Porn: Still Leading Online Advertising?

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As Howard Stern’s intern I spent months at the center of the adult entertainment industry meeting the people who have conquered an incredibly competitive niche.  Everyone already knows porn pushes the boundaries on technology to deliver content to eager consumers, but how is this technological push fairing online and where is the evidence of its next movement?

According to Google trends, more people are searching for the keyword “porn” than in previous years:

Macintosh HD:Users:chelseablacker:Desktop:porn_gtrends

And yet if you look at the Alexa rankings (formulated on pageviews & time spent on site) for pornographic websites, they continue to be pushed further down by social networking sites.  Of the top 100 sites today, only four are pornography websites:

Alex Rank January 2008*Alexa Rank July 2009
You Porn.com3047

* Source

Porn seems not that hot any more…

Clearly, the proportion of people searching for porn related material is growing at a smaller rate than the overall online population.  In comparison to the number of people getting online, there is less activity in the sex industry and more for social networking and communication.  In short, the Internet is no longer the seedy back alley it was in 1995.

So if it’s not growing in number of pageviews, in what way is the adult industry expanding?  What’s the next horizon?  Long tail keyword satisfaction is one way.  With so many subcultures and genres, porn sites have been doing an amazing job catching those specific interests ranging between everything from furries to adult babies, Gorians to Amazons.

In word tracker, the term “dirty” produces a list of 100 most searched for keyword terms.  Among these 100 keyword terms, 46 of them are made up of 3 or more words; averaging between 2,535 and 159 clicks per day according to Google’s daily estimate.   That’s a lot of high volume, incredibly specific for long tail keyword terms.


And how is adult content monetizing on these finely tuned audiences?  According to major movie studios like Vivid and Digital Playground, the answer is in subscriptions for films with less of a plot line and more sex scenes.  Especially in their free online content that they hope to convert into paying subscribers Vivid has found that audiences want to see the action without the foreplay, cutting to the chase as quickly as possible.

This certainly resonates with me as an internet marketer, supplying visitors with a taste of what they want before asking them to sign up/purchase/download (however you measure conversions).  Steven Hirsch, co-chairman of Vivid also spoke about catering to short attention spans and the need to constantly promote fresh content, “The average attention span is three to five minutes. We have to cater to that.”  Like with any good site, producing new content keeps visitors returning frequently, which Vivid is trying to convert into paid subscribers.

However, a quick browse over the free video site makes me think Hirsch’s convictions about short spurts of content have less to do with visitor interest, and more to do with the fact his company is trying to sell subscriptions to content which users like me can get for free on YouPorn.  The second most popular video on YouPorn with over 1.3 million hits is over 30 minutes long!  Clearly attention spans can be captured lo, credit card details on paid sites like Vivid are struggling.

Finally, what is next?

Porn conquered the internet, was on the cutting edge of streaming video, where is the industry to go?  The answer is social networking sites for outreach, mobile phones for personal contact, and virtual worlds for experimentation.

Regarding social media – Twitter, Tumblr, and Jaiku are crawling with pretty lonely girls with 1 avatar photo and hundreds of followers.  Stumble Upon has an entire many tags based on erotica, erotica stories, and nudity.  And online communities like “adultfriendfinder” are entirely dedicated to satisfying certain tastes and connecting with likeminded users.

As more users sign up for mobile internet, the mobile market continues to grow.  Sites like and affiliate portals including Brazzers have mobile sites geared specifically to customers on the move.  There are even vibrating iPhone apps!

What I’ve found most interesting is the virtual worlds where anonymity means users may cloak their long tail sexual interests.  Most notably, Second Life has become a bastion of sorts for Furries, people who identify and live by an animal alias.  In Second Life, furries can live out their fantasies and connect with others interested in the same erm… activities.

Lets take a step back on from the furries to look at virtual role playing in general – How can marketers move forward interacting with people so engaged with a bunch of pixels?  In the same way Facebook developers are now making widgets, virtual reality users are willing to pay to customize their virtual lives.  So creating those customized accents, which in turn promote client products, are definitely a winning game plan.

In the case of Second Life, there is an application to create custom genitalia called SexGen.  The creator Kevin Alderman, proclaimed to be “Second Life’s Porn Mogul”, explains “the group members and the supporters are really the driving force. They tell us what they would like to see and we do our damnedest to make it happen.”

And isn’t that what we all need to be focusing on?  Customizable answers for the increasingly choosey consumer.  It doesn’t matter if  you’re selling genitalia for a giant purple fox avatar or something a little more mainstream, pin pointing customers increasingly specific needs is the goal.  Social media is clearly the method of outreach, the adult industry is utilizing those social networking sites.  However, the film studios clearly have an up hill battle – with so much free content online often submitted by anyone with a video camera, they’ll have to convince consumers their product is worth the money.

Ultimately, the adult industry is changing tracks from subscription based online havens to user-generated content.  Content from sites like youporn and what can be found in virtual worlds and online networks reflects how users can connect directly and be in control of how content evolves.

Chelsea Blacker is a London based search consultant currently working at Base One Search With a background in SEO & PPC cultivated at Promediacorp in NYC, Chelsea focuses on engaging B2B brands in social media and online PR.

If you want to further procrastinate from getting on with your real work, check out her current Marketing Pilgrim post You Know You Work in Search When… or say hi to her on twitter @ChelseaBlacker

Chelsea Blacker

Chelsea Blacker

Chelsea Blacker is a London based search consultant currently working at Base One Search With a background in SEO & PPC cultivated at Promediacorp in... Read Full Bio
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  • Matt Leonard

    Good post. I was watching a related program on CNBC earlier this week where mobile porn was projected to be a 5 billion dollar industry by 2013. I know you’re in the UK, and unsure if CNBC programming is available to you, but you may want to check it out if there is a rerun.

  • Aussiewebmaster

    The industry has definitely changed over the past 10 years and the free tube sites are making it harder for small people to make money like the old days.

    But as a case study for affiliate marketing or SEO in a competitive space there is none better. Niched content is the way smaller people make money… and is a way main stream marketers can do it too,

  • Aussiewebmaster

    BTW that 3-6 minute attention span has a whole different meaning …

  • Nejc

    the article is totaly right. There are too many porn sites at the moment and google is’t able to find quality porn any more under search terms as “sex or porn” any more. Try to search under “nejc” lol

  • Ken Pendergast

    This industry is primarily responsible for how big the internet is today. A good majority of basic users started because they didn’t have to face the embarrassing of going to a video rental store, they could do it from the comfort of their own home.

  • Noah

    So, basically, start giving away great content for users, let them give away their own content, and attempt to monetize it through non-standard means, right?

    Doesn’t seem like porn is ahead of the game in that regard, as there are many niches that are already doing this, and have been doing more of it for longer than the porn niche has.
    .-= Noah´s last blog ..How To Grow Your Cash Flow Leveraging the Internet, Part Six. =-.

  • Terry Harmon

    I’m thinking…and this is not a joke…the spike in porn site traffic has a lot to do with the unemployment rate being so high.
    …Kids are at school…Wife is working or running errands…what else are you going to do?
    Find a job? …pssh 🙂

  • Carrie Burrows

    Very interesting post!

  • Brian Mitchell

    Very interesting post. It will be interesting to see what happens with the industry moving forward. That CNBC story was great and showed how although technology (ie the internet, video tape, etc) propelled the porn industry to what it is today, tech is now their worst enemy (tube sites, rapidshare, torrents, etc). We’ll see what happens but I’m sure the industry isn’t going anywhere soon.

  • lazy 10

    You definitely have a point but I think it is worth digging a little deeper. For example, the major tubes are losing traffic not because of diminishing interest but because a huge onslaught of new tubes so the pieces of the pie are getting smaller. Also, I do not think it is completely accurate to say “user generated content” is a new trend that has been behind the sweeping changes. It is a known secret that a good portion, if not vast, of the videos shown at the tubes has been uploaded by employees and has not been generated in an amateur way. More likely is copyrighted material.

    Finally, I think there is a gigantic difference between sites like that has 100% videos provided by program owners -so called “legit”- and sites like Redtube or Youporn where much of the content has been uploaded without the consent of the producer/owner of that content.

    Anyway, I hope this adds to you very interesting article.

  • Debbie

    600 millon people visit porn sites every day. Couldnt get hotter than that! The new slant on porn entertainment sites is to earn money on it without being in it. Industrial analysists say that companies such as Englandsxclub are capitolizing on a unique market segment

  • armelnet

    Excellent article by Chelsea Blacker, but there are some points:

    :Porn seems not that hot any more…:
    I agree with lady, that porn is maybe not so hot like it was some 10 years ago, but the internet is growing up very rapidly and anyway the vast majority of people (males) of 13-40 age search for porn I think every 10 seconds in the world. I think the porn industry (online or offline) will be always extremely popular. Maybe the percentage of free porn seekers is decreasing, but the total amount (billions) of people anyway search for “free porn” almost always.

    Thank you.