LOS ANGELES — For many online adult marketers, targeting “the long tail” of search results at Google is a great way to expose niche content to a specialized audience.
As part of the process, today’s consumer of tightly focused materials is likely to be quite adept at Boolean and other advanced search query formation techniques; going far beyond simply typing “free porn” into their favorite search engine.
Google has long done its part to facilitate long tail searches through the use of the plus operator. For example searching “+keyword1 +keyword2 +keyword3 +keyword4” (without the quotation marks) would return only the pages containing all four keywords, whereas a similar search minus the plus signs would yield pages containing any of those keywords, but not necessarily all of them.
If “tanned blonde teen babes in shiny blue bikinis” are your favorite fancy, then the plus operator is your friend — or more specifically, it was your friend.
It appears that Google, caught up in its rollout of Google+ services, has quietly taken its old “plus” functionality away, reportedly responding to shifting usage patterns while paving the way for future searches of Google+ profiles and other features.
Entering a “+keyword” search now returns a notice that the plus operator has been replaced and that users wanting to search for an exact word or phrase, should use double quotation marks; for example, searching for “ “long” “tail” ” rather than “+long +tail.”
The results when using the new method are the same as when searching with plus, but queries containing many keywords may become laboriously monotonous to enter and may complicate matters for prospects who may make more errors when entering queries, perhaps decreasing organic search traffic to some websites.
According to Wired’s Andy Baio, there was no easy solution to this problem for Google, which had to bring its current offers in line with what its users are expecting.
“Should a company be expected to maintain features indefinitely because a tiny fraction of their base loves them?” Baio wrote. “There are tangible costs to maintaining old code, and fringe features can clutter an interface, making user experience worse for those that don’t use them.”
“For those people, removing features is more than an inconvenience. It shatters an entire community,” Baio added. “But, ultimately, their usage is a rounding error in the overall product activity.”
The lessons for adult operators go far beyond search traffic considerations when the bigger picture of balancing features and customer demands comes into play — issues that webmasters struggle with as they modernize legacy systems to deliver better offerings.