Most of the time, when you think of content in relation to SEO (Search Engine Optimization), you think of adding it; not removing it. So, why on earth would you want to remove content -- especially if it ranks well? If you take a minute to ponder that question, I'm sure you can think of a reason or two (if not, I provide plenty of reasons below :) ). To be clear, this isn't ORM (Online Reputation Management) I'm going to be delving into, so if there's a Yelp page full of complaints about your business that you'd like to see removed or down-ranked, that topic is for a whole different post on another day. What I'm going to be dealing with today is showing you a couple of ways to get rid of content from your Web site (or any Web site you have control of, such as a client's site) such that it won't show up in Google or Google's cache (which is the real enemy of content you want completely removed).
Alright, so let's assume you run a popular blog and you got really miffed at someone because you paid them money for a service they never provided. For months, you waited for that product or a refund, but you got the cold shoulder. The problem for who you're dealing with now is that they don't realize you run a popular blog! Before they know what hit them, you've already turned to your blog and written a post about your scenario with them. You give them an ultimatum: "If you refund my money, I will remove this post. Until then, I'll SEO the heck out of this post and rank it on the first page for your brand name." Bam. Not even a week later, you're on the first page ranking above the fold ("above the fold" refers to the search results a searcher sees without having to scroll down to see more) for their brand name.
Fast-forward about 3 weeks. You've got your refund in the bank, so now it's time to be true to your word and remove the post as promised. Now, at this point, you're ranking above the fold on the first page of Google for that person's/businesses brand name thanks to a number of links from your loyal readers, tons of on-site optimization for the post, and relative ease of ranking for their brand name. How are you going to remove that from Google?
Well, the more involved method is to re-purpose the content of the post, wait for Google to cache it, then either delete the post or leave the re-purposed content. While that approach may be preferred in certain situations, it's not typically necessary to go about things in that manner. Here is my step-by-step method to quickly and strategically removing content from Google and its cache:
1 - Maintain Link Juice: The first thing you want to consider is if you have any links pointing to your page. If so, you want to keep that link juice! You can easily do this by implementing a 301 redirect from the page at-hand to your home page. This will keep those links from hitting a 404 page (A.K.A. "page not found") when you delete the post.
2 - Delete, Delete, Delete: Although you can just select the post to be deleted, I like to methodically remove the post piece-by-piece so as to be absolutely certain I've removed any and all components of -- and references to -- the post (skip straight to point 'd' below if your content is all located in one html file instead of in a CMS (Content Management System) like WordPress):
a. Delete your meta keywords, meta description, page title, post summary, and anything else from any SEO plug-ins or similar. Finally, delete the main copy of the article.
b. Disassociate and delete any tags and/or categories you created specifically for the post -- especially if any of them contain the keyword terms you were targeting.
c. Save the post once you've completed the two points above.
d. Delete the post completely now.
e. Remove any and all comments that were posted to the article, for good measure.
f. Remove any additional/residual implementations you put into place, such as a keyword-specific link pointing to the post in your sidebar, home page, or other pages that reference the post.
The aforementioned should effectively remove all references and relevance the post had (not to mention the post itself) from your entire site while also redirecting all inbound traffic to the post, to your home page.
3 - Seducing Google: At this point, you can either wait for Google to crawl your site on its own timetable and see that the page is gone or you can be a bit more proactive in helping to steer Google to the post more quickly! If the contents aren't earth-shatteringly important to being removed as soon as possible, I recommend submitting your blog to a couple of ping services like Ping-O-Matic and Pingler. Likewise, you can submit a freshly-updated version of your XML sitemap to Google in Webmaster tools.
Also, it won't hurt to post a link pointing to the original URL of the article on Twitter and then ask your followers to please retweet it. Your most loyal followers will be glad to, even if they don't understand why you're asking them to (though it does help if you can provide some kind of explanation -- even if it's not a completely transparent one). You may want to mask the link using bit.ly before you tweet it as well. That will prevent your original URL from fully displaying; which means any damning or blatantly obvious words in the URL itself detailing what the post *was* about won't show. And as with Twitter, so with Facebook (e.g. you can post the link on Facebook and ask followers to "like" it, too).
If, however, the page is essential to being removed A.S.A.P, you can try submitting the URL in Google's URL removal tool in Webmaster tools. From there, you can watch Google daily by searching for the term(s) your post currently ranks for or you can set up a Google Alert which will email you when Google caches a change. Don't forget that while the link you click through to from Google will redirect you to your home page, until Google caches the removed page, you can still see the cached version of that page (which will show the content you removed even though you removed it).
Conclusion: Ultimately, the idea is to delete any and all signs of the content you want removed from Google, then get as much attention pointing to the old URL as you can from external sources (other sites, social media venues, et al) so that Google will take much quicker notice and hopefully crawl your site, see the page is gone, and remove the result from their index (or relate it to content on your home page since you've implemented a 301 redirect). Likewise, keeping any and all link juice you may have garnered is an integral part of SEO, so don't count out the 301 redirect!
Though things can happen as quick as a day (especially if your site is popular), I wouldn't be surprised if it takes a week or more -- just to be realistic. If you would like to see additional recommendations and tips from Google as to how to remove URLs/content from their index (such as adding the URL to your robots.txt file, etc.), you can visit their page addressing this very issue.
And to close, some additional reasons you may want to remove content/pages/URLs are if they contain confidential information, outdated information, information that someone requests for removal from your site, information your client wants removed from their site, and more. Whatever the case may be for you, you're now well-equipped to confidently remove that content from Google's index and cache!
Do you have any questions or additional tips you would like to offer where removing content is concerned? Please share them via the comments below!