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Buoyancy Digital - Digital Media Buyer

So it's true. We all proclaim to embrace the universality of shopping for anything online, but as humans, we have reserved the right to simply 'not go there' for certain types of shopping needs.

For many, that no-go for online shopping threshold can be clothing (if I can't try it on before I buy, it will be a PITA process of returns and trying to make off the rack clothing fit a non-standard body); for others, it is perishable food products (why should I buy this cake, produce or other specialty grocery item from 2000 miles away that will need dry ice shipping and may arrive squashed from rough handling? Personally, I have overcome the objections of others as well as my own reservations & have succumbed over time to enjoy the price, availability and variety options available, when buying most things online, including clothing and perishable food items.

Even as a 20 year digital media and eCommerce professional, plus being a passionate internet super user, I too had a no-go zone for shopping online - buying prescription eyeglasses. In retrospect, I am not sure why I had such a hangup. Over the past 20 years, working in front of digital screens and small font text data has taken at least part of my optical capabilities, requiring that I wear glasses, for over 10 years now.

Add to that the reality of the retail brick & mortar experience for most people when it's time to get your peepers checked and buy updated prescription glasses. Frankly, it's not always that much fun. It takes many hours on a day that you may prefer to be spending quality time with family or friends. The selection of frames may be limited, depending on where you live, for demographic reasons controlled by the optical retailers. Lastly, the optical shopping experience can feel like the car buying process - as related to the deep and wide range of up-sells and options that both optical retail professionals and automotive sales professionals bring to bear during the manual 'check out' process. (Did you know you were going to need 4 different 'coating types' for your lenses?) Thus, despite almost two decades of internet shopping awareness & comfort, plus a dislike for the offline experience of shopping for eyeglasses, I did not 'go there' until last month.

Behold, a savior from the worlds of consumer eye wear and planet internet shopping, requiring consumers to have an open mind! In August, I already had a fresh updated prescription for glasses that needed to be filled from seeing the local optometrist. The optical retail stores I had local access to did not have anything I liked that was reasonably priced for frames. A friend from my professional life finally said, get over your hang ups and trot over to Glasses.com - find what you like, enjoy the shopping process and get on with your life.

Despite being an innate skeptic, I dove in, as it couldn't be worse than my retail experiences over the years. The complete user experience of working with the merchant from start to finish and after the sale, from ease of use with the web site, the styles available for purchase, their mobile app on iPad to"try on" and then a couple of painless customer service interactions via email and phone with sharp support staff, made this buying experience my best ever for eyeglasses overall and one of the best for online shopping in general.

This is not a shameless plug for one digital merchant who treated me well. The takeaway is more about a wake up call to challenge consumer comfort zones as online merchants overall, and then delivering the finest multi-touch user experience possible. Customers who had their views converted on an entire range of online shopping behavior that walk away from your (web) shop happy, will not only be prone to repeat purchases with the merchant who won them over, but also with merchants overall in the previously ignored online shopping category. Get it right and evolve a generation or two of consumers to buy more online that they actually want/need, where and when it makes sense, even in those prior no-go digital shopping categories.

Scott Rabinowitz doesn't get many calls from business reporters who want to write serious stories. He understands, "They tend to focus more on the controversial rather than our business practices. It's more fun and amusing than asking me to provide analytical feedback."

But we suspect mainstream content marketers could learn a lot from the adult world. After all, it's a massive, intensely competitive, industry selling millions of subscriptions across every demographic over 18. As Rabinowitz points out, "It's relevant to all humanity; and one third of searches across search engines are adult on everyone's network, not just one part."

Also, VCs and banks won't touch the industry for the most part - so adult subscription marketers have to make at least a dollar back for every single dollar they spend.

As the head of one of the only online advertising agencies and affiliate networks specializing in adult content sites, Rabinowitz is in the heart of the action. "Our affiliate network handles three times the financial output of eBay's affiliate network," he says.

We asked Rabinowitz who admits, ""I spend more of my time looking at spreadsheets and contracts than I do looking at content", to reveal what he's discovered from these spreadsheets that might apply to the mainstream content world...

Quick Data - Pricing and Lifetime Value

The average adult marketer's "pain threshold" to acquire a new subscriber is $35.

Subscription prices range from $7-10 per month for lower-value sites with static image galleries; to $29-49 month for general "mass interest" sites with a wide range of broadband content that's updated frequently.

So, if you do the math, it's obvious that average subscription lifetimes are often only two-three months. There's high churn, which makes sense given the impulse buy factor and competitive marketplace.

Although mainstream publishers tend to price niche content more highly than general-interest content, pricing for niche adult sites is often fairly low at $9.95-$14.95. However, the average account lifetime for a special interest adult site offering lots of exclusive content can be six-nine months. (We know plenty of mainstream sub sites that yearn for that month-to-month lifetime.)

Lesson #1. Raising Profits with Cross-sales Interstitials Between Competitors

"Even if you're generating 4-5 conversions for every 500 clicks, you could get the other 455 to buy something from a competitor or peer," explains Rabinowitz.

"It's reasonable to assume that consumers coming to the site from a relevant search are willing to plunk down a credit card. You can effectively reallocate that consumer as an asset by making a qualified recommendation for other sites."

On other words, adult subscription sites often run exit pop-ups and interstitial ads promoting direct competitors to all the traffic that comes to their marketing pages but doesn't convert.

Makes sense, after all mainstream print subscription marketers have been bartering and renting each other's expire lists for years.

Does it work? "I can tell you some adult merchants generate upwards of 10% of their gross return on investment of any tangible conversion activities through it."

So, 10% of your online ad costs can be covered by simply promoting competing offers to all the traffic that doesn't convert on your offer.

Lesson #2. Improve Search Marketing Conversion Rates With Targeted Landing Pages

Rabinowitz agrees with search marketing experts around the world when he says, the more you customize your search marketing landing pages to match individual search terms, the higher your subscription conversion rates will be.

So, if someone searches for "heart health advice", a general health site will get far more subscribers if the initial clickthrough page that focuses on that specific topic. "The likelihood of people buying increases three times to tenfold, when a well-created landing page emphasizes the exact item they were looking for."

Also, "landing pages do need to be short and sweet in the world of adult merchants. You have roughly a couple of seconds to make an impression to make the user consider going forward."

Lesson #3. Mass Portal Sites Can Use Boutique-style Niche Offerings to Raise Conversions & Lifetime Value

Rabinowitz says even mass portals and general interest content sites should take advantage of the proven fact that niche offers convert better and have longer lifetime subscriptions.

His advice - create a series of boutique-areas in your site.

This idea, pioneered with huge success by large department stores 30 years ago, works just as well for adult subscription sites now. In fact, Rabinowitz thinks it would work especially well for family-oriented sites, because everyone in the family gets a site targeted specifically to their interests with the convenience of one monthly fee.

So your newsletters, community functionality, content archives, etc., should be available in niche-branded areas within the general site. If subscribers want to take advantage of the rest of the site, they know it's there, but they don't have to wade through generic content to get what they're looking for every time they visit.

Lesson #4. Lifetime Retention Starts With Your Banners

The adult industry has tested everything it can to increase lifetime subscription retention, because that way lies more profitability.

One winning tactic that may startle you -- include your subscription price, or text indicating a credit card is required, in your advertising banners and search marketing copy.
You are in effect pre-qualifying the traffic that comes to you (especially important if you're paying per click.)

"You start building retention even before the point of sale," explains Rabinowitz.

Next, he advises sites to tweak their order form pages to eliminate "buyer's remorse" by stating month-to-month billing terms extremely clearly, and by telling people how great your customer service is in case of lost passwords, tech support, and even cancels.

After conversion, sites should contact subscribers on a regular basis (Rabinowitz suggests weekly) to let them know about both new and upcoming content. The more you can emphasize exclusivity, and "this is not available free elsewhere," the better.

Note: Got questions for Rabinowitz? He says he's going to try to make it to the ContentBiz Summit on Selling Subscriptions in New York this May, to network and learn even though, "I may be the only adult content guy there."

Los Angeles, CA (February 14, 2011) — The Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) is pleased to announce the recipients of its annual Service Recognition Awards, Scott Rabinowitz and John Van Arnam.

“ASACP’s success depends upon the generous contributions of its sponsors, members, volunteers and the public; along with the support of lawmakers and its advisory council,” states ASACP CEO Joan Irvine. “Each year, ASACP’s Service Recognition Award is presented to the person, or persons, whose consistent contributions have helped to make the organization’s work possible.”

“Throughout the years, both John and Scott have always stepped up to help ASACP,” Irvine stated. “Last year they helped us develop the Safer Adults Sites program which demonstrated that ASACP and its members did due diligence for online child safety -- so Search Engines should Say Yes to Adult Traffic. Scott and John’s dedication to our mission of online child protection has proven to be a vital resource for the safety of our youth and for the health of our industry.”

Past recipients of ASACP’s Service Recognition Award include Epoch CEO Joel Hall, Stormy Daniels, Tera Patrick, Evan Seinfeld, Fiona Patten and Robbie Swan of The Eros Association, attorneys Greg Piccionelli and Lawrence Walters, technical consultant Brandon Shalton of Cydata Services, and ASACP VP Technology and Forensic Research Tim Henning.

Founded in 1996, ASACP is a non-profit organization dedicated to online child protection. ASACP battles child pornography through its CP Reporting Hotline and helps parents prevent children from viewing age-restricted material online with its Restricted To Adults (RTA) Website Label (www.rtalabel.org). ASACP is the only association in the world that coordinates the adult entertainment industry’s efforts to protect children online. It has spent more than 14 years creating progressive programs to protect children and its relationship in assisting the adult industry’s child protection efforts is unparalleled. For more information, visit www.asacp.org.