Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, explains the two reasons why content gets removed from search results.
Google aims to provide open access to information, Sullivan says, but there are times content must be removed either to protect users or comply with the law.
Removing content from search results is not an action Google takes lightly. Even sites that violate Google’s rules with black hat SEO do not get permanently de-indexed.
What would cause Google to remove content from search results? Here are the two reasons.
Removing Content to Comply With the Law
Google will remove content from search results when it’s legally required to do so.
Google’s legal obligations, as they relate to laws around privacy and defamation, vary from country to country.
Sullivan says the company holds itself to a high standard when it comes to meeting the legal requirements to remove pages from search results.
In most cases, Google is not able to detect law-breaking content on its own. Google relies on people and authorities to to report content that may need to be removed for legal reasons.
Anyone can submit a removal request for content they believe violates the law by filling out this form.
Google will review the request and make a determination on whether the content meets the legal requirements for removal.
When possible, Google informs site owners about removal requests via Search Console.
Removing Content to Protect Users
Google may remove content, even when it’s not legally required to, when it contains highly personal information.
Examples of such content includes financial or medical information, government-issued IDs, and intimate imagery published without consent.
Due to the potential for harm caused by personal information falling into the wrong hands, Google gives everyone the ability to request the removal of content from search results.
People can also request content get removed from Google search results when pages about themselves appear on sites with exploitative removal policies.
Pages that include contact information alongside personal threats, a form of doxxing, may qualify for removal as well.
The decision to remove content is determined by evaluating whether the potential harm it could cause outweighs the value it provides to searchers.
“In these cases, while people may want to access these sites to find potentially useful information or understand their policies and practices, the pages themselves provide little value or public interest, and might lead to reputational or even physical harm that we aim to help protect against.”
Using Insights to Solve Issues At Scale
Removing individual pages from search results doesn’t scale to the size of the open web.
However, Google uses insights from removal requests to design systems that solve issues across all search results.
For example, if a website receives a high volume of valid content removal requests for violating copyright law, then Google will minimize the appearance of that site in search results.
Similar measures are in place for websites that get a high volume of removal requests for pages containing personal information.
Sullivan reminds everyone that although content is removed from Google it may still exist on the web.
“Ultimately, it’s important to remember that even when we remove content from Google Search, it may still exist on the web, and only a website owner can remove content entirely. But we do fight against the harmful effects of sensitive personal information appearing in our results, and have strict practices to ensure we’re complying with the law.”