Google's Matt Cutts put out a new Webmaster Help video. It's one of those where he answers his own question (as opposed to a user-submitted one), so you know it's something Google deals with all the time. The question:
There's a page about me on the web that I don't like. Will Google remove the page from its search results? Why or why not?
In short, Google will not remove a page just because it says something about you that you don't like. This isn't really news. In fact, Cutts even references a blog post he wrote about it back in 2009. However, such requests are clearly still something Google has to deal with on a regular basis, hence this video.
"In general, when you come to Google, and you say I don't like this page, if it's under your control, we're happy to have you remove it," says Cutts. "But if it's under somebody else's control, that can be a little bit more of a delicate situation. Because if there's a he said, she said situation, and we don't know who's right, it can be a little bit risky for us to try to just pick sides arbitrarily. We don't really have the resources to investigate all the different people who come to us and say I'm right. This person's wrong, and this page should go away."
I'm not sure Google doesn't have the resources. According to its most recent earnings report, the company employed 33,077 full-time employees as of March 31, 2012 (up from 32,467 at the end of last year). But clearly, Google would rather have these resources focused on other things. That said, I can't say I disagree with their approach.
"And if you think about it, in cyberspace, there's many of the same laws that apply," Cutts says. "So if somebody has libeled you, if they're saying something that is factually, completely wrong, or if there's some fraud going on, you can take that person to court. And there's even ways that are shy of taking them to court, like sending a cease-and-desist letter. So there are other avenues available to you than coming to Google. And if you just come to Google, and you get something removed from Google, that doesn't take it off of the web. It only removes it from our index. So people could still find it on Twitter. They could still find it on Facebook. They could navigate directly to it. They can find it in other search engines. So just removing a piece of content from Google's index doesn't remove it from the web. It doesn't keep people from finding it. "
Yes, the web does still exist without Google, which is kind of Google's point with all of the antitrust stuff. "Competition is always a click away," as the company likes to say.
"So think about some of the situations," Cutts continues. "If there's something that's just egregiously wrong, hopefully the webmaster will listen to reason or listen to a threat of legal action and take it down. And then everybody's happy. Now, if it's something like a newspaper, where it's factually accurate, and you don't like it, there may not be that much that you can do about that. In that sense, Google is trying to reflect the web. We're trying to show the web as it is, almost like a mirror. And so if something's true, if you were convicted of a crime or something like that, and it ranks for your name naturally, that's not the sort of thing that we would typically take action on."
Cutts goes onto talk about how you should be managing your online reputation.
"If something happened 10 years ago, and you've got a lot of fresh new content, that can often outrank the stuff that's a lot older," he says.
He's certainly right about that. I can't tell you how many times I've had trouble finding specific older content in Google, as it's buried under more recent content, particularly since Google launched its freshness update last year. And freshness continues to be a theme in Google's monthly lists of algorithm updates.