by Michelle Mastrobattista, Senior Vice President, Creative & Client Services
Can negative search results be removed from Google?
There are many reputation management companies out there taking advantage of businesses desperate to remove negative search results from Google. They will promise you “guaranteed results,” but the truth is that nobody can “erase” or even change Google results other than Google. Any consultant that promises to do this is not being honest. That’s not to say that there aren’t ways to remove negative articles, such as having a lawyer draft a cease and desist letter and sending it to the publications that have written negative articles, but for the most part they aren’t as simple as you’d hope.
There are many unscrupulous methods, such as paying off journalists (or even Google employees,) or by maliciously attacking a webpage to take it down. However, if a company is caught using any of these tactics, it can take a reputation crisis from bad to worse.
Over the past few years, other countries (most notably in Europe) have passed so-called “Right to be Forgotten” laws which say people have the right to ask search engines to remove any results with their name in it. The requirements for Google to comply include whether the links are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive.” Currently, Google does not limit the number of requests that can be submitted on the removal of a given link, so it is possible to send multiple requests for each link, written with different angles in an attempt to get links removed. In the United States, however, these movements have been stymied due to concerns about censorship, restrictions on the First Amendment and the right to freedom of speech.
So what can I do? How can I manage negative search results?
You can always change the search results on the channels you own. If there is something negative on your blog, website, or social media channels, this can be edited and removed by the site/handle owner. Unfortunately, there is no way to edit or delete anything published to the web by a third party. Negative articles in an online publication with substantial clout such as The Boston Globe can impact a business for a long time. The internet is permanent. The only real way to remove a negative article is to reach out to the author or publisher directly and appeal for them to take it down. This tactic can be tricky as it could raise more flags for reporters and even prompt a new negative story about your company. If you have a good relationship with the reporter, it may be possible to have an article removed.
Even if you are successful in getting a publisher to remove an article online, it could still take weeks or months for the negative search result to disappear from Google. Google’s spiders are continuously crawling every website on the internet looking for changes, but it can take time for Google to crawl the publisher’s site again and update the search listings.
With a few exceptions for particular circumstances, most negative content is here to stay. Remove what you can, but the best method remains pushing down harmful content with new positive content. Proactively doing this over time will mitigate the impact of any negative or irrelevant results.
According to research, the top-ranking search result on average gets about 31% of traffic, while the second gets 16%, and the third gets 10%. By the time you get down to the eighth slot, you’re talking about 1.7% of traffic. To get content to outrank negative stories is a lengthy process that requires a lot of SEO legwork. These efforts can take six to twelve months before you start seeing results. It is a long game that needs constant updating and management to make an impact.
There are numerous SEO tactics that can help push negative results down onto the second or third page of Google. For example, having a website dedicated to the individual or company in question is important because your website will always come up towards the top. Google places more weight on sites with a URL title that matches the user’s search query. For example, if I were to search for “Tom Brady” on Google, Google would assume I want tombrady.com to come up first and would rank that URL in the top position. If Tom had negative articles written about him online (which he’d never have…) this result would push them down by one place. It is also an opportunity to share all the positive work that Tom is doing on and off the field as well as tell his story in his own unique voice. We would then set up social media channels that link to tombrady.com.
There are specific sites that consistently appear high in the search results for a variety of reasons. Having a Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube are all ways to push negative results down even further onto other pages of Google. Popular social media sites will always rank high in search results because they are websites with extremely high amounts of traffic, giving them more credibility in Google’s eyes. The algorithms favor these massive websites over smaller publishers like the Boston Globe whose traffic is low in comparison. Legacy publishers like The Boston Globe and large online publishers like The Huffington Post will still show up high in search results because they are trusted sources. The only way to push down an article on one of these sites is by getting a more recent article published from the same publication.
Having multiple sites also allows you to link between your websites to make them all rank higher. One of the ways that Google determines a site’s rank in search results is by analyzing how many times other sites link to it. You can get your content to rise in the ranks by linking it to itself. The more content you create and spread across your social channels, the higher they will all begin to appear. If there’s a negative keyword that is hampering your results, you can also try to reclaim that term. For example, let’s say a search for “John Doe” has a ton of positive results, but “John Doe” + “Boston Globe” brings up negative results. John Doe should start including the phrase “Boston Globe” in his positive content creation, helping to bury negative associations with that term.
Ultimately, if someone wants to dig deep enough, they will find negative search results as long as they exist. It is best to retain a trustworthy PR or SEO firm to push out positive content regularly and remove any negative stories through existing relationships with the media.