Why Websites Should Not Use Profanity


What is Profanity?

Profanity, also known as curse words, refers to a collection of words that for one reason or another are offensive one or more individuals. These words develop through the repetitive use of the word over time to characterize a person or thing in a negative manner. While it is simply a word, the vast majority of people can be offended or at least feel awkward when the word is used in some way. Typically, individuals do not want anyone, especially children, to use these words. Profanity is not easily characterized, and people often develop different lists of words that they consider to be profanity. However, a considerable number of words usually fall into this list. We have created a list of profanity that includes these words as well as various misspellings and text manipulations of them.

Why Build Websites Without Using Profanity?

Search Engine Profanity Filters

Certainly, the context of the word affects how strongly people react against its usage. We can truly understand the context, but search engines cannot fully understand. Google and other search engines have sets of filters to prevent profanity. One example of how they do this is Google's "SafeSearch" filter. Granted, this is disabled by default and is intended for filtering "sexually explicit content", but individual can enable this feature. If your web pages have sexually explicit words, images, etc., users with this filter enabled will not see your web pages in the search results. Thus, these websites will lose some traffic.

An Insight to Google's Thoughts on Profanity

While this might not tell what Google does with its search results, it does show that Google implements profanity filters on their websites. Google's What Do You Love website implements a filter into the search. To see this in action check out this URL:

http://www.wdyl.com/profanity?q=

Try placing a profanity word after the "q=". You will notice that it returns true, which indicates that it is a word that Google blocks.

Profanity Deterrence

Another element to consider is how likely users would be to click on your web pages in the search results. Even if your web pages are not penalized for profanity, it seems likely that a user would prefer to click on web pages without profanity in their title or description. Certainly, some users would not be deterred, but at least a few would choose another web page. It might be because the user believes profanity creates a lack of trust or confidence in the information. How many scholarly paper's use profanity? Not very many.

Relevance of Profanity

Finally, we should consider the relevance of profanity. The question is what does profanity really add to the text. Typically, these words are not descriptive. There are certainly excellent times to use these words, such as grabbing someone's attention. However, if one has a sufficient vocabulary, these words can be replaced and create the same effect without the possibility of offending their users. Consider using the F word to add emphasis to something. The word can be used in so many different ways. Google might see this word as a keyword (if it is used often) and place your website in the same neighborhood as other websites that use these words. Think of other websites that might use this word frequently. Do you want your website associated with those websites?

Web Pages With Profanity Study

We did a brief study on web pages with profanity compared to web pages without profanity. We paired each web page with profanity with another web page without profanity with similar SEO analysis scores. We used the SEO analysis reports to determine the keywords for each page. We actually found with a small but significant margin that web pages without profanity ranker higher in the search engine results for their keywords. One potential flaw with this study is that the websites were not paired by similar keywords, which could simply mean that the websites without profanity simply competed for keywords with less competition. Future studies are needed to verify and detail these results.