Often you'll see the more established straight programs feature dozens, if not hundreds, of sites in their portfolios, thousands of marketing tools, a cascading billing list that scrolls down the page and huge marketing budgets allocated to reaching webmasters. On the flip side, many of the biggest gay programs offer a handful of sites, sometimes only using a CCBill backend for an affiliate program, and spend very little money marketing to affiliates. Yet both strategies seem to work in their own way.
The Personal Touch
Many gay marketers feel that affiliates in the gay market require a more personal touch and attention over bells and whistles and big promotions. The gay webmaster community often mirrors the gay community in general. While everyone is here to make money, some gay webmasters feel more comfortable giving their business to gay-owned-and-operated companies.
"Some firms will push the gay-owned-and-operated aspect, whereas some affiliates feel a stronger sense of interest in working with a company that is part of their same community," Scott Rabinowitz, business development director for VideoBox and GayVideoBox, said. "In this sense, the ability to say you are part of the very community you seek support from to grow your business can be beneficial in some cases."
Craig Tant, vice president of sales for ManSites, SexKey and Screw.com, agreed that often gay affiliates require more knowledge of not only the content, but of the company behind the program.
"While we market to both gay affiliates and straight affiliates, I'd have to say that it is so much more personal on the gay side," Tant said. "It seems like the majority of webmasters for gay sites really want to know what we are doing; they take the time to really critique our sites and get to know our company."
Gay affiliates also tend to be pickier about what content they are promoting. Holly Ruprecht, director of affiliates and partnerships for NakedSword and NakedDollars, explained that it depends on the individual affiliate. While some affiliates will promote the site regardless of the content, others have certain criteria they look for.
"The gay-owned-and-operated affiliates are more picky about the content they promote," she said. "For example, several of our affiliates will not promote bareback content. This is a touchy subject in the gay market, but not so much for the straight affiliates looking for gay content."
Ruprecht added that Naked Sword takes a stance against barebacking and sex without condoms by not streaming it.
Rabinowitz agreed that the culture and demographics of the consumer plays a big part in promoting gay sites.
"When targeting this market segment, awareness of some demographics with regards to the gay community applies," he said. "Specifically, higher-than-average disposable income due to fewer gay people paying for children's upbringing, higher education, etc. Think single/double income, no kids. Gay people are generally more open and therefore more discriminating about all their purchases, including sexually related materials. Affiliates have to focus on quality offerings and promotions to attract this audience."
Tant agreed, explaining that in his experience, it is very important for the affiliate to believe in what it are selling.
"Only on the gay side have I been told, 'Your site isn't pretty,' even though it converts one sale for 50 hits," he said. "And yet the affiliates hold it to their heart that if they are going to recommend the site to their members, it better be something they believe in. You really don't see that on the straight side since it's so much more numbers-driven. On the gay side, it's so much more personal. I can't tell you how many times we've made changes to our sites for the right reasons."
On the other hand, both AndyMike, affiliate manager for Mesmerotic, and Mark Erickson of IntenseCash don't think the gay market is pickier than other markets. "Professional affiliates are picky across the board, in my experience, and tools that are released by one program have a way of eventually making the rounds to the others," AndyMike said.
"Both sectors want quality content and features," Erickson added.
The Big Difference
Another big difference between the gay market and other market segments in the adult industry is backend affiliate software and processing systems. While most large, primarily straight affiliate programs feature either proprietary affiliate software or use an out-of-the-box system like NATS or MPA3, many gay programs simply run their backend from CCBill affiliate software included with the processor.
"I think many programs focus on the sites more than the affiliate program, but I see that slowly changing," Erickson said. "Many programs that were just using CCBill are converting to using NATS or MPA3 or some cascade-based software."
IntenseCash was once a CCBill-based affiliate program but has since switched to NATS and hasn't looked back.
"It makes the program more money and the affiliates more money," Erickson said. "Also sticking to one processor is putting your eggs in one basket, as the expression goes. These days that is never a good idea. I think affiliates make more money with a system that has cascade billing, and no matter what software sites they use, whether it's CCBill or NATS or MPA3, they want more out of that program."
AndyMike agreed that most of the large CCBill-based programs have focused more on their sites.
"The sites sell so well that affiliates must not be clamoring for bells and whistles," he said. "I assume that at some point these sites will add cascading billing and other services to help their affiliates, but it clearly isn't their priority right now, and it's hard to argue with success."
As with paysites, there are various genres of traffic-generating sites, and different techniques and strategies are usually required to meet the needs of these different genres. Overall, it seems that gay sites are having the most success with the influx of review sites out there.
"I believe that there are successful affiliate segments in the gay market across the board," Rabinowitz said. "To focus on review sites as an example, a well-run review site with high-quality standards and high-quality traffic can do very well generating sales for most types of content offered in our industry today."
Ruprecht agreed that review sites are lucrative, as well as blogs. NakedSword operates one of the most successful gay blogs, GayPornBlog. She does think, however, that gay affiliates fall behind in some areas.
"I think gay programs have some catching up to do in the TGP market," she said.
There's a longstanding belief that gay traffic and sites convert better than straight sites.
"I believe this is true because the competition between straight sites is fierce," Erickson said. "With gay sites there is a lot of competition, but statistically, gay users have more gross income than straight users."
Tant says it's about making the surfer comfortable.
"While it depends on the source of the traffic, gay sites convert and retain better than straight sites," he said. "The exception is if you have traffic that is gay curious then there is a benefit to sending it to straight/gay sites. The reason for this is the anonymity that generic sites can provide for surfers who have yet to fully come out. We are constantly trying to help webmasters get their content traffic to the right locations, and if you are in doubt, try them both and you will see."
While clearly there are differences in the way people market gay programs as opposed to straight programs, there are some basic marketing strategies that apply across the board in the adult industry.
"There are some consistencies in affiliate recruitment across all genres, and all businesses for that matter," AndyMike said. "Creating a positive public image for your program comes to mind, as does reaching out to potential affiliates where they congregate, such as on message boards and at trade shows. That's just good business."
For Rabinowitz, who has a long background of dealing with both gay and straight traffic, it all comes down to the numbers.
"At the end of the day, all affiliate program/paysite operators must determine whether or not the cost of sales made were within a specific boundary for acquisition cost," he said. "Most of the successful sites in the industry have a certain cost-persale that they are comfortable spending, whether through per-signup payouts or through traffic buys or fixed-rate CPC, CPM or otherwise. There must always be a sense of financial reality involved with affiliate marketing, no matter what genres of content you're focused on."
Rainey Stricklin is vice president of marketing and webmaster relations for gay affiliate program PrideBucks.com.