SEO focuses on getting your content indexed fast so you can get a results page boost from organic traffic.
But what happens if Google indexes sensitive information or pages not intended to be seen by the public? Or your site has been hacked and spam pages start appearing?
You need those URLs removed from your search results fast.
Want to Keep the URL Live? Noindex the URLs
This method is for when you want to keep the URL live on your site, but hide it from search engines.
A ‘noindex’ tag informs search engines not to include the URL in search results.
The primary way to noindex a page is to add a tag in the head section of the HTML, or to use a plugin such as Yoast to implement this for you.
By adding the code below you are informing search engines such as Google not to index your content. It’s important to note that the content can still be accessed via internal links from your website so the pages can still be accessed this way.
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow”>
Content No Longer Relevant? You’ll Need to Remove the URL
If you want to both remove the URL from your site and search engines, you’ll need to go a step further.
So why does outdated content removed from your site continue to turn up in search results?
- Links pointing to deleted pages which display as 404 errors are resolved without being reindexed
- Outdated content gets indexed on Google’s cache servers
- Outdated content appears on 301 redirects
How to Remove Outdated Content
You have a choice of two solutions, depending on whether you control the site and the actions you’ve already taken to remove unwanted content.
If you control the site, you have several options:
- 404 Not Found status code: this is the slowest option, typically taking a few months.
- 410 Gone status code: this usually takes a few weeks to be effective.
- Google Search Console’s Removal Tools: this is the fastest option, usually working within 24 hours. But be warned, it only hides unwanted URLs for 180 days, so you’ll need to take further action to prevent them from popping up again.
If you’ve already removed the content from your site, you won’t be able to use a status code.
If you don’t control the site, these are the steps you can take:
- Reach out to the site owner: In most cases, this is the quickest way to get unwanted content removed with the minimum hassle. Ask the owner to implement the most suitable approach from the suggestions above. And to speed up the process, submit a ‘Remove outdated content‘ request to Google
- Submit a request to Google to remove personal information or request a DMCA takedown. You could also report content for legal reasons
To encourage this to happen, ensure you update your site map to the most current version of your website without the removed URLs.
If this method is not working, you may want to go further and use Google’s tool for removing outdated URLs, but if the information is personal or related to legal issues, you’ll still need to submit a request.
So, How Long does it take Google to Remove Outdated Content from Web Results?
The answer is that it depends.
According to Google, there’s a short window to verify that your content is outdated and remove it. In some cases, Google claims it can take just minutes to resolve the issue and take the URL down.
If your site is hacked, there’s typically a short suspension period. But if your content is outdated rather than spam, it can take 3-7 days for it to disappear.
The issue can be getting a response from Google in the first place. Google pproving the request itself can take a while, mainly if your request concerns one or two URLs rather than your entire domain.
The problem is that Google will sometimes flag a penalty if you have several outdated pages to remove. As a result, they won’t remove the content until you fix the issue of why your outdated content is visible in search results.
Why do Outdated Pages still Appear in Search when you’ve Requested Removal from Google’s Index?
There are a few reasons why outdated content may still show up in search:
- Content is picked up from an external source, not internal crawling. Let’s say you have outdated pages that appear in your directory structure and are also publicly listed in other directories on the web. These outdated links, URLs and pages could be visible to external sources but not picked up by Google.
- URL keywords have changed because page names have been changed. This generally happens when there’s a case match between the way the keyword is used in the URL and what it’s associated with during search. These issues can be detected using Google Webmaster Tools Search Queries or backlink analysis.
- Content has been updated, but the URL doesn’t redirect to the new destination. Unlike the more common 404 errors, this happens when your entire site has been migrated to a new domain or loads differently, resulting in broken internal links.
- Your URL may still exist externally, even though it’s already been removed from Google Index for another reason.
What can I do if Outdated Content still Appears after Being Removed?
As a last resort, bypass outdated content by disavowing any links that point to it. This action is usually a worst-case scenario where outbound spam links have caused your website to suffer a penalty from Google.
However, taking extreme action on this type of outdated content will prevent Google from taking further action against your website.
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