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Taking the Real Sex out of [Real Sex] Searches. (Is the googlebot erotophobic?)

two year real sex visitors graph for comstockfilms.com
A two year graph of the number of comstockfilms.com visitors using the search [real sex]

 Long time readers already know that our company has had an on again/off again relationship with Google. Back in late 2006 we broke the Christmas shopping season googlebug story with our post “Will Google Kill Comstock Films?

A bug in Google’s ranking algorhythms cause a whole host of independent sex-positive websites – babeland.com, goodvibes.com, tinynibbles.com, our own and others – to be massively de-ranked, right in the middle of the holiday shopping season, even when searching their own names, like [comstock films]. The story was picked up by BoingBoing, SearchEngineLand and even PBS.

After the story, our relationship with the googlebot was good till Autumn of 2007, when we started to derank on [real sex] and other productive search terms. We hadn’t changed anything, so I assumed Google must have changed something.

Save an utterly unexplainable uptick around April 17th, our google ranking stayed low throughout 2008, but our website was not especially active. But last July I noticed that although the word [real] is #5 in Google’s listing of keywords in inbound links, [real] doesn’t appear anywhere in the Googlebot’s listing for our site content keywords. That’s right, the Googlebot doesn’t see the word [real] at the home of real life, real people, real sex.

Of course my concern is more than idle curiosity. Visitors arriving to the site on the search term [real sex] made good customers, and we’ve gone from 100-200 such visitors a day to virutally none, with the decline having a noticable impact on our website-generated revenues. Why would the Googlebot go from giving us a high listing on [real sex] to almost no listing?

Well after more than a year of wondering, I think I have an answer.

Have a look at Google’s listing for our content and external link keywords, then look at the search results for [real couples sex].

There we are, right at the top. But never mind that. Look at the rest of the sites that come up. Click through a couple of pages. There’s a mix of news, shopping, and explicit sexuality sites.

Now google [real sex]. The only explicit sexuality sites that come up in the first 10 pages have [real] and [sex] in their domain names. Otherwise it’s all news and shopping domains. There’s even an link to classified ad in vietnam.craigslist.org “as seen on HBO’s real sex”, but no links to explicit sexuality sites that don’t have [real] and [sex] in their domain.

Now try [couples sex], or [female orgasm]. It’s as if the listings have been scrubbed clean of any explicit sexuality site, (save those with the relevant key words in their domain name.)

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that we’re entitled to a high Google ranking on any search term, even our own name. Google is a private business, and their business is delivering relevant search results across an infinite range of possible queries. Add to that that the shame surrounding sexuality means it’s a world that’s going to have more than it’s fair share of spammers, SEO blackhatters, and generally nefarious individuals. The Googlebot isn’t in and of itself erotophobic, it is programed to cope with with the detritous of an erotophobic culture, and delivers an erotophobic result. (Actually, that’s a pretty good explanation of why Hollywood and Chatsworth do things they way they do them too.)

In that way what’s happening with Google isn’t so different from the large West Coast LGTB online video store that won’t carry DAMON & HUNTER, or ASHLEY AND KISHA because they don’t carry “porn”, or the fact OFLC that gives a pass to SHORTBUS  or DESTRICTED, but bans our little films. And it out how difficult it is to try and “stand tall” for what you believe in, both as an artist and a business that believes that honest, healthy sexuality isn’t being well represented in culture and commerce.

We could do a Sinclair Institute and comb though our site getting rid of all the naughty words, but is that really a representation of “real life, real people, real sex”? I don’t think so, or at least it’s not a representation of my sex life. My sex life is lusty and raunchy and raw, and so is the language. (When Peggy and I in bed together, we don’t say “coitus”, we say fuck. I bet you do too.)

We could go also through the site and take out the words “porn” and “pornography”, even in the posts that are strongly critical of the genre and the industry. (Hell, as long as we’re going down that road, we could even take the explicit sex out of our films and start producing for the late night cable markets.)

So where do you draw the line? How far do you bend to the realities of the market, with what you make, and how you market what you make, until you’re just working another job? I don’t know the answer.

When we started losing website sales we were able to move into other markets that weren’t so dependent on the whims of the Googlebot. But in a world that becomes more and more computerized everyday, where the flick of a digital switch — at Google, or anywhere else — can make you disappear, I’m still thinking about those searchers that Google is sending to a spam ad on VietNam.Craigslist.org instead of ComstockFilms.com.

I’m wondering how we can get them back.

And even if I can figure out what it takes, I’m wondering if I’m willing to do it.

UPDATE

Peggy and I spent some time using Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool to try and get a better idea how the Google algorythm sees ComstockFilms.com. The results were pretty distressing. Even when using only the text from our index page, the Keyword Tool returned suggestions like [cum fiesta], [bangbrothers], and [hot girls], and [anabollic]. I guess in that way, the Googlebot is sort of like the OFLC — unless you deny the erotosism of your work, you get lumped in with BangBus, Anabollic, and the rest. No film festivals exemption from the OFLC, or higher quality search returns from Google.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted November 13, 2008 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Tony, I wouldn’t be quite so quick to give the Googlebot a free pass on erotophobia. In September I investigated the way that Google is set up to exclude all sorts of adult keywords from its search box populating algorithm, even when the searcher has set a cookie to allow adult searching. It seems fairly clear to me that the decision-makers at Google are not interested in providing useful adult results, even when they know that’s what the searcher wants.

    http://www.erosblog.com/2008/09/22/googles-mechanical-prude/

  2. tony
    Posted November 13, 2008 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Wow. I just tried this with [comstock films]. Once you get to [comstock fil] it fills in to [comstock films podcast], but no [comstock films].

    I suppose the reason why is because our podcast is listed on several ‘ligitimate’ domains, while it looks like [comstock films] is on the same list as [nude]. Looks like [erosblog] and [violet blue] are on that list too.

    I wonder if this is why Google’s Adword Keyword tool is making such “porn-spammy” suggestions?

    Anyway, like I said in comments over on Violet’s blog, it’s pretty discouraging.

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  1. [...] couple of days ago Seth Finklestein wrote a post linking to my “Taking the Real Sex out of [Real Sex] Searches” post. This morning Seth’s post is page two on the “do not filter my [...]

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