remove search engine resultsSearch engines on the Internet have grown from relatively small databases of websites people might find useful to enormous caches of millions of web pages, both old and new. “Google” is now used colloquially as a verb, and often the first move made by an employer or an online dater is to perform a web search in hopes of finding out more information on a person. Unfortunately, this can be bad news for the person being searched, depending on what results come up within the first few pages. Your teenage self might have thought it was a great idea to share unfiltered adolescent thoughts and photos across the Internet, but as an adult, these are probably not the kind of results you want to come up when somebody searches for your name. Regardless of the content you want axed, the good news is, it’s possible to remove search engine results from the top Internet search engines — and we’re going to tell you how.

Your first step should be contacting the site owner

Contacting the webmaster of any site that currently hosts information you want removed is a good step to take — one you should almost always attempt before contacting the search engine in question. For some sites, it might be as simple as emailing and requesting the removal of a photo, post or other information, while others might require you to log in to an account you might no longer be able to access. Some sites can help verify ownership in other means, so again, that would be a case where you would want to contact the site administration for assistance. Many people search websites have their own processes for getting information removed, though you must remember these sites must be monitored a couple times a year since they gather information from various sources (meaning it’s likely a new profile with your information will pop up a few months after it’s deleted).

How to remove search engine results on the top sites

There are several good reasons why you should Google yourself — even if you aren’t worried about what potential employers or other people within a professional capacity might find, there could be information out there that identity thieves could use. However, it’s important to remember that although it is the top search engine out there, Google isn’t the only place people look for information online. Bing and Yahoo are two other commonly-used search engines to keep in mind. To that end, here’s how you can get your information removed from all three of these search engines.

Google

Requesting removal of something from Google can be time-consuming and slightly confusing. It helps to first know what content Google will and will not remove. According to Google’s Support section, it will remove any content from its search results which contains child sexual abuse imagery or is requested for removal on legal grounds (such as copyright notifications that meet the requirements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Personal information that may be removed includes national identification numbers (such as your social security number), bank account numbers, credit card information, images of signatures and nude or sexually explicit images that were uploaded without your consent. It will not usually remove dates of birth, addresses or telephone numbers, though each request is assessed on a case-by-case basis, so it’s worth trying even if what you want removed doesn’t fit the criteria.

Google's Remove information page

Google’s Remove information page

To request the removal of content from Google’s search results, you must first navigate to the Remove information from Google page on its site. At the bottom of this page, you’ll be asked several questions to help narrow down what you want, starting with whether you’d like to completely remove information from Google search or prevent it from showing up. If you choose the former, you’ll be asked whether the information is on Google search and a website, or just Google search. Content that only shows up on Google search is “cached” content, meaning it’s been deleted from the Internet (or the content has changed) but Google still retains a copy of it. You can use the Remove outdated content page to request that this be removed. If the content is still visible on a website, you’ll need to tell Google whether you’ve tried contacting the site administrator and be guided through a series of questions about the content in question. Eventually, depending on how you answer the questions, you’ll be taken to a form where you can input your contact details and the page URL.

Bing

The process to request content be removed from Bing’s search results is less complicated than Google’s, although you will require a Microsoft account to be able to do so. The nice thing about being logged in when making your requests is that you can see the history of all submissions you’ve made, including the status of removal. On its Content Removal Tool page, Bing allows you to differentiate between requests to remove a page or remove outdated cache content. If you’re requesting the removal of outdated cache, you can paste the page text that needs to be removed before submitting the form. Bing follows similar guidelines to Google when it comes to what type of content it will and will not remove.

Bing's Content Removal form

Bing’s Content Removal form

Yahoo

It’s not as straightforward for Yahoo users to figure out how to remove content from search engine results on its site, as the Help section article on the topic doesn’t directly link to the page like its competitors do. That said, it does provide some good information on Yahoo’s removal process and criteria for getting results removed. In general, illegal content, copyrighted content and personally identifying information (what Yahoo refers to as “PII” information) stands the best chance of removal.

Navigating to Yahoo's search results removal page

Navigating to Yahoo’s search results removal page

If you navigate to the site’s Contact Us page, select Search from the list of options and select Online Safety from the topics presented, you will find a sub-topic titled “Remove a search result.” Clicking on that will give you the option to email Yahoo — and selecting that will, finally, bring you to a contact form where you can describe the issue, provide URLs and the search terms you used to get that result. Frustratingly, although Yahoo’s support topic on removing content from its search results instructs users to detail the information that you want removed, the contact form itself instructs users not to enter any personally identifying information (such as social security numbers). This is mildly problematic, but then again, if you’re dealing with a website that is displaying your personal data for anyone to search for online, it might be worth some added exposure to get the page removed from search results. You will be contacted via email by Yahoo to find out the results of your request.

Remember: content won’t disappear overnight

If you’re hoping to do a last-minute scrub of your search results in anticipation of a new job, prospective interview or potential date, unfortunately, you’re probably not going to get the results you like. Search engines typically update their content every few months, with Google simply leaving the answer as “regularly” and Yahoo stating the cycle is six to eight weeks. This means, it might take some time for any updates to be reflected, although outdated pages may be removed faster than others. Patience is key when it comes to this type of thing.

Protecting your privacy and reputation online isn’t easy, but having the knowledge behind you on steps you can take is a good place to start. Learn more about privacy protection online and off by following our privacy blog.