8 Ways to Remove Negative Search Engine Listings

by Brett Borders

Just as there are countless “credit repair” companies who claim they can erase past debts, there are now a multitude of reputation management firms claiming they can “remove negative search engine listings.”

spotless1.jpg

A Spotless Reflection. image credit: benprks

So, can negative listings actually be removed from Google? Not just making them less visible by pushing them down off the first page… but actually making it so the page no longer exists?

“Yes, it is possible to remove some types of pages.”

But the most common kind of web reputation damage – strong pages on strong domains that have been consistently ranking for months or years – are often incredibly difficult to budge. The owner won’t take them down till hell freezes over, you have no valid legal case, and Google won’t give your (more recently created) pages the same weight.

But negative results can sometimes be permanently changed or removed with persistence, tact and savvy. Here’s how:

8 Ways to Remove Negative Results from the Google

  1. Ask Nicely
  2. I’ve gotten nasty information removed by calling the blogger and having a nice long “blogger to blogger” talk with them. Appeal to their conscience. Explain why it’s good for them to change the information, and explain why hosting negative or defamatory info might reflect poorly on their own website. Don’t accuse them of bad journalism or insult them – respect the effort they took to make the content but urge them to consider an alternate headline, tone, etc. Ask if there’s anything you could do to help them out in exchange (write a review, give a link, do SEO for their site, send them a “thank you” gift, etc.).

  3. Ask the moderator to remove the offending thread or post
  4. Sometimes the author of the information won’t budge, but a forum or social site moderator will want to avoid conflict and will be more receptive to removing defamatory or misleading information. It usually doesn’t hurt to ask.

  5. Audit the site for Google Webmaster Guidelines violation, and report them
  6. Check to see if the site is buying or selling any paid links, keyword stuffing, hiding text, cloaking content, or doing anything else in direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you find anything spammy, report the site to Google or report paid links inside of Google Webmaster Tools console.

  7. File a DMCA Takedown Notice
  8. If the site is infringing on your trademarks or copying your content, and they are located or hosted in the USA, you can file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice with the OSP (online service provider) and if that fails, you can file it with the search engines. Check out this excellent guide to enforcing copyrights.

  9. Offer a Cash Payment / Settlement
  10. Some people have successfully offered a cash settlement to have negative information down. A lot of online bloggers are in it for the money, and so are most of the reputation extortionists (Web publishers, like the RipoffReport, who encourage and directly profit from anonymous complaint content). It could be cheaper and easier to “pay to make it go away” than to pay for months of reputation management, content and link building efforts. Beware, though, of opening yourself up to ongoing extortion. And be careful of what you put in writing. You might want to contact the webmaster anonymously, by telephone, to test their response to such an offer, rather than send them a written letter or e-mail that they could reprint on their website.

  11. Threaten a Lawsuit
  12. You can send an official-looking letter threatening to sue people for defamation, and that could be enough to scare people into taking down content. Beware: if you threaten to sue someone, make sure you have a case and actually plan on following through with it, if necessary. Many times, I’ve seen legal threats backfire and make the situation flare up much worse. Threats of litigation bring out a harsh and unforgiving side in people, and it can prompt your defamer to want to “stick it to you” even worse.

For more detailed legal information on some of these suggestions, ChillingEffects.org or any of the excellent posts of SEOmoz’s legal expert Sarah Bird are great places to start.

Blackhat Reputation Management Tactics:

It’s important to be aware of some of the more heavy-handed tactics, even if you don’t practice them yourself:

  1. Negative SEO
  2. For a long time, people believed that “nothing another Webmaster can do will be able to harm your websites’ rankings.” According to some black hat SEO experts, that is not true anymore. Negative SEO techniques, such as link spamming or buying penalized sites in a similar niche and 301 redirecting them to to your competitor’s pages, are “enough to have a relatively dramatic impact on rankings.” This Forbes article on negative SEO is pretty well-done and interesting.

  3. Counter-Attack the Reputation of Your Critic
  4. Some people have successfully counter-attacked their defamer, by anonymously exposing “fabricated” details of their past, making a YourDefamerSucks.com site, or filing a Ripoff Report about their business. This would theoretically give you a stronger bargaining position to suggest that you mutually withdraw the negative information – by kicking some empathy into your defamer. I haven’t done this, as I am not really a “digital hitman” for hire – but I’ve heard others have done it successfully.

The Importance of Making Good Web Karma

In the social media era, we all live in very transparent, digital “glass houses.” And throwing stones is as easy as a few clicks on the keyboard.

Remember that defaming others on the Web can have a profoundly destructive impact on their business, career and life.

Interact with kindness, humanity and positivity and start creating positive content now to build a spotless reputation on the Web. Monitor your reputation, and quickly and tactfully respond to grievances and to make sure they don’t escalate or get cemented into the search results.

And think of these removal techniques as an emergency last resort, when all else has failed.

—–

I’d love to hear your own ideas and experiences with removing negative links in the search engines. Please leave your comments below…!

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  • http://www.alice-in-wonderland.net Lenny

    Good post.

    However, reporting a site to Google won’t help much, unless they are doing some VERY bad things. Most of the time, Google will just use this data to improve their algorithms, not to penalize specific sites.

  • http://www.OldSchoolSEO.com Anthony

    Lenny, I have personally had Google remove negative info from their database with an email. If you make a reasonable case they should comply especially given that they could be held liable for “promoting” libel or defamation of character if the information truly isn’t accurate.

    For #5 – Get it in writing and once you are paid I would then “make some noise” online about the extortion that took place and post the actual correspondence. If their intention is malicious, then they deserve whatever backlash they get – Justice Served!

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    Another great blog! Thanks!

  • http://www.personalbrandsonline.com Andy Greider

    Howdy Brett -

    Some awesome tips in here – and some things to be tried to see if you can help remove bad and/or untrue press. Sadly, we’re only heading for more of this in the future, and the people who do it are less likely than most to remove it.

    One other suggestion is checking into services to lift you above the fray – see http://www.qaliassignup.com

  • Brett Borders

    Andy,

    Sadly, I think a lot more reputation extortion is on the way. I hear people wistfully thinking about it out loud, and it’s kind of twisted :(

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    these are really nice tips…I would give it a try…

    Thanks a lot for this superb info…:)

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    Good post.

    However, reporting a site to Google won't help much, unless they are doing some VERY bad things. Most of the time, Google will just use this data to improve their algorithms, not to penalize specific sites.

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  • EL

    I WAS DEFAMED BY A JURNO 12 YEARS AGO NOW ITS NO 1 ON GOOGLE AFTER BEING BURIED FOR YEARS. HOW DID THEY GET IT TO THE NO.1 POSITION?.
    THEY HAVE RUINED MY GOOD NAME WITH LIES AND MY BUSINESS

  • http://socialmediarockstar.com Brett Borders

    El,

    really sorry about this.

    email me your full name – brett at onlinereputation edge dot k0m – and I'll take a quick look.

    -Brett

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    I loved your article. I was just curious why 5 or 6 year old forum posts about me seem to linger on my google search, even beating out my new content from equally established domains. I've always heard that you have to maintain the threads, otherwise they gradually drop off, yet these older unflattering threads don't appear to be going anywhere soon.

  • smodeski

    I almost forgot, is there a seo company that specializes in promoting the older content in my search engine results? I don't really need new articles like Rep Management companies tend to do; I just want my existing content promoted.

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