Buoyancy Digital - Digital Media Buyer

Top 4 Subscription Marketing Lessons for Mainstream Sites from Adult Industry

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."

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