6 Things Today’s Internet Could Learn From Old School Porn Websites

An annoying popup that popped up on an article about how Google was cracking down on sites with popups

I’m old on the internet. I’m also old in porn. I’ve been making porn websites since 2000 and I’ve seen things change an awful lot in 17 years.

Now, like a nostalgic old lady shaking her fist at a cloud, I’d like to share with you the things that today’s whippersnapper websites are doing wrong. I’m writing this partly to assuage the grumbling that happens almost every time I visit a website now. These are all personal observations not backed up by anything except my need to rant.

So, here are the 6 things today’s internet could learn from old school websites.

1. No popups.

In the early 2000s, online porn’s business model was based on affiliate marketing. We used to make little teaser sites with a small amount of softcore content and send surfers off to larger paysites, earning 50% for successful sales. Rules developed about how these teaser sites should look, enforced by traffic-rich linklists. To get traffic, you had to obey the rules or “no soup for you!”

A very early rule was no popup windows. These had been rife early on but it didn’t take long for savvy webmasters to work out that they just pissed off the surfer, who would typically close the popup as soon as it occurred. Promising no popups meant that porn surfers felt happier looking at your site and it increased trust.

Today every second website I come across bombards you with a popup window covering the content, sometimes two or three. Especially annoying ones demand that you subscribe to a newsletter before you’ve read a skerrick of content. I have never, ever, read or clicked on one of these popups. Typically I close them as soon as possible. On grumpy days I close the whole website without reading anything. Even the ones that kindly wait until my mouse moves to close the tab still shit me. They’re just another annoyance, another unnecessary click.

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Popups don’t work. It’s time everyone remembered not to use them.

2. Don’t send spam emails

Before Yahoo mail got the hang of spam email filtering, spam was a real problem and for a while there, porn spam was pretty common. Hence, it became a vital badge of honour for porn webmasters that they did not send spam. Those who did were blackbanned from linklists.

Let’s take a moment to remember what spam is. It’s marketing emails sent to your address without your consent. Now, take a moment to think about your email box today. How many newsletters have you received lately that you didn’t sign up to? How often have you entered your email address into an unrelated form and suddenly found yourself signed up to a newsletter that you didn’t ask for? How many times have you clicked an “unsubscribe” link from said unwanted newsletter and then found it back in your inbox a month later?

Today’s internet is obsessed with newsletters and email marketing and the idea of consent seems to have gone out the window.

Let’s call it what it is. It’s spam. And it needs to stop.

3. Don’t give everything away for free.

There was a time when adult webmasters knew that the best way to sell porn was to tease. Only offer softcore photos. Don’t give away too much. Make sure the surfer knew that the really good hardcore porn was only on the paysite, where they’d have to, you know, pay.

Of course, this porn rule went out the window after a few years, as with everything else. Competition meant people sought more eyeballs by being more explicit. And then the tube sites came along with their pirated full movies and everything went to hell, including the idea that people might actually pay for porn.

Nonetheless, it’s worth repeating. If you are on the internet to make money, don’t give it all away. Hold something back for cash. And yes, you may get less eyeballs but you will do better in the long run. Newspapers are only just learning this.

4. Don’t mislead the surfer.

The rules were firm on this one. Don’t put misleading links on your porn website. Don’t promise something and then offer something else. You make more money if you don’t piss off the surfer or surprise them with something they really didn’t want to see right at that moment.

So, I’m looking at you, today’s clickbait headlines and descriptions. I know you want me to know this one weird trick to lose weight but why don’t you just fuck off. I’m well and truly over the idea of thinking an article or link will offer something, only to be disappointed when I get there. It doesn’t help me, it wastes my time and it makes me far less inclined to visit your website or click on any further links. Quit it.

5. Don’t autoplay stuff

The blink tag was the mark of an amateur and so was music that automatically began playing. If you wanted to sell porn, you’d have to be an idiot to add something that loudly played noise when you opened the site. People typically were surfing porn in private and you didn’t want to interrupt their vibe. And, as with so many other rules, it pissed people off and made them less likely to visit again. Thus, autoplay was a no-no.

Today there’s an epidemic of autoplaying videos, randomly popping up yelling at you or playing music, sucking up your data in the process, leaving you madly trying to find the source of the cacophony to shut it off. It’s frustrating and it leaves you feeling angry with the site.

If you have video, let your surfer decide to hit play in their own good time. If your content is good enough they’ll play it – and sit through an ad to watch it.

BTW, I tried to add a tag to this but it’s no longer supported. Small mercies.

6. Don’t overdo your advertising

The rule was: a maximum of three banners per page and only of a certain size, with no full page ads. The idea was not to overwhelm the surfer with advertising, with the end result being a happy surfer who was more inclined to buy.

It was also a good idea not to just rely on banners but to add honest, descriptive text that helped to sell a site. If a surfer felt they were being informed, not just advertised to, they were more inclined to click through and buy.

On today’s internet, I’ve seen pages stuffed with ads, often ones that disrupt the ability to view the content. When page views, rather than page engagement, is the measure of success, quality goes out the window, as does respect for the surfer. It’s tiresome. And then there are the painful Youtube ads that go for 30 seconds, when they could probably get the message across in 10. Fact is, everyone would be better off if advertising got a little smarter and less in-your-face.

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OK so this piece is rife with nostalgia for an internet that has long gone and technology has meant that advertising and content delivery are hugely different now.

Nonetheless, the point I want to make is this: there was a time when porn did its best to be respectful to the surfer and tried hard not to piss them off because we knew that a happy, non-harassed surfer was more likely to trust you and to buy something.

Today’s internet is far less polite. And frankly, that sucks.

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