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Can Swear Words Hurt Your Search Rankings?

Is profanity preventing your pages from achieving prominent organic search positions? Are curse words cursed? Is there a magical "swear word density"?

Can Swear Words Hurt Your Search Rankings?

Editor’s note: “Ask an SEO” is a weekly column by technical SEO expert Jenny Halasz. Come up with your hardest SEO question and fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!

Today’s Ask an SEO question comes to us from Twitter via Big Red SEO – Omaha:

Can swearing/cussing in web page/post content hurt SEO rankings? Not client perception, but actual ranking positions. #AskAnSEO

This is a really interesting question, and one I was not able to find a definitive answer on.

Officially, Google takes no position on curse words in website content. Unofficially, I found many anecdotal instances of censorship.

It appears that the quantity/severity of swear words may have a couple of different impacts:

1. SafeSearch Filtering

If your content is deemed unsafe for an audience under 18, you may find that the site doesn’t appear when people search with SafeSearch on (it’s on by default).

Google officially says that this only applies to images, but I found several anecdotal reports of sites disappearing from SafeSearch that didn’t have any explicit images.

2. Rewritten Titles & Descriptions

If you use explicit words in your titles or meta descriptions, Google may choose to rewrite these.

Again, this isn’t an official position, but anecdotally true.

My Advice: Keep It Clean

Avoid using a lot of swear words or explicit content if it isn’t necessary to make your point or if you’re in an industry that’s not typically filtered in SafeSearch. If you’re in a filtered industry, keep the explicit words out of the titles and meta descriptions.

Don’t worry about profanity if you follow the previous two guidelines. But if you see a reduction in position, take the curse words out and re-measure. Then let the rest of the SEO industry know what you find out!

Have a question about SEO for Jenny? Fill out this form or use #AskAnSEO on social media.

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita

Category Ask an SEO
Jenny Halasz President at JLH Marketing

Jenny Halasz is President and Founder of JLH Marketing, a marketing consultation firm focused on highly technical implementations, specific projects, ...

Can Swear Words Hurt Your Search Rankings?

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