LOS ANGELES — A recent e-mail from the Google AdWords Team to advertisers employing its popular service for getting visitors to websites, warns of upcoming changes to the company’s advertising policies that will limit its use by adult content marketers:
“Beginning in the coming weeks, we’ll no longer accept ads that promote graphic depictions of sexual acts including, but not limited to, hardcore pornography; graphic sexual acts including sex acts such as masturbation; genital, anal, and oral sexual activity,” the Google e-mail states. “When we make this change, Google will disapprove all ads and sites that are identified as being in violation of our revised policy … We ask that you make any necessary changes to your ads and sites to comply so that your campaigns can continue to run.”
Viewing Google’s policy change log reveals, “The AdWords policies on adult sexual services, family status, and underage or non-consensual sex acts will be updated in late June 2014 to reflect a new policy on sexually explicit content. Under this policy, sexually explicit content will be prohibited, and guidelines will be clarified regarding promotion of other adult content. The change will affect all countries.”
Google says that it made this decision as an effort to improve users’ AdWords experiences and that once the new policy goes into effect, the adult sexual services, family status, and underage or non-consensual sex acts policy pages will reflect this change. For its part, anti-porn crusader coalition Morality In Media (MIM) is taking credit for strong-arming the search giant into changing its porn policies. MIM now offers an online “thank you” card form where the public can thank Google for its anti-porn shift.
“For two years in a row we have placed Google on our Dirty Dozen List of top pornography facilitators in America [and] launched a public campaign to get thousands of ordinary citizens to contact Google by email and phone an urge the company to get out of the porn business for the sake of our children and families. Talk about a David and Goliath story!” MIM’s Executive Director, Dawn Hawkins, wrote, adding, “We also met with Google executives and we pushed hard for the cause of defending dignity … Google executives also have children and are as concerned about the influence of pornography on their children as we are. That was a breakthrough for us and we pressed hard because of it.”
Balancing this partisan outcry is as unlikely as is thousands of ordinary citizens contacting Google to urge the company to remain in the porn business…
It is the latest move by Google towards pulling back from porn. Last year, users of the firm’s Blogger service received the unwelcome news that porn blogs would be deleted and adult ads prohibited, much to the dismay of the adult website affiliates and promoters that worked hard to develop viable revenue streams on this free service.
Beyond Blogger, an ongoing series of algorithm updates savaged existing adult website rankings, causing major disruptions in traffic and revenues for many companies. Additionally, adult apps were removed from the Google Play store — the result of another victory claimed by MIM.
Likewise, some longtime AdSense users found their accounts suddenly closed — including mainstream account holders who received substantial amounts of traffic from adult websites. Importantly, Google is not only concerned with the content on a given page, but the destination of visitors exiting that page — as well as the source of visitors arriving at that page — something that is hard to control, especially for sites making run of network (RON) online ad placements.
This throws a virtual monkey wrench into the monetization plans of those site owners that are trying to profit from free porn consumers by presenting targeted mainstream offers.
Clearly, Google does not want to be seen as “paying for porn,” either through direct AdSense payouts or by underwriting the infrastructure of porn promoters through free services such as Blogger or YouTube. Taking this a step further, the sultans of search do not want to be seen as “profiting from porn” through the revenue-generating AdWords program.
Beyond perceptions, pornographers need to rely on policy to provide bright-line guidance on a playing field that seemingly shifts on an unpredictable basis. Indeed, many website operators report receiving differing responses from Google representatives when questioned about the recent AdWords e-mail — with the most consistent answer being to wait for a new policy to be announced later this month…
In the meantime, adult marketers must rely on Google’s current policies.
Officially, Google currently provides a number of restrictions on its advertising services, including limits on adult sexual services, with Google AdWords program prohibiting the promotion of escort services, prostitution, or other adult sexual services. Some ads may be designated “adult” or “non-family safe,” and allowed to run under certain conditions. For example, non-nude promotions of strip clubs and lap dancing will be given a “non-family safe” status — while promoting the same with nudity, as well as ads for sexual dating sites, will be given an “adult” status, according to the company. Certain countries, including Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, also impose further restrictions on these ads, which Google is obliged to enforce.
The “adult” designation allows for nudity or pornography, graphic language and adult dating sites that explicitly promote sexual activity or finding sex partners, providing current options for porn promoters.
Google’s limitations on ads with an adult status restrict who can see such ads, with the company stating that “In certain countries, Google allows the promotion of pornography, provided that advertisers meet all requirements … and disclose that all models are 18 years of age or older.”
Despite this general corporate allowance, there are approximately 30 countries that Google prohibits adult advertising to and from — but the U.S., U.K., EU and other top markets — with the exception of Germany — are still OK for now.
Additionally, Google places limits on the content, placement and presentation of image ads, as well as prohibiting inappropriate language — noting that “adult” products and services can only be advertised via text ads — with a ban on image and video ads promoting adult sexual services. Google also prohibits the depiction or promotion of underage or non-consensual sex acts — whether it meets applicable legal restrictions surrounding this content or not.
According to Adrian from AdultSEOPartners.com, Google’s decision to stop allowing adult advertisers to participate in AdWords was unexpected.
“Although they have been progressively disallowing adult ads to some extent for the past two years, the complete shutout was a surprise,” Adrian told XBIZ. “I can’t speculate as to their motivation behind this decision, but it certainly will be a setback for a lot of adult companies.”
Adrian’s SEO agency, Adult SEO Partners, manages multiple large AdWords accounts. The firm is working hard to develop a strategy for moving beyond the loss of AdWords.
“I have personally had multiple phone calls with AdWords since learning of this new policy and have found there will be few, if any, loopholes available to us,” Adrian explains. “Because of this, most of the companies we work with have decided to prioritize organic rankings over everything else, considering it will be their only remaining source of Google traffic.”
Adrian says that one common concern he has been hearing is whether Google might focus on purging adult sites from its organic search results next, but notes that there have been no indicators whatsoever that Google has any intention of doing this. He adds that there were indicators before they purged adult sites of some adult key phrases just as there were hindsight indicators they were growing uncomfortable with allowing adult content in AdWords.
“Ultimately, Google’s success relies on its ability to maintain market share, and a purge of adult from organic results would certainly shift a large portion of their market over to Bing,” Adrian concludes. “Disallowing adult from AdWords doesn't affect their market share; it only affects revenue from adult advertisers. So moving forward, focusing on organic rankings is the best option for adult marketers to maintain their valuable Google traffic.”
With so many uncertainties surrounding the future of adult marketing and content discovery via Google, both organically and via AdWords, many stakeholders are examining the options for traffic generation and finding them lacking in comparison. For example, a variety of adult traffic sources from ad networks to resources tailored to the .XXX marketplace, to Google competitor Bing, are all able to help fill the void — but even taken in combination, these sources have a hard time replacing Google’s massive volume — and in the latter case, Bing will also face the heat from MIM. This makes it only a matter of time until it may follow the lead of its larger competitor, but even if it remains porn-friendly, Bing has its own set of issues that hinders its usefulness — or as Danny C. from HotMovies.com notes, Bing is okay, but it is “an enormous pain in the ass.”
“You have about a hundred more hoops to jump through on Bing than on Adwords to run adult ads, for much less volume,” Danny C. tells XBIZ.net. “It’s not a replacement for Adwords.”
James Cybert from AdultRental.com agrees, saying that Bing will not replace Google because nobody is searching using Bing.
“Google owns the search market,” Cybert explains. “If punters can’t find porn on Google they’ll start using other search engines and maybe that will make some type of difference, but until that happens, SEO is the most important thing to work on.”
According to ICM chief Stuart Lawley, since its inception, the registry has monitored global issues related to online adult entertainment, including government initiatives for online age verification and protection of minors.
“We have closely observed how those initiatives impact ISP’s, search engines and payment providers,” Lawley told XBIZ. “Google Adwords, along with recent policy changes by companies like Chase and Paypal, are a few of the recent examples.”
ICM operates the adults-only .XXX TLD and is in the process of expanding its portfolio to include other adult oriented top-level domain names, such as .porn. As part of its offerings, the company provides a pair of resources, the adult search engine Search.xxx and directory site XXX.xxx, which in the event of Google’s exit from adult, will only become more popular and provide even better results for site owners.
“Throughout these changes, .XXX continues to perform well in organic search results and continues to generate substantial traffic for site owners from our innovative services like Search.xxx and XXX.xxx and we look forward to enhancing this trend with the launch of our .PORN TLD,” Lawley explains. “We are proud to be able to provide this type of value to the adult entertainment industry while also promoting responsible business practices such as content labeling, which helps ensure that our sites are presented only to adults searching for adult content.”
That last bit is important, with Search.xxx using a warning page, despite its Google-style vanilla layout, preventing any “accidental” exposure to adult content. This is doubtless a sensitive issue with Google because adult content is often intermingled in results for non-adult searches due to the efforts of rogue marketers seeking to game the system, regardless of the terms and conditions of its use. In other words, the search giant’s pull back on adult content may be as much to do with the excesses of porn promoters as it is due to the prodding of puritanical prohibitionists.
Regardless of the cause, the effects are simple to see: quality adult traffic will become harder and more expensive to obtain, harming adult website operators while bolstering the resolve of anti-porn activists — and for many operators it is now a waiting game until Google clarifies these policies, later this month.