There is a lot of content online. It’s estimated that there are roughly 3 million news articles published, 7 million blogs posted, and 500 million tweets tweeted per day. With so much content being uploaded, it is inevitable that some of that content may not paint you in the best light, or could share information that you don’t want to have shared online.
In this situation, what can you do? In this article, I’ll explain online content removal, what can be removed, and how to go about it if there has been content published about you online that you want gone.
What is content removal?
Content removal is the process of getting rid of online content. Content removal generally takes two forms: 1) removing content entirely, or 2) deindexing content so that it no longer appears in search results.
Why would you want to remove online content?
There are several reasons why you may want to remove online content, including:
- Privacy. If there is content published about you online that includes personal information, it could pose a risk to your privacy. Information such as your phone number, home address, email address, or details about your personal life can create issues ranging from discomfort to potential safety concerns.
- Copyright violations. With content constantly being published and shared online, it can be challenging to keep track of who created or owns the content. Unfortunately, this means that your work can be taken and republished by other people online, which can result in copyright infringement.
- Inappropriate content. Offensive or untrue posts or comments about you, character attacks, mugshots or other evidence of legal issues, or sexual content published without your consent can all qualify as inappropriate content. This kind of content can have substantial impacts on your reputation, professional prospects, and mental health.
- Reputation. Now more than ever, how you appear online has a serious impact on your reputation. If there is negative, incorrect, or outdated content online about your or your business, you could face repercussions and experience reputational damage.
What kind of content can be removed?
Online content that is eligible for removal includes:
- News articles and features
- Blog posts
- Social media posts and comments
- Threads on forums
- Copyrighted content
- Personal data (such as photos, contact information, etc.)
On the surface, any content that is published online can be removed - but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your removal attempts will be successful.
What's the difference between deleting content and de-indexing content?
Deleting content means the content has been completely removed from the page where it was published. In this case, if you were to try to access the content via its original URL, you would not be able to, and would likely receive some kind of message indicating that the content or page no longer exists.
De-indexing content means the content cannot rank in search results, but still does exist online. In this case, you will not be able to find the content by searching for it, but if you try to access the content via URL or by navigating the website it is published to, that content will still be live.
Will deleting content get rid of it?
Deleted content will no longer be accessible on the original website and will eventually disappear from Google search results; however, in some cases, content may be shared, reposted, or published elsewhere. In these instances, though the original page may no longer exist, the problem could still persist.
How do I know if there is negative content about me online?
Undesirable content can be obvious if it ranks prominently in your search results or attracts the attention of a larger audience. But, sometimes, you may not know that there is negative or sensitive content about you online.
To uncover any content that you may want removed, you will need to audit your online presence. Search for your name with related keywords and take note of what populates for your name. To learn more about auditing your online presence, you can read our online reputation management guides.
To find any personal contact information that has been published online, you can utilize Google’s Results About You tool. After you complete the form, Google will notify you by email or push notification if your information is found online and provide you with the next steps to submit the information for removal.
How do I remove content from Google Search?
If you have online content that you would like to remove, there are a few avenues you can go down to take it offline.
1. Deleting Your Own Content
Removing online content is not always complicated. If the content you want removed is on one of your owned assets - such as a website, blog, or social media profile - removal should be as straightforward as logging in and deleting the content.
If you are removing a page from your website, be sure to replace it or set up redirects when necessary. If you are removing a blog post, you can keep the draft of the content unpublished or delete the content both from your blog and from your drafts folder.
If you are removing a social media comment, post, or profile, follow the steps of your specific platform to do so. Unless you are completely deleting the profile, use this as an opportunity to review your social media presence so you can be confident that your profile puts forth a professional, appropriate image. If your profile is personal, or you don’t want to worry about those outside of your social circle finding your profile, update your privacy settings so that your profile is only accessible to those you allow to follow you (on that note, be sure to review your friends list to ensure that everyone who can view your profile is someone you can trust).
If you no longer have access to the website or profile where the content is hosted, reach out to the platform to attempt to regain access or report the profile.
2. Submitting a Request to Google
If you do not have access to the website or profile that has posted the content you want removed, you will have to take another approach.
In relevant cases, content removal can be achieved by submitting a request to Google. Google has a specific set of content guidelines. If online content violates any of these guidelines, it can be submitted for removal.
The Google guidelines for content removal are:
- Personally identifiable informational or doxxing content. This includes your Social Security number, banking and credit card information, images of your signature, medical records, online login credentials, and information relating to your specific location. When this information is available online, it may put you, your finances, or your reputation at risk.
- Content published on websites with exploitative removal processes. Some websites will exhibit the predatory behavior of publishing obviously undesirable content, such as a mugshot, lawsuit, etc., and give you the option of paying to have it taken down. This practice is in clear violation of Google’s guidelines and you should not pay these websites, but submit a removal request through Google instead.
- Explicit images. Content that shows you nude, engaging in a sexual act, or in an otherwise intimate position that you did not consent to have published is subject to be taken down. This includes images, videos, and recordings that were taken consensually but you did not consent to having shared, or images, videos, and recordings that were initially taken nonconsensually.
- Involuntary fake pornography. Deepfakes are on the rise. In 2019, pornography made up 96% of deepfake videos online, with 99% of those featuring the faces of female celebrities. Although these videos and images are fabricated, the negative reputational impact is clear, and Google has deemed this content as going against its guidelines.
- Pornography that uses your name, even if you are not featured in the content. Though this category does not actually feature you, the impact of your name being associated with pornographic material online can be detrimental to your personal and professional reputation.
- Any images of minors, even non-explicit. Due to minors not being able to consent to their images being used online, any images of a minor online are eligible to be taken down per Google’s content guidelines.
To submit a removal request to Google, you can go to the guidelines page, pick the relevant category for your content, and start a removal request. You will have to answer questions about the nature of the content, submit the URL of the content, any additional information, and your contact information so you can be notified about the status of your request.
In addition to these guidelines, Google has another option for removing outdated content. Outdated content refers to: 1) pages or images that no longer exist but still populate in Google search results, or 2) pages or images that have changed significantly since being published.
If your content does not fit within any of these guidelines, Google recommends taking legal action when relevant or reviewing other removal options.
3. Contacting the Website
If the content you are hoping to remove does not fall within the removal guidelines for Google, you can choose to reach out to the author or site owner. In some cases, this is the best option forward, as you are going to the source to remove the content.
To contact the author of the content, find their author profile. In most cases, the author will have contact information (usually an email address), or you will be able to find a social media profile of the author and contact them that way. To contact the owner of the site, find the “Contact us” information on the site. If that is not available, you can contact the site's hosting company to find the site owner.
If you do choose to contact the author or site owner, be sure to be direct, clear, and polite. Express your concerns about the content and the impact on your reputation. Do not be combative, demanding, or accusatory. You want to maintain a positive rapport in order to have the best chances of the content being taken down.
If you are not sure that the author or site owner will want to completely remove the content, or they have told you as much, you can propose an update to the content. This could be additional context, more up-to-date information, or asking for your or your business name to be less prominent in the content.
Though this can be a successful tactic in removing content, it is not always the best way forward. Reaching out to the author of content that is extremely negative, focused entirely on you or your business, or is obviously ill-intentioned can backfire and lead to more unwanted content being created, or lead to the content creator doubling down on the content you want removed. Be sure to assess the reputation of the site hosting the content and consider the tone of the content before reaching out.
If you do not feel comfortable reaching out to the website directly, or if the website refuses to remove content, you will have to move on to the next option.
4. Going the Legal Route
If the content you want to remove does not violate Google’s guidelines and the website is not open to removing the content, you may need to contact a professional who specializes in online content removal.
These experts understand the best way to reach out to a website, as well as the legal concerns that different kinds of content bring up. Some circumstances that may make the content eligible for legal removal include:
- Copyrighted content. Content that you have created being shared and claimed by someone else can violate copyright laws, which will give you a legitimate claim to have the content removed.
- Defamation. If someone is actively trying to harm your reputation online, or publishing things about you that are not verifiable or true, you may have a case for defamation or slander to have the content removed.
- The Right to be Forgotten. This refers to the right people have to require search engines to remove links about them in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, this is not recognized in the US, but is recognized in the EU and should be investigated if you are located outside of the United States.
If you believe that the content in question may violate the law, consider a consultation with a content removal expert to see if you have legal options.
What if the content cannot be removed?
If you have exhausted all of your options and the content still has not been removed, you will need to implement an online reputation management strategy. An online reputation management strategy will help you suppress the undesirable content, diminishing its prominence in search results and, thus, the impact on your reputation.
To learn more about reputation management, you can read our guides or reach out to Status Labs for a free consultation.
How to Avoid the Need for Content Removal
If you do not currently have concerning content online, there are steps you can take to protect your information and online image.
- Protect your personal information. Do not publish any sensitive information online and, if you do need to include personal information online for whatever reason, keep that information protected. Do not share your login information with anyone, be sure to use different passwords, and change your passwords regularly. Unless you have a professional or personal reason to have a public-facing social media profile, make your profiles private and do not share anything online that you do not want others to see.
- Audit and monitor your online presence. If you don’t know what is out there about you online, you won’t be able to respond. Audit your online presence and search results and check up on them regularly. The more quickly you can identify a new piece of content and nip it in the bud, the less likely it is to have a detrimental effect on your reputation or your personal and professional life.
- Maintain an online presence. If you are a public figure, a company, or a brand, you will not be able to have an entirely private online presence. In these cases, you will benefit from maintaining a strong, on-brand presence. As always, do not share anything that you do not want to be public, but also be sure to share anything that highlights and defines your brand and aligns with your ideal reputation.
Online content removal can be a tricky process, but if you know where to start and have a plan, you will be able to refine your online presence and take control of the information about you online.