Let’s face it. You’ve probably done a Google search on your own name. Who hasn’t?
In fact, you will be surprised at how many people have Googled your name. And you won’t always like what they people can potentially see (especially if you have a high profile in your industry)!
Negative search results can come up for just about anyone. Whether it’s a legal case, a negative article about an enterprise you are linked with, a Tweet from years ago, images you’d rather not see again, or a video that somehow links your name to your business or professional life.
This can be stressful and can significantly detriment your personal reputation and wellbeing.
But why does negative content even matter that much?
The internet (more directly search engines) has become a complex and largely uncontrolled mass of information.
Anyone can search and find details about you – whether that’s negative, positive, accurate or false.
Taking control of what people can find about you and your personal online reputation is important for everyone. As you may already know, or may already be feeling, personal reputation is particularly important in the corporate and business spheres.
As such, negative Google search results can damage your personal and professional life.
For example, the old negative article or unwanted public company information I mentioned earlier that affects your personal reputation. It can be a haunting thought for high profile business leaders, actors, celebrities, and musicians to know people can still read this stuff and make a sweeping judgement (often closing many doors to you)
Imagine all your hard work and career being questioned over some unfair articles or unwanted public information. These things can create a negative and unfairly balanced online narrative about you.
What kind of negative content can pop up on Google search?
Any kind of negative search results can damage your personal brand or business. The more time the negative content stays online, then the more damage is done.
The below are common forms of negative content that Igniyte (as a reputation management agency) support our clients to remove:
- Negative articles, including articles in publications / newspapers – these can cause immense problems; particularly if they originate from a reputable media or news website.
- Documents, including legal documents with unwanted personal information
- Online profiles of you – profiles that relate to your personal life, including those of a potential sexual nature
- Images and videos stored of you online on various platforms (YouTube or Google images for example)
- Social media profiles and content on social media – Facebook pages, previous social posts you have written or negative / unwanted posts about you
We live in an age of 24/7 online content. It moves fast and doesn’t stick to facts.
For example, social media.
Social media platforms have become much more pervasive over recent years. For millions of people around the world it has taken over from traditional news sources as ‘the’ source of truth, information, and content.
And the Internet doesn’t let go. In the early 1990s, if you were unfortunate enough to be named in a tabloid newspaper in a negative way, the story would inevitably disappear fast.
The phrase ‘next day’s fish and chip paper’ was commonly used to allay anxiety about negative coverage, at least in the UK, to illustrate the transient nature of public media.
Today, however, negative search results, reviews and unwanted google search results are online forever. Well, not quite. There are strategies to boost your online reputation, push negative search results down below the first page, and most directly to what we are discussing here – remove unwanted content!
These include creating content with high level search engine optimization, communicating openly with customers, looking for ways to suppress negative search results while creating a positive and honest profile.
In a post-truth, fake news, pandemic-ridden era where almost everyone has a voice it’s more important than ever to be in control of your personal and business online presence and work to ensure that people won’t come across a negative search result when browsing your business.
What can you do if negative information turns up on that first page of the search results?
Think about people who don’t know you. If they search for your name or business name, statistics show that 90% of them will only look at the first page of the search results.
Furthermore, if the content is more than a few bad reviews and veers into libel or defamatory content, what do you do? is there legal action you can take?
Let’s have a look at some of the options to remove negative search results and increase positive content.
Removing or suppressing negative search results
Let’s assume you’ve found some negative links connected with you or your business.
These initial steps can go a long way to facilitate the removal process and begin the process of reputation management. It’s absolutely possible to bury negative search results without compromising your integrity or going against search engine regulations.
Try asking the author directly
OK, so I know this sounds like a long shot. After all, the author of the negative content, whether it’s a comment on your social media profiles or an article showing on the first page of Google, decided to publish it for a reason.
It’s also worth considering the potential response when you do ask – it could further the negative information they publish about you that could filter through to Google and other search engines.
For example, the author could add to the article and ask readers to comment from people. Major search engines like Google will consider this as a strength, given that the content is being refreshed. You know when you see threads that seem to go on and on with people arguing? We want to avoid that happening with your name or business name mentioned.
Getting caught up in these kinds of online debates or by trying to bury negative search results in a combative way, it’s possible the situation will worsen.
Instead, try asking over the phone or even in person. These are better options than emailing, as you will be able to get your point across and explain how much it’s impacting you emotionally. If you’ve just come across a negative search result, it’s all too easily to react too soon and base your response off your feelings. Much better to take stock and work out a plan as a content push down strategy.
Go directly to the publisher rather than the author
Obviously, this isn’t possible with personal blogs or social media comments, but it can work for negative search engine results that are linked to local news websites or smaller sites.
It’s easy to find the webmaster or website owner, so just contact them for a removal request.
These are simple steps that anyone can give a go to try and suppress negative content about themselves online.
However, when it comes to more serious stuff, you might need to step it up.
Will search engines ever remove content?
If you’ve appealed to the site owner, but negative content about you is linked to brand keywords that can damage your business, you can do much more.
For example, removing negative content from Google is possible by contacting the search engine itself.
This is pretty heavily restricted to specifics, but there are circumstances where search engines will get rid of defamatory content.
While asking Google to remove news articles is unlikely to yield much, certain circumstances transcend the author’s right to slander or libel you. These include:
Search results showing sexually explicit content
One of the most distressing examples of negative content and the damage it can do, sexually explicit content that has been posted without consent can be removed by the search engine.
There are criteria for this, and negative content alone isn’t enough to qualify.
However, if it’s possible to do a Google search and find pictures or video showing the person nude, carrying out a sexual act, revenge porn, underage content and pictures appearing without consent, then the search engines will remove it.
The negative search results includes data that could be used for identity theft
This kind of negative result is easier to deal with. It’s a straightforward breach of Google’s service agreement.
This is a whole different ballgame to some negative feedback on a reviews platform, for example.
If information appears that includes things like credit card numbers, bank account details or anything else that could be used to steal someone’s identity or to commit fraud, then Google with wipe it.
What’s The Right to Be Forgotten and who can use it?
If you’re in the UK or any EU country, you’ve probably heard of The Right to Be Forgotten when it comes to negative stuff about you appearing in Google results.
The Right to be Forgotten has been around since 2014, when the European Court of Justice ruled that individuals should have this right.
This makes Google legally responsible for removing information from search results that is deemed ‘no longer relevant’, outdated’ or ‘irrelevant’.
It only applies within the EU, so the UK is not covered by this since Brexit.
Crucially, it is only relevant for personal content removal. It can’t be used as a way to remove content from Google search related to commercial or business content.
So, while it won’t help in suppressing negative search results that arise related to a business or commercial content, it is something that EU citizens can do to boost their personal reputation management.
What about data protection and the RTBF in the UK?
During the lengthy and complicated process of the UK leaving the EU, which finally happened in December 2020, it was agreed that the UK still has a part to play within the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
This is significant for the Right to be Forgotten (RTBF) and how it plays apart in a UK’s individual right to remove negative search results.
Right to be Forgotten case study | Le Soir, Belgium, October 2021
In June 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) underlined its commitment to the RTBF. Here’s what happened.
Le Soir is a Belgian newspaper owned by publisher Patrick Hurbain. Way back in 1994, the paper named a driver who was responsible for a fatal car accident.
Because Le Soir (and every other media publication) has online archives of past issues, this data was still easily accessible through search results.
The claimant applied for the name to be deleted under the RTBF. Hurbain retaliated by lodging a complaint that centres on the concept of freedom of speech.
The Judge sided with the claimant, and said that the RTBF was their ‘integral’ right to a family life and privacy.
Furthermore, this historical negative search result was ruled to be unfairly damaging towards a claimant that had served jail time and repaid the debt to society demanded by the initial court sentence.
The legal action in this case was clear in that the claimant has a right to be forgotten, and that negative content from Google searches is not set in stone.
This case is extremely significant, as it has extended the RTBF to negative content in print as well as online.
This means that, within the EU, it’s possible to file RTBF claim for information to be retrospectively omitted from news media and publications as well as from search results from Google and other platforms.
These decisions are made under domestic law and in the UK we are moving further away from countries like Belgium.
It’s now up to UK courts to decide whether the rights of the individual to be forgotten are more important than the rights of journalists and the media.
Many countries appear to be moving towards the RTBF and individual rights
There does appear to be a general trend towards supporting the rights of individuals to take more control over search results from Google.
In the US, the Associated Press recently announced that it will cease to publish the name of people who are arrested for crimes that are unlikely to be of further public interest.
Instead, US journalists will decide on the amount of detail to include based on how generally newsworthy the story is.
Historically, whether the crime is small or large, people have seen their names in print and online – regardless of the extent of their involvement or crime.
According to this article in the MilwaukeeIndependent.com, some people have found content on a Google search result surrounding their alleged crime up to 15 years later.
This is a significant shift in culture and attitude from the AP and something that I welcome.
Withholding personal details means that the presumption of innocence is maintained, and that the people involved needn’t fear the damaging implication of negative articles about them showing up on search engines.
The debate surrounding the RTBF and data protection in general rages on, with differing takes around the world.
In India, for example, a RTBF request was dismissed by the Madras High Court in October 2021.
In this case, the claimant wanted his name expunged from a conviction that had subsequently been overturned.
These are exactly the kind of negative search results that can profoundly damage the person in question’s reputation.
However, in India, there isn’t any specific data protection legislation. And while the author of the article quoted above came to the conclusion that this was the correct judgement, lest it end up overburdening the Courts with other legal challenges, it’s contrary to many other country’s stances on this issue in 2021.
Are there any legal reasons to remove online content?
Bing and Google both remove content that is copyrighted in the US.
However, this makes it seem relatively simple to delete negative search reviews and Google search results you no longer want to see. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple to do this as an individual.
This is where we come in. Professional online reputation management is key to removing negative results, dealing with copyright issues, fighting back against defamatory or untrue content linking your brand, business or name online and much more.
It all comes down to making a decision to take control of your online reputation.
What kind of assistance can online reputation management firms offer?
In this blog post, I’ve listed some of the steps you could take to start taking control of your online reputation.
When it comes to more complex negative search results, links that you want removed, or Google search results that throw up damaging content, it’s probably a good time to find a company like Igniyte.
The Internet is a complex, vast, wide-ranging no man’s land of content. As I said at the start of this blog, if you’ve never popped your name or business into Google search results, you may be surprised by the results.
An online reputation management company covers the following list, although this is by no means exhaustive:
- Removing content from search results about a business, brand or individual.
- Removing negative results from social media, blogs, forums, media articles and professional websites.
- Providing consultancy, advice and expertise on the complex legalities of removing links.
- Advising on the best way to deal with negative reviews and boost positive reviews.
- Advice on how to suppress negative search results through the creation of high quality content.
- Editing social media profiles to properly represent the business, person or brand.
- Assistance with copyright issues.
- Create links through professional web properties, press releases and fair but positive content creation.
- Minimise negative SEO and ensure personal websites rank higher
- The right kind of content creation can help to remove negative search results
Building and working on your online presence and personal or business reputation is about curating content to ensure it shows the best of you.
While negative search results are obviously detrimental to business endeavours, attracting new customers or getting ahead, positive content can do the opposite.
Reputation management companies not only understand the legalities and regulations on how to remove negative search results, but they should also have a thorough and professional understanding of content creation and search engine optimization.
Positive search results and high quality content are absolutely key to protecting a brand or name and as marketing tools.
Not only does it help to remove negative search results and improve social media profiles, but it also makes it much harder for search results from Google and Bing’s front pages to show as negative.
Negative reviews that show up in search results
One of the major challenges in controlling your online presence is the sheer amount of different content that could feasibly include your name and business.
We’ve looked at blogs, the odd negative comment on social media profiles, the impact of negative SEO and lots of other content from Google search that people might come across.
We haven’t, however considered reviews.
Online review platforms are hugely popular these days. These can be independent websites that facilitate customer reviews about other brands, or ratings that show up on Google results when people are browsing.
How reviews fit in to cleaning up search results
Over the years, I’ve had people ask whether it’s easy to simply remove negative reviews that show up a search result.
And the answer is no. In fact, it’s not possible to simply remove negative feedback because you don’t like it, or because you feel it’s unfair.
After all, the whole idea of review platforms is to ensure that people have a platform for their honest opinion. And this can be in the form of a negative or positive review.
Positive reviews sit side by side the more negative search results, and if they’re valid then they stay.
However, it is possible to request a review removal if it breaches guidelines, if it’s clearly fake and you know it, or if it’s defamatory.
This can be frustrating if search results appear to hone in on a negative search result from an online reviews platform.
Turn a negative into a positive and benefit from a boost to your online reputation
However, here’s why reviews are important to business reputation, and why you shouldn’t rush to try and remove negative ratings. By turning these ratings into positive stories you can go a very long way to negating the impact of negative content from Google by highlighting excellent customer service and transparency.
We know that fake reviews do happen, and have found that just over half of businesses say that they have been negatively impacted by unfair or untrue reviews.
But positive reviews showing up in a search result on your brand or business can make nearly three-quarters of potential customers trust your business.
In fact, a whopping 93% of consumers say that online reviews directly impact their decisions on what to buy and where to spend their money.
As you can see, there are numerous reasons to watch out for your online reputation, both on a personal and business level.
At Igniyte, we help people and companies remove negative content about themselves from search engines every day to help manage their online presence. If you would like to talk to me or my colleagues and receive some free confidential support, please get in touch today.
Head of Client Services and Managing Partner at Igniyte – The Reputation Experts
Roz is an industry spokesperson on all areas of online reputation management and our resident digital media expert. She regularly writes about reputation management research, online reputation risk and industry best practice.