For women’s lifestyle publishers, porn searches are traffic boons

Most advertisers are turned off by sexual content, but mainstream publishers still benefit from porn by using articles about sex to boost search traffic, including women’s lifestyle publishers.

Sex-related terms are among the most popular keywords driving search traffic to women-focused sites like Refinery29, Bustle, Teen Vogue and (perhaps less surprising) Cosmopolitan, according to comScore reports pulled by two ad buyers requesting anonymity. On the high end, six of Refinery29’s top 20 search terms — from “porn videos” to “xxx” to “Pornhub” — were porn-related.

“It’s highly likely this strategy gets them clicks, which makes sense for a publication that makes its money on ad impressions,” said Chris Penn, vp of martech at Shift Communications.

Porn is more frequently searched for on the internet in general than the beauty, fashion and politics coverage that these publishers tout on their sites. Across the internet, three of the top 10 search terms on Google over the past six months were about porn, according to a study by SEO firm Mondovo.

These publishers are reputable and have decent page speed, so their sex articles are likely to appear at the top of some popular searches and increase traffic, said independent SEO consultant Mark Robertson. The comScore reports don’t show how much of the publishers’ total traffic comes from search, but SimilarWeb data reveals these publishers get about 63 percent of their traffic from search on average.

“If someone is on a mission to look at porn and gets distracted by a publisher’s article, I guess that’s a win for the publisher,” said one of the ad buyers requesting anonymity.

(Disclosure: I have written articles about sex for a few of the publishers mentioned in this article.)

Some popular sexual keywords can be traced to specific articles on the women-focused sites. Teen Vogue and Cosmo are still getting search traffic from viral explainers about anal sex they published several months ago. “Anal sex” was Teen Vogue’s third most popular search term and Cosmo’s fourth most popular search term over the past three months, according to the comScore reports. A Google query for “anal sex” places Cosmo’s and Teen Vogue’s anal explainers as the first and third results, respectively.

Getting traffic for salacious articles isn’t unique to women’s lifestyle sites. The fourth most popular search term for GQ is “beautiful nudes” and four of the top 20 search terms for Complex are about porn stars. One comScore report pulled by an ad buyer showed that the ninth most popular search term for Vice was “how to suck your own dick,” which is the title of an evergreen instructional article it published back in 2012.

A head of search advertising at an independent agency said most likely the publishers choose sexy keywords and headlines because loading these terms in the CMS helps generate traffic.

Some of these publishers’ porny articles are loaded with a string of provocative keywords that make them alluring for SEO purposes. Search headlines like Refinery29’s “Russia XXX Popular Porn Videos Pornhub Insights 2017” are loaded with enough buzzwords that they’re bound to show up prominently for searches across several categories. (The actual article is headlined “This Is The Porn That People In Russia Are Searching For.”) Refinery29 regularly uses terms like “xxx” for its search tags. Other examples include search headlines “First Time Watching XXX Porn Masturbation Experiences” (the actual article is headlined “These Stories About Seeing Porn For The First Time Are Way Too Relatable”) and “Squirting Porn XXX Female Ejaculation Popular Pornhub” (the actual article is headlined “This Kind Of Porn Is Surprisingly Popular Among Women.”)

Most of the publishers mentioned in this story did not respond to interview requests or wouldn’t comment on the record for this story. A Bustle spokesperson sent over a statement that read: “Bustle has championed women’s sexuality since launch. It’s important to our core values that women write, discuss, and live their sexuality in an open and honest way without judgment.”

Whether intentional or not, one way publishers can lift search traffic is to write a few stories about sex since the sensational response that sex sparks in most people makes it a natural go-to for viral content. That’s why Pornhub’s content-marketing strategy works so well, after all.