Someone posted your full name/cellphone number/personal email to an AA website and it shows up whenever someone Googles you. They took it down, but it’s still showing up in Google search results. Now what?
Google automatically scans most websites periodically and creates an “index” of the website’s pages and PDFs and their content that it then shows in search results. The index is essentially a snapshot of the website’s content so it knows when to show it and what excerpts to show in search results. This index is static and does not change when you change your website; it only updates when your website is re-scanned and re-indexed.
How often the site is crawled and re-indexed can vary widely, so content that has been removed from the website can continue to appear in search results for months after it was taken down. If there is an anonymity break on a website, removing the page/PDF will not be sufficient to remove the information from Google search results. The only way to remove information from the Google search results is to request that Google re-scan your website by submitting an updated sitemap to Google Search Console.
Step 1) Find your XML Sitemap
The XML sitemap is the map that tells search engines which pages on your website to scan.
If you have a Wix or Squarespace website, your XML sitemap is at yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml.
If you have WordPress version 5.5 or later, WordPress automatically generated an XML sitemap for your website. Go to yourwebsite.org/wp-sitemap.xml and a page containing a list of your website’s URLs like the photo below should appear. Check the URL and make sure it didn’t redirect. Copy the end of the URL and go to Step 2.
If you get an error message/no page is found, either you’re using a plugin that has your XML sitemap at a different URL, or WordPress didn’t make you an XML sitemap for some reason and you’ll have to make one on your own. Try going to yourwebsite.org/sitemap_index.xml. Still no sitemap? Try going to yourwebsite.org/robots.txt; if your robots.txt file is set up, you’ll see something like this:
It says our sitemap is at https://aa-louisiana.org/sitemap_index.xml. Visit the URL to ensure it’s accurate, then copy the end, “sitemap_index.xml.”
If you’re still not finding a sitemap, skip to the end for instructions on how to generate one using the free Yoast SEO plugin.
Step 2) Setup Google Search Console
If you already have a Google Search Console account, GREAT, skip to the next step. If you need to make one, visit https://search.google.com/search-console/about and hit “start now”. You’ll need to have a gmail account. It’ll ask you to select a property type of either “Domain” or “URL prefix”; choose Domain and type yoursite.org in the box. After you setup the account, you’ll have to verify site ownership. The easiest way is to add their line of code to the header of your website.
Step 3) Submit XML Sitemap to Google Search Console
After you deleted the offending page or PDF, your XML sitemap should’ve updated to reflect the change. In Google Search Console, click “Sitemaps” under the Indexing tab on the left sidebar, and put the sitemap URL in the “Add a New Sitemap” box. You can view a full guide here. After you submit, it should say “Success” in green next to the sitemap, and the number of Discovered URLs should roughly match the number of pages on your site.
If You Have to Make a WordPress XML Sitemap
Install and configure the free Yoast SEO plugin. This Guide will show you how to install: https://yoast.com/help/installation-guide-for-wordpress-seo/ and this guide will show you how to configure: https://yoast.com/help/configuration-guide-for-yoast-seo/. The configuration guide is far more detailed than we’ll need for our purposes, so you might want to start the plug-in’s first-time configuration wizard and only consult the guide if you get stuck. After you set up Yoast, your XML sitemap will be at yourwebsite.org/sitemap_index.xml.