Several seemingly “adult” search terms have recently become dominated by mainstream sites as the Google algorithm now ranks non-adult content sites on the first page for keywords that were historically considered to be profitable adult traffic sources. A search for terms like “lesbian,” “Ron Jeremy,” “Cunt” or many others in Google now reveals page one listings for several gay rights groups, mainstream movie credits and other mainstream content. What impact will this change have on adult site SEO, traffic patterns, domain values and profitability for adult webmasters?
Even terms like “Santorum,” which was infamously top ranked for many months by an adult webmaster making a political statement, have now shifted their focus toward generic political news sites instead. Is this the seismic shift that scares off adult SEO webmasters once and for all, or is there a deeper level of analysis required which may allow companies to adapt their plans in profitable ways worth noticing?
As Google appears to be recharacterizing many adult terms, the SEO window of opportunity appears to be shrinking even tighter for paysite owners.
“It’s no secret that Google dislikes adult content and has made moves in the past, present —and will again in the future, to sanitize the Internet for people whether search users want porn or not,” said Mitch of BurningAngel.com. “Add in things like searches for ‘Santorum’ no longer having a definition as a ‘frothy mixture of fecal matter’ listed number one in the search results coinciding with campaign season, and a change like this has very chilling political undertones as well. Hopefully the ranks will return for hardcore sites based on better bounce rates and time on site, but if you ask me, the playing field will always be tilted against adult interests and it will be incumbent on webmasters to find new innovative ways to market their sites online and in the physical world as well.”
SEO continues to be the primary focus of many webmasters and affiliate programs seeking to maximize their profitability by bringing in as much free organic traffic as possible. In recent years that has become an increasingly difficult path to pursue because massive sites full of free content are luring away huge segments of the adult traffic market, and those same free tube sites maintain difficult to overcome traffic metrics for time one site, bounce rate or page views. Now as Google appears to be recharacterizing many adult terms, the SEO window of opportunity appears to be shrinking even tighter for paysite owners.
“I mentioned ‘cunt’ changing to mainstream in some of my posts because it is such a stark example or a purely adult term, but others like ‘fetish’, 'lesbian’ and ‘lesbians’ have also gone that way,” said nicot, a well- known SEO webmaster who posts frequently on GFY. “Generally, terms that would get a lot of porn results, based on what the searcher actually wants, have suddenly started going mainstream, even if only five percent of those searchers are looking for mainstream sites. That’s very important because it means Google isn’t only looking at what the searcher is looking for (based on bounce and time on site), but also blatantly filtering out porn from terms like ‘cunt’ to show mainstream content instead.”
Some SEO webmasters, who asked not to be named publicly, have argued privately that this is all just a temporary change and that many of the terms will likely flip back to adult in the near future. The consensus seems to be that terms like “lesbian” which have legitimate mainstream crossover appeal will likely remain sanitized, but terms like “pussy” which recently went mainstream, are far more likely to revert back to adult site listings once the bounce rates and time on site metrics of the newly ranked mainstream listings are analyzed by the Google algorithm. However, SEO webmasters tracking this phenomena closely are inclined to disagree with that common misconception.
“On some adult terms, like ‘cunt’, it’s already been like this for over half a year now, and in my book half a year is permanent when we talk search engine results,” explained nico-t. “It’s really just porn results that are getting filtered out. Look at all the other results, you won’t see any huge changes for any other biz like the porn biz. That’s why many webmasters are shifting away from prime keywords that may become mainstream focused by Google and instead have started looking for terms that have only an adult value. For example, pornstar names. Those are terms that can still make good money, because most pornstar names are unique only for porn sites. It’s logical that Ron Jeremy and other cross-over stars get some mainstream results, but that will never happen for pornstars who don’t get mainstream coverage, which is like 99.9 percent of them fortunately.”
That’s enough to make some respected adult companies thankful that they have taken a multipronged approach to generating organic traffic over the years.
‘TotemCash has always been very diligent about casting a wide net with regard to SEO and organic traffic,” said Rex of TotemCash.com “Our VirtuaGirl and DeskBabes sites focus on much more than a handful of keywords, targeting everything from model names and other obvious terms to some of the more obscure long-tail searches that have proven to be quality sources of traffic for us to monetize. We find that as SEO becomes more difficult, it actually benefits us, because the quality of our sites allows us to rank better without any of the tricks or gimmicks that others have relied on in the past.”
Those sentiments were echoed by several other major adult program owners.
“Obviously, the changes Google has made will have the greatest impact on companies that derive a significant amount of their traffic and revenue from the Google SERPs, and on affiliates who rely on SEO as their primary means of generating traffic,” said Allison Vivas, CEO, Pink Visual. “A lot of adult web companies, including Pink Visual, draw traffic from a wide variety of sources, including purchased traffic, type-in traffic, and affiliate traffic on top of the traffic they receive from search engines, putting them in a better position to take a hit to their search engine traffic without it disrupting their business all that much.
“Ultimately, I think surfers looking for adult content through Google won’t stop if they don’t find links to porn in the first ten responses to the search terms they use; they will either look deeper into the SERPs, or modify their search by appending ‘porn’ to it, like querying [lesbian porn] instead of just [lesbian,] or by adding some other, clearly porn-related term to the search string.”
Based on that sort of reasoning, some now question the potential impact that these changes will have on Domainers and domain prices. If for example “lesbian” is now essentially a term used to find gay rights nonprofit sites and hardcore fans are now having to type “lesbian porn” into their browser to find what they are actually looking for, the twoword domains like Lesbianporn.com or PussyVideos.com may have their values assessed much more closely to the primary single keyword domain values for Lesbian.com or Pussy.com, which would represent a very significant shift in the way domains are appraised by sellers or valued by buyers.
For some, terms like ‘lesbian porn’ were always considered more significant for internal paysite traffic networks than the premium terms free sites compete over.
‘Actually it doesn’t change anything for us really; we find that adult paysites are close to impossible to rank on the first page for those type of major organic keywords anyway. Those terms have always been dominated by free sites like the big tubes and TGPs back in the day,” said Erwin of ManicaMedia.com “Getting ranked on the more narrowly targeted keywords is better for site owners since the traffic is more focused and you really only get people who are actually looking for ‘lesbian porn,’ instead of getting people who are trying to figure out info about their personal feelings while wasting your bandwidth. Sure long-tail search traffic might be smaller, but in terms of revenue it doesn’t make a big difference because the ratios are so much more favorable and the competition is considerably easier.”
The adapt-or-die concept has become ubiquitous in the mindset of adult webmasters. In recent years traffic patterns have changed completely, the affiliate model is becoming a shell of its former self and new business models are emerging constantly. One company with decades of experience navigating the obstacles of evolving consumer habits summed up their strategy and these recent changes very simply.
“Certainly the changes to the search terms are a change to any cohesive SEO strategy, but the reality is that it is more tied to human nature. If it stays this way people will evolve their searches to be more complex in order to gain the results they are looking for,” said Spike of HomegrownVideo.com. “We in turn will shift our strategy to reflect this new reality and move to target those newly evolved search terms. As for whether or not this new rank structure will stay the same or change, only time and the Google collective know. One of the hallmarks of the online adult business is its ability to adapt, and much like many other changes we have faced already, we will find ways of evolving to benefit from this most recent change as well.”
Will Google searches remain mainstream focused, regardless of user metrics? Are the valuations of secondary adult domains currently very underpriced? Can paysites ever find a way to compete with free sites for organic traffic again? Where some see uncertainty others see opportunity and the webmasters who adapt their strategies quickly to a market that is changing at an ever-increasing pace will undoubtedly profit the most.