If you’ve been implicated in a legal matter, it can be disconcerting to discover your personal Google search results have likely been overrun with details of the case and if you’re like most, you’re interested in removing negative content to repair search results.
Legal issues, be they personal or professional, can quickly snowball with consequences extending far beyond the courtroom. The vast reach and indelible memory of the internet can be your enemy as it may seem to immortalize negative experiences, making them easily discoverable by anyone conducting a simple search.
The good news is all hope is not lost. There are effective strategies and solutions available to repair and restore your personal search engine results page.
First, you should understand a few things:
- Search engines do not manipulate their rankings or individually curate your personal search results page. Search engine results pages are formulaic: they simply look for the most relevant and trustworthy information to index on a page.
- There are no shortcuts. Do not fall for the experts who claim they can have your search results cleaned up in less than a month or for an exorbitant fee. We’re all playing by the same rules in the same sandbox; no one has a secret, magic formula. (And as always, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.)
- Search engine work takes time. Even the top experts in search engine optimization will need a minimum of three months to see major results, more often between six and twelve. As difficult as it may be, patience is key.
Below, you’ll find our guide to all things search clean-up. As always, we are happy to additional answer questions through our contact us page and you may inquire about hiring us to do this (and more) through our online reputation management service page.
Strengthen Your Online Presence
Search engines are in the business of providing users with the most relevant information about a given search term. And while you’re certainly focused on removing negative content from search, it’s equally as important to make sure there is accurate and relevant content for Google to index in its place.
Another way to think of it is this way: the first 10-12 results on a search engine results page are generally considered “the first page” of Google. It’s your mission to own as much of that first page as possible, and you can only do that by giving search engines something to work with.
Here are three simple things you can do to ensure you own your personal search engine results page:
Increase Your Social Media Presence
When faced with legal trouble and the potential damage it can cause to their online reputation, many individuals’ first instinct is to retreat and take their social media profiles private or even delete them altogether. While this may seem like a logical reaction, it’s important to resist the urge to disappear. Resist the urge to delete your social media profiles or take them private. (And if you’re concerned about your use history or previous posts, there are solutions for every major social media platform which will delete old posts. Wipe it clean and continue on!)
Major search engines consider social media profiles as high-authority websites full of information and they are generally prioritized in search results. Rather than retreating, embrace the opportunity to rebuild and shape your online reputation through the strategic use of social media. You’ll want to make sure you’re registered on major social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, Tik Tok.
Once you have registered your profiles and ensured they’re public:
- Ensure your profile page is optimized. Make sure your handle and profile name matches the search term you’re concerned with. Fill out a bio that includes any other relevant keywords. Provide a good profile photo.
- Be active. Set aside 10-15 minutes per day to log in and engage. You may be in a position where you don’t want to (or have been advised not to) create original content. You don’t have to. You can log in and re-post news stories or make simple comments (think, “cool” or “I’ll have to look into this further”) so your profile is active. Search engines won’t care about an inactive social media profile.
Bonus: sign up for a service like Linktree, which will provide a simple directory-like page linking all of your social pages together. The free solution is fine. (Linktree both indexes well and is a website Google likes to use as it crawls the web – it will help Google find all of your social profiles.) You should also search out opportunities on WikiAlpha and EverybodyWiki which can create profiles like this, my personal page on WikiAlpha.
And if you own your own business, especially if the business includes your name, make sure you pay attention to major business listings, too. At minimum, make sure your Google Business Profile is complete, verified, and indexing, as well as your listings on Yelp and Angi’s List.
Purchase a Personal Domain, Create a Resume Website
Having a dedicated website that hosts your biography or resume is a critical component of owning your personal search engine results page. Your website will be under your complete control, featuring the content and information you wish to share with the world. It will serve as a central hub that showcases your experience, accomplishments, and skills.
With strategic use of keywords and proper search engine optimization techniques, your website should easily climb the ranks in search results, and be a top 3 link.
There are three key steps to building your personal website:
Register a Domain Name. The domain name should be as close to your name as possible. FirstnameLastname.com is an ideal domain format, though it may not be available. If not, consider including a middle initial or an alternative “top level domain” (the part of the URL that comes after the dot).
A quick note on top level domains (TLDs): while most TLDs will be fine, there are a few quick dos and do nots. Stick to the main roads if you can (.com, .net, .org). Most others are fine but stay away from geographic-based TLDs that are not relevant to your native country (.in for India, .uk for the United Kingdom, etc.). The inverse is also true: if a .com or .net domain is not available but you are located in a major city like New York City or Miami, consider a .NYC or .Miami domain. (Google likes serving local/geographic-based content as it is generally considered more relevant: FirstnameLastname.com is good but FirstnameLastname.miami may be more relevant if the search originates from south Florida, so do not be afraid of a relevant geographic TLD.)
Register a Web Host. A web host is where your files will be stored (our preferred host costs $27 per year). Follow the instructions at your web host for linking your domain to your web host.
Build Your Website. WordPress is the easiest to use content management system and is one where there are great guides in the event you need help building your site. Most web hosts offer an easy auto-setup of their platform.
At minimum, your website should have title that matches your name (or key search term), a brief summary of who you are and what you do, and run-down of your background. My personal website, AndrewJChapin.com, focuses on keywords relevant to my career like “product discovery specialist.”
In addition to your personal biography website and social media profiles, you can also give Google more to chew on when you present things like guest posts on blogs or news sites around the internet, YouTube videos, podcasts, or even books.
You can see what I mean when you Google an author or podcast host that you’re familiar with – their first page will be full of reviews, indexes, and other sites highlighting that content.
YouTube is an especially strong tool in this regard because, well, Google owns YouTube and likes to index video content near the top of the page often above the first organic search results.
If you have a story to tell, these can be extremely effective tools for search engine purposes.
A Quick Note on the Importance of Banklinks
As you build this web of websites, profiles, and content, always be sure to link to your pages whenever possible. Google relies on these links to establish authority. In other words, if every social media profile owned by Firstname Lastname links to FirstnameLastname.com, Google will get the signal that this is an important website as it relates to Firstname Lastname. Backlinks as as simple as that – and critical to search engine crawler’s discovery and indexing of your page.
With that in mind, ensure your social media profiles to point to your new personal resume website, and if you guest post on other sites, make sure you take advantage of that opportunity to include a short biography at the bottom of the article that says something like “You can find Firstname Lastname on Twitter” with a link to your profile.
Repair Search Results by Removing Negative Items from Search
Unfortunately, negative or outdated content can sometimes find its way into search results, hindering our personal and professional growth. In this section, we explore effective strategies and techniques for removing negative press releases, news items, social media posts, and legal listings from search results, allowing you to regain control of your online narrative.
First, Understand the Difference Between Removal and De-Indexing
De-indexing a website involves requesting search engines to remove its presence from their search results. This means that the website will no longer appear in search engine listings, and users won’t be able to find it through organic searches. It essentially renders the website invisible to search engine users. On the other hand, removing content refers to the process of permanently deleting or modifying specific elements within a website or online platform.
In practice, both methods result in a removal from search engine results pages but it’s important to note that de-indexing only removes it from search engine visibility which is to say that a person may still be able to navigate to the offending website and find that information if they’re so motivated.
Removing Your Case from Legal Aggregation Websites
A number of websites exist whose purpose is to aggregate publicly-available legal filings and make them easily accessible for the purposes of legal research. Unfortunately, search engines pick up on these posts and index them.
Since the intent of these websites is to provide a legal research tool, almost every one of them has no problem de-indexing your legal content from search, making it invisible to the casual searcher.
De-Indexing Data Broker Sites and Other Sites Featuring Personally Identifiable Information
In 2022, Google announced a set of policies that allow people to request the removal of certain content from search engine results pages including highly personal content that can cause direct harm.
This is generally referred to as personally identifiable information including physical addresses, phone numbers, certain photos, and e-mail addresses (as well as a list of other items Google considers personally identifiable information).
If the website you’re interested in having taken down includes any of those items, you may initiate a Google removal request here.
Removing Press Releases and News Stories
The removal of press releases and news stories from search results is a common concern – generally the largest concern – for individuals and organizations seeking to manage their online reputation.
Press releases and news stories, once published, can often be difficult to control or remove entirely. However, there are strategies to address this issue.
First, understand the motivation behind hosting the post. If the content is newsworthy and an ongoing concern, it’s virtually impossible to convince a news organization to remove the information. Most of these websites have an obligation to present the news and if you are the news, that’s that.
However, if the news story is outdated, inaccurate, or no longer relevant, you have a chance at deindexing or removal. Engage directly with the publishing source and request the removal or amendment of inaccurate or outdated information. While the decision ultimately rests with the publisher, providing a compelling case or legal justification can increase the chances of success. Approach respectfully and provide a clear request including the URL of the page you’re requesting be taken down.
There are several other methods to requesting a takedown which we provide as part of our online reputation management service. In one recent case, we successfully removed 193 of 197 news articles from the source websites related to an individual one year after their legal troubles.
Additional Resources as You Work to Repair Search Results
Some additional resources:
- Key Ways to Repair Your Reputation Online by Calendar.com
- A Beginner’s Guide to Online Reputation Management by SEMRush
- The Best Online Reputation Strategies for Individuals and Businesses by MincLaw
- 10 Things You Need to Know About Online Reputation Management by Forbes
If you have questions or would like assistance repairing your personal search results, reach out to us. We’re here to help.