When you Google yourself, you may not always like what you see in the results. Be it a harsh review of your business, an offhand reply on Twitter, or something far more severe – like a negative news cycle with new articles still populating – bad search results can have a massive impact on your online reputation. Businesses with just one negative result risk losing up to 22% of prospective customers, and this number increases quickly the more negative results populating for your business. With 80% of consumers reporting that they look online to find out more about a business, negative search results can not only tarnish your reputation, but have tangible impacts on your business.
With negative pages in your search results having such an effect, it makes sense to wonder what your results would look like if that link was gone. But the internet is forever, right? Can you remove things from Google?
Put simply: yes and no. While Google offers options for deindexing results, the process itself can be technical, tricky, or close to impossible, and looking beyond Google’s options can lead you to sketchy or unreliable options. Here, we’ll take a closer look at what can get a page kicked out of search results, and what options you have when a link is here to stay.
What does it mean to get something removed from Google?
When we talk about removing something from Google, we’re talking about deindexing a result. In the context of search results and SEO, deindexing refers to removing a link from appearing in Google search results (i.e. no longer being indexed there). When results are deindexed, or not indexed, they will not appear in search results for any queries, no matter how closely the query matches the page or website.
This is different from removing something from the web completely. While deindexing can be difficult, particularly if you don’t own the page (more on that later), removing something from the web completely can be nearly impossible. You’ve heard the phrase “the internet forever” – while this isn’t always completely true, it speaks to the intricacies, difficulty, and time you have to consider when pursuing total removal of a page, website, content, or social media account online.
While you do not have to remove something from the web for it to be deindexed, removing pages may require extra steps to be deindexed from Google results, even if the page or website is successfully removed. As Google states, in these situations “[y]ou’ll probably want to get your information off both Google search results and the web; you must handle these steps separately.”
Is it possible to remove unwanted results from Google search results?
Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to remove specific search results from Google. It isn’t impossible, but there are relatively few instances when deindexing is an option. In this piece, we’ve outlined your deindexing options.
If none of the following options are relevant to your particular concern, there are other ways to improve your online search results.
Where to Start
Before you dive into filling out forms and reporting links, it’s important to gather as much information as possible about the link you are trying to have removed from search results.
Questions to consider:
- Who owns the website? Is the ranking content on a web asset you own, or has it been published by someone else?
- What is the nature of the content? What is the nature of the negative news or claims? Does the page contain false claims or identifying information? Is it content that is owned by you that was posted without your consent, or a piece about you?
- Is the content still available? When you click on the result, what do you see? Is the page broken, empty, or does it redirect to another page?
- Are there legal considerations? Is the content on this page yours? Does it reveal any sensitive information?
Options for Removing URLs from Google Search Results
Once you have identified the nature of the page you are trying to remove, there are several steps you can take towards removing a certain URL from Google search results depending on certain factors. Ahrefs has put together a simple guide to determine next-steps for deindexing:
Removing Your Own Web Assets from Google Search Results
Deindexing looks different depending on who controls the host website. If you own the website or asset that has the undesired link populating in search results, there are steps you can take to ensure that the page will no longer rank – without harming your SEO efforts. Content you control could be social media profiles, a personal or professional website, a blog, or something similar.
If the page you would like to remove from results is on a website you control, there are a few tools you can use to remove the page from results without harming your website’s overall SEO:
- Google Search Console (GSC) Removal Tool: if you are verified as the owner of your site through Google Search Console, you can temporarily remove pages of your site from search results for roughly six months. While this can quickly deindex the page (successful requests take about a day), this is an initial step for a longer process.
- Noindex meta tag in the page’s HTML code: by implementing this into your page’s code, Googlebot will drop the page from search results the next time it crawls the page. There are a couple ways to input this tag onto your website, outlined here.
- Blocking access: by password protecting your page (or making it inaccessible through another method), Google can deindex the page.
- Robots.txt: implementing this on the page you would like to deindex will tell search engines not to crawl the page; however, if the page is linked to elsewhere online or otherwise experiences significant engagement, search engines may disregard this and still show the page in results. While this method can be effective, it is not recommended by Google, and can take time. Additionally, if this is implemented on your website, the noindex meta tag will not work.
For social media profiles, most platforms have an option to either delete your account or to deactivate it, with an opportunity for permanent deletion after a certain amount of time. If you delete your social media profiles, it may take time for the deletion to register in Google results – if a deleted social media profile is still ranking in your results, you can submit a removal request for outdated content, though this can also take time.
If you don’t want to delete your social media accounts, but also want them removed from your search results, you can update your privacy settings. Limiting accessibility to these profiles can reduce their prominence in results over time, and reduce the amount of information displayed to users not permitted to view the page.
Removing Results from Google Search When You Don’t Own the Site
Removing pages from Google search results can be extremely difficult when you do not have ownership of the domain or profile. The process for removing content you do not own is very different from the steps you can take for your owned assets. That said, Google has options for removing content that is out-of-date, violates its policies, or presents legal concerns.
Content you don’t own could be a post on someone else’s blog, a news article or publication, a social media post, Wikipedia page, etc.
In regards to deindexing and removing pages from search results, out-of-date content refers to content that no longer exists on the page. If this is the case, you can request the page be removed from Google Search results using the Remove Outdated Content tool.
Pages are only eligible to be removed by this tool if they have already been significantly updated or removed from the web.
This tool can be valuable for undesirable Google Images results as well. If the result appears in Google search results and Google images, submit a separate request for the page URL and the image URL.
Violation of Google Policies
If the content on the page you wish to have deindexed is still intact, another option is to review Google’s policies and see if the page violates any of these policies.
Generally, pages that violate Google’s policies include:
- Personal information, like ID numbers, sensitive documents, medical information, etc.
- Nude or otherwise sexually explicit images
- Involuntary fake pornography
- Photos of signatures
- Content that raises significant risks of identity theft, financial fraud, or other specific harms
- Content about you on sites that utilize exploitative removal practices (i.e. requiring you to pay a fee to have the information removed)
- Doxxing content, or content that includes contact information seemingly with the intent to cause harm
If the page in question does violate any of Google’s policies, you can submit a removal request through this form.
If the page you are seeking to deindex has any legal violations, this can also be an avenue for removing the page from results.
Pages with legal violations can include:
- Intellectual property issues, such as DMCA copyright infringement, circumvention, etc.
- Graphic or otherwise illegal imagery
- Malware, phishing, or similar issues
Similar to pages that violate Google’s policies, pages that violate legal terms can be reported through the removal request form, or through Google’s legal form. A more comprehensive explanation of Google’s legal considerations can be found here.
Reaching Out to Content Authors and Site Owners
If the page that you would like to have removed from Google search results does not fall into one of the outlined categories, you may be able to reach out to the content author/publisher or site owner.
While this is recommended by Google as a means of removing negative content or pages from your search results, there are several factors to consider before you reach out. Depending on the nature of the negative content, the author or publisher may not be sympathetic to you or the impact of the information on your results. In fact, they may be satisfied that the page is having such an impact.
As such, it’s important to consider how this will play out if you open a dialogue with the site owner. Some questions to ask yourself:
- Who wrote this? What was their intention?
- Do I want them to change the page, or delete it altogether?
- Is the information accurate?
- What is the size or scope of the publication or website?
If you do decide to reach out to the author or website owner, do so politely and directly. If they agree to make a change, whether it is editing the page or deleting it altogether, make sure to verify the changes. And keep in mind that if you do reach out, any correspondence you have could be added to the page or story as an update, potentially giving it a boost in search results, so make sure that it is worth the risk.
When Deindexing is Not an Option: Build Your Online Reputation
Often, deindexing or removing a result from Google will not be an option. In these cases, there are still options to improve your search results and online reputation. Developing a strong online presence can help you take control of your reputation online.
- Build and maintain a website: build and maintain a strong website for yourself or your business. Not only do users expect to find a website when they search for you or your business online, but a well-made website will likely rise through results and help you have a say in your first impression online.
- Create social media profiles (and keep them active!): with roughly 4 billion people on social media, and more joining every day, social media is a valuable way to grow your online presence and engage in relevant conversations and communities. Remember that social media is only useful if you can keep profiles active, so only create those that you can maintain.
- Develop a content marketing strategy: we’ll never get tired of saying it – content is king in SEO. Not only can content help your search results, but a strong content strategy can help grow your audience and establish you as an authority in your industry.
- Address the negative: in some instances, addressing negative news, comments, and reviews can actually help build your credibility and trustworthiness. Read more here to determine when you should respond and when you should leave things alone.
Depending on the prominence of your negative result(s), considering professional intervention could be your best option. If your Google search results are dominated by negative news, utilizing a reputation management firm will ensure that you’re taking the right approach to your online presence and will help you put your best foot forward online.