There are a number of reasons you might want to remove a page from Google’s search index. For example, maybe it was content you’re ashamed of – stolen, unwittingly or not, perhaps – and you want it removed from your record. Maybe it was a page that shouldn’t have been visible to the public in the first place. Maybe it accidentally shared personal information you would rather have hidden. Maybe it’s your own content stolen and posted on another site. How can you go about removing content from Google’s index?
Method 1: Remove and Let Drop
This first method is the slowest and most organic method. If you control the page, all you do is remove the page from your website. The next time Google crawls your site, they will notice that the page is gone – particularly if it is no longer on your sitemap – and they will mark it. Then, when they crawl it another time or two, they will make sure it’s still gone. Once it has been confirmed to be gone, it will be dropped from the Google search index.
The downside to this method is that it’s not fast. It happens whenever Google crawls your site a few times and confirms that the page in question is missing. If you have something you want taken down quickly, you’ll need to take stronger action.
Method 2: Google Webmaster Tools
Google has an information removal request option on their webmaster tools suite. First, you have to remove the page from your site, so this option only works for pages that no longer exist.
You will also need the URL of the unwanted page. Before you delete the page, make sure you have that URL. Otherwise, you will need to do a site search for your site on Google and look for the page that way. It should be pretty easy to find if you remember what page it was, of course.
In your Google Webmaster tools account, go to the main dashboard and find the Optimization section on the side. One of the sub-options is Remove URLs. Click that and choose “create a new removal request.” This will have you put in some information, primarily including the URL and the reason. The reason can be removing it from cache, removing it from the index, or both. I recommend selecting both. Once you have the request filled out, submit it and wait.
It will, generally, take a couple of days for Google to process the request, make sure the page is no longer there, and remove it from their index. You can see the request as it progresses in that section.
Note: Google recommends only using this method on pages that you intended to keep on your site, not remove. They don’t want to go through the extra work of removing a page that will drop from the index automatically. Their expected use case for removal requests is when a page is published early and it should be removed until a later date. For example, say you have a product launch but Google indexes a product page early. You can remove that page from the index until the product actually launches, and then reinstate the content by removing the removal request.
As far as Google is concerned, you should just remove a page from your site and let it drop from the index according to method one if you want a total removal.
You should also note that removal requests as per this method are temporary. They only last for 90 days, after which the page will be returned to the index the next time it is crawled. If the page no longer exists, it won’t be returned to the index, but the removal request will still expire.
You should also avoid using the removal request tool when you want one version of a page removed but not another. For example, if you prefer the http://example.com/subpage URL, and want the http://www.example.com/subpage URL to be removed, you should simply canonicalize the non-www version of the URL. Using a removal request will remove both versions of the page, as it does not care about variations of the URL.
Method 3: Remove Outdated Content
This method is for if you’ve removed the page from your website but it still appears in Google’s index. It’s something of a faster version of method one, though it tends to apply more to sites that have specific personal information, not just any page in general. Still, if you want a page removed ASAP, you can give this method a shot.
The first thing you need to do is go to the Remove outdated content page. You will have to log into your Google account and enter the web address of the page that contains the outdated content you want removed. Then you click “request removal” and one of two messages will appear. One of them is “we think the image or web page you’re trying to remove hasn’t been removed by the site owner.” If this is the case, you will have to follow some instructions and give Google some more information so they know the page is really gone and that it’s still in their index and that it should be removed.
On the other hand, if the message is “this content is gone,” you can just choose “request removal” and submit the request. It will be processed and removed in a short time, probably a couple of days.
Method 4: Submit a Legal Removal Request
This method is only for certain types of information, such as personal identification information like a social security number, a signature, or another piece of private information. It’s also the same method used for removing copyrighted material that you own and have not consented to distribute. You will have to go to this page and follow the instructions. You will also have to check through each of the Google properties to see which apply to your information, and check each that apply. If your content was published on a site that is not owned by Google, you will have to go to the web host of the site that’s hosting it and submit a removal request through them. Google can remove the search results, but can’t remove the content itself.
For nudes and personal images, if you need those removed, visit this page. Click “remove information you see in Google Search” and then in the sub-menu, “In Google’s search results and on a website.” Google will give you some options and tell you to contact the site owner. If you can’t, you will have to specify “No, I couldn’t find any contact information.” Then you choose “A picture of myself” or whatever other category applies, and fill out the form.
Google’s Removal Policy
Google’s goal with the internet is making as much information accessible to as many people as possible. They do, however, comply with laws and with certain regulations and rules that keep them on the good side of their users. They will remove without question any content that involves child sexual abuse and any content removal requests powered by copyright notifications meeting the specifications of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA.
As far as personal information, Google will remove some but not other pieces of information. Typically they will remove specific identification numbers like the Social Security number, the Korea Resident Registration Number, various Tax Identification numbers, and so forth. They will remove bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and images of signatures, because they can all be used for fraud or identity theft. They are also willing to remove nudes or sexual images of you that have been uploaded and shared without consent. However, if the uploader of the content proves that they have consent, your content won’t be removed.
By contrast, Google typically won’t remove publicly available personal information, like telephone numbers, addresses, and birth dates. Any information that is part of the public record is not removed, unless you are in a European jurisdiction and are subject to the Right to be Forgotten.
In order to decide whether a piece of information should be removed or not, Google goes through a series of questions. Is the information part of a government issued identification number? Is it confidential? Can it be used for financial transactions or fraud? Can it be used as a gateway piece of information that can prove an identity in such a way as to obtain more sensitive information? Is it identifiable nudity or sexual content? This is all determined on a case by case basis.
Also, if the content is on an actual government website, it likely won’t be removed. Governments tend to have enough authority that Google doesn’t want to mess with them by saying they’re publishing information they shouldn’t or trying to censor them.
Reasons Google Denies Removal
Sometimes Google will simply deny an information removal request. Here are the various reasons why.
One: The content you want removed from Google’s index is still present on another website. Google could remove it from their index, but then they would crawl and index it again. They don’t want to allow person A to blacklist pages on person B’s site, so they don’t remove information at the request of someone who doesn’t own the site. The exception to this is if the content is yours by copyright and you file a DMCA or copyright takedown request.
Google’s preferred action here is for you to contact the owner of the site posting the information and get them to remove it. If you can’t contact them or they refuse to remove the information, go to their web host and get it removed at that level. If it’s still allowed to remain, you will have to file a legal removal request. If you don’t have legal basis to remove content, you’re out of luck.
Two: The content you want removed from Google’s index is already removed from their index. It’s possible that, in between the time you submit a removal request and the time it is processed, the site in question is crawled and the cached content is removed. Google will then process the request, show that the URL is no longer in their index, and deny the removal request.
Three: When you submit a removal, you generally need to submit a search query, so Google can see what search results are showing the content. If the search terms you use are only on links pointing to the content, but not in the content itself, the page won’t be removed on that basis.
Four: The request is a duplicate. Obviously, Google can’t approve the same request twice, because the second time it ends up number two up there. Duplicate requests just waste time and digital space.
Removing Content Via Web Hosts
One of the main reasons you won’t be able to remove content from Google is because it still exists on the website that hosts it. Now, you can try to contact the website owner, but most of the time they won’t listen to you. Sites on the up and up don’t steal content or post content that shouldn’t be posted. Sites that post the kind of content you would want removed generally don’t listen to their email inboxes. What you need to do, then, is go above their heads.
What you should do first is identify who is hosting the site. The appropriately named WhoIsHostingThis will give you this information. You can also get the WHOIS domain registration information from here.
From there, go to the site of the web host and look for contact information. Often, you will find a way to contact a support rep and will be able to talk to them about removing a piece of content. Make sure you have the URL and the reason why handy. You will, of course, also need to have a good reason to have that content removed. Legal reasons and “it’s my content stolen” copyright reasons are valid.
Once you have the content removed from the web, then you can go back to Google and submit a request to have it removed from the index.