Oops, you weren’t meant to see that!

It happens from time to time, things change, someone forgets to place the correct permissions on a page, doesn’t really matter how it happens, the problem is the same. Google is showing results that you don’t want shown. How do you stop it?

Once again, Google have pretty good documentation for this, but lets have a bit of a review of the situation.

Firstly, it’s safe to assume that if a page or document is live and public on your website, Google will find it and index it. Google does this by following links. When Google arrives at a site, it quickly follows all the links it finds, processing them and removing duplicates until it has a good quality list, which it then indexes more carefully at a later date. This is called spidering. If you deliberately avoid linking to content, it will slow Google down, but the chances are, somehow, it will eventually find the content. Someone links to it from another website, or even an email discussion list that has a web interface, whatever, Google will find it.

The first thing you need to do is remedy the cause.

  • If the content shouldn’t be there at all, then simply delete it, or if it’s hosted in the CMS, place it Under Construction, or Archive it, whichever is appropriate.
  • If the content is out of date, remove it and set up a redirect to the correct content.
  • If you still want the content to be public, but just not indexed, use a robots.txt file to exclude search engines.
  • And Finally, if the document is OK, but should not have been publicly available, then you should place some sort of protection on it. In the CMS you’d start by removing the Public Read permission.

That’s it. That’s all you really need to do. Google rechecks its links and reindexes periodically, so it will discover the content missing or unavailable. It won’t remove it straight away, because it may have just been a glitch, but after a few failed attempts, it will be removed from the results.

Faster?

You want it removed now? Well, that’s probably not going to happen. Google is notoriously difficult to contact and press into action for this sort of thing, but if it’s a very serious matter, they will act. For the rest of us, who simply made a mistake, there is Google Webmaster.

If you don’t have a Webmaster account set up, you probably should. If you already run a local Google Analytics account, use the same Google account to set up as a webmaster. It takes a little fiddling around, but the instructions are clear, and once you’ve verified yourself as the owner of your website, there is a process to Remove URLs. The first step of the process is pretty much what I outlined in the start of this post – you have to make the content unavailable somehow, otherwise Google will not remove it.

Google don’t make guarantees about how quickly the content will be removed from their index, but it’s certainly quicker than waiting for it to happen organically.