Removing Negative Information From the Internet
Most of the internet is unpoliced. Pretty much anyone can affect personal or branded online reputation. From the ex-partner doing revenge porn to the competitor spamming forums with bad comments, it is hard to control our digital footprint.
In the online era, people like to share their opinions. Sometimes, they are negative. The problem is that negative content such as scams or scandals tends to spread like wildfire. The reasons for this are:
- People love sharing bad news over good news (especially on social media).
- Search engines return balanced results (good & bad perspectives).
- Search engines love fresh content (whatever it is positive or not).
As online users click more on negative information, it makes them rank higher on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). Thus, individuals & companies may be willing to get rid of that to protect their reputation.
We will see in this article that it is difficult to get something completely removed from the internet. Sometimes, for various reasons, it is even not possible.
Read this step-by-step guide to understand how to remove negative content from the Internet & search engines like Google. Keep in mind there is no easy or quick win in this field.
Reasons to Remove Negative Information
“If this is on the internet, it must be true.”
It is risky for companies to let negative content spread all over the internet. This is the main reason why they look for bad information removals.
Besides, decades of data say that people are willing to buy products only if they get at least a 4-star rating. What if badly intentioned people keep uploading 1-star poor reviews? Potential customers, or business partners, may avoid contacting the brand because of that.
Overall, negative information can cost lots of money, especially if they come from high authority websites. A few New York Times articles, for instance, impacted brands by costing them millions of U.S. dollars.
Once on the internet, negative information does not stand still. Content published in one location may spread fast & appear in different places. Other websites can copy this content. It can also show up on search engines.
Sometimes, when the hard work of content removal is done in one place, it must be continued in other locations. If not, it can still have destructive effects years later.
Factors Impacting Content Removal
To control their digital footprint, businesses need online reputation management. It is not an easy task because the techniques change with time. Overall, content removal depends on 2 main factors:
- Kind of information published online.
- Location where content has been posted.
Those criteria are important because they define the feasibility of the removal project. For example, we cannot delete negative content if it is still newsworthy or based on facts. Similarly, it is extremely challenging, not to say impossible, to remove something that goes viral.
To remove negative content, the information must match with specific conditions. For example, it is doable to delete defamatory data or a false statement made to a third party that causes damage to an individual or a company’s reputation.
Google reviews have their dedicated rules which concern the following types:
- Spam content.
- Fake content.
- Off-topic content.
- Offensive content.
- Dangerous content.
If the review matches with one of those kinds, businesses can flag it to alert Google. It may take a few days for them to answer. Google usually replies to Google My Business reviews within 3 days.
What Can & Cannot Be Removed From Google Search
As explained in the previous section, not all online content can be removed. Putting apart their meaning, here is a list of information formats that are eligible for removal from the internet:
- Discussion forums.
Now, whatever offensive or not those content is, the following formats cannot be removed:
- Date of birth.
- Phone number.
Individuals & businesses must be aware of this & plan their online reputation management accordingly.
How to Remove Online Content that We Own?
We will differentiate 2 main kinds of data for removal: the content we own, and the one for which we have no control. We will detail the steps of the second one in the next section. For now, let’s focus on the content that belongs to an online platform we manage.
The process is straightforward. On a website, we need to access the Content Management System (CMS), like WordPress for example. From the backend, an admin can remove the negative content, or entire pages if needed.
On social media platforms, both individuals & businesses have control of their personal fan pages. With the right access, they can simply remove content. In case of spam from another internet user, it may be time-consuming & some monitoring can be mandatory. It remains possible to delete any bad comment made on personal social posts.
From the Google Search Console, there is a feature to temporarily remove content from a website in case the permanent deletion is not an option.
Unfortunately, in most cases, online negative content we do not want to see is hosted on platforms we do not control. The removal process is much more complex & time-consuming.
How to Remove Online Content that We Do Not Own?
The very first step to removing bad online information is to identify the original source. From this point, we must track all the others.
Use Google Alerts to monitor the negative content publishing over the internet. Input your keywords (ex: “your brand name scam”) & you will receive alerts of web pages mentioning them directly to your email inbox, at a daily or weekly frequency.
Once this is done, follow our guidelines below.
Contact the Negative Content Publisher
The quest to remove bad data starts with the original publishing source. We should always begin there. Never directly contact Google to remove content. Google is a search engine that crawls & indexes web pages. It does not create content. It is not responsible for what third parties say about you or your business.
Contact the original source, for example, the website owner. Politely ask for the removal by being specific. During this step, keep tracking proof of any communication. In case things get more serious later like you need to work with an attorney, having screenshots to submit would significantly help to close the case.
It may be hard to find the website owner. Look at the contact form first & collect the email or phone number. Otherwise, perform a domain lookup with Whois. Check also on LinkedIn in case managers have an account there.
Another option is to contact the website hosting company (Whois also provides this information). They do not always answer, but when they do, they are able to share the right contact.
In case you know the author of the negative content post, go to a search engine & type “Author name email ID.” The search results should display his/her email address. Use the command Control + F & input “@” to find it quickly.
If the website owner is unwilling or unable to remove the negative content, then we can still ask him/her to apply a no-index tag. This doesn’t remove the page from the internet, but it tells search engines not to index it.
In real life, those steps rarely work. They are still necessary to perform by making sure we screenshot everything.
Otherwise, we can also request a content edit. For example, instead of having the brand name associated with the bad information, the publisher shall replace it with a more generic description like “a local company”.
Make sure to understand the content removal policies of the specific website or platform before asking anything. On Facebook, the community standards are strict & clear.
If contacting the negative content publisher fails, then it is time to consider the next option.
De-Index the Negative Content
Most content publishers refuse to remove their content, whether they comply with their country’s regulations or not. If this happens to you, then you should request professional support to get the content out of the search results.
Prodima Vietnam de-index content for all kinds of businesses in every field. We have the experience, the skills, as well as our entries to a few private circles like Google’s to help you out.
Contact us if you want to remove unwanted search results from the internet.
Apply Reverse SEO
For certain cases, removing bad online information is not always possible.
If there is no way to delete the negative content you want to see out of the internet, check this alternative: reverse SEO.
Reverse SEO is pushing positive content at the top of the SERPs, so the negative content disappears far away in the pages no one reads.
In other words, reverse SEO pushes down the content by burying the negative search results at the second page or lower.
It means the content will still exist somewhere, but very few people, not saying no one, could reach it. The logic is that what people do not see cannot harm you.
To illustrate this alternative, check the statistics. The first page of Google SERP gets around 95% of search traffic. A very small number of online users will dig further. There is a saying: “If it lands on the second page of Google, it doesn’t exist”.
Of course, pushing down negative content is not as good as totally removing it. There will be traces of it somewhere. Besides, the search engines’ algorithms change. What is on the fifth page of Google today could go up tomorrow depending on various factors.
Reverse SEO remains a viable option for individuals & businesses willing to get rid of sticky negative information.
While the purpose of SEO is to make web pages more visible online, reverse SEO does the opposite. It makes content less noticeable on the internet. This is the objective of online reputation management to push good content at the top.
Reverse SEO, like SEO itself, is very technical. We recommend you contact SEO professionals if you want to consider this.
Take Legal Action
Depending on the situation, a legal request may be the last resort.
Get the help of a lawyer makes sense in the following cases:
- Unlawful or illegal content.
- Online defamation or discrimination.
- Copyright infringement.
Carefully consider this option. Fees can be high & the dispute can affect the brand even more if it goes public. It also takes time to file a criminal denunciation to the police.
How Long does it Take to Remove Negative Content from the Internet?
The timeline to remove negative content depends on the circumstances & factors mentioned above. It can take from 2 weeks up to 6 months. Between sending the removal request & having the deletion done, you should expect an average of 3 months.
Keep in mind that online content removal is never guaranteed to succeed. This is a fastidious process that depends on many factors. The good news is that, if you manage to delete this bad content, it is usually forever (not a 100% guarantee, though).
Reverse SEO is not as “definitive” as complete content suppression, but this is a reliable strategy if professionals handle this task. Do not hesitate to contact Prodima Vietnam’s team of experts in case you have any questions!