Here are some options to remove negative content from Google search results:
Review Google's Terms of Service (TOS): Google may remove content under some circumstances, such as explicit or non-consensual sexual content, fake pornography (deep fakes), content that is exploitive, personal identification information, doxing content, or DMCA copyright violations. If your situation falls within these criteria, you might be able to request removal.
Removal at the source: The most effective approach is to remove the negative content from the website itself. This will remove it from the source and from Google.
a. Request the website owner to remove the page entirely.
b. Ask the website owner to add a NOINDEX tag to the HTML of the page, which tells search engines to ignore the page.
c. Request the webmaster change the content on the page, making it irrelevant for the target search query.
Suppressing content in search results: By pushing content down in search results, you reduce its visibility, making it effectively invisible to most people searching.
Using an attorney: Most content can be removed or suppressed without an attorney; involving a defamation lawyer can be a pricy option when other methods have been exhausted.
- Overview of content removal
- Remove results directly from Google
- Remove from the source website
- Suppress / push down negative content
Overview of content removal
Negative content can damage a company or person worse than the author often realizes. Journalists unwittingly (or wittingly) destroy people and brands every day with negative content. Years after an article, blog post, or video is published, it can have extremely destructive effects. So how does one remove negative content from Google search, Yelp, YouTube, or other places?
Sometimes damaging online content can be taken down, blocked by special code, or banned - but most times it must be pushed down or suppressed.
After a Google search for your brand or name, you might throw up your hands and want to know how to remove yourself from Google searches altogether, but that is rarely possible because most information is from public sources and it's very hard to get people (and governments) to cease posting anything about you again.
We have created a list of proven techniques to help keep your negative content where it belongs: several pages deep in Google search results.
Deciding on the right online reputation management strategy (ORM) can be a challenge. All too often, reputation work is placed on the back burner until you're already in the midst of a scandal. At that point, it's too late to take proactive measures to protect reputation because you're in the midst of an emergency. But it's important to remain calm as you pinpoint the cause of the problem and develop (and follow!) an action plan to help lessen the impact.
The first step is to identify and then solve the problem that caused the negative feedback in the first place. This is important. Take some time to really analyze what happened, and determine how you can make changes to avoid that situation happening again. Address that immediately to avoid further complications down the road. Once that's been done, there is more work to do.
Options to remove negative content from Google
Removing search results from Google
If you'd like to know how to remove negative content from Google search results, take a look at their Terms of Service (TOS). Google will remove content from their search results under certain circumstances.
You're nude or shown in a sexual act
If you intended the negative content to be private, but it was made available to the public without your consent (for example, "revenge porn"), or if you didn't consent to the act and the imagery was made public without your approval. Keep in mind that you're going to need to prove this.
Google may remove fake pornography (deep fakes)
A deep fake is media where a person in an already existing video or image is replaced with someone else. For example, if Barack Obama's face is pasted onto someone else's to make it appear he gave a speech that he didn't actually make. If the content is fake, depicts you nude or in some other sexually explicit portrayal, and the imagery was distributed without your consent, you may be able to get it removed from Google search results.
Exploitive content removal policies
Some sites charge for the removal of exploitive content. Google may remove these from search results if you ask them.
In order to use this method:
- You must be the subject of the content
- The website cannot be a business review site
- The website must have removal practices that require you to pay to have the content removed
Google may remove certain medical, financial, or national identification information
- National identification numbers like U.S. Social Security Number, Single Tax Identification Number, Resident Registration Number, or a China Resident Identity Card
- Bank account number
- Credit card number
- Images of signatures
- Personal medical records
Removal of “doxing” contentDoxing is hacking, gathering, and publishing information about someone that was previously private and sometimes hard to obtain. If you've been doxed, Google may be able to help you out. Here are the criteria:
- The dox-related content exposes contact information with an intent to do harm
- Contact information must be present as well as,
- Threats (even implied),
Removal of DMCA (intellectual property) copyright violation
Google will remove content from their search results if you can prove a copyright violation (DMCA removal). The downside of this is that Google often places another message at the bottom of the search result page telling the world they did it.
Want to know where to go if you think Google might remove something according to the above criteria? Click here.
Removal at the source is best
Google only removes things (sometimes) from their search results - not from the website. The best possible outcome when dealing with negative search results is to remove the content at the source. It can also be the most difficult tactic to achieve. There are effectively three ways to completely remove a negative search result at the source.
To completely remove a negative search result at the source, you can:
- Remove the content from the website
- Make it so that when someone searches for the content on your site, they can't find it
- Change the information so that your site shows up as a link to something more appealing to search engine users
1. Have the website owner remove the page entirely
Although it may seem like a shot in the dark (spoiler alert: it almost always is), it's still worth a shot to ask the owner of the page to remove it. It's low risk and high reward. If the owner will remove it, then you can stop reading this article. If they won't, continue reading for other tactics to remove or suppress negative search results.
2. Have the website owner add a NOINDEX tag to the HTML of the web page you want Google to ignore
A NOINDEX tag looks like this:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex">
It tells a search engine to ignore the page. This effectively removes the page because it removes it from search engines without actually taking the page away. The page is normally removed automatically from search results within a few weeks.
3. Change the content on the page so it is no longer relevant for the target search query
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 to something vaguer, like "a local manufacturer" so your company name no longer exists on the page.
All of these methods rely on the website owner to do the work. Therefore, the only way to remove negative search results at the source is to convince the owner of the page to remove it.
4. Can I get a hacker to remove negative content?
There is a fourth option, but it's not recommended. Hire a hacker to hack the site to remove negative content (sorry, Reputation X doesn't hack, so please don't ask). Be warned - almost all dark web services that promise to hack an account to remove the content are fake. If you do this, it could be construed as breaking and entering, but the odds of it working are slim at best. In most cases, you'll just lose your money. In some cases, you'll be caught, and bad things will happen to you.
A cautionary tale about hacking to remove online content
Once upon a time, a brand hired a hacker to remove unflattering content from someone else's site. The hacker failed as usual, but the website owners could see what page was being targeted by a hack. What did the publisher do? They wrote another, longer story about the brand that was even worse.
Use an attorney to remove online content
Most content can be removed or suppressed without the use of an attorney. The best use of a defamation lawyer is when other options have been exhausted. Lawyers are not only expensive, but attorneys cease and desist letters are sometimes posted online, which often make things worse.
Can search results be suppressed/pushed down?
Yes. In most cases, no funny business is necessary to change search results. It's just a lot of work.
How content suppression works
As complete removal is comparatively rare, it's necessary to understand how negative online content can be suppressed (buried, pushed down). Although the word 'suppression' may be an inaccurate term because, for the most part, promotion is really happening.
Example of a suppression program
Let us say that a negative search result is identified and it cannot be removed from the source or from the search engine (Google, Bing, Facebook, etc.). The next step is identifying positive search results below the negative.
We call these PUNs or 'Positives Under Negatives.' These are search results that search engines think are relevant and therefore deserving of spots high up on search results. But they tend to show up just below the negative.
We assume the search engine thinks the content is good but not quite good enough. So we help search engines understand that the PBN is more relevant than the negative, thereby causing the positives to rise. With enough effort channeled into improving PBN rankings, you can effectively "bury" negative reviews in search results.
How to bury negative search results
Clicking the heels of your red shoes together is a good start, but it'll take a bit more effort (sorry).
Instead of relying on wishes and luck, take a more systematic approach to suppress negative content. Reputation X identifies, analyzes, and promotes the right content that will effectively suppress existing negative content.
Identify existing content: This means we look at your social media presence, articles, blogs, and Wikipedia pages. Technical aspects of each part of existing content are examined, as are the types of content and search engine optimization factors. We're really trying to understand "user intent" so we can solve your problem more effectively by understanding what people are actually looking for. This helps us understand why people and engines think certain content is deserving of high marks.
Create high-quality content: We work to make the experience better for the user. In doing so, we help our clients and make the web better for everyone. We find gaps in content by looking at the online profiles of competitors and similar entities. For example, unreported charity work may be leveraged, and images, news articles, press releases, websites, and so on, may be designed, developed, and populated. This gives search engines more to consider when deciding which results will be sufficiently honored to be placed on the first page of search results.
Can you create a lot of content to change search results?
Nope - not anymore. In the past, a large part of web reputation management strategy was the creation of obscene amounts of online content. Then, well...prayer.
This used to work; however, times have changed. This was the "build it, and they will come" mentality. While the majority of reputation management companies still use this method, it will generate far less success than previously. Nowadays, it's important to promote existing and new web properties so that search engines consider them to be good enough to rise above the negative search results. It takes both content and promotion.
Web reputation promotion is expensive because it involves research, outreach to publishers, content creation, negotiation, administrative costs, and much more. There are a lot of people involved because the majority of the effort cannot be automated. Inferior online reputation agencies don't execute real search engine marketing, but since it's essentially invisible to the client, no one's the wiser. Reputation X uses search engine promotion for all suppression projects.
Why content spam tactics don't work
Google used to respond to high-volume spam tactics, but it's gotten smarter.
In order to effectively suppress negative search results, it is essential to build relevant web properties, populate them with first-class content, and employ search engine optimization.
It's also important to refresh the content. Keeping your content fresh and up-to-date is a big indicator of the quality of a web page; as are social indicators such as Facebook likes, tweets, and so on. Therefore, the execution of a good online reputation strategy must incorporate all these points.
What if bad content is really strong?
That's a problem, but not insurmountable.
For instance, a company like The New York Times has an outsized voice online. If they write something unflattering about a brand, it could crush the company or individual, causing millions in damages, lost college funds, and a host of other apocalyptic personal scenarios.
A company like the New York Times has massive authority to search engines - some would say far too much. What highly authoritative (strong) sites say is essential "more important" than what the average blogger says by default.
Since large publishers tend not to remove content, the only path to saving the brand is through a combination of online reputation strategies designed to beat them. That means better content, better promotion, and higher authority. It's tough to do, but quite possible.
It's possible because after a period of time, the publisher is usually no longer promoting the content. It will eventually begin to flatline. New content and inbound links will no longer be added at the original pace. This provides an opportunity to create something more relevant. Granted, it's a lot of work, but we do it every day at Reputation X.
Nobody wants to see negative posts about their company or themselves, especially not on the first page of search engine results. If you find many high-ranking negative posts flooding your search results, there are steps you can take to suppress them, or, in rare cases, delete them entirely. Implementing strategies like de-indexing, optimizing existing content, and promoting positive content can help to bury negative search engine results.
Contact us if you need help navigating the process; we are here to help.
Negative Content Removal FAQs
How do you remove negative content from Google?
It can be difficult to remove online content from Google search results. While it is sometimes possible, most times it must be pushed down or suppressed. This means you must create and promote positive online content to rank higher than negative content, pushing it down in rank.
What types of content violate Google's Terms of Service?
If you are the subject of content that violates Google's Terms of Service, they will remove it from their search results. Here are the circumstances that warrant removal by Google: revenge porn, fake pornography, exploitive content, medical, financial, or national identification information, doxing content, and copyright violations.
How can I remove negative content at the source?
It is usually difficult to remove negative content at the source because the author put it there in the first place. However, there are a few tactics you can try to change their minds. Simply ask the owner to remove it. Ask them to add a no-index tag to the page so that Google ignores it. Ask them to change the content on the page to remove your keywords (i.e. your company name).
Should I hire an attorney to remove online content?
It is usually not a good idea to hire a lawyer to remove online content. When sending a cease and desist letter, you risk the author posting it on the original web page, strengthening it in search results. Most negative content can be removed or suppressed without the use of an attorney.
What is search result suppression?
Search result suppression is a tactic used to bury negative search results below positive content. In suppression, positive content is created and promoted to outrank negative content. Most people don't read past Google's first page of search results anyway, so if you can move negative content past the first page, you'll greatly reduce the number of views that it gets.
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.