Secrets of Stickiness

Domenic Merenda
When it comes to getting surfers signed up for a program, the rule is that content is king. But even the king needs a little help to retain fickle surfers who might be looking for a bit of entertainment in addition to the standard fare.

Non-content offerings range from the simple (jokes and mini-stories) to the complex (multi-player poker and flash-based games). Any way you slice it, sites that employ enhancements beyond regular content are better positioned to retain members and engage the casual visitor.

"I started making adult-themed puzzles in 2003 for friends and my own websites to keep surfers entertained," recalls Brett Gilliat, more commonly known in the industry as Vendzilla. "Surfers can play with the puzzles for free. When they complete an image, they are rewarded with a picture of a good-looking model, and they see a small popup advertising a sponsor program."

Gilliat's puzzles are of the jigsaw type, breaking images into the familiar curved pieces and using Macromedia Flash to give users a crack at putting them back together again. On a regular basis, he publishes new pages full of puzzles that webmasters can use on their own sites, free of charge. The puzzles are coded to refer back to Gilliat's sponsors, earning him a commission for doing the legwork of selecting the images and compiling the finished product.

The key to good puzzles and games is stickiness. If the diversion requires users to check back again and again, the member is less likely to search out a competitor. High scoreboards and other forms of "show off" statistic gathering keep users engaged in a constant psychological battle to stay on top. This keeps them coming back to check their rankings and to find the newest games or puzzles. Even the stickiest games won't keep surfers engaged forever, though. Keeping the entertainment fresh is the key to happy users.

"We release new games all the time; it's a crucial factor for all the operators in the business to release new games on a regular basis in order to keep our players and affiliates satisfied. If the site becomes stale, you'll lose players in a rapid way," John Ryott, affiliate director for Affiliate Lounge, said.

Just as a site will be shunned if the content isn't updated for months on end, the same trap can doom a program using puzzles and games. If they aren't updated regularly enough, the stale appearance has the potential to drag down the rest of the site. If you're going to go the extra mile, make sure you're willing to do it for the long haul.

Some of the stickiest non-content ventures actually take care of the freshness with little to no input from webmasters. Of course, we're talking about message boards. The time-honored tradition of bringing together miscreants, trolls, spammers, scammers and the occasional "average Joe" through a message board is becoming a part of more successful adult sites than ever before.

Naughty America offers surfers a forum complete with areas to comment on recent sets, give feedback on top models or grab a behind-the-scenes peek at production. By actively aggregating the comments and feedback from users, networks like Naughty America are able to offer content specifically tailored to the desires of their user base, effectively raising retention and satisfaction. Members may also extend their memberships beyond intended timeframes in order to continue posting and interacting with other members, site owners and models.

While the true standouts are few and far between, finding a "killer app" can have old favorites drawing the crowds back, month after month, reducing the need for fresh attractions.

Casino-Hungry Surfers
Ryott recalls the effects of introducing poker, the casino industry's killer app, to an audience hungry for the game. "Casino operators that did not provide poker at an early stage lost a lot of ground to the competition," he said. "No one could imagine the effect it would eventually have, but it clearly brought a whole new breed of players to the business."

It's important to remember the operatives in the field when rolling out a strategy that includes games, puzzles and other offerings. Supporting non-content programs in your sales materials is just as important as supporting your sales force.

"Never keep your affiliates hanging," Ryott warns. "They're just a click away from the competition. Listen to what they have to say, and give them all the support you can muster. You never know who will become the next whale. Never forget to push for best possible exposure. My mantra is, 'the better position the better commission.'"

Affiliates need to know about new programs, promotions, contests and tournaments, if you plan to offer these to surfers. Sales materials also should reflect these offerings, giving affiliates a choice between including the promotions or not.

A word on targeting the right consumer: Remember to consider your target audience as you begin to add entertainment. Games don't necessarily have to feature X-rated video and explicit sounds, but should be geared towards adults.

Non-content diversions can provide a welcome change of pace for surfers looking for a little something extra in today's market but should never be a substitute for quality movies, videos, stories or competent customer support. Keep the content flowing, keep the extras fresh and keep the surfers hooked.

Domenic Merenda is a consultant to the adult industry in the areas of affiliate retention, marketing, and brand strategy.