The sprawling datasphere we call the Internet has lots of trapdoors, backdoors, sidedoors, and peepholes that open into icky places most of us would rather not visit. There are, however, a lot of people milling around the Internet, and some of them are actively looking for those icky places, which is part of the reason sites with no truly icky content have entire pages entitled “gang rape” that feature content that is only semantically related to gang rape.
An article on Digiday from Jack Marshall explores this fairly exploitative SEO phenomenon, whereby sites with no actually violent or pornographic content have landing pages for words and phrases such as “horse sex,” “rape videos,” and “gang rape.” Thanks to the SEO techniques that sites like Funny or Die, for instance, use, pages with content loosely related to the search term — the Funny or Die screencap Marshall uses contains an article titled “Todd Akin Gang-Raped by Ducks” — are created, mostly by the site’s users. These landing pages serve ads for major brands (the Funny or Die gang rape page contains a lot of Velveeta ads), and the illicit search terms help drive significant traffic to the site.
Dredging extra traffic from the Internet’s nightmare basement of horrible shit doesn’t seem to bother Funny or Die’s COO Mitch Galbraith, who told blithely told Marshall, “It’s not a strategy to optimize for those terms; those pages are created automatically. The content itself is clean content; it’s just a function of the fundamental SEO our site does.” It just, like, happens, right? Nobody knows how or why, but, boom! One day, a “gang rape” page pops up and Jeremy Piven’s sweaty, beet-red torso is right in the middle of it.
This lack of accountability really irked Andrew Sullivan, who let his rhetorical incredulity be known far and wide:
The site “just does” this. And no one is responsible? No one decided to do this? No one actively set up a system so that searches for “tits” gets Funny or Die a click and a pageview and a little bit of moolah from an ad impression? Yeah, right. Look: these are editorial choices, driven by desperate need for ad revenue; they are not automatic. But increasingly, the act of editing is entirely being out-sourced to algorithms and search engines. Which means there is no editing at all. Just “tits” and “rape videos”.
Marshall was much more matter-of-fact in his assessment of this sort of SEO strategy, which goes beyond the Velveeta-drenched gang rape page on Funny or Die:
Funny Or Die isn’t the only publisher receiving visits through search engines from users probably looking for content of a different nature. ComScore data reports three of the top four search terms bringing traffic to Complex.com in February were “black pornstars,” “porn stars” and “hottest pornstars,” for example, though those terms dropped down the list in March. Meanwhile, “teen strip” and “rape videos” were among the top 10 terms driving traffic to Daily Motion last month, and searches for “horse sex” were a major driver for search traffic to blip.tv. Vice also sees a lot of its search traffic from terms such as ”pussy” and “ass.”
These sites could easily remove those pages from Google’s index if they wished, but they don’t because they continue to drive unique users, which enable them to tell more compelling stories to potential advertisers. After all, in the volume-driven digital ad game, bigger is not just better, it’s a necessity. According to some estimates, up to 15 percent of searches are porn-related. That’s a lot of potential eyeballs if you can find a way to appeal to them.
Galbraith defended the search functions, saying that the fine SEO folks at Funny or Die weren’t “trying to be censors when it comes to the type of traffic that comes to the site or how it gets to the site.” The goal is simply to lure eyeballs to the site, and then let the site’s content take it from there. Maybe the basement goblin looking to watch horse sex or gang rape is going to be disappointed when a search turns up Funny or Die’s R-rated “gang rape” page, but exploiting such terms is an easy way to drive traffic to sites that don’t have any adult content.
How Porn Helps Fuel Digital Media [Digiday]
Image via eelnosiva/ Shutterstock.