“…what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?” - Lewis Carroll
Regular readers may have guessed by now that I have a lot of trouble playing by other people’s rules if I can see no rational basis for them. If a rule makes sense to me, and I can easily internalize it, then well and fine; but a good way to get me to take my ball and go home is to come out with a bunch of arbitrary crap that goes against my grain. As soon as I hear “you must” or “it is imperative that” or “because I’m the mommy, that’s why,” I tune out and go my own way. So when I started blogging and some well-meaning friends and acquaintances told me that I needed to do “search engine optimization” and word my posts such-and-such way for the search engines to pick me up and all that hoo-ha, I said “thanks, but no thanks” and did it the way which seemed right to me: that is, to invest my time and energy in making a good site with interesting, varied posts which was fun to look at and easy to navigate. A few months later, once I started appearing on a lot of sex-worker-advocacy radar units, I had some other (again, well-meaning) people tell me that I was going about it the wrong way, and that if I was going to be a sex worker advocate I needed to look and act and sound like everybody else. To them also, I said “no, thanks”. Every once in a while I still get suggestions like that; if I think they’re good I act on them (my “Offsite” page, Subject Index and participation in Twitter were all suggestions), but if they want to change the basic way I do things (like the casual reader who called the fictional interludes “distracting”) I politely thank the person and then ignore them.
Well, my instincts were good; by spending my time generating quality content rather than worrying about how people would find it, and by following my gut about what to write about and how to write it, I’ve managed to create a fairly popular blog here. But though most of my visitors arrive via link or referral or content search, a very large number get here in a way I never anticipated: image searches. I’ve written before about how I came to start The Honest Courtesan; the nutshell version is that regular reader The Human Scorch pointed me to WordPress when I complimented him on his blog’s appearance. So after I chose my theme and got my first page up, I asked his opinion; it can be summed up in two words: “widgets” and “pictures”. So, I played around with the widgets and went searching for a few pictures which I thought would enhance my first post. I still tweak the widgets occasionally (you’ve probably noticed the new Twitter feed by now), but it was in the pictures that I went really all-out. I quickly discovered that good pictures can add a lot to a column; oh, sometimes they’re just decorations which do little more than make the posts easier to read by breaking up a wall of text, but other times they drive home points, add humor or actually provide additional data. I couldn’t have imagined they would actually bring in an appreciable number of visitors, though.
Boy, was I ever wrong; as I explained in “Top Ten”, my three most-visited columns (and four more in that original “top ten” list) earned those positions almost entirely via image searches. My most popular column to date was the one published one year ago today, “Coming and Going”; it was viewed 6353 times last year, and 5628 of those times were from searches which homed in on a map of Texas counties I used to illustrate an estimate of the total amount of money wasted by locking up hookers in all the counties in Texas combined. Image searches for Veronica Franco, Pompeii, Mira Sorvino, “Mardi Gras tits”, Phryne, the fictional planet Gor and even sofa beds brought in lots of traffic by the time I wrote “Top Ten”, and in the last six months “broken condom”, “hells angels”, “grimoire”, “Capri Anderson” and “ground hog” each brought in hundreds of hits. I even get respectable traffic from “Maggie McNeill nude”; seeing that one in the search list never fails to make me smile.
Performing an image search for any of these terms (except the last one, naturally) will deliver oodles of results; why, then, do so many searchers end up here? I think it’s because I choose my pictures in the same way I write the columns in which they’re embedded: carefully and according to my own standards and sense of aesthetics. Sometimes it takes me as long to illustrate a column as it does to write it (especially when there are more than the usual two or three pictures), and if I can’t find what I’m looking for I often reread the text for a different idea to illustrate and start all over again. Readers often compliment the picture choices, and I suspect that the images I select so carefully stand out among dozens of others, thereby drawing the searcher to this blog…where at least some of them, I hope, find more to hold their attention than just pretty pictures.