Editor’s note: This article is part of a featured series that tackles the basics of reputation management. In our Reputation Management 101 series, you’ll learn about basic (but important) concepts, tasks, and tips for reputation management. Each post will include actionable advice and realistic ideas that you can use — today — to improve your online reputation. Join us as we explore reputation management resources that everyone should know!
So you’ve made a mistake and there’s a photo of you that you’d rather not share with the world — especially employers, colleagues, or business partners. Maybe you passed out drunk with friends who thought it would be funny to take a photo, or took a racy photo in a bikini on vacation. You might have even ended up with a mug shot. You certainly wouldn’t be the first person to have an embarrassing photo online. But a bad photo — or multiple bad photos — can really hurt your reputation and cause serious harm, including turning employers off during a job search or even making you lose your job.
The bad news is that it’s often difficult to remove a photo from Google, much less the entire Internet. Once they’re out there, photos are hard to contain. But the good news is that not all hope is lost: there are some steps you can take to try to have photos removed from the Internet, or at least Google. And if that doesn’t work, you can add new photos that can help bury negative image results. Read on as we explain how you can effectively “remove” an image from Google search results and get back on track with your good reputation.
Removing Photos from the Internet
In an ideal world, you’d be able to completely remove bad photos from the Internet, not just Google. Without the photo online, Google will have nothing to link to, and it will simply disappear. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to have a photo completely removed from the Internet.
Removing Photos You Own from the Internet
Sometimes things get out of control and photos spread a little faster than you expected them to, or you’ve forgotten all of the places where you accidentally posted that photo of you on the beach. But there’s good news: if you’re the one who posted the photo, there’s a good chance you can take it down, too.
Often, removing the photo is as simple as logging in to your website, social media profile, or other service where you posted the photo and deleting it. It may take some time for Google to de-index the image, but eventually, it will disappear.
Removing Photos You Don’t Own from the Internet
More difficult to remove are photos that you didn’t post yourself online. It’s not as easy as just logging in and deleting, but chances are that if you know the person who took the photo, you can simply request that they remove it.
In some cases, you may have to get tough, such as on websites that have stolen your photos, or photos that were taken without your permission. The best approach is to offer a simple, polite request that the photo be removed, and take further steps if necessary.
Getting Help Removing Photos
Under certain circumstances, Google will help you remove photos from search results. While this isn’t the same as removing a photo from the Internet, it still helps to minimize exposure of the image. View Google’s Removal Policies and legal removal requests to find out more about the situations in which Google will remove content, including copyright infringement and sensitive personal information.
Also, Google offers a filtered Safe Search that keeps pornography and other offensive images out of some search results. If the photo you want removed qualifies as pornographic or offensive, you can have it removed from the filtered search results by reporting it as offensive.
Keep in mind that even if you don’t own the website where the photo is hosted, if you own the photo, you can take advantage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in some cases. Of course, it’s important to note that this only applies if you are the photographer and copyright holder of the photo, and fair use may apply.
Individuals who have photos on mug shot websites have special resources that can help. In some states, it’s illegal to charge citizens for removal of mug shot photos, and photos must be removed upon request. That’s great news for citizens in protected states, but others may not be so lucky. Still, as new laws are introduced and Google and payment processors punish mug shot websites, it’s becoming easier to get your photo removed. Start by checking the website’s policy and requesting removal, then involve legal action if your state offers it.
Photos Live Forever Online, but Not On Google
Even if you’re ultimately able to get a photo removed from the Internet, remember that it’s never really gone. The photo may have been cached by Google or saved on the Wayback Machine (yes, it’s a real thing). It is technically still possible to find embarrassing photos that you’ve had removed. However, most people searching for your reputation will not be persistent or knowledgeable enough to find it, so removal is typically an effective option. Still, it’s something to keep in mind next time you pose for a photo with a drink in your hand.
If you’re able to have an image successfuly removed from the Internet, you can help speed up the process of removal on Google by using Google’s Remove Outdated Content tool. This tool allows you to tell Google when an image is removed from a website and let them know it should not longer appear in search results.
Taking Over Google Image Results
Just like negative links, if you can’t get images removed, it’s best to simply bury them. That means the image will still exist on Google and the Internet, but it will be pushed so far down on image search results that most people searching for you simply won’t see it. The basic strategy is to share and spread enough good images related to your name that hardly anyone can see the bad images you’d like to erase.
- Sign up for social media profiles: Google loves to crawl public images from social media, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Flickr. Pinterest and Instagram can be particularly useful for getting your photo out there. Upload multiple photos of yourself that you’d like to be related to your name, and be sure to change any settings that might keep the photos private or otherwise restrict them from Google.
- Get your own website or blog: Invest less than $10 on your own domain name with your full name on it, and you can add photos that will end up on Google search results. Buy a domain name, develop a blog or website, and be sure to add photos that have your name in the file as well as the alt tags. It’s best if your domain includes your full name.
- Post on multiple websites: If you have the opportunity to guest post or develop a column, take it, and be sure to offer your head shot to go along with your bio for each post. You can even use your photo as a profile image for discussion boards. Of course, you should be careful about what you post, especially if you’re using your real name.
- Be sure that images stand out: While a striking image may not help you rank the photo better in search results, it is likely to get more attention — and may even distract searchers from other images you’d rather they not see. Consider using a professional photographer to take a series of great head shots for you that will help you stand out.
Ultimately, you may never be able to have a negative photo removed from Google. But with persistence, it is possible to mitigate the damage. In the future, be careful about taking, posting, and sharing images of yourself that might be questionable or offensive, and practice good reputation monitoring to prevent serious damage to your reputation and livelihood.