to have it removed. If Google does not remove the image, you can utilize content suppression techniques to make negative images drop in search results.
How can I reduce the visibility of negative images on Google?
Introduce better, more flattering images to rise in search results above the negative images. The images must be better than the current problem images. Make sure to name them correctly and accurately so they will be noticed by Google AI.
How do you optimize images for search?
Include your key phrase in the image text and its HTML tags. Make sure your phrases are relevant and clear. Also include the phrases in the surrounding text and the general theme of the page on which the image is hosted. Embed them on as many relevant sites as possible.