To the uninitiated, search engine optimization is an enigmatic science, requiring digital sorcery and algorithmic alchemy to rise above the competition.
How else can even the most well-meaning of content creators and providers bring order to cyberspace chaos, slicing through all of the attention-seeking noise and driving back the tide of endlessly spawning sites? Fortunately, Adrian DeGus, the visionary founder of Adult SEO Partners, has the answers. Not the easy ones. The right ones.
Search engine algorithms are complex, but they really only have one job: to provide relevant quality search results. Quality is the biggie here because computers don’t know what ‘quality’ is. They don’t have kinks that attract them to one video over another. They have to rely on people to tell them what quality is.
In fact, his revelations are as informative as his executions are transformative, because with 15-plus years in the trenches of this incredibly unique industry, DeGus has built sites from nothing … divined the differences between mainstream SEO and adult entertainment’s needs … and consistently delivered business-booming results, time and time again. The testimonials speak for themselves.
He scouts the terrain, appraising the strengths and weakness of a client’s site with a checklist of more than 80 elements during his audits. He then prescribes a meaningful action plan, more concerned with long-term rankings than with short-term flash.
DeGus knows how to seduce Google by appealing to its most fundamental desires, via meaningful keyword targeting, ideal inbound links, stellar page optimization and strategic internal linking, not to mention fine-tuning a site’s indexation and canonicalization.
To decipher the complex and multi-faceted artistry of SEO, XBIZ spoke with DeGus about his proven techniques, in this exclusive interview!
XBIZ: Tell us about your work experience prior to Adult SEO Partners. What led you to create the adult SEO training program that eventually became Adult SEO Partners? And, as demand for full-service consulting grew, what was your approach to scalability in terms of expanding the company without sacrificing responsiveness to loyal clients’ needs?
DeGus: I’ve been working in adult for over 15 years, starting as a webmaster building free sites and TGP galleries. Back then, it was all about submitting to big sites and hoping to get listed. I didn’t play that game for long before looking into SEO as a means of steadier traffic. After a while, I got on the radar of some big adult programs and spent the next several years working on big sites and making a lot of great friends at all the shows.
I still had my own network of sites ranking back then, but found working on big paysites more exciting since there were so many considerations to take into account before touching anything. Google also responded to changes to big sites very differently than it did to small sites, it was intriguing. Overall, I used thousands of my own sites to learn everything I could about SEO, both adult and mainstream. And at one point everything just clicked, I understood what Google responded to and created a system to get results for my own sites, systematically and in a way that completely avoided penalties.
But getting to this point was frustrating. Everything I read online was 90 percent bullshit. Everything written about SEO caters to mainstream and most of what works for mainstream is useless for adult. Everybody writes to establish a brand or reputation for themselves. Because of this, they never lay out what really works; instead they lay out what people want to hear. Trying to learn SEO is like trying to learn to lose weight: most of what people write make it sound easy and everyone’s trying to sell you something (which is why they claim old tricks still work; it’s tempting and pulls clicks).
So I decided to build Adult SEO Training to help webmasters avoid this same frustration and to cut the time it takes to actually learn what works in this industry. I had planned to run Adult SEO Training full-time, but as soon as I launched I started getting requests for full-service consulting, which led to working full-time for clients for over five years now.
Regarding scalability, I haven’t actually expanded Adult SEO Partners much. I have a small team of SEOs who help with the more time-consuming aspects of campaigns, but clients prefer to work with me directly so there’s not much room to scale.
XBIZ: In a nutshell, how do you rank sites for what can sometimes be upwards of tens of thousands of keywords, in a cost-effective and efficient manner? What are the logistics in terms of delegating tasks and streamlining project management, in an optimal way that capitalizes on your human resources and client feedback?
DeGus: The beauty of Google’s algorithm is that it no longer requires you to target every keyword you want to rank for. If you optimize properly and create the specific off-site and timing patterns it looks for it will reward you with exponential growth. It requires the same effort and resources to rank an adult site for 100 keywords as it does to grow that 100 into 10,000.
Of course, this still requires a team effort and efficient project management was a struggle for a long time. All of the project management tools out there like Trello, Asana, Basecamp, Jira and Wrike never hit the sweet spot for an adult campaign. So to solve this I actually learned to program and built my own project management software called Nuvro, which we’ve been using for months now. A couple dozen other companies have been using it as well.
XBIZ: Take us through your research process in auditing a website. You offer an analysis of over 65 individual elements that have a direct impact on SEO. What are the top three most critical elements that have the strongest influence on a site’s ranking? How do you compile an explanatory report for the client, that clearly communicates what they need to improve, with a set of priorities and outlined milestones?
DeGus: The most critical elements are often different depending on the site. But generally, the top three would be inbound links, page optimization and internal linking strategy. For larger more established sites, links typically fall behind technical optimizations like indexation and canonicalization.
Our process of performing audits is a tedious one. We basically work from a spreadsheet and manually check each element (which is now over 80 items) individually, making notes along the way. Once done, we discuss each item internally as a team to determine priority based on a number of factors. I then simply send the client a list of what needs to be done with an explanation as to why and the expected outcome. Very few have the time or interest to get into the details. They just want to know what they need to do. For major changes, especially those involving site structure, I’ll work directly with development teams to plan and implement everything as needed.
XBIZ: Once Google Penguin hit in 2012, how did you get your clients up to speed on meeting the new ranking standards? As updates rolled out over the years, how have you ensured clients are able to rise with the tide rather than sink beneath it? What have been the main effects of Penguin 4.0 (the seventh update), which landed in September 2016, and how do you prepare clients for future updates?
DeGus: Penguin didn’t introduce any new standards, it only worked to close the loopholes people were using to get around existing standards. Subsequent rollouts of Penguin continued to close loopholes that previous versions couldn’t. Same with Panda, it enforced existing standards.
Before starting Adult SEO Partners I had already learned, through extensive experimentation, how to stay on Google’s good side, long-term, while still outranking competitors. And because I employ the same methods for clients, they’ve always been insulated from big Google updates.
The only preparation for future updates is to make sure your SEO campaign is always aligned with Google’s standards (keeping in mind that Google’s standards are not always what mainstream SEO guys claim).
XBIZ: For clients who have suffered a Penguin penalty, how do you help them recover? Do you make use of Google’s Disavow tool and file a reconsideration request on their behalf? How much of it is merely upping the percentage of good links vs. bad links?
DeGus: Here’s the deal with Penguin penalties, very few sites can actually recover. This is because Google looks at trends more than links.
Say you have 1,000 bad links that you disavow. If Google sees that all those links were created over an extended period of time and carry similar footprints (IPs including Class Cs, link anchors you optimize for, affiliate IDs, code blocks, the source site having similar linking patterns as yours) you’re fucked. It shows that you violated Google’s guideline against linking schemes. You could go out and have all the bad links physically removed, but you’ll still carry that trend. You can offset the bad links with good, but you’ll still have that trend.
The sites that do typically recover are those that don’t have established violating trends. If the 1,000 bad links were found to have been acquired within a short period of time and carry signs of negative attacks or random spam then disavows can work and things bounce back.
XBIZ: Given your experience in improving the Google keyword ranking growth for a diverse array of adult businesses, what are the unique SEO challenges that distinguish tube sites, cam networks, paysites and dating sites? Likewise, what SEO improvements are universal, regardless of the service an adult site provides?
DeGus: Universal improvements that can help any adult site include: Targeting viable keywords in meta title tags and on-page in H1 tags (viable means keywords you actually have a shot at ranking for), having unique, quality, text content (uniqueness can be tough for sites like tubes and sex toy resellers, and quality means free of poor spelling, grammar and synonyms, not length or optimization), as well as getting quality links from sites that Google likes, steadily over time.
Unique challenges and how to get around them include, for tubes, link value, link volume and unique video titles and descriptions — none are easy, all are necessary … for cams, link value, link volume and staying away from white labels (if your goal is organic traffic) … for paysites, deep tours, long trailers, proper canonicalization to prevent the harm of affiliate links and separate tours for affiliate traffic (so your SEO tours don’t hurt affiliate conversions) … and for dating, well, dating sites are easy.
XBIZ: When you encounter an adult site that needs a massive SEO overhaul, what do you prioritize first? Is there a mix of implementing low hanging fruit changes first, before tackling larger fish, or do you roll it out all at once after everything is ready?
DeGus: We roll everything out incrementally, the worst thing a site can do is implement too many changes at the same time. It’s important to analyze the effects of everything individually.
As for priority, we like to start with the things that will have the most impact in the short-term. This tends to include the hardest things, but I’d rather work on one thing for a month and see results than tinker with a bunch of small things that don’t move the needle.
Not all clients appreciate this, they like to see a flurry of activity and have a lot of things to do. The problem is that, typically, the easier something is to do the less effect it will have. There’s often a lot of small things we ignore, knowing it won’t help, to give us time to tackle the bigger things that will.
XBIZ: Since search engine algorithms are hard to pin down, what best practices can a site employ to stay ahead of the curve in terms of rankings?
DeGus: In essence, analyze the top-ranking sites for your keywords and emulate their path to the top. Search engine algorithms are complex but they really only have one job, to provide relevant quality search results. Quality is the biggie here because computers don’t know what “quality” is. They don’t have kinks that attract them to one video over another. They have to rely on people to tell them what quality is. A page that’s linked to from popular sites, gets more and more traffic over time and has traffic that sits on a page for five minutes before clicking over to other pages, is deemed a high quality page. A site that has 10,000 links from unpopular pages, gets little or sporadic traffic and has low visit durations is deemed low quality. Thinking about algorithms this way will tell you what you need to do.
Avoid anything that could indicate low quality. So, don’t build links from pages Google doesn’t trust (if they don’t rank well they can’t help you rank well). Don’t create link building patterns (this doesn’t mean you have to start small — get 10k new links if you want, but only if you can continue a similar volume each month for a few months — mainstream sites get a pass on this, since viral content is a thing). Don’t over-optimize your pages, because search engines get their quality signals from people’s actions, not from how many times you choose to use your keywords. Don’t over-optimize your link anchors, because search engines get their quality signals from people’s actions and they know the general public doesn’t tend to link to sites with a single target keyword from thousands of different pages.
Of course, this is only applicable to people doing their own SEO in-house. It’s harder to enforce these guidelines on outside consultants. So before hiring anyone, ask them to explain in detail how they work and why their methods will work for your site in particular. Ask them to show you proof of performance and require they explain exactly what they did to achieve their results. Compare their response with these guidelines and trust your instincts, it will help you choose the right team.