Have you ever done an online search and clicked on one of the top results, only to find out that the link leads to web content that’s no longer there? Frustrating, isn’t it? Changes in web pages and the removal or updating of web content are normal, and it is also normal for people to want search results to reflect such changes promptly. This is why Google has improved their public URL removal tool. The enhancement now makes it a lot easier to request updates on third-party websites based on any change the search engine may not have seen just yet.
Webmaster Tools URL Removal vs. Public URL Removal
Before we go further into our discussion of Google’s enhanced public URL removal tool, let us first make one thing clear: The public URL removal tool is different from the one found in your Google Webmaster Tools account. If you’re the webmaster of the site that needs to be updated, then you’d most likely be using the Webmaster Tools URL removal feature. This feature allows you to remove more than just inactive URLs; you can also remove directories and even the entire site.
The public URL removal tool, on the other hand, allows you to request removals regardless of whether you’re the site’s webmaster or not. This means you can use the tool to request for the removal of any web page on any website, provided that the page meets Google’s requirements for removal. Remember that you will need to be logged into a Google account to be able to submit removal requests.
What You Can Do with the Public URL Removal Tool
As the tool’s name indicates, it primarily allows you to request that Google remove a particular URL or web page from its search results. For your request to be deemed valid, the page should have any of these HTTP results codes: 403, 404, or 410 (you may check this with a HTTP header checker). You may also request the removal of a page that has a noindex robots Meta tag or a robots.txt file blocking it. There are only two simple steps to follow when requesting for a page removal:
- Enter the URL of the web page you wish to have removed. Make sure the URL you enter is the exact URL indexed in Google’s search results.
- Confirm the request and let the tool work its magic!
Now, what if the web page is still active and you don’t want to completely remove it, but you simply want to remove certain text that may have been removed or changed? The enhanced tool allows you to do that as well! Here’s how:
- Enter the URL of the updated web page. Again, you need to make sure this is the exact URL in Google’s search results.
- The tool will indicate that the page is still live and ask if the site owner has updated or removed content. Click on YES.
- You will then be asked if the snippet and cache are outdated or if the entire page has been removed. Click on the first option (outdated snippet and cache).
- Enter at least one word that used to be on the page, but has been removed or changed yet still appears in the snippet or cache.
- Confirm the request and let the tool work its magic!
This update indeed carries huge advantages for online users in terms of convenience. As a website owner, though, note that this update makes it even more important for you to give more focus to the technical aspects of SEO. You need to make sure your site isn’t exposed to too many third-party URL removal requests.
When NOT to Use the Enhanced Public URL Removal Tool
You should always remember that this tool is meant to give you the chance to remove web pages that need to be removed urgently. For example, if you inadvertently expose confidential business information to the public, then you definitely need to get that piece of content removed from search results. The disadvantage to this tool becoming easier to use is that some people may use it for the wrong purposes, which can pose problems for site owners. To be specific, the URL removal tool shouldn’t be used:
- To clean up stuff such as old pages that display 404 messages. Google’s crawlers have the ability to see such pages and will automatically drop these pages from search results.
- To remove crawl errors from the Webmaster Tools. Remember that this tool is meant to remove pages from search results, not from Webmaster Tools.
- To “rebuild” your website from scratch. For starting on a clean slate after getting penalized, it’s best to file a reconsideration request telling Google what happened and what updates you’ve made on your website.
- To take your website offline after a hacking incident. If the incident resulted in new (and unpleasant) content being added to your site, you may use the tool to remove those new pages and content, but you don’t have to remove your site completely. You simply need to clean it up and let Google crawl your pages again.
- To get the “correct version” of your website indexed. If you make the same HTML content available on various URLs, you may think removing other URLs with this tool will ensure that only your favorite version will appear on search results. Not so. Using the tool will remove all versions of the HTML content. It’s best for you to review Google’s canonicalization methods for this purpose.
Just like any other tool, Google’s public URL removal tool has its set of advantages and disadvantages. Note, though, that the disadvantages all have to do with the manner in which you use the tool. So be very careful in doing so and make sure you only use it for the right purposes.
Mary McLean is a blogger for a SEO Philippines outsourcing provider. She has been working actively with the company to develop its content and Internet marketing strategies. Mary blogs about SEO, content creation, social media, and some of the latest IT-related topics. You can find her on Google+.