Understanding how to take content down can be as important as putting it up; it is part and parcel of the process. Removing a page from Google doesn’t have to be complicated. Whether it is to protect a new website, or clear up misinformation, there are a few reasons why you might want to remove content from search engines:
- Information has been leaked about a new product or service before it is launched.
- A page has been deleted but the information from that page is still available online.
- Information has been changed on a website but a search engine is still displaying old or inaccurate information.
The correct method will depend on whether you own the URL or not. The next thing to consider is whether you would like it removed from Google or from the internet. Removing a page from Google will not remove it from the web, that will require a more complex process.
If you need to remove multiple pages from Google’s index you should prioritise them accordingly. The lowest priority pages contain duplicated content in the form of multiple URLs, which can be easily rectified. Moderate priority removal normally involves information that is directed at a small group of people, like employees or subscribers, that has mistakenly been published publicly. The highest priority pages for removal contain security-related or sensitive data. This could come in the form of sensitive consumer or employee data. Below we will outline the different ways in which you can remove a page from Google depending on who owns the page, what content you are trying to remove and whether it is permissible according to Google’s policies.
If You Own The URL
- Google Search Console
- Using Canonical Tags
- Robot Files
- No Index
If Someone Else Owns The URL
- Remove Outdated Content Tool
- Removing Your Own Content
- Removing an Image
- Contact the Owner
If You Own The URL
1. Google Search Console
If you own the URL that you are trying to remove, using the website management tool Google Search Console could be the easiest approach. First you must delete the page, and ensure that you have access to your Google Search Console account. In order to remove data from Google, the URL of the page indexed by Google must be deleted or changed. As well as this, the website that it appears on must be verified by Google Search Console. You can find the page easily, by clicking on the problematic search result. Next, head to your Google Search Console and click “Go to the old version > Google Index > Remove URLs”. Then choose “Temporarily hide” and enter the precise address of the page you would like to remove. You will be prompted to provide a reason for its removal. If you want the page removed you should choose the option “Clear URL from caches and temporarily remove from search”. It could take a few days before the page is removed. The status of your request can be tracked on Google Search Console.
2. Using Canonical Tags
This method pertains to duplicated content. If there are multiple versions of the same page and you would like to consolidate links to direct users to a single page, the method you should be using is canonicalisation. Using a canonical tag specifies a URL as the version you would like users to see when they visit a page. It only works if the pages are similar, otherwise it can be overridden as it is a suggestion not an imperative.
A redirect is used to take a user and a search bot from one page to another. The redirect most frequently used by SEOs is 301 which informs search engines that you would like the final URL to be displayed in search results as well as where signals are consolidated. A 302 redirect, or a temporary redirect, informs search engines that you would like the original URL to remain indexed and to consolidate signals there.
4. Robot Tiles
Robots.txt files are used to tell Google which pages the crawler can request from your website. This method can be used specifically for removing an image from Google search results. Use robots.txt to block either an image or the page that hosts that image. This will only remove the image not the entire page; the page may still appear in search results without the image. Google have a Robots.txt Tester Tool (1) where you can edit and test robots.txt files. Google maintains that this is not a method of keeping a page out of search results and should only be used to block images.
5. No Index
A useful way of stopping a page from appearing in a Google Search is by including a ‘no index’ meta tag in the HTML code of the page. It also works if by returning a ‘no index’ header in the HTTP request. This method allows you to change your website page-by-page and is helpful if you do not have root access to the server. The next time Googlebot searches the page and sees that tag or header, it will be dropped from Google Search in its entirety. This will occur regardless of whether other pages are linked to it.
Google must be able to crawl the page in order to see the meta tag. If you include a ‘no index’ and your page is still appearing in search results that could be as a result of Google not having crawled your page since you implemented the change. You can request that Google crawl your page using the URL Inspection Tool(2). Google may also not be able to see the changes if there is a robots.txt blocking the URL from Google crawling the page. Use the Robots.txt Tester Tool to edit your robots.txt in order to allow your page to be crawled.
If Someone Else Owns The URL
Oftentimes the information you would like removed is on a website that is not your own. Sometimes inaccurate or false information as well as problematic images can be displayed on other organisation’s websites or individual’s pages. If you do not own the URL, removing content will depend on whether the information is still visible on the page that Google is displaying.
Google is not obliged to remove content you do not agree with so your request must meet certain criteria to be successfully removed. The search engine’s goal is to identity content that is relevant to queries, not to make a moral judgement on content. If you would like to request the removal of information because of a personal objection there are a few methods available to achieve this.
- Adult Contentcan be reported to Google SafeSearch which is a tool that blocks explicit content from Google search results.
- If a website is in violation of a Google policy it is eligible to be removed. Review Google’s removal policies to understand what can be categorised as a violation and be removed upon request.
- If content is illegal in some way it can be removed under the relevant law.
Below are a list of tools that you can use to request the removal of content that is on a page owned by someone other than you.
1. Remove Outdated Content Tool
If the content is no longer visible on Google search, you can request that it be removed using Remove Outdated Content tool. This process will only be successful it the content has already been removed from the web or if it has already been changed. It is imperative that you use the correct the URL when making your request, otherwise your request will not be successful. If there are multiple URLs displaying content that you want removed you must submit separate requests for each one, for both search and image results.
2 Removing Your Own Content
If your content is being used on a website that you have not authorised you might be eligible to file a claim using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). On Google’s Copyright Removal tool there is a DMCA takedown request which would request the removal of any copyrighted content. This is helpful for original content that you have created i.e. artwork or images.
If you live in the EU your personal information is protected under GDPR’s right to be forgotten. You can request to have information about you removed using the EU Privacy Removal form.
3. Removing an Image
If you would like to have an image removed from a site that is not yours you can’t use robots.txt which was outlined above. You may however request that an image be removed if it contains personal data including revenge porn, bank details, or your signature, among others. Google’s removal policies (3) outline which images may be requested for removal in detail. If the image is covered by the policies then requesting its removal is a simple process. If the image is not covered by Google’s policies unfortunately you will have to contact the owner of the page. As Google does not own the site that the image appears on, it cannot remove the image from the web. If Google did delete the data it would still appear in other search engines or if people went directly to the URL in question.
4. Contact The Owner
If you would like to have a page removed that you do not own, and Google is still displaying the information, there are a few steps that you must complete. First, contact the owner of the website and request that they remove the page. If you don’t know who owns the page there are a few ways to find out.
- Use the contact information provided on the website. It is frequently found at the bottom of a website’s homepage.
- You can utilise a Whois search. This means going to google.com and searching for whois www.example.com which will give you the email address of the owner of the page under Registrant Email or Administrative Contact.
- If the Whois search provides you with the host of the website rather than the owner you can also contact them to try to understand who the owner fo the page is.
Once you know who owns the page, ensure to ask for the removal of all the relevant information, images, and copies on any pages available to them.
If it is not possible to communicate with the website owner or if they are not willing to remove the pages, there are further steps you can take. If the information appears on a Google site like Youtube, or Blogger, visit the removal troubleshooter for Google Properties page (4). If the information is on a non-Google site, there is a Removal Troubleshooter for third-party pages available as well (5). Once the source of the problematic information is removed, use the Remove Outdated Content Tool outlined above to remove the page from Google Search results. This request must be made individually for each page and image that appears in Google’s search results.
Whether you’re trying to remove duplicated content, misinformation, or personal details, knowing who owns the URL is key. We have discussed how to remove pages from Google using the search engine’s own tools, as well as external forms like the EU Privacy Removal form and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act request. To successfully remove a page you need to be diligent and persistent in your intentions. Knowing exactly which URLs contain the content you would like removed, as well as who owns them is essential. Ensure to use the resources provided by Google, and cited at the end of this article. Managing the online content that is available about you or your company is a necessary process in the twenty-first century.
Personal Information Removal Request Form: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/legal-removal-request?complaint_type=rtbf&visit_id=637202230061146146-20083139&rd=1