Have you ever found unwanted Google search results that shocked or alarmed you, such as an embarrassing or intimate photograph of you, leaked sensitive or inaccurate information, or other damaging personal information or comments?
You are not alone. In today’s oversaturated online world, there are plenty of opportunities for negative search results that may have a damaging effect on your business or reputation.
You can remove unwanted Google search results by:
- Reviewing and adjusting your websites and social media profiles’ privacy settings
- Using opt-out policies on websites that display or collect your information
- Updating your (or your business’s) sensitive information in Google’s Knowledge Graph
- Asking a website to remove content
- Engaging in online reputation management
In this post, we will take a closer look at how search engines prioritize and return results, what kinds of results search engines will generally remove, and how to get unwanted search results taken down. By the end of this article, you should have a clear understanding of how to protect your (or your business’s) reputation online.
Unwanted search results affecting you?
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Reasons to Remove Unwanted Google Search Results
The internet is a big place. You might wonder why it is worth your time to try getting negative search results removed when it feels like searching for a needle in an exponentially-growing haystack.
However, monitoring and maintaining your digital footprint has become a necessity for businesses and individuals alike. While a positive online review or online presence can work wonders for your reputation, negative and damaging search results can dismantle it just as quickly.
For instance, unwanted search results can:
- Harm your personal reputation and relationships;
- Harm your business or professional reputation;
- Cause stress and be emotionally taxing to you personally;
- Cost you a great deal of money (either by losing customers or employment).
Why You Might Want to Remove and Push Down Negative Search Results
Monitoring and curating your online reputation is important, but there are other more specific reasons you may want to remove or push down negative results as well.
Keep in mind that the first page of search results is what people see and know of you.
The internet may contain dozens of web pages listing your many accomplishments or glowing reviews for your business – but if those pages are buried beneath inaccurate or negative search results, the average Google user will likely never notice the positive content.
If an incorrect or negative result appears on the first page, that result in itself can have a damaging effect on your reputation. But beyond its individual effects, the fact that it is taking up space on your first page means that there is less room for more accurate, updated, and favorable results.
If you prefer Google to prioritize the most important or relevant content about yourself or your business, your best option may be to remove the negative search results that are crowding out other content.
Whatever your reason for removing or pushing down negative search results, the following two sections provide assistance for people who are looking to remove outdated or unwanted information from Google.
How Do You Remove Your Name From the Google Search Engine Completely?
Unfortunately, it is not possible to completely remove your name from the internet. However, there are a few best practices to keep in mind when trying to remove information that can be taken down and protecting your digital privacy:
- Embrace the fact that more and more information, especially publicly available information, is being posted and stored online;
- Practice information control. Post and promote only the information that you are comfortable with the world seeing, and do your best to take down everything that is private;
- Engage in online reputation management and the suppression of information you do not want to appear on the first page;
- Delete and deactivate unneeded accounts;
- Set your social media and other accounts to private (or adjust the privacy settings);
- Remove yourself or opt-out from data broker sites like MyLife.com;
- Remove your personal information from websites you control and from your websites’ Whois information.
Online Reputation Management & Monitoring Tip: We recommend creating a free Google Alerts account to monitor your online reputation and the internet for specific keywords. Simply enter your name and the target keywords you want to monitor, how often you want to receive notifications, and create a Google Alert. You will then receive a Google Alert anytime your inputted keywords are mentioned anywhere online.
Types of Google Search Results That You Should Remove
While there are certain search results that you can (and should) remove, it is an unfortunate fact that not every unwanted search result can be removed easily.
The first thing to understand is that, when it comes to getting content removed, a website is not the same thing as a Google search result.
Google is simply a search engine, after all. The information in Google search results is always crawled and aggregated from another source.
Individual search results can be selectively blocked by a search engine, but content and websites that appear in search results will still exist if not removed at the source. Successfully requesting that Google stop showing content on its search results will not delete the original web page or change the content that it contains.
This is why you cannot simply “remove your name” from Google. For example, your name may not be unique. Also, Google merely brings up search results from other sources (web pages). So if certain web pages contain your name, Google will not remove your name from those sources, because it does not control them.
The best strategy is to remove your information directly from those web pages (using the steps we will discuss later), and then ask Google to remove that outdated content from search results.
How Do Search Engines Ensure That You Get Relevant Results When You Type a Query into the Search Bar?
When you search Google, you are not searching the web — you are searching Google’s index of the web. Think of Google as a librarian using an index or card catalog system to find books on the topic you are asking about, except it only takes Google a split second to search the “library.”
Google conducts this lightning-fast search by doing a great deal of work ahead of time. It sends out web-crawlers (or “spiders”) to crawl websites and learn information pathways. Google uses the information gathered by its crawlers to create an index based on signals (like keywords, the popularity of the content, and the “freshness” of the website).
Google uses its index and constant re-crawling to create complex and interconnected strings of data that answer your questions based on the content of other sites.
When you search for a term (say, “pizza near me”), Google uses its search algorithms to provide what it sees as the most relevant results.
Google’s algorithms rank results based on various factors in its quality rater guidelines:
- The presence of the keyword on the web page
- The quality of that page’s content and how popular that website already is with other users
- How “usable” that website is (for instance, if it is responsive on mobile devices or loads quickly)
- Your context (like your location and search history). In our pizza example, Google would prioritize pizza restaurants within a few miles of your location.
Many people think that Google is deliberately showing things in their results, but this is just not the case. Google does not manipulate its rankings or individually curate how certain results are shown for certain keywords.
Your search results are the result of artificial intelligence (AI) constantly running updates, making tiny changes, and assessing countless factors at once.
What Type of Websites Can You Remove Your Information & Content From to Improve Your Online Reputation
While you cannot control every web page that contains your information, you still have several options to remove unwanted search results and ensure that your digital footprint is as positive as possible.
1. Remove Information From Websites That You Own
If you are the direct owner of a domain, you have a say in the content. If you have a blog through WordPress, Wix, or Blogger, for instance, you can make sure the information contained on that site is accurate and in line with your brand.
2. Take Control of What Your Social Media Profiles Say About You
You also have a direct say in the information contained in your Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or TikTok profiles. Make sure to set your profiles to private; otherwise, the following types of information may be available to the public:
- Full name, age, gender, and marital status,
- Contact information,
- Professional or educational history,
- Family members and connections,
- Photos of you.
Then, make sure every post or piece of information on your social profiles is something you feel comfortable being generally available on the web. Comb your profile to remove any posts, comments, pictures, or personal information that you would not want to appear on Google search results.
3. Remove Old Youtube Videos & Pictures
If you posted content to YouTube in the past, it is in your power to remove that content so that it does not appear in search results.
If you would like to keep that content online, you may also be able to change the privacy settings for your channel. YouTube allows most channel owners to choose where their videos can appear (and who can watch them).
4. Delete Comments on Public Forums & Posts
If you signed up for a forum account five years ago and got into a heated argument with another user, that thread is still floating around online.
While you probably cannot delete the thread, it is a good idea to log into your account and change your username to something anonymous (user12345), then lock or delete your account. That way, those old comments will not be traceable to you.
5. Opt-Out & Remove Personal Information From People-Search Sites & Other Data Broker Websites
Data broker sites collect your personal information and resell it to other companies. Some data brokers take the form of people-search sites that allow internet users to find information about other people with basic starting information.
Video: Want to Remove Yourself From Data Broker Websites? Find Out How
Other data brokers sell individuals’ information to businesses looking to market their services to targeted audiences. And other data broker sites gather individuals’ information for use in risk mitigation services that are used to verify personal information and prevent fraud (for example, asking you to confirm a street you used to live on when applying for a loan).
If you can, it is a good idea to opt-out of inclusion in data broker sites such as these. See our master list of data broker sites that you can contact to remove yourself from their databases — or you can always hire an online content removal attorney to help you.
What Types of Websites & Content That You Do Not Control That Appear in Search Results Can You Remove?
While you can control a few ways that information about you is found online, there are several sources of information that you have no control over, including:
- Blogs or websites that include content about you,
- An article about you on a news site or Wikipedia,
- Websites or social media sites that use your artwork or photos,
- Pinterest pins that include a photo of you or a photo you took,
- Other people’s social media profiles or posts that include information about you.
Any website that you do not have control over may display your information, including shaming websites, scraper sites, old news articles, and social media posts. If a web page’s content is harmful to your reputation, you (or your attorney) will need to reach out to the website administrators or webmasters to have them remove this content.
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The Most Common Types of Search Results That Google Removes
While in most cases your best strategy is to approach the owner of the offending website before going to Google, there are exceptions. Under certain conditions, search engines like Google are agreeable to removing some types of content, if that content violates their Terms of Service (ToS).
Google is commonly willing to remove the following types of content:
- Revenge porn and intimate images,
- Involuntary fake pornography,
- Content about you on sites with exploitative removal practices,
- Select financial, medical, and national ID information,
- Doxxing content,
- Content that falls into specific legal situations.
If that is the case, use this request form to make Google aware of the problem.
However, keep in mind that if Google does take action, they can only remove the content from their search results. That content is still present on the original web page (and on Bing and other search engines), which is why you will need to take further action to remove the content from the internet completely.
Revenge Porn & Intimate Images
‘Revenge porn’ is the distribution of sexually graphic or explicit content of individuals without their consent. Individuals seeking to harass or shame their victim may publish intimate images to various platforms including social media websites, forums like Reddit, or even revenge porn websites.
Video: What to Do If Someone is Sharing Your Intimate Images Without Consent
If the unwanted search results in question involve revenge porn, Google will consider a content removal request.
Involuntary Fake Pornography
If someone created and published a false image or video (such as a deep fake) depicting you in a pornographic way, Google may remove that media from its search results. According to Google’s guidelines, the material must meet the following requirements in order to be considered:
- You are identifiably depicted in the imagery;
- The imagery in question is fake and falsely depicts you nude or in a sexually explicit situation;
- The imagery was distributed without your consent.
Content About You on Sites With Exploitative Removal Practices
Some sites will post sensitive or damaging content about you in order to charge you a fee for its removal. Google stipulates that this type of content is defined by the following:
- You are the subject of the content in the submitted URL,
- The website is not a business review site, and
- The website has removal practices that necessitate payment to have the content removed.
If the content in question meets the above criteria, Google will likely remove it.
Select Financial, Medical, & National ID Information
If your personal information has been shared on someone else’s site that creates a risk of identity theft or financial fraud to you, Google will remove that information. They will only consider the following information for removal:
- National identification numbers (such as a U.S. Social Security Number),
- Bank account or credit card numbers,
- Images of signatures,
- Personal medical records.
Sometimes, malicious individuals may share their victim’s personal information online in an attempt to shame or harass them. This invasion of privacy is called doxxing (or “doxing”) and is a form of online shaming. Doxxing can have very dangerous consequences for its victims, so Google takes it very seriously.
If the contact that concerns you contains your contact information and either implicit or explicit threats OR a call for others to harass you, Google should honor your request as long as the information is not determined to be “of public interest.”
Other Content & Information That Google Will Remove from Unwanted Search Results
Google also removes content that violates legal orders or specific copyright and privacy laws, such as:
- DMCA copyright violation reports: If the content violates copyright, Google will remove those search results per a DMCA takedown notice. Each time Google receives a copyright takedown notice, it is sent to and appears in the Lumen database of legal complaints. A link will also appear at the bottom of the search results on Google.
- Child pornography and abuse imagery: Visual depictions of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor are illegal and are not tolerated by Google or any search engines.
- Spam, paid links, or malware: Google does not take direct action against violations, but spam or malicious search results may still be taken down. See Google’s guidelines on reporting spam, paid links, and malware to report this kind of content.
- Court order: If a court has ruled that certain content is unlawful, Google will remove its search results.
- Government requests to remove content: A government may ask Google to remove certain search results because the content violates local law.
- European privacy law: The Right to Be Forgotten is a privacy law in the EU that enables individuals to ask search engines, such as Google, to remove certain results that include their name.
If your content falls into one of these categories, Google’s legal troubleshooter form to request the removal of content for legal reasons.
Revenge Porn Removal Tip: If someone is distributing your images without consent, the top three ways to get the images removed from the internet are to (1) send a DMCA takedown notice, (2) report the intimate or explicit image to the hosting platform and/or search engines, or (3) hire a content removal professional or revenge porn lawyer.
4 Steps to Take to Remove Unwanted Google Search Results
Once you decide it is time to remove damaging content from Google, your first step should be to Google yourself make a full assessment of your Google search results. Then, compile a list of the results that you will work to remove.
But then the difficult question arises: How do you decide which unwanted search results to remove first?
1. Remove Content That You Do Control
Go after the low-hanging fruit first. Start by removing the content that is located on sites you control, including your:
- Social media accounts
- YouTube channel
- Comments on public forums
Simply log in to each site and delete the content. For example, on Facebook, simply navigate to a post on your timeline. Select the three dots on the upper right corner of the post, then click “Move to trash.”
Then adjust that website’s privacy settings. For example, on Facebook, click the down arrow at the top right corner of your home feed. Select “Settings & Privacy,” then “Settings.”
On the Settings page, click the “Privacy” option. On this page, you can choose who can see your posts, how people can find and contact you, and whether search engines can link to your Facebook profile.
Starting with what you can control will help you build momentum. Early success in removing unwanted information will help you later when you approach sources that you do not control.
Not only will it give you more confidence, but if a source sees that they are not the only ones that have the information published, they are less likely to agree to take it down.
2. Remove Content From Sites That Are Easy to Work With
Next, attempt to remove information from sites that have very clearly stated, easy-to-follow opt-out policies. Again, build that momentum by starting with simple tasks.
Sites that you do not control but may be easy to work with include:
- Data broker sites
- People-search sites
- Blogs or websites that include content about you
- An article about you on a news site or Wikipedia
- Websites or social media sites that use your artwork or photos
To remove harmful content from sites that you do not own, check the website for a published opt-out process. If there is not one, look for a “Contact Us” link and use that to establish a dialogue.
If there is not an easy way to get in touch with the site, see Step 4 below.
3. Remove or Update Information From Google’s Knowledge Graph
Google’s algorithm is much more advanced than simply pulling results based on keyword frequency. The company has developed a Knowledge Graph, which is a database of facts gathered from various online sources to help the AI interpret your Google search intelligently and deliver the information you are looking for.
So, what if that Knowledge Graph is storing unwanted or inaccurate information about you?
You will need to remove or update that information by updating a Google knowledge panel. To do this, sign in to the Google account that is associated with you or the business you represent. Then, simply search for your entity and click “Suggest an edit” in the knowledge panel on the right side of the results page.
Changing this information will help prevent your search results from reflecting that inaccurate information.
4. Request Removal From Sites & Content You Do Not Control
Finally, go to the sites that you do not control and ask for the removal of unwanted information. This step is by far the hardest, so be sure to tackle it last. Hopefully, at this point, you will be familiar with website policies and terms because you removed easier items first.
Due to the permanence of internet content, many publications will now consider removing outdated or incorrect negative news articles that could damage their subject’s reputation. For example, you may succeed in convincing newspapers, online news sites, student publications, and websites to remove damaging or unwanted content about you from their platforms.
To ask for removal from sites, follow these steps:
- Look for a way to contact the owner of the website (check for a “Contact Us” form);
- Use the Whois directory to contact the site’s hosting company to ask to be put in touch with the website owner;
- As a last result, go to Google and ask that those search results be removed.
What Should You Do if the Search Results Are Correct, But the Cached Pages Still Provide Outdated Information?
To help users choose which search result to click, Google often provides a “snippet” of relevant summary information drawn from each webpage that appears on the search results. For instance, if you are searching for information on the Eiffel Tower, Google will aggregate information from the Wikipedia article to display below its page title on the search results page.
However, Google search results can sometimes show outdated information in this summary snippet. What happens when you correct the information on the page itself, but Google is still showing that incorrect information in the search results description?
This problem is quite common. If the content is no longer present on a web page, it is important to remember that it will come out of search results eventually — when search engines re-crawl these pages and realize that the content is gone. However, this process can take anywhere from a few days to a few months.
Many people try to speed up the process by notifying the search engines that the information is missing immediately so that the search engines will take action right away. This process is called outdated page removal.
To begin this process, navigate to Google’s request page for outdated page removal (note that you need to be logged in with a Google account to use this tool).
- Click “New Request” to start a fresh request form;
- Enter the address of the web page in question (note that it is important to remove the exact URL that is appearing in search results, NOT the URL copied from the URL bar in your browser when you are on the web page);
- Click “Submit”.
In some cases, you may need to clear Google’s search results cache for that item.
A cached page is a web page that has been saved on Google’s (or another search engine’s) servers. Search engines and browsers cache pages so that they can access them more quickly or when the originating server is not accessible.
While caching helps speed up the internet search process, it can cause a delay when trying to update Google search results. This is because Google’s search results are not always based on the up-to-date versions of each web page each time it runs a search; some results are drawn from cached versions of those webpages.
If you need to clear Google’s search results cache for a webpage that has recently been updated, start by following the steps above. You will receive a prompt stating that the image or site you are trying to remove has not been removed by the site owner. The prompt will ask if the image or site has been removed or updated.
Follow the prompts to indicate that the snippet and cache are outdated on Google’s search results, then provide any information you can on what has changed (your name, contact information, etc.). That information has “changed” because it is no longer on the page anymore; it does not need to have changed in real life.
Once you submit a request to Google, they normally remove the content at issue within 24–48 hours. The status of your removal will appear in the window below, titled “Removal Requests.” You can monitor the request from this page.
What Should You Do if the Webmaster Refuses to Remove the Unwanted Content?
Not everyone is successful in convincing other website owners to remove negative content about them.
There are a few tactics you can use when webmasters refuse to cooperate — but the most important thing to remember is that you should be patient. Attitudes change over time, so if you fail to get that content removed or suppressed, you can always try again later.
1. Pursue Legal Remedies to Remove the Unwanted Content
If a website or search engine refuses to cooperate in removing damaging content, you may need to utilize legal channels such as filing a lawsuit and obtaining a court order to remove content from the internet.
It is always a good idea to engage an experienced content removal attorney who will be able to determine whether the content in question gives rise to an actionable legal claim.
The methods to use in removing content depend greatly on the type of content at issue. For example, removing news articles is different than removing fake Google reviews or revenge porn.
Video: How to Remove Fake Google Reviews
At Minc Law, we have helped remove hundreds of thousands of pieces of damaging content for our clients over the years – and we can help you decide which course of action is right for your situation.
2. Engage in Suppression of the Negative Content
Many online reputation management professionals also use reverse SEO to engage in the suppression of negative content. Reverse SEO is what it sounds like. While traditional SEO (search engine optimization) focuses on making content optimized for ranking as high as possible in Google results, reverse SEO does everything possible to bury the target results as far down as possible.
Video: How Suppression Can Help You Take Control of Your Online Reputation
Reverse SEO is done by creating good content and optimizing it to rank higher than the unwanted content. You might:
- Start a blog and focus on building traffic;
- Follow SEO best practices on all your company’s existing web pages;
- Create or be more active on social media profiles;
- Guest post on other blogs with links linking back to your own blog or website;
- Create a podcast, start a YouTube channel, or start another content marketing strategy.
Of course, you may not have the time to create enough positive content to bury your negative search results on your own. Another excellent course of action is to partner with professional online reputation management services to help you.
Minc Law Reputation Management Tip: If you need to suppress negative search results, one simple tactic is to create social media accounts. When someone searches your name, your social media accounts will be the first results that appear. You can also write articles or even self-publish books that help you establish leadership within your industry.
We Can Help You Remove Unwanted Search Results
The internet is a mind-bogglingly vast, complex network of unique web pages that are all controlled by different entities. It is almost inevitable that you will eventually find unwanted search results pertaining to you.
While it can feel incredibly overwhelming to find damaging content about yourself online, there are steps you can take to get that content removed (or at least taken off of the search engine’s search results).
“Absolutely phenomenal. Michael took care of every single issue of defamation. I was concerned about wording because of the public nature of all parties involved, but Michael had open communication and approval from me all along the way. I will suggest him to absolutely anyone.”
KD, June 20, 2022
At Minc Law, we have extensive experience removing damaging and defamatory internet content. Contact us today to schedule your free, initial no-obligation consultation by calling us at (216) 373-7706, filling out our contact form, or speaking with a chat representative.