It’s hard to imagine life without search engines such as Google. Whatever information we need, we can now have it within seconds. However, there are times when the content shared by Google can cause immense stress and worry and has the potential to harm job prospects, relationships, and business success.
That’s because the information that appears in search results may cause significant damage to your online reputation. Whether that’s outdated content on a website, a damaging video, or defamatory comments, unless you get that information removed from Google, it’s likely to have a negative impact on our life.
Now it is possible to remove content from Google, but it’s important to understand the options available to you along with the time and cost involved.
What Are Search Engines Saying About You?
To check if what appears in the search results is what you want others to see, simply enter your name into the Google search console. Now, there can be variations depending on where you are in the world. Also, you need to take into account that the results will vary depending on your previous browsing history. That’s because Google aims to help you by providing search results which it thinks are the most relevant based on what you’ve searched for previously.
How To Check What Others See on Google
Here are three techniques to gain a better understanding of what might appear in search results for others when they’re using the Google search console as a tool to check you out:
1. Clear your browser cache, history and cookies
When there is no history to base the search upon, you’re likely to see slightly different URLs within the search engines results.
2. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A VPN makes it appear as if your internet usage is coming from another part of the world. So, if based in the US, the VPN could, for example, be set to show that you might be using Google from the UK.
3. Use Private Mode
Most search engines provide a private or incognito mode to allow you to carry out searches unconnected to your standard search profile.
Will Removing Content From Google Solve the Issue?
It’s important to appreciate that Google presents content that it’s found on the web, based on the words you entered into the search box. So, that means that even if Google removes that page from its search results, the content would still be on the web page for people to read. Sure, it’s going to be tougher to find that damaging content, but if people already link to it on social media or via their web pages, it is still accessible to the world.
This then means that a first step may be to get in touch with the website owner or the person who has published the content to ask for it to be removed from their web pages. There are three approaches to finding a way to get in touch with a person who can help:
1. Contact us link
Most sites have ‘Contact us’ pages or publish an email address as a way to get in touch. Quite often, this is found at the very bottom of the site’s homepage.
2. Find Contact Information Using Whois
A Whois search provides you with information on who the owner of the site is. To do this, you can utilize the search tool on the ICANN registry site. Simply enter the URL, and you’ll see a page with the email address to get in touch with the owner of the site or with contact details for the site admin. Either can be contacted with a request for the action you want them to take to remove content from their site.
3. Contact the site’s hosting company
When you carry out the Whois search, you’ll often be provided with details of who hosts the website. If you’re not able to contact the website owner or they’ve not replied to your request, then the hosting company is the next point of contact to request removal.
There can be a time delay between content being removed from the sites URL and it no longer being seen within Google search results. To speed up the removal process, the Outdated Content Removal tool from Google can be utilized.
Will Google Remove Personal Information When Requested?
If attempts to have the website content deleted have been unsuccessful, then you can request that Google removes links to personal information. A removal request will only be considered where there is a significant risk of:
- identity theft
- financial fraud
- other specific harms.
There are five situations when these are likely to be an issue:
1. To remove non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images
Whether it’s photos or video, the use of so-called ‘revenge porn’ is incredibly distressing to the individual. Google does state that for it to be removed, two criteria must be met:
- The imagery shows you nude, in a sexual act, or in an intimate state AND
- You didn’t consent to the imagery or the act being made public
Further information from Google, along with the form to make the request, can be found on this page.
Even in this situation, there may be times when Google still rejects the request to remove the page from search results. This could be when they believe there is strong public interest for the detail to be made public.
2. To remove involuntary fake pornography
If fake pornographic images or video appear in Google’s search engine results, then these too can form part of a request to be removed. For Google to consider this, you need to be identifiable, the image is fake and was distributed without your consent, and it depicts you nude or in a sexually explicit situation.
3. To remove content about an individual where the website utilizes exploitative removal practices
There has been a growing trend for individuals to publish a website that contains damaging content about individuals. Your name may be included within the URL, and then the business or individual demands payment for the URLs to be removed or the content removed from the web. Google will consider your request to remove the site from its search results if:
- You’re the subject of the content
- It’s not a business review site AND
- The site requires payment to consider a removal request
4. To remove financial, medical and national ID information
If there is information published on a web page that results in significant risks due to identity theft, or financial fraud, then Google will consider a request to remove the content.
The type of content which they are likely to remove includes:
- National identification numbers
- Bank account and credit card numbers
- Your medical records
- Images of your signature
5. To remove content that exposes contact information with the intent to cause harm
When your contact information is being used in a malicious way, Google may agree to remove the offending URL so that the content is no longer seen when a web search is carried out.
They will need to ensure that the content on the page includes your contact information along with explicit or implicit threats or calls for others to harm or harass.
What About Defamatory Content?
So you can see that from the five reasons for removing content from Google, they don’t include defamatory content. However, when someone makes malicious or false statements about you, it can have hugely damaging effects when it begins to appear within the Google search results.
To remove the content, the processes we’re already spoken about are a starting point, so that’s speaking with the author, website owner, and hosting company. But if that information still exists on the web pages, then it will keep on causing problems. One option in this situation is to file a defamation lawsuit and obtain a court order. If successful, it will result in the content being removed from the website and the outdated page removed from Google search results.
Court Orders to Get Content Removed
There may come a time when turning to legal options becomes necessary. While there is a risk that this increases public awareness of the content in question, it may be the only option available.
In this situation, the first step to removing defamatory content from Google is to meet an attorney with expertise in this area of work. You’ll want to see examples of their track record in removing information from Google and ensuring content no longer exists in search engine results.
The attorney will work with you to compile evidence and ensure that even if someone begins removing content, that there is still a record of the offending information for the judge to assess the awarding of damages.
Cease and Desist
It’s likely that the attorney will, first of all, send cease and desist letters as a final attempt to get the content removed from both the site pages and from Google search results.
Filing of a Defamation Lawsuit
Should the cease and desist letter not result in an agreement for content to be removed, then a defamation lawsuit will be filed.
At this stage, your legal team will issue subpoenas to both the internet service providers and online platforms such as Google.
Now is the opportunity for your lawyer to use their skill and experience to present your case and highlight the damage caused by the content.
Court Order to Remove Content
With the removal of the content from Google now being a legal requirement, finally, you can be reassured that a link no longer exists to the page, which has caused so much damage and anguish.
An experienced Digital PR and corporate communications professional, Benjamin leads PR strategy and delivery for Igniyte’s clients across multiple countries and sectors.
With over 5 years’ experience in marketing, communications, and PR, Benjamin consistently gains high-ranking positive coverage for our clients in national, international, and specialist online media – including The Times, The National, The I Paper, EuroNews, Forbes and PC Mag.