How to Suppress Negative Content From the SERP
There’s an old saying that rings true to this day: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In terms of reputation management, the best strategy is to avoid doing things that might generate negative content or a harmful reputation in the first place.
However, some forms of bad publicity are impossible to foresee or prevent. Disgruntled customers might leave your business a scathing review on a popular listing site. A batch of faulty products might get sent to stores by mistake, resulting in unflattering press coverage.
Once negative content about your brand or business finds its way onto the internet, it can be very difficult to remove. In fact, conventional wisdom advises that nothing can actually be removed from the internet forever. Bad reviews and ugly news stories might keep showing up on a SERP (search engine results page) about your business years after the original post or event takes place.
Fortunately, negative content suppression is possible with the right tactics and marketing savvy. The key is to lower the chances of reputation-damaging material showing up on any SERP related to your brand.
If you’re dealing with extensive negative content that is severely impacting your online reputation and your ability to do business, partnering with a top-tier reputation management firm is likely your best way forward. Here are some additional tips and techniques you can use to suppress harmful posts and articles from the SERP.
How Does the SERP Affect Negative Content Suppression?
Search engines are far and away the most popular tool consumers use to find out information about a company or product before spending money. In a 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center, an overwhelming 96% of respondents said they rely on their own research to make significant decisions, including using search engines.
A new client who takes an interest in your brand is likely to conduct an online search to find out more information about your company. If that search turns up negative content, that client becomes significantly less likely to patronize your establishment or buy your products.
On the plus side, the SERP can also work in your favor. The key is to employ a range of targeted techniques that alter what the first few SERPs display about your business, ensuring that positive content moves to the forefront and negative content gets pushed down the ladder or is even removed entirely.
Negative Content Suppression on Your Own Website
If the unflattering material you want to remove is hosted on a website you own, the process for taking it down is fairly straightforward.
- Remove the content. Delete the specific information you don’t want showing up in searches. You may need to remove an entire webpage if enough of the material is compromising.
- Contact the search engine host. Once you’ve taken down the harmful information, get in touch with the major search engines to inform them that the content has been removed or that the webpage URL is no longer active. Google maintains an Outdated Content Removal tool to streamline this process.
- Wait. Google and the other search engines will verify your claim and then remove any relevant links or content from their SERPs. Expect anywhere from 72 hours to one month to see results.
Tactics for Negative Content Suppression on Other Websites
Removing reputation-damaging posts on websites you do not own can be difficult. The tactics involved take time and resources, although hiring an experienced reputation management agency can maximize both.
Here are a few suppression strategies you can implement to get harmful content deleted from other websites – or at least bumped farther down on the SERP.
1. Contact the Host
The most straightforward and effective technique for removing harmful posts is to personally ask the webmaster to take them down. Even if you got the posts scrubbed from Google or social media, they would still be visible on the original host site.
Ensure the interaction is as professional and cordial as possible. You’re more likely to successfully convince someone to delete damaging content if they feel sympathetic to your cause.
You can typically get in touch with a website’s manager using one of the following strategies:
- Emailing the address on the “Contact Us” page
- Searching “whois” + the site’s URL on Google and looking for “administrative contact” or “registrant email”
- Reaching out to the company that hosts the website if you can’t find the webmaster’s information
Once the website manager has agreed to your suppression request, send removal requests to Google and the other major search engines as described above.
2. Report Copyright Infringements
You can try getting a detrimental article or post removed by invoking copyright laws. This strategy may include sending infringement notices and a cease and desist letter. Hiring a copyright lawyer increases your odds of success if you choose to go this route.
Even if the host site refuses to comply or ignores your efforts completely, making a copyright infringement claim could help you convince Google, Yahoo, and other search engines to remove the content from their indexes. That means that although the article or post will still appear on its original website, it won’t show up on the SERP when customers search your company’s name.
3. Report Inappropriate Content
Suppose your brand, business, or personal image is suffering due to defamatory or unauthorized content or material that is inappropriate in some other way. In that case, you may be able to go straight to the major search engines and request the content be removed from the SERP.
Search engines will take down any material that violates their policies. They can also remove autocompletes that connect your name or company with something harmful.
Here are a few examples of content that may be eligible for suppression from the SERP:
- Verifiably fake reviews and ratings
- Abusive or threatening language and posts that encourage violence
- Sexually explicit imagery
- Posts that impersonate others
- Content that violates any local, state, or federal law
Check each search engine’s FAQ for details about the types of posts that violate their content policy.
4. Privacy Removal (EU Only)
In the European Union, organizations are obligated to delete data that concerns an individual at that individual’s request. Eligible data includes anything that is no longer relevant to that organization’s interest – such as outdated news stories – as well as information obtained unlawfully.
This “Right to be Forgotten,” officially designated as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), doesn’t apply to every scenario. However, if you’re a citizen of the EU, it can provide an invaluable safety net to protect your online reputation from negative content.
5. Opt Out of Google Properties
If damaging information about your business is showing up on SERPs, one possible suppression technique is opting out of any relevant Google-supported platforms. These might include hotel listings, vacation rentals, Google Shopping, and Google Local.
Once you’ve successfully opted out, these specialized search result pages will no longer display any data about your company. Using this tactic can help suppress negative reviews or ratings.
7. Hire a Reputation Management Firm
Sometimes, brands and businesses suffer severe damage to their online reputations, requiring more than the simple suppression techniques listed above. If you’re dealing with a large-scale reputation management crisis, consider contacting a highly-rated agency rather than paying for faceless third-party removal services.
Reputation management firms typically have personal contacts and established relationships with most of the major search engines. They can use their networks to ask host sites to remove harmful content about your business, ensuring it won’t appear in the SERP.
8. Flood the SERP With Positive Content
One final technique for negative content suppression involves magnifying positive content instead. You can do this by writing high-authority blog posts, performing newsworthy charitable acts, and soliciting glowing reviews from return customers.
While generating positive material won’t actually remove harmful posts, having a steady stream of enthusiastic and reputation-enhancing content related to your business can bury negative material on the SERP. Eventually, posts that aren’t doing your reputation any favors will be less likely to show up on the first page or two of search engine results, making it much less likely that potential customers will ever see them.
SERP suppression can take many forms. The techniques outlined above can prove very effective when wielded correctly, and many of them work best when used in conjunction with other strategies.
That said, getting negative content permanently removed from the internet is an arduous task, one that requires a great deal of patience and skill. Even if you manage to get a post removed from search engine results, it may still be discoverable on the original host site if the webmaster isn’t willing to cooperate. You have to be willing to try multiple tactics, some of which may not work or may take a long time to bear fruit.
When you’re dealing with harmful online content that is damaging your personal reputation or your business’s image, working with an experienced reputation management firm can give you clarity and help you navigate the process more smoothly than trying to deal with it on your own.