Will Hanke

Clean Content vs. Saucy Content: Whether or Not to Curse Online

A lot of people starting up a blog or online marketing page wonder whether or not cursing is okay. For that matter, people often question how clean they need to keep their content. One commonly asked question seems to be, “If I curse online or post controversial content, will I lose rankings?” There isn't an easy yes or no answer to that question since it depends on so many factors, so today we are going to look at the top considerations small businesses and bloggers need to focus on when strategizing about the cleanliness of their content.

Some edgy bloggers have found massive content marketing success with ribald expressions, URL names that contain curse words, and content that is generally considered offensive to the average audience. For example, just look at IFL Science. Many have speculated that IFLScience has succeeded, in part, because of its ability to stick out in people's minds and grab attention due to the expletive in its brand name, in addition to consistently offering high quality and informative content.

But should you adopt a similar approach? Or does cursing online and making content not suitable for children trash SEO potential and harm readership? Let's take a closer look at the things you need to consider before mapping out your content strategy.

Consideration #1: Your Ideal Reader, Audience, and Voice

The very first thing you need to consider is your audience. Who, in your mind, is the ideal reader of your content? If you don't know the different marketing segments you are targeting, then you need to back up and start by creating marketing personas. Only then can you accurately gauge the ideal readers' interests.

Also, you will want to consider the age range of affiliated groups to which your audience members belong.

For instance, you wouldn't want to curse in your content if a large chunk of your audience is pre-teens or teenagers, simply because parents probably wouldn't be too happy with their children reading such content. However, do note that cursing in your content is a great way to differentiate yourself from other boring content producers by establishing a unique voice.

Sometimes strong language is a great way to inject humor into your marketing message, but watch out – even small expletives can really offend some people. Do realize that you can't please everyone, but you shouldn't go out of your way to offend people unless racy guerrilla marketing or viral controversial content is part of your marketing strategy.

On the other hand, some products and market segments will trust you more if you tell them 'how it is' in your own natural voice. For instance, consider “awesome” and “hip” content producers, such as the Chive, which appeals to a more college-centric audience. In this environment, racy content is better than content that has been overly sanitized, since content that has been cleaned up too much loses its authenticity.

Consideration #2: Rankings and SEO Potential

Now it is time for the big question: does cursing or using adult language actually harm your SEO potential? The short answer is “yes, it can,” but there are some caveats that change how your site will be ranked by the search algorithm. First and foremost, note that Google will still index and rank your page, even if the heading was written by a potty mouth.

But there is one great concern: the Safe Search filter. The default setting for the safe search filter is set to “on,” so you might be alienating large swaths of your audience that haven't disable this feature if you curse in your content. So, even though Google doesn't intentionally penalize sites that contain profanity, the curse words you use could cause it to be excluded from search results for Google users who have safe search enabled.

Also, note that if you are not targeting specific keywords in your content, then it likely doesn't matter to you anyway. These days, Google isn't the only source of traffic. Loads of websites garner traffic from other sources, such as Twitter followings, Facebook content sharing, and other social media outlets. If you are worried about your page getting flagged by Safe Search even though it doesn't contain any sexually explicit material, try to avoid colorful language in the headline and instead place intense language in the body of the content.

Consideration #3: Comments and Audience Engagement

These days, it has become fairly typical for businesses to use social media plugins that allow visitors to post comments underneath their content. That way users can directly engage with a business, and marketers can even enter into a direct one-on-one dialogue through commenting systems. But sometimes, you are going to run into an unsavory visitor who posts smutty words on your content.

But should you remove the comment simply because it contains profanity? Does removing comments based on profanity violate the freedom of speech? Actually, it does not, and you are free to moderate comments as you see fit. However, to ensure that you look more credible (as opposed to a self-righteous, power-hungry, high-strung blogger who deletes comments to feel important), you should post some sort of acceptable use policy or code of conduct on your website.

That way people know what is expected and what isn't. Also, if you see comments that are intentionally inflammatory or unusually vulgar (racist, sexist, hateful, or intentionally lurid comments with intense profanity), you may want to consider removing those comments to protect the experience of other users. Google won't stop indexing your page, but in the interest of other users, it may be appropriate to clean it up or edit profanity with “*” characters. Use good judgment.

Final Thoughts

Word choice and profanity are certainly two characteristics that help define a blogger's voice, but profanity isn't for everyone. Instead of writing like a potty mouth, take great care in how you convey a message to your audience. As a last ditch alternative, you can skirt around saucy language with euphemisms, indirect hints, and lighthearted wordplay. Just make sure you know how the message will be received by your audience before you hit that “publish” button!

Beeep beeeep beep beep beeeep beeeep beeep beep beeeeep beep !
( I am talking in Morse code :D )
I can't believe you called me that! Haha
You 100% need to know your audience. "Read the room" but in this case, read the demographic! More often than not, it's unprofessional. Even though I curse in real life, I try not to curse on social media. Is that like false advertising?
Nicola Yap
It's "brand sensitivity". How's that sound?
Ah yeah I've had comments removed or flagged for review more than a few times, it wasn't used in a negative context but it was still not able to published without swapping out some characters for ** which I understand makes the comment suitable for everyone but sometimes I feel like it's censorship. But yes my offline vs online language is different which I guess makes my comments more digestible.
David Iwanow
David I think most of us, especially business owners, tend to act a little differently online than in person. And I emphasize "most"...!
What an interesting article! From a brand perspective, you would be really out on a limb to use antisocial language unless that is your brand values. It is rare to have someone complain that there isn't enough swearing in something.
Simon Cox
Thank you, Simon!
Ah! A topic near and dear to my heart. I'm a big fan of people being "real" (I hate the word "authentic"), so when I read content that consistently sounds like that person, I'm all for it. I swear a little bit in my blog posts, but have gotten a lot better.

The tailoring to your audience part is so true. My ideal client is someone who can put up with a little sass and swears in real life, so I would hate for them to come to my blog and see a very edited down version of myself then meet me in real life and realize I'm totally different than how I portray myself online. Profanity definitely isn't for everyone, but for me, it helps weed out clients I wouldn't be a good fit for (and surprisingly hasn't stopped national companies wanting to work with me).

I really love the thought process in your post, definitely something I'm going to consider in the future.
Beverley Theresa
Good to know that you are considering this for your future post, Beverly.
Nice post, Wll. Some good things to consider for sure. For me, as a person who has been blogging for 14 years, consideration #1 really resonated with me. I've only cursed in 2 blog posts that I can remember. This is because my main audience revolves around business professionals and entrepreneurs and, personally, I want to be taken seriously by them which is why I avoid swearing. Not that I don't curse like a sailor IRL lol ;)
Melanie Nathan
We have the same thought on consideration #1, Melanie. Hope it helps you. Have fun reading!
Thanks for such a useful info you have shared here.
Shiva Naida
My pleasure to share my knowledge and what I have learned in doing this business. Have fun reading, Shiva!
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