"We've really seen a shift in the market over the last year or so," said Pierre Alberts, the man behind massive TGP sites AL4A.com (Adult Links for Adults) and WorldSex.com. According to Alberts, the spike in the use of TGP sites to promote affiliate programs and paysites can be attributed mainly to the Can Spam Act.
"Before, paysites depended on mailers and other forms of getting traffic," Alberts said. "Now mailing is basically gone, and search engine results are also gone, so they basically depend on us. When I speak to paysite owners at shows or wherever, they used to say, 'Yeah, I think I know that site,' but now, I get 'Hey, Pierre, how ya doing, man? You're my buddy! What's up?'"
The biggest players in the TGP game report that business is growing steadily. They boast millions of bookmarked unique visitors a day and astronomical retention rates for ads.
"The renewal rates are 98-99 percent," Cybercat's President Mark Galione said of TGP powerhouse The Hun. Cybercat handles the advertising for four of the five biggest TGP sites in the world, according to Galione. "The Hun gets more than 4 million uniques a day and basically sets the tone for the rest of the TGP market. It's fast, easy and free of popups."
Another well-known force in the TGP market is Sleazy Dream. Company owner and well-known message board provocateur Scott Hjorleifson says his site has been charging for links since day one. "It started off as an archive for my own galleries, and I never really wanted to take other ones, but people started offering me too much money," Hjorleifson said.
In spite of the huge traffic TGPs generate, there have always been those in the adult industry who feel that TGP sites are essentially giving away the store by putting thousands of free photos in front of surfers who might otherwise be paying for access.
"If a customer came in looking for a car, would you give the customer a used car for free, hoping that they might come back and buy a new one later? Of course not." Tom Heike of Web Pro Webmaster Resources said.
"Maybe we do give away too much free content," Alberts said. "But this has always been the business model, so it's hard to change it."
Sleazy Dream's Hjorleifson has a more in-your-face message for those who criticize TGPs. "Someone at a webmaster convention once asked me whether TGPs are ruining the industry and decreasing sales ratios, and my answer was: "My income has been going steadily up over the last five years, and I don't really care about you."
In the interest of limiting the amount of free content on TGP sites, a group of adult industry professionals got together in 2001 and tried to implement a new kind of TGP site: TGP2. TGP2 sites limit the number of pictures on free galleries (5-10 instead of the customary 16-20) and place restrictions on content — specifically not showing hardcore for free. According to most within the industry, TGP2 has not proven successful.
The huge majority of the surfers who scour the Internet's many, many TGP galleries don't actually sign up for anything, but that doesn't trouble TGP operators. Hjorleifson likens buying TGP advertising to buying a television commercial. "Are a million people going to buy the product from a commercial? No," he said. "But you're branding the site, so you got in their minds and they may buy it later. It's a matter of hammering someone constantly with something until they break down and buy it."
But what do webmasters get out of spending money advertising on sites like The Hun or Sublime Directory? Traffic, of course. "We provide the surfer a reason to come back every day," Alberts said. "We provide him with fresh links to content."
Interested webmasters have a number of ways of getting hold of some of the traffic that the link list sites generate. The Hun, World Sex and AL4A allow paysite operators the opportunity to purchase prime real estate on the top of their page, or to pay for ads to be posted on a particular day, but they also have the option to post submissions for free in less desirable page positions.
Sleazy Dream, on the other hand, only takes paid submissions. Smaller TGPs often provide a link in exchange for a link back to their sites, but many in the industry are wary of traffic that originates from link trading. "It's your basic circle jerk," Galione said. "They get the number up by running the traffic around. They get the number up on Sextracker and it looks really impressive. In this game, everyone gets really impressed by numbers, which is a mistake."
"You can fake numbers pretty easily," Alberts agreed. "I can buy 100,000 uniques of Chinese traffic or Asian traffic or whatever traffic and get a little bigger, but it really doesn't help conversions."
According to those in the TGP business, the quality of their traffic is much more important than the quantity. The keyword is bookmark traffic; that is, people actively seeking out a TGP gallery as opposed to showing up by accident.
Most of the bigger TGP sites have been around for 8-10 years, and have brand names permanently installed in the consciousness of their millions of rabidly clicking fans, so opinions are mixed as to the likelihood of success to latecomers into the TGP game.
"I hate to be negative, but there probably isn't any room," Galione said. "You're going to spend a lot of time trying to build traffic up to a point where you've got bookmark traffic and real traffic versus traffic that's so washed-out it's inconsequential."
World Sex's Alberts has a more positive prognosis for latecomers to the TGP game. "Google was late, but they still did OK," he said. "If you have something really unique that people want, you'll probably succeed."
"It's absolutely not too late," Hjorleifson said. "Do whatever you can to get link trades, do whatever you can to get placement on other sites, do whatever you can to get search engine optimization for your site... do everything you can to get your exposure up."