While there has been a lot of talk about free porn and whether or not it is hurting the industry, there may be a way to make the free sites work for those who run pay sites. When talking about free sites, I am going to concentrate on TGP sites, since they have a lot of links to what is essentially free porn. They also have a lot of traffic and some of the bigger names in the biz.
The way I see it, traffic to TGP sites is traffic that is looking directly for porn. While the majority of TGP surfers may only be after free porn, there have to be some that have particular interests that cannot be served by the free galleries, or who simply want more than can be found in the links. It would only make sense that a banner for a big boob site would do fairly well on an TGP devoted to big boobs, since the audience would be interested in the product and are thus very highly targeted. Targeted traffic is the holy grail of any online marketer, just ask those who throw tons of money at paid placement search engines, for example. The question, of course, now becomes whether the surfers will click the targeted pay site banner and, even more important, will they sign up as a member?
With the right banners, the clicks should be there. No one can expect a high click-through rate with a crappy banner, simple as that. The quality of the creative has a very direct effect on the percentage of people who click. In the same vein, misleading banners (as good as they may be) may generate a ton of clicks, but the surfers will leave your site once they realize that they have been lied to. Good banners have a truthful message, as well as look good.
Now it is up to the pay site owner to make their site good and appealing enough to convert the traffic. Simply delivering vast amounts of traffic does nothing without a good portion of them giving you their credit card number. With good tours and good content, it should be doable. I say "should" since you can never tell what people will do. They are an odd and varied bunch and their actions don't always make sense. No matter how good you think your site is, it is only successful when people sign up, and as important (if not more so) renew and stay for a while.
While some may say that paying for ads is a waste of money, or that they don't want to advertise on a site where people are looking for freebies, in the end, branding is a very major part of any advertising campaign. You want people to know your name, the name of your site, since the more people know about it, the better chance you have of them coming to see it. The better known your site, the better known you are. From a major ad campaign, to writing articles like I am doing right now - all of these activities put your name in front of potential customers.
Branding is one of the weird things that does not seem to be shared between the adult and mainstream worlds when it comes to advertising, at least not in a general sense (having worked in both, I can see many similarities, as well as differences). There seems to be a lack of branding in the adult world, even though we all know its effectiveness, maybe not consciously, but we see the effects. For example, what is the single most recognizable corporate image in the ENTIRE WORLD? The Playboy bunny. That is branding at its best my friends. Show that little bunny head to anyone in the world and there is a good chance they are going to think of naked women. Wouldn't it be nice to have that sort of recognition for your site?
A lot of people scoff at CPM and flat-rate ad options, saying they will "only pay for performance". As for pay-for-performance advertising, there are more than a few ways to look at it and define it. While the term is generally accepted to mean that the advertiser only pays for clicks or sales (or some sort of measurable action), I look at it as whether or not I get what I pay for. If I pay some site $1,000 for a banner for a month and 100,000 people click on it, then I have essentially paid 1 cent for each click. Sure, I could have simply set up a CPC campaign and paid 1 cent per click, but the results are the same.
Using the same campaign as above, if I got 100 signups from those 100,000 clicks, then I essentially paid $10 for each signup. Again, I paid for performance, the way I look at it. What is the difference between paying $1,000 for an ad that generates me 100 signups, or paying someone $10 for every signup they send to me and my site? Though, these two examples are from a perfect world, where everything works out the same, it does not always work out that way.
My examples start to break down if I pay $1,000 and only get 1,000 clicks and 1 signup. Now I lose. But, I simply chalk it up as a test and file it as experience. Maybe the banner did not work, site had the wrong traffic, who knows? The trick is to take that information and find ways to improve the results, work your ass off to get the 100,000 clicks and 100 signups. Maybe it works and you get there, or maybe that site is not for you. There is only one way to find out - try it. If marketing websites were so easy, we would all be getting a million uniques a day and a thousand signups a day...
Unfortunately, this is basically trial and error. There are no magic bullets to online marketing. If there are, they sure aren't so easy to find. If marketing websites were so easy, we would all be getting a million uniques a day and a thousand signups a day and we would be having this conversation on one of our private islands, drinking margaritas.
Almost done now, just want to mention one more point. Search engines. Always a good option, paid or free, as they are the most targeted spot to advertise that you will ever find. This is where surfers go to expressly look for something. They are actively seeking whatever it is they are looking for. Put what they want right in front of them and they will click - since that is exactly what they are looking for.
If search engines don't work well for you, that is likely because you are not using the right set of keywords and sites - don't bid on "free sex" and then give a link to your pay site, the surfer is looking for free porn and is not horribly likely to decide to change their mind and pull out their wallet for you. As silly as it sounds, bid for the term "paid sex site" (for instance) and see what happens. While you may only get 100 searches in a month, you might get 50 of those clicks (likely closer to the full 100) and even money says 90% convert.
Paying for advertising in general is always going to work, or it wouldn't still be with us (and growing like crazy). The trick is to make it work for you and your unique circumstances. You have to have the right mix of SE optimization, PPE bids, link trades, BBS posts - and paid ads. If you make the right mix, you might be paying out $X per month, but you should be bringing in $2X - paid ads only work when you make more than you spend.
But, in the end, is that not the ultimate goal?