Home Articles What you can learn from the online porn industry

What you can learn from the online porn industry

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Most people giggle about the prevalence of porn on the internet, but the truth is that the porn industry has pioneered many of the technological innovations of our time. As an industry, these companies are good at what they do. Really good. And you should learn from them, writes Kim Wingerei.

Everyone knows that sex sells, and where would the internet be today without pornography?

Yes, I do mean pornography, as in smut, gonzo, hardcore, adult sites, whatever you want to call it. And for the purposes of this blog-post, every pun unintended, and I will not reveal my sources.

The early days of the internet were not much different from the gold-rush of the 19th century. All sorts of unsavoury characters saw the opportunity for a quick buck. And the internet in those early adopter days of the late nineties ran a very real risk of being rendered useless for anything other than the more seedy side of human expressionism.

I found out just how big it was when a client of mine, an airline that shall remain nameless but has since gone broke, got tired of what my employer charged them for internet traffic so they introduced a filter intending to block employees from visiting porn and gambling sites. Their traffic dropped by 80 percent within days (as did my commission on sales, but that’s another story).

Almost 20 years later, the internet has moved on from being a totally unregulated Wild West frontier for virtual businesses. It is now a totally unregulated, Wild West place for serious and legitimate business. And we can indeed be grateful to the adult entertainment industry for many of the developments that made that possible, including:

  • High quality video streaming technology that still makes YouTube look like amateur hour (OK, I know it is, but you get my point).
  • Secure sites with copyright controls that actually work.
  • High-volume, highly secure, real-time payment gateways.
  • Content subscription business models that would make Rupert Murdoch salivate.
  • Download accelerators that circumvent the bottlenecks of the traditional ISP delivery model.

Add to that the recent advent of privacy modes in popular browsers, which is a clear concession to the adult industry. It also wouldn’t surprise me if the content syndication deals and distribution mechanism used by the big porn publishers are more sophisticated and much more cost effective than what is used by “traditional” publishers online.

Understand your market, and replicate

It does help, of course, that the porn industry has got to be the most profitable ecommerce business model – based on the law of accelerated returns as the incremental cost of publishing to another channel becomes infinitesimal.

This, incidentally, is also one of the lessons that successful ecommerce stores have learnt from the adult industry, replicating content across many niche oriented channels to market. Whatever you sell online, vying for attention is tough – no matter how good your search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts, how well you are able to target your AdWords search terms, how well you know your audience, you are never alone when people are looking for what you have to sell.

Online competition is fierce, and in particular if you haven’t got a strong brand name, it’s hard to be found. But whereas opening up a new store in the “real” world is expensive, the cost of selling off the same product catalogue on a different site targeting a specific audience is relatively inexpensive. The porn industry does that really well, understanding that one man’s BDSM fetish is another man’s (or woman’s) fascination with Latex – same content, different sales channels.

For instance, if you sell books online, your in-depth understanding of what people are looking for is paramount – no need to narrow your marketing to just being a book store. Searching out where people look for information about the topic of the books you sell and having different sales campaigns based on the type of sites your potential audience is visiting may be extremely cost effective compared to just focusing on people wanting to buy the book.

While on the subject of books, another area in which adult sites excel is in providing previews of the content – enough to create interest, but not so much that the peek (OK, pun intended) is enough to satisfy.

Outside of Amazon.com, I’m amazed at how few online book stores actually do provide previews – it might be due to copyright restriction, but I suggest it is more down to laziness in exploring the actual benefits of having an online (book)store.

The same is true of most products. There are lots of parallels between the browsing in a store and online browsing – people buy based on emotions in both environments. Triggering the right emotional response in your target audience depends on what you are selling, of course, but the visual response plays an important part in almost any purchasing decision. Many ecommerce stores don’t pay enough attention to this aspect by having sub-standard or inaccurate images of their products, or worse, no images at all.

Jump into bed with your competitors

An area where online browsing is totally different from real world window shopping is in the ability for the prospective buyer to go elsewhere – instantly. And unlike in a physical store, where you can try stopping the customer on his or her way out the door with a “can I help you”, in the virtual world, it happens literally before you know it.

So if you can’t stop it happening (except by having such a great store that nobody wants to go anywhere else), then take advantage of it and help people on their way. In the online world it is called linking, and all porn sites (I have been told) do this really well by providing links to other sites – even competitors – and get paid for it, of course.

Even if you don’t get paid for it, you may still use this technique to your advantage. If, for instance, you sell mobile phones online (and I do), you know that people will not just rely on the information you provide about your product. They are likely to go to other sites for more information – so help them. We provide links to review sites and the manufacturers’ sites and make sure they are easily found and (importantly) they open in a new window or tab. So not only have you been helpful, but you have also left yourself a second chance because your shop-front is still visible to them and easy to return to.

These are just some examples from what remains the single largest revenue generating online sector – A$70.4 billion annually according to www.eros.org.au, an adult industry lobby group. The Eros site also quotes that 25 percent of all search activity is sex related, sex remains the single most popular search term, and 35 percent of all downloads are adult or sexually related.

That in itself should indicate that investigating what those sites do and how they do it may be worth a look for more reasons than one.

Kim Wingerei sells mobile phones and telco services online. He works to live, is easily distracted and likes sailing.

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