When you’re an online reputation management expert, you get asked a lot of questions about negative Google search results. Specifically, people want to know, “How do we make it all disappear?”
It’s an important question. A research study reported that one negative search result can cost brands around 22% of their potential customers. Three negative results increase that to 59.2%, and with four or more, brands can say goodbye to 70% of potential customers.
This means that brands – companies and individuals – have to be on top of their online reputation. With the internet an ever-changing landscape, this takes constant monitoring and managing of your online presence. Remember: a reputation can be made overnight, but it can take weeks of work to change it. Don’t wait too long to get started.
With that said, let’s dive right in and walk you through a probable ORM strategy for removing and suppressing negative Google search results.
The Very Few Times Results Can Be Removed
Most negative search results can not be removed, but only suppressed. There are a few exceptions, though. These include:
- If the result contains personal information such as phone numbers, home addresses, email addresses, social security numbers, bank account information, credit card information, or medical information
- Copyright infringement
- Trademark infringement
- Counterfeit issues with trademark, logo, or other brand features
In these instances, where possible, you’ll need to work with Google and whatever site is hosting the content. While Google can remove the search result, it cannot delete it from the internet. You must work with the website owner of the specific website and ask them to remove the content from their site.
If your negative search result falls outside of these few situations, suppression is the best method to pursue.
How To Suppress Negative Results
Most people are concerned with first page search results because they know that almost no one on the planet is clicking past the first page. In a study of 4 million Google search results, only 0.63% of people clicked on the second page. Most people will try a different search query rather than leave that all-important first page.
Since most people aren’t leaving the first page, the goal is to push, or suppress, negative results so that they end up off that page. Sure, they won’t technically be off the internet, but they might as well be.
First, Define the Problem
The first step in the suppression of negative Google search results is to define the problem:
- Identify the specific results you want suppressed
- Identify what number search result they are – there are 10 organic search results on Google’s first page; is your negative result #4? #1? #6?
- Categorize every other first page result as positive, neutral, brand-controlled, or controlled by an external site – this gives you an idea of how much and what type of existing content you have to work with; you can also create new content, which we will discuss later
- Identify the major keywords that trigger the presentation of the negative search result(s)
Number 4 is highly important and isn’t something that all individuals or companies know is necessary. Let’s say you’re the CEO of a company and another executive at the company has done something that’s led to bad press. You weren’t involved, but because you’re the CEO, you are associated with the problem. This means that your name could be a “problem” keyword, even though you’ve done nothing wrong.
This is how Google works. It learns from created content and users’ behavior, and connects certain keywords or phrases that seem to deliver answers to users’ questions. In our example, “problem” keywords – search phrases the trigger the negative search result – could be:
- The CEO’s name
- The company name
- The executive’s name
- The specific scandal
- A combination of any of the above
- CEO + Executive
- CEO + company
- Company + scandal
These keywords, which will often be brand keywords and your name, are the keywords that you need to convert from negative to positive. Your strategy will help you do that.
Secondly, Create Your Strategy
Any good strategy is going to use a combination of the following:
- Boost existing, brand-controlled (or owned) content
- Create new owned content
- Create social and business profiles
- Create a new website (if relevant)
- Guest post on high-authority websites
- Manage any Wikipedia pages
Let’s take a look at each one in detail.
Boost existing, brand-controlled (or owned) content
This refers to any content that you own that is already ranking on the first page along with your negative search result. The important thing here is to select owned content that appears below the negative result. You want to boost that result’s rankings, which will suppress the negative piece. For example:
- #4 negative piece
- #5 neutral result from external site
- #6 positive, owned result
If you can boost #6 to #3 or higher, you will drive down the negative result.
To boost the content, take your list of identified “problem” keywords. You need to optimize the positive, owned search result for these keywords. This will signal to Google that it’s a better, more user-friendly result and should be displayed higher in the SERPs. To do that, include the keyword in the page’s:
- Meta title and/or description
- Title and/or headings
- Content (but be careful to avoid keyword stuffing – only use the keyword to improve content)
You can also internally link to that page using the target keyword. This signals to Google that these pages are important and relevant to questions pertaining to the keyword.
Create new owned content
You only have control over a certain percentage of your first page search results because some will inevitably come from external sources. This means you don’t want to waste any of that percentage. If you don’t already, you should have:
- An optimized website
- An “About Us” page on your website
- An “About Me” page on your website (a specific page with its own URL about the CEO, etc.)
These are all pages in your control that should rank for your brand keywords.
A few additional content types to prioritize include:
- News and press releases
- A blog: posting regularly and creating helpful, relevant content will help your blog to rank well over time
- As a bonus, try to create blog content that can be used to answer People Also Ask questions, and optimize for featured snippets
- Your Google Knowledge Panel: be sure to claim your Knowledge Panel so that you can help Google keep it updated and factual
Remember, the goal is to own more “real estate” on Google’s first page.
Social and business profiles
These are relatively quick to create and really helpful, especially if you want to rank for keywords that match your name or your company’s name. Make sure that you are presented the same way across every profile. You don’t want to be The Mather Group on one site and TMG on two others. You want to make it easy for Google to understand who you are – and to show as many profiles as possible on the first page.
A few sites to consider:
Create a new website
If relevant, it can be helpful to create one or more new websites with very specific URLs. For example, if you’re an author, you may want to create websites for one or two of your top books: booktitle.com. If you have a charity or prioritize giving in any way, you may want to highlight that on its own site: mygiving.com or companygiving.com.
If you are trying to rank well for your name or company, and suppress negative results ranking for those keywords, this tactic might help you out.
Guest post on high-authority websites
The good news here, much like with social and business profiles, is that you get to benefit from sites that already have a high domain authority and are likely to rank well on Google. If you want to rank well for your name, having guest posts appear on third-party sites can help you out. In this case, it’s useful to also include a small bio at the end of every post, or link to one. Be sure to mention your company and brand in the bio.
Wikipedia page management
If you or your company has a Wikipedia page, it is likely a top 3 search result. Content from the page will also be used in your Knowledge Panel, and could be the determining factor in whether or not your brand appears in different search carousels.
While Wikipedia is not in your control, its high visibility and domain authority make it a good site to keep an eye on. You want to make sure you and your brand are represented comprehensively and neutrally, and that the page is up-to-date. Read here for more on editing a Wikipedia page.
Finally, Stay Vigilant
Once you’ve suppressed a negative result, celebrate, but don’t walk away. Your online reputation is never stable. You need to routinely track and monitor EVERYTHING. Keeping positive content ranking well means keeping it “better” than anything else on the internet: better content, better promoted, more relevant, higher authority, etc.
This is not a one-and-done job. Sometimes you’re helped by third-party sites when they start to deem your negative news “old news.” In this case, they’ll stop promoting it, they’ll stop linking to it, and it will slip away to second-page obscurity. You can never count on this happening though, nor can you count on it happening quickly. You must have a plan and you must be your brand’s best advocate. If you need help from someone else who will put your brand first, give us a call.