SEO and Censorship

SEO and Censorship – The Problem and Your Potential Solutions

How do efforts by various search engines to block morally reprehensible content, sites hawking illegal content and products and what isn’t politically correct today affect your SEO strategy? How can you avoid your SEO strategy being derailed by built in censorship by various search engines?

Titles of content and website descriptions will trigger automatic censorship by various bots. The automatic filtering software is why a video or article criticizing ISIS (per efforts to prevent ISIS recruiters using a site) get automatically demonetized if not banned. Sites like Youtube demonetize videos that mention the word rape, regardless of context. The solution for this problem is using synonyms for your SEO strategy. For example, Google won’t let you monetize videos that talk about human growth hormone or hcg. The work around is referring to “pregnancy hormones” and “hormones that facilitate tissue growth”.

There are products that Google penalizes for what it sees as ethical reasons, which is why what it classifies as weight loss scams are nearly impossible to monetize with ads and have lower SERP rankings unless someone is searching directly for the brand. The response for the sellers is to promote their product for various health benefits, weight loss either only hinted at.

Making certain that your titles and content doesn’t accidentally get flagged as dangerous, like describing a director making a failed movie as “how to make a bomb”, is essential. Not describing a rival’s business tactics as akin to terrorism helps avoid your site getting blocked. Keep up with search engine censorship guidelines and what can draw their ire, though this is difficult with the vagueness of the rules, is important.  Controversial images, even with good intent, will still get your site demonetized or outright blacklisted. A group fighting animal cruelty risks being blocked if it posts pictures of graphic abuse of animals, and someone opposing various wars will at best see their ads blocked and at worst blocked by search engines if they post graphic images of abused prisoners.

Content that cannot be monetized by advertising can still be monetized through other channels. Look at Youtube Red, the paid subscription site. If you cannot monetize your videos because they touch on controversial topics or have to use key words that Youtube automatically will not allow advertising on, moving to Youtube Red is an option. Another option is posting content that cannot be monetized on its own subdomain, then lace the content with links to your other monetized content. The spillover traffic from that article will generate page views with the content you can monetize, making money indirectly. Gawker used this tactic with controversial content that couldn’t be monetized. If you have a Youtube channel, posting controversial content as its own video can still boost views when people click on links to your other videos after watching the controversial one.

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What you present only behind a paywall is completely under your control, and the search engine optimization for this content is unaffected by the content as long as you avoid the blacklisted search terms and the appearance of promoting anything illegal. Something doesn’t have to be outright illegal to run into problems, as payday lenders discovered in 2016. When planning your site’s SEO strategy, pay attention to the entire classes of products Google penalizes in search engine results pages and allowed advertising. These rules are constantly changing, so don’t assume what was OK last year is fine today.

Website ads for blogs are a conversion killer if your site has a call to action. When you have a book or eBook, reference it liberally throughout the content and give reasons why they would want to buy it, without over-optimizing the content for your book unless that’s the intent. For those who have a blog, instead of tailoring for advertising, consider designing a call to action that can generate extra income like encouraging people to sign up for a newsletter or premium content for those who support you via Patreon. Giving subscribers the first look at your content before it goes live is another way to reward followers.

Censorship of content isn’t limited to banning Google ads from content that might be too controversial for advertisers. Google’ autocomplete algorithm has banned words. Google’s autocomplete bans queries related to hate speech, violence, copyright infringement and pornography. The content isn’t necessarily unavailable, but you’ll lose out on the potential traffic from autocompleted queries. Another result of this is that you won’t see these terms and phrases as long tail search terms for content. So if the search term you are thinking of using isn’t listed in the search term databases, this may be why.

Bing censors certain terms from its autocomplete. When it presents search results, it scrubs suggestions it presents. In other cases, it rewrites the controversial term in the search query to something more acceptable. Whether your content promotes a hookup website or controversial topics, make sure the key search terms you want to use for the site aren’t getting rewritten by the search engine.

Your site’s IT security may get it blacklisted even if your SEO is perfect. A hijacked website, one that searching for leads to a redirect to a hacked site, will get your site blacklisted by Google. When your website is infected with malware, you might as well be blacklisted since potential visitors will see a warning that the site contains malware. Sometimes Google’s crawlers make a mistake, but you have to check your website’s SEO regularly to see these mistakes before you can take steps to resolve them. And it could take Google weeks before they fix your site’s indexing.

Key Takeaways:

  • Avoid using terms associated with violence and illegal activities in titles and descriptions.
  • Use synonyms if the words you want to use risk getting your site or content blacklisted or de-monetized.
  • If you have controversial content or promote hot button items that will kill advertising, either link it well to other content that is monetized, develop others ways to make money or put the content behind a paywall to minimize problems.
  • Know what industries and products are penalized by search engines and advertising, and avoid falling into those classifications.
  • Don’t use graphic images of violence or exploitation, regardless of intent, or you risk being blacklisted.
  • Your website administrator needs to prevent infection to avoid your site’s de facto blacklisting for weeks.