This article is adapted from a talk given by Mistress Fae at an event for NYC sex workers and kink professionals in spring 2021, and was published in the print edition of Petit Mort Magazine in Fall 2021.
What is SEO, and why should I care?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, the process of making your website rank higher in search results. While I recommend that SWers use a search engine like DuckDuckGo for privacy reasons, our clients are predominantly using Google Search (as are ~92% of global internet users), so we’re going to focus specifically on SEO for Google.
Why should you care about SEO? Because the more discoverable you are, the easier it will be to attract clients. Ideally, you want to rank highly for both un-targeted and targeted searches. Un-targeted searches are for keywords or categories: “Los Angeles dommes”, “kinky escorts”, “shibari”. Targeted searches are when someone is searching for a specific result, like “Mistress Fae” or “Pandora’s Box”.
Let’s dig into some general strategies for improving your ranking for both types of searches.
What makes a site high-ranking?
The real question to ask is “what makes a site rank highly for this specific search query?”.
Some of the biggest factors that Google looks at are:
- When someone searches for x, how often do they click on your site?
- How long do people stay on your site?
- How often do they hit “back” and click on another link?
You can address the first point by making sure your site is relevant for the types of searches you’re targeting, the second point by creating valuable, rich, easy-to-navigate content, and the third by ensuring your site loads quickly and works flawlessly on mobile.
1. Create relevant content
Make things that human beings actually want to see & read; the more targeted and niche, the better. While it can be tempting to make each page incredibly long in an attempt to incorporate more keywords, a good model is to let people dive deeper into further pages or expand sections if something piques their interest.
Have a clear page hierarchy & navigation structure. Make as much of your site navigation as possible visible by default—Google assumes hidden things are less important. Use big titles/subtitles and clear page or section delineators. Use highly legible fonts, colors, and contrast ratios. (Text on top of images is nearly always a bad idea! So is cursive.)
Some less-obvious places to incorporate keywords throughout your site are page titles, blogs, activity lists or date ideas, FAQs, URLs & file names, and image alt text.
Not sure what keywords to focus on? Ask some trusted existing clients to describe you and SWers they think of as being similar. This tends to be eye-opening: I stopped marketing myself as petite once I realized those clients wanted “teenage-looking” instead of “short”. A friend of mine assumed her wardrobe was attracting latex fetishists, then realized it was actually her snarky copy that drew in humiliation submissives.
To get a feel for which keywords will be highest-impact, compare different ones using Google Trends. You can see the average interest over time and use this data to hone in on more popular keywords.
2. Speed is everything
Google cares a lot about getting people the information or answers they’re searching for, quickly. The faster your site loads, the more likely people are to stay on it and browse around.
Test your site out on your phone somewhere with a bad connection, like inside a grocery store or a Target. How fast does it load? Do you see any awkward transition states, like a full-screen image that loads too slowly and makes the page appear empty?
Limit your use of different custom fonts: these tend to be slow to load and, from a design standpoint, using more than 2-3 different typefaces can make your content difficult to skim.
Compressing your images is one of the single biggest things you can do to improve your load times. Use JPGs instead of PNGs (or, if you want to be really cutting-edge, look into WebP). In most image editing tools like Photoshop or Preview, all you need to do is adjust the image dimensions to something more reasonable and then play with the quality slider when you save.
To evaluate the impact your changes are having, test out your site with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. It will give you a score and a set of recommendations for areas of improvement. If you’re on a platform like Squarespace or Wix, you may not be able to make all of the changes this tool suggests; don’t sweat this. Follow any suggestions that you do have the ability to change (like compressing your images), and don’t worry about the rest.
A personal example of the way speed outweighs keyword relevance: my old site, “mistressfae.com“, was extremely simple but fast and easy to navigate on mobile. It had a PageSpeed Insights score of 98. When people searched for “NYC mistress”, I was on average the first result. My new site has the domain name “nyc-mistress.com“, but it sacrifices speed in favor of big photos and is hosted on a very slow server. Its PageSpeed Insights score clocks in at around ~62. Despite the highly relevant domain name, richer content, and similar backlinks, it has abysmal SEO due to its slow load times.
3. Make it sexy on phones, first
The majority of Google Search visits happen on a mobile device, so Google aggressively prioritizes sites that work well on phones. Mobile tends to have greater limitations in terms of size and speed than laptops or desktops do, so sites that work well on mobile tend to also work well on bigger computers (but not vice-versa).
Test your site on different browsers & devices to make sure it looks & behaves correctly. You want to make sure that when someone clicks on your site, they immediately see useful content. If nothing shows up after a few seconds, they’ll hit the back button to check a different result instead, and this will eventually hurt your ranking. (If you have web analytics set up, this number is usually called a “bounce rate”.) To keep it lightweight, save the background videos & big image files for the desktop version of your site.
When it comes to mobile, I always advise people to sacrifice cooler designs in favor of predictability. Imagine someone trying to use your site on a shaking train with bad cell service in direct sunlight. Are the links & buttons on your page big enough that you can still hit them with one hand? Is your page high-contrast enough that you can still read text in direct sunlight? Does the important stuff (text & links) load in and become visible first, even on a poor connection?
Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Tester tool to see where your site can be improved. It’s nearly impossible to score 100% on this without making your site deathly boring, but try to aim for at least a 70.
How do I know if I’m doing it right?
I recommend signing up for Google Search Console, which will allow you to monitor your site’s traffic, see which keywords people are using to find you, and check your average ranking for those keywords. If you sign up for this, future-proof yourself against any future legal changes by using a vanilla burner account. Don’t link this account to anything identifiable.
Your site ranking won’t change immediately, so watch it over time and see if your average rankings start to improve. Ask clients where they found you; see if more of them start mentioning Search as an entrypoint.
Also, remember that just like with IG/Twitter, popularity and brand recognition still have a strong impact. When I search for ‘nyc dominatrix’, the top result is for a dungeon with an ancient website and the third result is for Yelp. This is a great example of how even a poorly-designed site will still rank first if enough thirsty clients decide to click on it for a decade, and how a largely irrelevant site can rank third purely due to reputation.
One final note: each person who searches for a query will see a slightly different set of search results, because results are heavily personalized. The results you see will often change as soon as you hit the back button, and will even shift based on factors like location, time of day, and which device you use.
Do the best you can with the tools you have access to, and don’t stress if your ranking doesn’t improve overnight. You’ll get there!