Why You Should Be Watching Porn

February 16th, 2010

In the early days of the internet, web entrepreneurs didn’t have a lot of great role models. Sure, Amazon was around as was eBay, but the primary business owners in the early days of the internet were from the porn industry. My boss when I worked at Apartments.com relayed a funny, but important story to me as I was learning this new industry. He told me about a time he was out drinking with a representative from the analytics company WebSide Story (now HBX, a part of Omniture, which is now a part of Adobe. Yay acquisitions!). After a few drinks, the representative starts telling me boss about the old days of the company, when WebSide Story’s only clients were porn sites. They were the only sites that saw the value of tracking where their traffic was coming from and what their users were doing once they arrived on their domains.

The porn industry was by and large the first industry to understand the power of the internet as a distribution channel. They were the first to develop profitable business models from it, and the first to develop and practic many of the online marketing techniques we use today to drive revenue for our own businesses. The story above shows how they were the first to start using web analytics to understand traffic patterns and consumer behavior. But porn websites were also some of the first to understand search engine rankings, and use that knowledge to manipulate their own sites to rank higher for their important keywords (which at the time I would imagine were fairly generic: sex, porn, xxx, etc.). Later, when Google rose to prominence, they were the first to partner with other websites for link exchanges to boost each other’s authority. Look at pretty much any online marketing tool, and I can probably prove that porn sites were some of the first to do it (not to take anything away from Amazon or eBay, the former of which invented affiliate marketing. Thanks for keeping us classy, Bezos!)

These days, porn sites are mostly associated with viruses, spyware, and other frowned upon techniques. Many of the techniques they use now and back in the early days of the internet might seem unscrupulous or in bad taste. But that’s the point of this post. Porn sites were the innovators of the early internet, but because they were from a frowned upon industry, legitimate business owners refused to pay attention to what they were doing. As a result, billion dollar companies like Nike are years behind some undignified porn site owner in the middle of nowhere when it comes to certain online marketing techniques. Pay attention to what the fringe are doing. Their lack of ties to the mainstream allow them to experiment with new ideas more than anyone else. Some of these ideas may be in bad taste, but some of them might be great ideas you can apply to your business.

Who are the pornographers in your industry? Are your paying attention to what they are doing?

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