By Connor Young, CEO and co-owner of YNOT
Have you ever known someone who’s trapped in a relationship that’s largely a one-way street? It sometimes feels like that when trying to work with Google, a company that appears determined to police the entire internet.
Odds are you rely on Google services. You might use an Android phone. You probably use their search engine and Chrome browser (even though you should be using the Firefox browser and searching with DuckDuckGo). A really disturbing number of people use Gmail for their email solution. You almost certainly watch YouTube videos, and the vast majority of websites use Google Analytics to collect and display data about their visitors and performance.
Slowly though, America is waking up to the problems created by its biggest tech companies, like Google. This is something most European countries realized right away – and it might just be an issue that can unite Americans of all political stripes, if they’re willing to pause Tik Tok long enough to consider what they’re up against.
For the adult industry, working with Google has always been a challenge. Google doesn’t outright prohibit adult content from its search engine, which means it profits greatly from all that adult search traffic. If they were to merely prohibit adult, a large number of visitors would simply move to Bing or DuckDuckGo. No doubt for this reason, they still deliver the traffic/hits. But where those hits are going is when it starts to become bad news for small to mid-sized adult companies.
Google isn’t very transparent about how they operate, and it’s not clear that adult companies can get much more than traffic crumbs from Google unless/until they establish themselves in other ways. In other words: It’s a trap. If your hope is to build up a new site audience through Google traffic, well, you may need to build up the audience elsewhere first before Google will send much your way – a classic Catch-22 scenario.
In documents released from recent congressional hearings titled “Online Platforms and Market Power: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google,” a Google executive talks about how the company can use its various services – including YouTube, Gmail and even Android calls – to decide where to send web search traffic.
“Crawling is just one approach to structure. For example, Youtube watches, Gmail, search logs, Chrome tab data, Android call data, etc will give us information that no other site has about the entire process of where the best kite boarding sites are…”
This is consistent with other communications from Google that state the company essentially wants to send visitors to places that are already popular. Most search engine experts understand that Google highly values what it calls “PageRank” (PR), which is an algorithm it uses to determine a website’s worthiness. Essentially, the more people link to your site and its content, the higher your PR – but this is Google, so it’s not quite as simple as that, because of course it isn’t. Google also takes steps to try and determine whether those links into your website are legit, or just some marketing attempt to boost your PR.
Are you seeing a problem here for new websites with a less than a huge existing presence? For any popular search terms, good luck appearing more relevant than Pornhub, Playboy or XVideos. In fact, tube sites (which are already popular on their own and don’t need the traffic so badly) routinely appear in the top listings for all the most popular terms. Google keeps their porn-loving visitors happy and coming back to Google by serving up links to the same 5 to 10 companies over and over again, and the rest of the industry gets just a few drops here and there, enough to keep playing the game in the futile hope that traffic from Google will just suddenly start to grow. But will it?
If I had to guess, I’d say Google gives you that small taste so you’ll play along, hoping to please them, and will install their filthy software all over the place. You’ll install Google Analytics because it’s free and you hope to make Google happy. It will let them know everything about your website’s audience. Where it comes from, what it’s interested in, how large it is, etc. And I’d wager that data is really what they want, as evidenced from the aforementioned documents revealed in the congressional hearings.
“We absolutely need to create ecosystems that encourage 3rd parties to give us data, or to mark up pages so that we can get the structure as we crawl, or to find ways to get users to give us that data directly, or to use search history and chrome logs to get that data.”
Gross. And by the way, Google Chrome can get that much of that data from your visitors should you not choose to give it to Daddy Google willingly. Or if they can’t get it from Chrome, they’ll get it from special search bars pre-installed on your computer’s default browser – a tactic also exposed somewhat in the congressional hearings, you can nose through the documents yourself if you’re interested.
Note in the previous quote that Google talks about ‘encouraging’ websites to ‘give’ and ‘mark up’ pages for Google’s benefit. We see this tactic on display with how Google wields PR like a sword.
There’s always a story designed to cover up what’s really happening, and typically it’s a plausible story too. Google asserts that attempts to ‘manipulate’ PR amount to some kind of violation.
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”
It’s all kind of amazing, but here’s just one way how this can work to your harm. If you run a website, never signed up for any Google service, MONETIZE that website through paid links, then fail to properly mark all your links in a way that Google wants you to mark them, they’ll brand you a Google offender and punish your website accordingly.
You read that right. Although it should be none of Google’s business how you legally monetize your website, if you’re trying to make money off your work then they apparently want to know – and likely so they can help ensure you don’t.
Google wants you to mark all links for which you received payment with a rel=”sponsored” tag. Or for now, you can also get away with rel=”nofollow” which means you’re telling Google to NOT consider this link in its PR calculations. If you add either of these tags, the website on the other end gets no benefit from being linked on your site. If you do NOT add these tags, and Google thinks they’re of a sponsored nature, they’ll punish YOU by labelling you in “violation” of their “guidelines” which probably means less traffic to your site.
Google insisting on the “nofollow” link is bad enough, so why then did Google add this “sponsored” tag as well? Looks like Google really wants to know how you’re monetizing and who’s paying you – it’s not good enough for you to just tell Google not to rank a link?
Plus, tell me again why it’s our responsibility to do all this extra work to please the Google Gods when they will just send 95% of their traffic to tube sites anyway?
Google is a data junky, and the time might be coming for small and mid-sized content producers to stop playing the fool’s game. Don’t bend over backwards to develop your website and its content in ways you think will fit with Google’s published “guidelines” that are all just self-serving bullshit anyway. Whatever traffic they send, they’ll send. Build and run your site how you want.
Consider alternatives to Google Analytics, even if you have to pay a little for your solution. Clicky.com is a simple option, and there are other more advanced alternatives available as well.
You should also look into eliminating Gmail from your toolbox. This is a subject worthy of its own discussion but, know that you’re handing over way more information than you should to Google when you use Gmail either for personal or business use.
And for the love of all that is mighty, delete Google Chrome. Don’t ever let that code touch your hardware again. Firefox is a powerful alternative from a company committed to respecting your privacy – in fact it’s from the group that created the Web’s first ever popular browser, so they have been making browser applications longer than Google has existed. If you set DuckDuckGo.com as your primary search engine in Firefox, that’s a great move all by itself.
Connor Young is the CEO and co-owner of YNOT. He is the founder of the YNOT Cam Awards, which takes place each year in Hollywood, California. Young is an avid gamer, outspoken advocate for industry performers and artists, and true fan of mainstream cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @ynotconnor.
Header image via Pexels here.