This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
In 2011, The Daily Mail published an online article describing how Marc Orfaly, a prominent Boston chef, berated a critic who complained about his restaurant’s pumpkin pie on Facebook: “Renowned chef tells diner to ‘go f*** yourself.’”
Nearly a decade later, this article (as well as another one that references the first) still appears on the first page of the search results for Mr. Orfaly’s name. As such, it continues to be part of the first impression Mr. Orfaly makes on people who are looking for him online.
If you’ve ever had a negative article written about you, then you know the power it can have to damage your online reputation. And a bad online reputation can lead to lost job opportunities, a decrease in customers for your business, and trouble getting into the college you want.
To repair your online reputation, you need to make negative information less visible. This article will show you how.
What are your options?
There are two ways to reduce the visibility of negative content: You can delete the content, or you can push it down in your search results so that people who are looking for you online are less likely to see it. However, the tactic you choose will depend on your individual circumstances.
The deletion method works best in these situations:
- You know the person who posted the content: This makes it more likely that he or she will help you and remove or alter the article.
- The information in the post has caused you demonstrable harm: If you can prove that your livelihood is being ruined or that you are physically threatened by the content, then you have a better chance of getting people to take your request seriously.
- The content violates a website’s Terms of Service: Submitting a removal request is a good idea if the article in question meets the website’s removal criteria.
- The information in the content meets Google’s removal requirements: Google will delete items that meet a few, specific requirements.
Use the suppression method when:
- The person who posted the material is obviously hostile towards you: If the content and tone of the negative article lead you to believe that the author is extremely hostile towards you, then you should avoid emailing him or her with a take-down request. Doing so often just encourages the person to double his or her efforts to smear you online.
- The website the content is posted on has a “no removals” policy: In these cases, sending removal requests will be a waste of time.
- Your removal requests have been ignored or declined: If you have contacted the website/author of the problematic article several times without getting any positive response, your best bet is to use the suppression method.
How to use the deletion method
Negative information about yourself or your business can be difficult to remove, particularly if it comes from a newspaper article or is associated with a high-ranking website. However, if you know the information is false, and you believe that it was not posted maliciously, there are things you can do to get it removed.
1. Ask someone in authority to remove it
The best way to delete something from a website is to ask the site owner to take it down. However, it’s important to remember that websites are usually under no obligation to remove something just because you ask. Websites are only obligated to remove content for a very few, specific reasons; not liking how you look in a picture or being offended by what someone writes about you isn’t enough.
The good news is that even though websites don’t have to delete content, they might do it anyway as a favor to you. Therefore, it pays to always ask nicely!
Find the right person to ask
If the author of the piece is listed and has provided contact information, it’s a good idea to contact him or her first and politely explain what is bothering you about the article. If the author is not listed or refuses to help you, you should reach out to a webmaster, website editor, or another individual who has the authority to delete the article. This way, you avoid having to navigate through a chain of decision makers, thereby reducing the chances of your request getting lost in the shuffle.
To find the correct email address, you can use tools like who.is or hunter.io. They both have similar search features. Simply type in a domain name (for example, companyname.com) into the search field, and they will pull up contact information for you.
2. Make your case
To convince someone to help you (especially when that person has no legal reason to do so), you must make a compelling argument. Imagine you are a lawyer trying to sway a jury. This means you should be able to provide supporting documentation, like screenshots, to back up your claims, if applicable.
In your email, you’ll need to concisely describe the information you want removed and explain why it should be taken down. Focus on the facts and try not to be overly emotional. However, you still want the other person to sympathize with you, so you should frame the situation in a relatable way.
For example, if the article falsely claims that you are untrustworthy, you can explain how this has limited your ability to get a job. Or, if the content contains personally identifying information that exposes you to physical or online harassment, you could describe the emotional trauma this has caused you.
If you’re dealing with a social media site or blogging platform, check the site’s Terms of Service (or “TOS”), to see if the content you want to be removed violates any of these rules. Most sites ban obvious slander or similarly abusive behavior and ways of reporting these violations on the website. So, you have a better chance of getting the content removed if you can demonstrate how the article you are concerned about violates the site’s TOS.
If you the person you asked to delete the content is still resistant to helping you, you should ask if he or she can revise the problematic content in some way. Even if the website owner has a strict policy about never removing content, he or she could still help you out by:
- Using robots.txt to stop Google from indexing the content
- Replacing your name with a fake one
- Updating the post to address your concerns or clarify the situation
In your email, keep your tone professional and polite. Make sure to thank the person you’re addressing for taking time to review your situation and let him or her know you are willing to provide additional information, if necessary.
3. Go to Google
In most cases, you will find it difficult to get someone to delete online content you find objectionable. Luckily, there is another option: Google’s URL removal tool.
Google will remove content from its search results according to certain conditions, which it lists on its Removal Policy page. These conditions include:
- Images of child sexual abuse
- Content that is subject to a valid legal request, such as copyright notifications
- Identifying information like bank or credit card numbers, national ID numbers, photos of your signature, nude images, or medical records.
However, Google will not remove the following types of information:
- Telephone numbers
- Date of birth
If you want personal information removed, go to Google’s URL removal tool, and follow the instructions.
If the item you want to delete violates the law, use this Google tool instead.
If you have successfully taken down content from a website, but it’s still showing up in Google results, then the page description or cache might be outdated. Follow the instructions on the Remove Outdated Content page to get Google to delete it from your search results.
How to use the suppression method
In a perfect world, you’d be able to remove all the unfair, outdated, and negative search results about yourself. In reality, though, most content is here to stay—except under very special circumstances.
A good way to address negative content that you can’t remove is to make it less visible by creating your own positive content to push down negative items in your search results. Any content will do. You could start a blog, record a podcast, or become active on social media—just as long as you are publishing something that will rank for your name.
Note: If you’re looking to disappear from the web, this isn’t the solution for you. You’ll be creating more content about you, but you’ll be tipping the balance from negative to positive.
Most Google searchers won’t look beyond the first or second page of search results. That’s why moving your negative content off page one is so important. This process takes time, but it’s the best way to restore your online reputation. For free advice on the best ways to suppress negative online content for your particular situation, contact ReputationDefender. We are happy to share our expertise with you, as well as discuss the pros and cons of getting professional help.
To make your attempts to push down negative content successful, you’ll need to avoid adding (however inadvertently) any more negative content to your search results. This means that you need to think carefully about every comment, link, and picture you share. Once you post it, it’s out of your hands.
Before you post anything online, think about the content’s potential to cause you problems in the future. Could someone misunderstand your tone or meaning? Could someone take your words out of context and use them against you?
Remember, deleting something you have posted doesn’t guarantee that it can’t come back to haunt you. If someone took a screenshot of your post before you took it down, then that person can still share it on his or her social networks.