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) reputation management concepts. Each post will include actionable items that you can use — today — to improve your online reputation.

One of the most harmful things that can happen to your reputation is a negative search result on the first page of Google. This could be a poor or unflattering review, a negative news story, or an article that paints you or your business in an unfavorable light. Whatever it is, if you don’t manage it properly, it can lead to detrimental effects like loss of business, clients, loyal constituents and votes — your legacy and the good name you’ve built your entire career.

When you first notice the negative search result, it’s best if you don’t immediately react by leaving a comment or reaching out to the site owner in anger, all of which can make the situation worse. You also may not be able to contact Google — search engines don’t really work like that. But there is plenty that you can do. Read on to learn how to remove negative search results from Google.

Removing Content from the Internet

The most direct and permanent way to remove a bad search result from Google is to completely remove it from the Internet. Eradicating the content means Google no longer has the negative result to display, and anyone who searches for your name won’t be able to find it. However, getting content removed from the Internet is far easier said than done.

Links on the Internet will fall under one of two categories: websites or profiles you own and control, and those that you don’t. Obviously, it’s much easier to remove links that you own — but chances are, if it’s a negative link, you don’t own it anyway. We’ll assume that any domains or websites you own are working to support positive search results for you or your business, as issues with your own website may point to bigger problems than a negative search result.

Removing Content That You Own

For profiles that you own, such as a Yelp business page or social media profile, you can do what you can to edit your profile and improve the information so that it portrays you or your business in a more positive light. Fill out the profile completely and truthfully with interesting, positive information, such as business or campaign updates. If you don’t think you can salvage the profile, it may be possible to completely delete the account and remove your presence from the site.

Still, this approach is not without risk. Read the fine print: some websites may allow you to remove your business account, but the reviews will still remain. And that means you’ve lost control of your account and will be cut off from adding more positive reviews in the future.
For this situation, it may be better to simply maintain the account and commit to working on earning great reviews.

Removing Content You Don’t Own

Chances are good that if you’re dealing with a negative search result, it’s not on a page or website that you control. This means you’ll need to enlist professional counsel for help in getting negative content removed. This is the most effective approach, as removing a page completely from the Internet is better than removing it from Google or burying it under other search results.

First, you can try contacting the website owner by email, but do so under professional advisement to ensure you don’t cause any additional harm. Whatever your approach, be polite and personal. It’s also important to understand that you may be completely ignored: website owners may not be sympathetic, or not even see your email at all.

Getting Help from Google and Legal Authorities

For certain cases of sensitive or false information, you can get help from Google and legal authorities.

Google’s policy allows for the removal of certain sensitive information, including financial information or identification numbers that may put you at risk for identity theft or financial fraud. Google also removes or hides certain offensive images and videos. You may also be able to have Google remove content that violates the law from search results.

If you have information that falls under Google’s removal policies, it’s a good idea to reach out to the search engine for help, again under professional counsel. However, keep in mind that removing the content from Google is not the same thing as removing it from the Internet: the page will still exist, and the link can still be shared.

You may also want to look into online defamation laws or laws that protect certain segments of the population. However, keep in mind that a lawsuit or legal action may only serve to draw more attention to the link that you’d like to get rid of, or generate new negative content about the same topic.

The Internet Never Forgets

Throughout your removal process, keep in mind that the Internet, in many ways, “never forgets.” In other words, if the page has existed on Google, there’s a good chance it’s been archived on the Wayback Machine, or cached by the search engine. Even if you’ve had it removed, content never really leaves the Internet. Still, only the most persistent searcher is likely to look that deeply to find information about you or your business, so if you’re able to have the page removed from the Internet or the search results, it’s likely sufficient in terms of protecting your online reputation

Burying Negative Search Results on Google

In order to eradicate negative content from the Internet or Google search results, it must be extremely sensitive or slanderous information, or the website owner happens to be accessible and willing to help, which is unlikely if they published it in the first place. It’s nearly impossible to get content removed completely.

Moving negative content deep in the search results is another possibility, which will significantly reduce its visibility and impact on your reputation.

Why First Impressions Matter on Google

Statistics have shown that the vast majority (over 95% in some cases) of Internet users don’t bother scrolling past the first page of search results. What’s more, the first five search results get over 75% of the clicks.

This is why negative search results that appear on the top of the first page are the most detrimental. If you can move it past where most people are known to look, you can minimize the impact of negative content.

Burying Negative Search Results with Fresh, Positive Content

The main concept behind burying negative search results is to create authoritative content that’s good enough to outrank them, which is best done under the advisement of a professional team. The following are common methods for outranking bad results with positive results:

Set up social profiles: Social media profiles often rank very well on search engine results. Having your personal or business name on social media is an easy way to win one of the top spots on Google. Be sure to get on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn at a minimum. Consult with your reputation management firm about other resources and profiles you should be setting up that make sense for your industry (i.e., local resources, government sites, university domains, etc.)

Maintain active accounts: Typically, the more profiles you can set up, the better. But it’s best to only sign up for as many social media profiles as you can reasonably maintain: active profiles are better than dormant ones for your general positive reputation. Acquire plenty engaged followers and connections, and genuinely build a community on your social profiles. Participate in the network to make your profile stronger.

Own your domain: Register domain names that match your name and business and their variations, as exact keyword phrases will do best on Google. If that’s not available, get as close to it as you can. Add fresh, unique content on a regular basis.
Start a blog: Start and maintain a professional blog on your domains. Blogs provide an efficient way to give Google the fresh content it values. Where possible, create and share multimedia content on your blog (and your social channels), as Google has been known to cater to this type of content.

Optimize your content: Search engine optimization (SEO) makes your content search engine friendly, and is something a reputation management team has expertise in. If you don’t yet have a team, you can learn more about SEO in Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.

Be an expert: Show your industry expertise and get rewarded with a high ranking search result by writing an article for an authoritative news site or industry blog. These websites usually earn top placement in search results. If you can get your name on their website with a great article, you’ll likely be able to take over a coveted spot in the results and build your online reputation.
Write a press release: Have your PR team write about newsworthy things that are happening for your business or other high-profile ventures.

Use your real name — everywhere: It’s a good idea to use your real, full name on all of the websites you’re using – including blogs and social profiles. Just keep in mind that you should always be on your best behavior online.
Link and share: One way Google knows that certain pages or websites are more important or relevant than others is by the number of links that point to them. To ensure you avoid dangerous link schemes or black hat tactics, leave this to your SEO and/or reputation management team.

Monitor for new results: Maintaining your reputation is long term strategy. Enlist the help of a team that offers 24/7 monitoring and consultation.

It Takes Time – Start Now!

Any effort you can make in this area of reputation management is worth it, as Google search results for your name are one of the first places anyone will look when researching you online and making any kind of investment decision. Protect your reputation and work to own your search results today.

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About the Author

After earning her Master’s in New Media Management from Syracuse University, Brianna now serves as Reputation Strategy Advisor and oversees strategy development on multiple reputation management projects.