Why a good porn site makes our web show pages look like amateurish crap

Porn sites are web shows. Every week they upload video which people pay a lot of money for. The standard argument is “yes, but that’s porn. It’s different.”. But is it?

What if we took the attitude that successful porn sites are just web show producers, like us, but they’re doing it much better (at least as far as monetising goes)? What can we learn?

I like porn, and I’m interested in the model (and the models. Badum, shhhh! I’ll be here all week, try the veal, etc.). I’m not sure there’s anything different at the core between how porn works and how other forms of visual entertainment work. In all cases, we’re selling something that makes people feel a way they want to feel.

It’s just that a) porn sites have a much clearer idea what experience they’re selling, and b) they’re bloody good at it.

Don’t believe me? Well, then, let’s go look at their websites – and see how, frankly, they kick our collective ass.

(Er, yeah. This is probably going to be NSFW. Just in case that wasn’t obvious. Quite apart from the subject matter, I’m going to be using fairly descriptive language.)

Our Porn Site For Today: Divine Bitches

Divine Bitches is a female domination/bondage site run by Kink.com, one of the more successful, professional, and ethical porn companies around. it’s got high production values, a dedicated team, and a larger narrative component to its films than many sites do.

I’m featuring them partially because they’re very, very good at what they do, and partially because I know they treat their performers ethically and well, which is not something that I know about a lot of mainstream porn companies.

I heartily recommend you have a good look at the site – I’m going to be focussing particularly on the front page after you click through the warning page.

If you’re not familiar with this particular subculture you’re likely to find it a bit eye-opening!

However, this is really state-of-the-art stuff from a showrunning point of view – I found that a bit of time studying how they worked was incredibly useful, and rather humbling.

Straight To The Point

What’s the first thing you see on the front page? About a quarter of the screen devoted to a big, high-quality widescreen piece of video, along with direct links to join the site and view the entire thing. You don’t have to click off the page, you don’t have to search around – it’s right there, in your face.

Divine Bitches is immediately and obviously viewer-focussed in a way that web series creators almost never remember to be. The front page is all about what people might want – most likely, they want the most recent chunk of femdom porn available. But they might also want to browse for something that really turns them on – hence the other shows below. They might well want to know what they’re getting – so there’s a detailed mini-description beside the video. And of course having seen the teaser they’ll want to buy the whole thing – so there’s a nice big buy button, positioned in the place that eye-tracking studies show will be the most obvious.

Let’s compare that to, say, my design for Kamikaze Cookery – and bear in mind that I spent a lot of time thinking about usability on this design!

We’ve got the latest show up front and center – but it’s a click away! There’s no images there either – nothing visual to sell this visual medium. The other shows are all hidden away behind the “episodes” tag. There’s no additional helpful info like Divine Bitches has – no runtime, no star rating from viewers.

It’s much, much less immediately friendly and viewable. And consider this – porn sites probably have much more motivated viewers coming to them than we do. After all, by the time a viewer lands on Divine Bitches’ homepage for the first time, his or her genitalia will be demanding immediate, significant action in the “seeing some hot femdom action” department. The best KKC can hope for is mild curiosity as to whether the British guy’s going to singe his bits off.

And yet the porn guys still kick our asses on the “immediate usability” front. Could you change your show’s site to use some of these lessons? Stick video front-and-center? Make sure there’s all the info a viewer might need right there?

Constantly selling the viewer on the show

“But we don’t need to sell to our viewers – we’re not charging for episodes!”. Sure you do. You might not be charging money, but you’re asking people to exchange some of their time for the experience of watching your stuff. You need to persuade them that’s worth doing.

And Divine Bitches is all over that like paint-on latex. For starters, the site’s absolutely covered in beautifully-shot images – something that the KKC site (to use it as my standard example) isn’t. Nor is my BloodSpell site, nor many other web show sites. You would have thought that the idea of using great images from our shows to sell them would occur to us – we’re a visual medium, after all. But we never do. Again, asses kicked by porn.

But it gets better than that. Not only are the Bitches using lovely images, each of those lovely images is of something that the viewer really wants to see more of. Every single one of their header images is targeted specifically at their most popular kinks: two girls playing with a chastity-belted cock (yeah, that’s a modern chastity device), man being spanked by woman, man being forced to give oral sex. That header image alone does a whole lot of selling. (As a side note, also – each image has at least one face, usually female, in it. These guys REALLY understand the appeal here – it’s not about the sex per se, it’s about the fantasy and experience.)

Each of the images for any episode are large, well-balanced, easily understandable, and show some activity that the audience is going to want to see more of. Comparing with Kamikaze Cookery, we’ve got about a 50% success rate (and again, I was really consciously trying to select selling images) – the Fife Diet image is awful, but the Perfect Steak image is pretty good. Notably, that was one of our most popular episodes.

Beyond that, the site’s text is using every sales technique in the book – not overplaying it to the point of putting people off, but effectively. The info panel at the side of the main video has two separate calls to action – “Join Divine Bitches” and “Read the description, comments, and ratings” – both phrased as commands. Their title text sells the show, too – “Men humiliated in kinky femdom bondage” – mixing between an emotive description of the content and some nice search engine optimised terms.

Again, how could you improve your site with these ideas? Do you use images in your header or sprinkled across your site? (I didn’t). Do those images each sell a key component of your show? (For example, on Kamikaze Cookery – “Presenters with exaggerated “argh, it’s gone humorously wrong” expressions”, “beautiful food next to something sciencey”, “obviously funny thing happening”.)

Are you using enough calls to action? Do you even know where you want your viewers to go from your front page, and are you directing them there? Is there unnecessary text that isn’t selling and that you could remove?

Teasers! OMG, THIS is how you use trailers

I’ll be honest here – researching this site and how it works has really made me feel like a noob.

Trailers. No-one in web shows really seems to know exactly what we should do with a trailer. We often make ‘em and kinda try to use ‘em as promo material, but we don’t really know what we’re doing with them a lot of the time. I know the BloodSpell trailer has languished unloved on Vimeo for ages. Indeed, I had on my “blog post ideas” list a post entitled “Just skip the trailer”.

I, it would appear, am a moron.

Divine Bitches has video right up front. And here’s the thing. It’s a trailer. They may call it a teaser, but it’s blatantly a trailer. Watch it – look at the form, look at the intercutting. It’s a movie-style trailer, one for each porn film they make.

Now, of course, you may say that they have to have a teaser up there – after all, they’re planning on asking you to spend money on the whole thing, so they can’t whack that up there, even if they wanted to.

But that’s not it. There are a lot of things they could do – and other porn sites have done – that would be a lot less work. They could just show the first five minutes, or a random five minutes. For subscribers, they could just have the full film up there – but if you’re a subscriber, you still get a teaser. Why?

Because a trailer is deliberately designed to show you all the stuff you will experience if you invest the time to watch the full thing – straight away, without any waiting.. Divine Bitches movies start pretty slowly, and even when they get going they’re not going to be full-on “best bits” – so the trailer’s designed to, in two minutes, show you rather than tell you exactly why you should watch the episode.

Now. We’re web show people. We have random people coming from The Internet to our front pages. And the thing we want them to do, more than anything, is watch our show.

WHY does every web show site on the entire Internets not have, front and center on their index page, a trailer showing them all the most awesome bits from our current episode or the show at large? It’s the ultimate sales tool. It’s the ultimate technique for converting casual interest into “OK, I’m going to watch this entire thing now”.

It’s just brilliant. We have a tendency to forget that we shouldn’t stop selling people on our show when they arrive at our page – indeed, even when they’re hardcore devoted fans, we still need to keep telling them why it’s cool. But the first-time casual viewer? Why is the very first thing they see, anywhere, anywhen, not a teaser trailer for our show?

Like I said, I feel like a moron.

That’s not all we can learn from porn sites, by a long way – just a few initial lessons. There’s loads more stuff, to do with their shooting, what they spend money on and don’t, on their marketing and advertising, even their editing. I’ll write about them another time.

What did you think? Anything else we can learn that I missed?

For more eye-opening porn sites – no, wait – for more tips on making Web shows from the laterallest-thinkingest places imaginable, subscribe to Guerilla Showrunner now! And if you want to know what to do with your viewers once you’ve porned them into your site, sign up to Get Crazed Stalkers and learn how to turn viewers into hardcore fans.

40 thoughts on “Why a good porn site makes our web show pages look like amateurish crap

  1. Yeah, marketing and advertising. The porn guys have advertising operations that we should all learn from. Affiliate deals, cross-promotions, thumbnail galleries and SEO coming out their asses (so to speak). They’re fighting for your attention every chance they get, even if that means banners, pop-ups, pop-unders, interstitials, or whatever it takes to say LOOK AT OUR SITE – WE’RE OVER HERE!

    Because they know that just sitting in a corner quietly waiting for punters to show up is a great way to get ignored when there are hundreds of thousands of other people clamoring for potential viewers’ attention.

  2. Great point. I need to learn more about how porn sites market themselves – I know a bit, but not enough. (The world of TGP thumbnail galleries, for example, is fascinating all by itself).

    I’m probably going to try to get some interviews with the people behind top porn sites in the near future – they’ll have some very interesting insights.

  3. Agree with the observations, and Matt’s on the porn guys really understanding how to use marketing activities well.

    Would add to that the fact that those guys also know how to leverage their content well; from the features to cut-downs to compilations and stills. And they operate in an industry that’s got a realistic view on copyright; and they understand that most punters expect a lot for free.

    That said, it’s an aggressive industry (in every respect) that demands constant differentiation and innovation; and that the market is one that’s well-suited to long-tail content.

  4. Ah, yeah, I was going to talk about landing pages in a seperate post. Certainly, I think the Kink guys have exploded as fast as they have by really, really creatively exploiting landing page strategies – and making landing pages that are incredibly content-heavy and frankly beautiful in their design.

    Leveraging content is something that, frankly, us conventional web series guys suck at, and I hadn’t realised how much until I started thinking about this topic. Needs More Discussion.

  5. Excellent article.

    The thing that I find most fascinating is this: it is perfectly possible, given enough time and a basic bit of know-how, to acquire all the porn you can eat entirely for free. How do the porn guys fight that? People are obviously still paying good money for porn content, so what exactly is the offering that makes people part with their cash rather than, say, heading for the nearest torrent site?

    It’s a problem that mainstream media spend increasing amounts of time trying to solve, and it seems like the online porn industry (at least, the top dogs therein) have got it sewn up.

  6. Johnnie – they have to be better than the free stuff.

    You can find a lot of free porn out there, but I defy you to find any free femdom porn of the visual quality, quality of actors, and length (it does matter) of the Divine Bitches stuff.

    Connection with the actors is another answer. All porn is not equal. Speaking personally, Random Hardcore Porn with Random Fake-Boobs Bad Actress Pornstar is unlikely to interested me at all, but if you’re talking about something with, say, Sasha Grey and Mark Davis acting – that’ll actually be, you know, attractive.

    Top stars in porn work just as much as top stars in mainstream movies do.

  7. Lol Hugh, I meant a non porn site which follows the same principles, using visual images and ease of use to aid parting with cash, I’m wondering what the female equivalent might be? I’ll have to have a think about it.

  8. I’m not talking about stuff that is *offered* for free. I’m talking about stuff that can be *acquired* for free. I haven’t tried, but I’m pretty sure I could find full HD versions of complete divine bitches episodes on a torrent site somewhere.

    I know there’s a difference between good porn and bad porn, but I can get the best TV series in the world via shady bittorrent sites just as easily as I can get What Katie Did Next. Actually, easier: the better a show, the more likely people are to be sharing it via torrents. A generalization, yes, but still basically true. Since the same is true, I assume, of porn, how do they still manage to sell content (and lots of it) online?

    Edit: yep, a quick search on scrapetorrent.com gives me over 50 hits.

  9. Johnnie – Interesting. In the past I’ve found that there’s not a lot of the Kink.com stuff that makes its way to the bittorrent sites.

    Kate – The female equivalent of porn is, by and large, porn. Divine Bitches is run by women and has a significant female viewership, as is Girls Out West, I believe. I found both of them via Tiny Nibbles, a very famous porn review site run by Violet Blue, who’s also a woman.

    However, I understand that there are both men and women who don’t like looking at porn! To be honest, I don’t think there are really any non-porn video sites with the same level of ability as Divine Bitches, for example – that’s kinda the thesis of this post. If you possibly can, I’d recommend looking at one of the sites and just attempting to ignore *what* they’re doing – just look at *how* they’re doing it.

  10. Johnnie – I’ve thought a bit about this, and my conclusion is that we’re into Tim O’Reilly’s “Piracy is Progressive Taxation” model.

    Let’s face it, despite all the complaining, network TV still does OK, as do cinema-release and DVD-release films. I think the reason that porn sites can survive despite some of their work (and note it’s only some of it – Divine Bitches have a lot more than 50 shoots) appearing on torrent sites is the same reason that network TV and conventional film can – there are still a lot of people who will pay for the content.

    That might be because it’s easier, because it’s legal, because they feel bad in not paying for it (the main reason I wouldn’t torrent kink.com stuff), because they’re afraid of virii – all the usual reasons.

  11. I should think security woud be a factor, and as you say people are basically honest if it is convenient to be so!

    I’m just not convinced that a screencapture, or trailer from one of my movies would have the same impact, no matter how charmingly I arranged it on a webpage.
    My movies have the equivalent of digital cellulite, I need much softer lighting and possibly a more cunning, pre-viewing several bottle of wine, disorientation approach.
    I need my viewer to feel a) clever, and b) a bit special that they are able to see past my bandy animation and asymmetrical wallk paths to the lovely treasure hidden beneath.
    I can only give out eye candy if I have the sweeties to share, there’s no real point distributing bonfire toffee unless a) my viewers already have their own toffee hammers, or b) I can break it up for them somehow to make it more digestible.

    In some ways, the film is only part of the experience.

    Always thought provoking Hugh!

  12. “Divine Bitches is a female domination/bondage (…) they treat their performers ethically and well”

    Hey, I thought the whole point was *not* to be treated well?!

  13. Yah, the first impressions of Kamikaze Cookery I got were “Whoa, that’s a huge, busy logo up there”, and I got distracted by trying to figure out the relevance of the silhouettes behind the current show link. I didn’t even (consciously) realize that *was* a current show link until flipping back to this article and seeing you talk about it.

    But then, I was looking at its design, not for the content. That makes some difference, too.

  14. Skyborne – Yeah, KKC did very well, but it would have done better had I done some more focus testing on the site…

    Rafael – You’re welcome!

    Florent – well, they’re very good at being bad :)

  15. Excellent article Hugh. I can honestly say my site is doing it way wrong. From the home page it takes no less then three clicks before you are actually watching a show, and there isn’t really much in the way of content that draws the viewer to take those steps.
    My home page is more about who I am and what I do then what is on the site. I’m trying to sell that more then just getting someone engaged with the content.
    So now I’m already redesigning my site in my head based off of what I’ve seen here. Hopefully I can achieve what they have done…something that is more appealing and more immediate.

  16. The site for Charlie Rose and also the PBS site are two examples of non-porn “moving-picture” sites that are simple, intuitive and use even less to sell than Divine Bitches.

    I don’t think I feel this way because I’m anti-porn, I’m not anti anything. However, the level of art on the two aforementioned sites is equal to the best and superior to most everything else on the web. But, I may not have realized it without reading your blog. Thanks…

  17. Hugh, this is a fantastic analysis.

    I’m so glad to see Kink (or any adult site with a different approach to online marketing/presentation) looked at with the porn removed; it’s part of why they are so very successful. I sent your post along to Peter (Acworth).

    Another network (adult) I think does what you’re talk about really well – and yet quite differently than Kink – is the IFM network, a women-owned and operated company in Australia. They have three video sites, their flagships are I Feel Myself and Beautiful Agony.

    Interestingly, thinking about Kate’s discomfort, it’s important to note that Kink’s VP of Technology is female (and a hacker who is very active in the SF tech scene). It’s also interesting to note that Kink has snagged a lot of people from non-adult backgrounds: for instance, the art direction, sets and cinematography are so high because they have ex-ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) employees on staff.

    Most porn companies fail at what Kink has done – because to be successful in selling porn, you need to do much more than get to the point, and get there fast.

    Mainstream and adult entertainment are dealing with a lot of the same issues right now. Kink is far ahead of other adult outfits, who are only now starting to think they might want to convert casual interest rather than lawyer up to survive piracy. This article may be of interest on this topic:

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-31001_3-20035561-261.html

  18. Violet – Wow, thanks! Yeah, I’ve got a lot of respect for the (good) porn producers out there – it’sa tough business to excel in.

    I had wondered how Kink managed to push to such high production values – frankly I can’t think of another web series that manages the quality of lighting and set design, in particular, that they do. Very interesting to hear about the ILM connection.

    And thanks very much for passing this article along to Peter Acworth. I’d very much like to interview him for Guerilla Showrunner at some point!

    Byron – thanks for those recommendations! I agree, the PBS site in particular has extremely clear navigation and some very nice images, although there’s less selling of the quality on the site – but some of that may be done by the brand already.

    Sean – Heh, you’re not the only one to have an uncomfortable realisation after reading this (or writing it). I’ve always felt I was at the cutting edge of web series site design on the navigation and funnel side if not the visual design – but yeah, Kink.com thoroughly kicked my ass out of that belief. Death Knight Love Story’s design is going to be considerably different…

  19. Possibly something useful for you if you have the time, Hugh- there have been a number of SA Ask/Tell threads from people who run porn sites/companies/are otherwise involved in the industry. They’re lengthy threads, but some of the posters had/have successful sites.

    The simple answer to how to sites survive and get attention?

    “You have to network with people. You have to network in this business or you will go nowhere. Find people who are willing to link to your site (for free or for a price), find directories that will let you list your site in exchange for a link, look for people who advertise that they’ll trade traffic with small sites, and take advantage of webmaster communities that are out there! I’ll say it again, because I’ve watched a lot of goon sites curl up and die with no visitors: You have to network in this business or you will go nowhere.”

    There’s at least one discussion about links and SEO, and appealing to niche/fetish viewers. Quite how that would translate to more conventional web shows is your problem.

    The current thread is here, with links to the previous ones. The current thread is public, I think. Some of the older ones are archived.

  20. Hugh, tremendous post.

    So the story you tell is very persuasive, but there remains the possibility that the domains have relevant differences that mean some of the ideas don’t transfer.

    I guess you’re already thinking you want to update some of your show websites using these insights. When you do so, can I suggest running an experiment so we can measure just how important these ideas are?

    Given the background noise, an analysis where you make the change and look at traffic before and after wouldn’t really cut it, so an A/B test (consistently show one set of visitors one thing and the others something different) is required. You can get external support for A/B testing through third-party services: I believe Google Web Optimizer offer a free one. Or alternatively, I’d be happy to talk you through how to DIY and avoid n00b stats mistakes.

  21. Anthony – thanks, I’ll take you up on that. I have a test planned, which I need to talk to you about…

    I already know Google Website Optimiser – I use it on other sites and will be using it on Guerilla Showrunner soon.

    Steve – Ooh, thanks, that’s extremely useful. I shall have to get an SA account to look at it, but I really should have one anyway.

  22. From the perspective of someone who has signed up for a couple of porn sites in the past (and who is also really good at finding nearly everything on the web for free), some more reasons for signing up might be:

    Getting a whole bunch of stuff that is probably really ‘up your alley’ at once – with quick and simple ways (short descriptions, tags, categories, trailers, comments, dozens of pictures from the whole clip) to find out whether you are really into it, much better than any free site can ever get. Manually downloading all these scenes from random sources would be quite a hassle and some scenes might not be available at all.

    One more important thing that you did not mention in the post: by the teasers and the links to ‘more from this performer’, ‘more from this genre’ and such they are making you aware of scenes you *want* to see but never knew about before – no matter if it is on the actual site or sites used for adult material promotion. As opposed to many other sites dealing with content, these guys are really good at giving you and teasing you with ‘more of the same’.

    Steady stream of new stuff being added, in case you signed up for a decent site.

    And not sure if the same ‘business model’ can be applied to other web shows and types of content though. Like you know, people are usually much more willing to pay some $ for porn than paying to see IT nerds on stage or someone cooking.

    Besides that, when you are about to watch a porn movie you more or less know what you’ll get. It’s probably the most ‘standardized’ format any type of movie can have. What are people about to get when they watch your clip? Is it even the same or similar across your different episodes? People will have to make that more clear or I won’t even bother clicking.

  23. PornConsumer – those are really good points. Thanks.

    You’re right, I failed to mention the links to other content by the same performers. That’s a very clever trick, although you’d need a LARGE back catalogue to make use of it.

  24. Hello, Hugh:
    I came across this page while researching web series production, so maybe I’m a little late in commenting. It’s a pretty interesting article (both for web series, and how Kink has an ILM alum on board).

    There’s one thing I noted. (Albeit originally for my own purposes). And that’s frequency.

    Having taken a look at Kink, and a number of other top porn sites, I noted that a commonality between them all is that they update frequently. Every day, Monday through Saturday, they have at least 2 or 3 new “scenes” (for web series, that would be ‘episodes’). There’s fresh content, every day.

    This raises two concerns with your analogy: First, that, to keep up the content flow that these sites do, you may need not one, but up to 12 to 18 series.
    Second, since (I presume) most web series stick to the “season” method of deployment, a show may only have one season per year. Depending on how long that season lasts, filling up the year may need more or less seasons.
    ….And, of course, the number of ‘seasons’ you need each year, multiplied by the number of shows you need to keep up that constant stream of content….. It starts to look like you really need to be making quite a few shows, not just one.

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