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Understanding How Free Adult Websites Make Money

Ever since I put together the first article about how to build an adult website, numerous people, including digital marketers, have asked me how adult websites make money. These days, if you want to watch some porn, you can simply use Google to dig up countless free websites. With so much free adult content out there, how does the adult industry make any money?

In the past, the porn industry wasn’t nearly so accessible. Before the emergence of online porn, if you wanted to indulge, you might luck out and find a small selection at your local video rental store. Then, you’d have to pay to either rent or buy a video. Or you added a channel to your cable subscription, or went and picked up a magazine at the local corner store. 

These days, you can find a site for free, in seconds, from anywhere around the world. So then, how does the porn industry make money?

This used to be a very simple answer. At first, most porn websites charged a subscription fee. However the subscription model doesn’t work tremendously well when many of the biggest websites, like Pornhub, are largely free. So how then do you monetize the billion dollar porn industry?

Simple marketing. Adult websites are at the pinnacle of marketing & advertising. They are, essentially, sales funnels. Take Pornhub for example. A site like Pornhub acts as the top of a sales funnel. Traffic comes in. A lot of it. In fact, Pornhub receives 23 billion hits a month and is the 27 most popular website in the world. Netflix.com comes in at 26, while Linkedin trails at 29th. That’s right. Porn is more important to people than work. Furthermore people spend a lot of time on Pornhub as well. While the average user spends less than 6 minutes a day on Linkedin, they will spend nearly 9 minutes on Pornhub.

With billions of viewers spending long minutes on their website, Pornhub has a tremendous audience. Yet they still have to monetize that audience or it’s all for naught. So what does Pornhub do? If you head to their website (discretion advised!), you’ll notice that there are tons and tons of ads. Most of the ads are in the sidebar, or popup before the video starts. A few ads come on as commercials, like YouTube.

There’s a common thread to most of these ads: they are for paid products. You’ll notice that many of the ads are for niche video content. If you’ve got a special fetish you’d like to fulfill and it’s legal, you’ll be able to find the video on a legitimate porn site. However, once you get off the generic free websites, you’ll be expected to pay.

Other monetized revenue streams include live performances and products. Porn sites can be very effective for selling adult toys, condoms, lubricants, and other products. So the principal method for the porn industry is to draw people in with free content and to then upsell them with niche services or value added products.

In total, the porn industry is estimated to produce $15 billion in profits per year, which is actually a greater amount than Hollywood, so their methods work very well indeed.

So What Can We As Digital Marketers Learn From Pornography?

Every industry offers its own lessons, including adult content. You might feel a bit embarrassed about researching porn, and you might believe that it has nothing to teach your industry. However, lessons can be learned anywhere, and because the adult content industry is so competitive, it’s a great industry to learn from.

The porn industry uses a rather common model. First, you prime the top of your funnel with free content that people are interested in (very interested, in fact, given the stats mentioned earlier). This gets them to your website. Once you have the audience’s attention, you can pitch them. Try out this product, subscribe to this gated website, etc.

The monetized content needs to satisfy wants (or, in this case, urges) that can’t be satisfied for free elsewhere. If a viewer can easily obtain the content for free, he or she won’t be willing to pay for it. As I already mentioned, in the case of porn, this could mean physical products, fetish content, live performances, or other value added products and services.

Adult websites are generally forbidden from paid advertisements. Google doesn’t allow them. This means porn sites have to draw in customers organically. Big, free sites like Pornhub draw in billions of views. The website then needs to monetize just a small percent of those billions of views to generate healthy sales.

Many porn websites will offer only shortened versions of a video. Or they might offer a small selection of niche content for free, and then advertise similar paid videos. This allows the porn site to quickly and easily qualify leads as they come in. In turn, this enables micro-targeting. Top-of-the-funnel sites can target people quite specifically based on their expressed interests.

This is all “bread-and-butter” digital marketing, to be quite honest. Any good digital marketer should already be engaging with these methods. However, many simply don’t respect market principals. Meanwhile, the porn industry certainly does.

About Michael Boguslavskiy

Michael Boguslavskiy is a full-stack developer & online presence consultant based out of New York City. He's been offering freelance marketing & development services for over a decade. He currently manages Rapid Purple - and online webmaster resources center; and Media Explode - a full service marketing agency.

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