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by Tara West on 2nd June 2011
As an SEO, I spend lots of time optimising websites to get them indexed by Google, so today I thought I’d turn it around and write about how to get a website removed from Google! This post talks about when you might want to keep content away from Google-Bot, and what your options are depending on whether you own the website.
Removing Websites from Google.
You might be wondering, ‘Why would you ever want to do that?!’ Well, aside from the crazy stories you see on Clients From Hell;
“Please erase all other Google search results showing our competitors websites immediately. If you cannot do this, we’ll be forced to take legal action against you.” – CFH
there are some occasions when you may genuinely need content removed from Google.
Google own the internet, right?
Despite the popular misconception, Google do not own the internet. It’s this misconception that makes so many people think that when it comes to removing content from the web, Google can click their fingers and make it happen. Unfortunately this is not the case, far from it in fact.
The steps you can take to remove content from Google depend on whether you won the website:
If you own the website
If you would like to ensure content from your own website is not indexed by Google or removed from their index, you have two options.
You can block the Google-Bot from crawling the selected URL or entire website using a robots.txt file. Again it is important to remember that there are several robot commands that can be used to achieve this, depending on whether you just want to block Google or all robots. Another factor to consider is that, although most genuine robots (such as the Google-Bot) tend to obey these guidelines, other malicious robots might not.
A ‘No Index’ Meta instruction can also be used in the same way as a robots.txt file to block robots from indexing your site.
These options are ideal if you require entire URLs not to be indexed. This might be because you’d rather a user did not land on that page of your site from search results. For example, landing on a shopping basket page before having browsed any products may prompt the user to leave the site and they may not return through other search results.
If you have entire pages you would not like to be found in search results or be easily accessible (for example special time-tables for facilities at a sports club that should only be available to members), you could make the information password protected or request registration to view it. Google will not index content that is not directly accessible to the public.
If you would like a page removed because it is an old page which returns a 404 error, you could use a permanent 301 redirect to redirect the URL to another relevant page. This would mean that while the URL is still in the index, anyone who clicks on it will be re-directed to another page, so you won’t lose the visitor. After time, the redundant URL which had the 301 placed on it will be dropped from the index.
Of course, there is always the simplest option, which is to remove the page from your website entirely.
Whichever of these approaches you choose, there is still a period of time where your site will remain indexed, until it is next crawled. You can speed up this process by using Google’s URL Removal Request tool, which can be found within Google Webmaster Tools. This tool will only work if you have made the necessary changes before-hand.
If you have removed an image from your website, rather than an entire page, you can still use the URL Removal Request Tool, but instead of submitting the page URL, you will need to submit the specific URL of the image (you can get this by viewing the image in full size from the search results and then copying the link address).
What if you don’t own the website?
If you do not own the website, it can be more difficult to get content removed from Google’s index. You have the same options as above, however you will need to ask the site’s Webmaster to make the changes for you.
The best way to contact the Webmaster of a site is to look for contact information that has been given on the website and use that to call or write to them. Try to be polite and explain why you require the content to be removed, even if you may be annoyed they have used it, as you are more likely to get positive results from this approach.
If you cannot reach them, or can’t see any contact details on the site, you can use Who-Is to look up their contact details. If this returns an error, you can try doing a ‘Who-Is’ Google search for [ whois www.example.com ].
If the reason you require it to be removed is because it is incorrect information, try to offer them correct information and ask them to update their page, rather than remove it. If they do this for you, you can still ask them to use the URL Removal Request Tool to request that Google’s cached version of the page is removed and updated. Just make sure you select this option when you submit the URL.
If it is negative reviews or social media content you would like removed, you may not be lucky enough to persuade the Webmaster to remove it. In this case, you could try replying to the negative reviews or social media content to try to resolve the issue. This way, if users do click on the site from the SERP, at least you can try to show a balanced review. This can be a tricky tactic though, as the more recently content has been commented on, the more likely it is to continue to be ranked well, as it is supplying searchers with recent information in the eyes of Google. If the negative content is old and has not been added to in a while, you might be better off leaving it be.
You could also try dominating the SERPs with other positive information to counter the negative or incorrect information. For example, you could create blog posts containing information that corrects the incorrect or damaging information, and optimise them for the terms that the incorrect information is being ranked for. As well as blog posts, you could create reviews, local profiles, Wikipedia pages, and articles. Claim all local profiles you create where possible (check your profiles on Get Listed) as this gives them more validity and ensures they cannot usually be altered by others.
If the information you want removed is seriously harmful (in Google’s eyes this means social security or government ID number, bank account or credit card number, an image of your hand written signature, or your full name or business name appearing on an adult site that appears to be spamming search results), you can request specific removals. Google will then contact the hosting provider and request them to remove the page from the internet entirely.
Phew! It’s gone from Google’s index, that’s it now isn’t it?!
As discussed at the start of this post, Google does not own the internet. This means that even if you succeed on removing content from Google’s index, it is important to remember that it is still live on the internet. It can still be found if it is linked to by other websites, and can still be indexed by other search engines.