How to unGoogle yourself

This article by Mark Macias explains the options for removing commercially or legally sensitive material from Google and other search engine archives.

Out of curiosity, we all like to Google ourselves to see what is said about us in the search engine, but what happens when Google turns up results we don’t like? How do we get our name removed from search engines when the material is damaging?

A reputable financial consultant discovered one day he was falsely accused in a web article of ethical violations. Worse, the reporter never called him for a response. He first learned of the article three months after it was published when a client read it on the web and asked him about it.

These types of strong allegations can destroy nearly any person’s business but in an industry built on trust – like the financial industry – the article nearly destroyed that person’s practice.

After the publisher of the article didn’t respond, the financial consultant appointed a crisis communications specialist to manage his way out of this minefield. Within weeks, the publisher was in discussions to correct the article.

If you find yourself in this situation, there are several steps you can take to get the material removed from the web. Contrary to the popular view that everything in the web floats around it forever, it is possible to modify the record if you apply some proven crisis communications strategies.

Here are some of the tactics you can take if you find yourself in a similar crisis situation.

1. Go after the decision makers or the people who finance the publication

This includes the publisher, city editors, executive producers, and most important: the legal counsel for the publication. Do a quick Google search to find out who owns the website or publication. Most people contact the writer when a negative article is published, but that’s like complaining to the salesperson when the cashier gives you the wrong change. You need to complain to the people who control the money. Your letter to these power brokers needs to state why this article is inaccurate and most important, how the article has financially harmed your business. If you can’t show any financial duress from the article, you won’t succeed in a court of law or with the publisher.

2. Understand the difference between libel, slander and opinion.

If a blogger states a personal opinion you don’t like, legal action is probably not an option. However, if the blogger writes a factually inaccurate article that accuses you of wrongdoing and harms your business, you can. And you don’t always need a lawyer for this. Sometimes a strongly worded letter is enough to get the publisher’s attention.

3. Don’t wait.

Go after the website’s owners immediately. The longer the offending piece is up, the more time search engines have to index the web page. Google will stop indexing the web page if you can prove it displays private personal information like social security numbers. However, you need to make a case to them if it involves other matters. You can find this page in the Google website headed “Remove a page or site from Google’s search results”.

4. Push the article off the first Google page with new content.

There is another strategy you can take to bury the article off of the first page from Google. You can accomplish this by writing your own blog or material and making sure it is indexed with the proper search engine optimization.

5. Once the page is removed, you need to write a letter to all the search engines to make sure the page is no longer indexed.

This form of crisis communications will only grow in the future as more bloggers and news organizations post articles on the internet. If the article is false and inaccurate, don’t be afraid to fight back. Just make sure you’re not picking a fight over someone’s opinion because people are generally entitled to state their opinions.

Mark Macias is a crisis communication consultant.

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