How My Tumblr Outranked Major Adult Brands On Google

LustHackers | Monday, 11 June 2018 |



When I half-heartedly started a Tumblr about adult entertainment in 2013, I didn’t envisage that within a matter of months, its search visibility would frequently be outranking some of the main websites of major brands within my chosen subgenre.

It was an embarrassment for them to see a nearly new Tumblr nudging their costly, professional web properties out of the premium search placings, and that showed in the amount of communication they sent me. But if they’d put as much effort into writing their own content as they did trying to get me to change my titles or take keywords out of my posts, they wouldn’t have had the problem in the first place.

My search placings were probably all the more galling for them, since all I’d really done was write the blog. No promotion. No tagging or following on Tumblr. No pestering entertainers for retweets. Just a modest amount of backlinking from a couple of my established sites, and the momentum gathered by itself.

In this post I’m sharing what I learned about competing for search visibilty whilst writing that blog. I should first stress, however, that due to the policy and technical changes that have progressively struck Tumblr under Yahoo/Oath, I no longer recommend Tumblr as a solution for ranking in web search. Some of what I’m going to share will apply to adult-themed blogs in general; some of it can be considered historical interest specific to the Tumblr platform.

WHY DIDN’T I TAG OR FOLLOW ON TUMBLR?


Both of the above practices lead to duplicate content and low-value backlinks, and those are red flags for search engines. My aim was to avoid being reblogged, because every time someone reblogs your post, Google potentially sees a duplicate version of it. Even if each duplicate only showed a snippet of the post, there would still be a link back to my Tumblr from each reblog.

I figured that many of the sites reblogging adult-themed posts on Tumblr would be considered spam domains by Google. And if they were, those backlinks would potentially be toxic. One of the greatest dangers for adult blogs is that of toxic incoming links, from dodgy sites that Google may have placed on penalties. If Google thinks you’re part of a spam ring, it’s probably not going to give you much visibility.

Tags add duplicate content to your own blog, in the form of tag pages (use jump breaks to manage this - see below). But on Tumblr, just like the act of proactively following users, they also help people to find you. The people who find you may choose to reblog you. So, because I didn’t want reblogs, I thought that a total tag and follow blackout would be a wise move. I sacrificed being found on Tumblr in order to be found on Google. And it worked.



TEXT POSTS ONLY, WITH UPRATED TITLES, AND JUMP BREAKS


Tumblr offers a range of post types, but for technical reasons, only the Text Post has the capacity for serious Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). I thus stuck with the Text Post format. I’m not, I should clarify, saying don’t post images or other media. I’m saying if you want images or other media to place on Google, using an SEO-disabled post format – which on Tumblr means anything other than the Text Post – is unlikely to help you.

Using Tumblr’s HTML theme editor, I uprated the Text Post title display line from Tumblr’s grim <h3> header tag default, to <h1>. The header tag tells search engines the importance of a piece of text. The lower the number, the higher the status. To compete on terms with other content, post titles need to have the highest status - <h1>.

I then made sure that all Text Posts had a jump break inserted near the beginning. That’s the little ‘Keep Reading’ or ‘Read More’ cut-off that truncates the post when it’s duplicated. The post displays in full at its main ‘yourblog.tumblr.com/yourpost’ URL, but on index pages (like your homepage) and in the Tumblr dashboard, it’s truncated. This not only prompts more people to click through to your blog – it also tells the search engines which of the duplicate instances of your post is the important one. Which one you want to appear in the search results.

For similar reasons I also truncated the blog’s RSS feed. Tumblr has a simple switch for this.

USE FORUMS TO ASSESS WHAT’S POPULAR


Adult-themed forums are brilliant. No, seriously, they are. Okay, maybe the commentary is not the most educationally-valuable material you’ve ever read, and the quota of misogyny might get a bit overbearing… BUT, those forums literally tell you what’s popular. They normally display visitor totals for each thread, and that gives a fantastic insight into what the target audience wants.

I used forum thread visitor totals as a guide to what I should post, and the system proved pretty reliable.



ESTABLISH BACKLINKS FROM GOOD, NON-ADULT SITES


To give a micro-summary of how Google ranks content…

The search engine prioritises well-written, original content, of substance (that’s ideally 1,000 words plus), to which people have posted links on quality websites. These incoming links from other websites are known as backlinks. The better the sites linking to you, the more seach visibility Google will generally award you. Links from awful sites can have the opposite effect, and actually damage your visibility in search.

Adult sites have traditionally had a problem in all of the above departments, although some have now woken up to the idea of hiring good writers to create longer-form posts for them. Others continue to open forums or comment threads and let morons post secondhand media and talk worthless crap – which does not compete well for search visibility at all. However, even good adult sites often struggle to get high quality third-party sites to link to them. So if you can get backlinks from good (especially non-adult) sites, you could quickly gain an advantage.

This does not, incidentally, include Twitter. Links to your content from Twitter are not direct links – they’re really links to the referral domain t.co. I’ve rarely found links from any classic social media site to hold much, if any search optimisation value.

Also, linking to your website from Tumblr posts is now basically useless in SEO terms, because the external links in Tumblr posts now divert via the site’s own referral system and again, are indirect. However, if you put links in a Tumblr sidebar, or menu, or below the posts, they do still go directly to your intended site at the time of writing, and they do still register as backlinks with Google.

Best practice for gaining good backlinks from other sites, in my view, is to write material that talks about adult entertainment, but is not, in itself, perceived to be written for an adult entertainment audience. This need not apply to the whole site. Only select pages that you want non-adult sites to link to – just so your domain gets validation.

PornHub epitomised this strategy with their practice of publishing annual stats in digestible posts. Masses of people quote those remarkable figures, and link to them for reference, because the stats are relevant to so many wider cultural issues. The real genius of it is that a porn site has anti-porn campaigners unwittingly boosting its search visibility by linking to those stats in disgust. SEO is one area in which all publicity is good publicity. It doesn’t matter how damning the context – ten thousand incoming links is still ten thousand incoming links. The site owners don’t give a shit what the religious right scream into cyberspace as long as they end up headlining those search results.

And a test for your content? Ask yourself this:

"Would I link to my adult-related page from my own ‘vanilla’ site?"

If the answer is yes, other people should have no inherent problem doing the same. It just depends on whether the content has value and relevance to them. If the answer is no, and you won’t even link to your own adult site, how can you realistically expect any other owners of quality ‘vanilla’ sites to do so? By the way, if the answer is yes, and you do have a ‘vanilla’ site – start the ball rolling on home ground and get those links up from the start. I did. I’m convinced it was a key boost in the blog’s initial weeks.



IMMEDIATELY SUBMIT NEW POSTS TO GOOGLE WEBMASTER TOOLS


Google Webmaster Tools is a free resource which allows you to directly and expressly tell Google when you’re publishing, and request that your new posts are indexed for search without delay. Particularly with Tumblr, this was essential, because Google has never considered Tumblr content a priority, and without manual submission, indexing tends to be very slow.

Slow indexing is bad, not just because it takes longer for your content to become visible, but also because it potentially allows scrapers and content thieves to steal your work and get it into the search results before you do. Sites big and small can be hit with this problem. Flickr posts are regularly outranked on Google by scraper sites using Flickr’s own API to instantly re-post. The scrapers often do a better job of ‘pinging’ Google with the new content, so Google interprets the copy as the source, and doesn’t even place the original in the image results, because it already has that photo and does not want another the same.

Even if you serve content thieves with DMCA takedown notices, it may still be some time before Google realises that you, and not the thief, are the real source of the work. The safest option is just to request indexing manually, immediately upon publication. That way, you maximise your chances of being seen as the authority.

THE CONTENT


The classic adult entertainment fan is not much of a reader. He’s mainly interested in looking at pictures or watching videos. Or talking at women, obviously. He will read text when he thinks it will help him gratify his sexual urges, but rarely otherwise.

However, the fact that our archetypal ‘horny guy’ is most often not going to read your text, does not mean you shouldn’t write it. Your posts will struggle to rank in search if they only contain pictures or videos, because the search engines will have too little text to match with the terms people are searching. Particularly if you want lots of ongoing hits from Google, you should write substantial and well structured text, even if you suspect only 10% of it will be read.



SEARCH TERM ANALYSIS


The highest volume search terms bringing visitors to my Tumblr were specific models’ names. In fact, models’, presenters’ entertainers’ and performers’ names dominated the list from top to bottom, with the more generic terms merely punctuating in between. A lot of men become focused on one particular woman and are desperate for anything they can get in relation to her. It might be a different woman tomorrow, and a different one again next week. But right here, right now, she, and only she, is what they want.

I’d say that namedropping is easily the most powerful means of netting visits from search for a fairly new blog. Dropping the names of personalities who are just building a buzz for the first time was extremely effective. As long as your posts are responsibly written and portray their subjects in a positive and interesting light, virtually no one will object, and some personalities will actually link to your work unprompted. If you’ve done your job, you won’t need to go tapping anyone on the shoulder for a link. They’ll find you.

But I wouldn’t suggest ‘whitewashes’ or eulogies, because they look fake, and they are fake. No one wants to read a blog full of fawning. Where’s the value or interest in that? I stayed off Twitter and made no attempt to engage with the industry at all. I think that makes the content much more objective, impartial, honest and incisive.

It should also be stressed that namedropping doesn’t always promise ongoing traffic. The industry can be very fickle, so the names everyone’s chasing today may have completely vanished in six months’ time – meaning you lose some search traffic. No matter how good your content – if no one searches for its main keywords, you don’t get the visits.

GENERIC TERMS


The top generic keyword was, as you might expect: “video”, or its plural “videos”. I didn’t have any videos on the site, but after landing on a page, visitors would use the internal search in an attempt to find some.

The next most popular internal search outside of entertainers’ names and the media types, was “feet”. The blog had one post about foot fetish.

And next? “Pussy”. Sometimes no one’s pussy in particular. Just taking pot-luck on pussy. “Pussy” would deliver the visitor another “computer says no” result. And after “pussy”, “sex”. Remember, these particular single keywords were gathered from the internal site search - not from incoming Google searches. This type of singular keyword, typed straight into Google, would be most unlikely to send a visitor to a fairly new Tumblr. The massive sites have single sex-industry keywords sewn up. But with a smaller site you can still net those keywords on Google when they're searched in combination with other terms. The more you study the target audience, the better you get at guessing what they'll search for. That's the core of adult entertainment SEO. Guessing what blokes will search for and building a post around that phrase.

Next on the internal site search came “webcams”, “cams” or “free cams”. Even on the site itself, some of these internal keyword searches would be linked with a particular entertainer’s name. Taking note of these combination searches better enables you to anticipate what the audience is looking for on Google.

Why no “porn” in the top internal search terms? I guess, precisely because there's such vast and intensive competition on Google for that keyword. Surfers would just end up going to actual porn sites.

My sense was that playing for the right combinations of keywords was essential for a smaller or newer blog.



COMPETITION


Your competition in search may not be as tough as you imagine. In the mainstream, there’s social media, the forums, the providers, and the tube/gallery sites. Of those, the providers and tube sites are typically the most competitive, but they’re not unassailable. The tube sites can be heavily hampered by DMCA takedown notices, especially since DMCA policing is much more prevalent than it used to be.

Social media will normally only trouble a blog for visibility in web search when you’re keywording around a personality or business’s name. In such an instance you can typically expect the personality or business’s Twitter account to place high on the first page of results, but it’s probably only going to be one entry. Beyond personal names and brands, social media is unlikely to figure much in search.

With a well-written and search-optimised blog, you should be able to outrank forum threads in search. Forums contain a lot of repetition, bad spelling, secondhand content, etc, which puts the search engines off them. That tends to be the case with a lot of corporate providers’ sites too. They publish a one-paragraph post and then rely on members to comment.

I experimented with that type of format on a WordPress site – technically way superior to Tumblr in terms of SEO. But my Tumblr posts still easily subordinated the WordPress posts for traffic, because the Tumblr content was more substantial, better written, and beyond all else, properly targeted. People linked to the Tumblr because they saw value in the posts. People did not link to the WordPress because the posts were lazy, vapid and had poor relevance. It wasn't about the blogging tool - it was about the content. I can’t stress how much the quality, substance and relevance of the writing matters.

As adult content is increasingly locked away from searchable access, I expect well-executed blogging to become a much bigger part of the adult industry. And as more providers start to take written content seriously, those who don’t are likely to have more than just a pesky Tumblr outranking them in search.