Google Uses “Pornyness” in the Algorithm

Google uses an algorithm to determine which pages to show to searchers. The algorithm has at least 200 different factors. Google’s Gary Illyes did an Ask Me Anything (AMA) at Reddit recently, and mentioned a new-to-us factor in the search algorithm: pornyness.

Specifically, when he was asked to list some ranking factors, he rattled off, “Country the site is local to, RankBrain, PageRank/links, language, pornyness, etc.”

Illyes did not go into detail.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said, “I know it when I see it” when discussing how he would set a threshold for obscenity. Google seems to be taking the same position.

Why you should avoid pornyness

In the AMA, some people were asking pointed questions about the pornyness factor. For example, should you avoid pornyness if you have a porn site? This question confirmed some prejudices we have about porn sites. We don’t think it’s relevant to our readers, though.

We understand the throwaway inclusion of pornyness along with links, language, and RankBrain to mean that this is an ordinary algorithm factor. Google wants me to see search engine results in the language I normally use, and they want me not to see porn sites in my results if that’s not what I’m looking for.

Assuming you don’t want your website to be porny, you should avoid the characteristics of such websites. As always, your text is the most important way to communicate with Google. Steer clear of using terms porn sites might use.

Why you don’t need to worry about this

Pornyness is not a new factor in the algorithm. It’s just a factor we hadn’t heard about before. If your website is not currently triggering the pornyness filters, it won’t start doing so now.

If you have noticed that you do very badly in search and you suspect that it might be a matter of unintentional pornyness, it’s time for a site audit. Otherwise, you don’t need to worry about this particular factor.

It’s just one more example of all the ways Google uses website content to show searchers what they want to see — and not what they don’t want.

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