A bad search result on the first page of Google is one of the worst things that can happen to your reputation. It doesn’t really matter what it is. It could be a link to a business page with bad reviews, a negative news story, or even a blog post that paints you or your business in a less than positive light. Whatever it is, it’s bad news for you, leading anyone who searches for you down a negative path first thing — and you’re probably ready to nuke it.

When you first notice the negative search result, your instinct is probably to panic. Is there someone at Google you can call to get this taken care of? Not really — search engines don’t really work like that. But there is plenty that you can do. Read on to learn how to get negative search results off of Google — or at least, bury them down until they don’t matter anymore.

Removing Links 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 link means Google no longer has the bad result to link to, and anyone who searches for your name won’t see it again in the future. Once it’s gone, you’re done, the nightmare is over. Take a deep breath. But, getting links 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 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 Pages That You Own

For profiles that you own, such as a Yelp business page or Facebook 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. If the page is too far gone, and 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 its risks. 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. Be careful.

For this situation, it may be better to simply maintain the account and commit to working on earning great reviews.

Removing Pages 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. And that means you’ll have to ask for help in getting negative content removed. It’s not always easy to take this approach, but if you’re successful, it is the most effective, as removing a page completely from the Internet is better than removing it from Google, or burying it under other search results.

The best approach for requesting removal of pages is a direct one. Contact the website owner by email and explain that a page on their website is causing problems for your reputation, and that you’d appreciate it if they remove the content.

Understand that you may be completely ignored: website owners may not be sympathetic, or not even see your email at all. But it’s always worth it to try. It may help if you explain why it’s important to you to have the content removed, and even better if you can provide evidence that you’ve improved since the content was shared and you’d like to move on from the past. For example, mug shot websites may be open to removing your photo from their pages if you can prove you weren’t charged, or if you’ve gone through rehabilitation. Whatever your approach, be polite and personal, and remember that if they do help out, they’re genuinely doing you a favor.

Getting Help from Google and Legal Authorities

If you’re not able to get pages removed, either by your own control or with the help website owners, you still have options. For some sensitive or false information, you can get help from Google and legal authorities.

Google 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. 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.

If you’re really serious about getting stubborn content removed, you may 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.

The Internet Never Forgets

Whether you’re successful in removing links from the Internet or search engines or not, there’s one important fact to keep in mind: the Internet never forgets a link. If you’ve seen the page 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 even just search results, you can rest easy that it’s as good as gone.

Burying Negative Search Results on Google

Eradicating negative pages from the Internet or Google search results is preferable, but let’s face it: it’s almost always a long shot. You have to be dealing with seriously sensitive or slanderous information, or get lucky enough to work with an understanding website owner that’s willing to help. It’s worth the effort to try to get content removed, but this almost never happens.

An approach that is far more likely to work is burying negative search results. If you can’t remove it? Just push it down until it doesn’t matter anymore!

Why First Impressions Matter on Google

Statistics show that 75% 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.

That’s bad news if the negative search result you want to get rid of is on the first page of search results, and even worse if it ranks in the top five. But there’s good news: if you can bury it past where most people are willing to look, you can minimize the impact of a bad link. Do well enough, and it may be as if it doesn’t exist at all!

Burying Bad Search Results with Good Ones

The concept behind burying bad search results is simple: create content that’s good enough to outrank them. But just like getting pages removed from the Internet, this is easier said than done. Fortunately, this approach is within reach, though. The only thing is it will take some effort on your part, though none of it is difficult. Try these methods for outranking bad results with positive results for your name:

  • Set up profiles: If you’re not on social media yet, get there. 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 with very little effort. Be sure to get on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn at a minimum. Another great resource for profiles that do well on search results? Local resources. Almost nothing does better than a .gov or .edu website on search results. Sign up for accounts and profiles on your local government website, like the library, or create a profile on your school’s website.
  • 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, not just for search results, but for your general positive reputation. Acquire plenty of friends, followers, and connections, and genuinely build a community on your social profiles. Participate in the network and make your profile stronger.
  • Own your domain: Most businesses already own a domain name, but individuals may not. Register a domain name that matches your name, as exact keyword phrases will do best on Google. If that’s not available, get as close to it as you can. Add content like a resume, portfolio, or blog, plus links to positive content that you’d like to share, as well as your social profiles. Don’t forget to use your real name.
  • Start a blog: Whether you own your domain name or not, it’s always a good idea to start a blog. Google loves to link to blogs, especially those that provide great content. Use your real name, write about your area of interest or expertise, and remember to link to it.
  • Create multimedia: Google loves images and videos, so give the search engine what it wants. Post images with your name in the file name and alt tags, and develop videos as well — ideally, posted on YouTube, which is a part of Google.
  • Optimize your content: Search engine optimization (SEO) makes your content search engine friendly. You don’t have to be an expert to make it easy for Google to pick up and rank your content well, either. For most businesses or individuals, the most important step of optimization is simply remembering to use your full, real name. You should also use accurate page titles, make your website user friendly, and write high quality content. You can learn more about SEO straight from Google in the Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.
  • Leave comments online: News articles, industry blogs, and other influential websites often do well in search engine results. Use your real name to register for the comment section on these websites, and leave thoughtful, useful comments. You may find that these comments float to the top of search results for your name. Be careful: if the comment results become prominent, they’ll be one of the top results for your name. This is a good thing — but only if what you’ve commented with is positive. Make sure you’re using appropriate language, proper grammar, and are offering something genuinely interesting or important in your comment.
  • Be an expert: Everyone is an expert in something. Show your expertise and get rewarded with a high ranking search result by writing an article for a news site or industry blog. These websites are often authoritative, and Google likes to reward them with 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 top search engine spot — and show off your expertise to anyone who clicks on it at the same time.
  • Write a press release: Done anything interesting lately, or have something exciting coming up? Write about it and share a press release. Most wire services, and even major media are likely to pick it up and propel it to the top of search engine results.
  • Use your real name — everywhere: It’s a good idea to use your real name on the websites or comments you’re using to improve your search engine results, but a better tactic is to simply be yourself everywhere online. As long as you’re not ashamed of what you’re posting, it’s always a good idea to use your real name. You never know what will spark Google’s interest. Just keep in mind that you should always be on your best behavior online — especially when using your real name.
  • Link to everything: 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. You can help out the effort by linking to yourself frequently. Share links to your social profiles on your blog, and vice versa. If you have the opportunity to post as a guest on another website, be sure to add a link back to yourself there. Look for any legitimate opportunity you have to share links to the pages you really want to rank well for your name. (Of course, steer clear of link schemes or link farms, as these will likely hurt, not help, your search engine ranking.)
  • Monitor for new results: All of the above will help — but maintaining results is a constant battle. Set up Google Alerts to find out when there’s a new result for your name, and you’ll know right away if there is a negative search result you need to deal with.

While there’s no quick fix for a bad result, in many cases, it is possible to effectively remove negative search results from Google. Do your best to remove content completely, or simply outrun them by developing search results that Google likes better.

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. Protect your reputation and work to own your search results today.