What two “adult” websites taught me about traffic that converts, and sites that don’t.

By  •  Updated: 01/12/16 •  4 min read

Yesterday I shared a post from Justin Brooke about converting traffic, and how it’s the site owner’s job to make sure the traffic converts.

Like plenty of others have said, you rarely have a traffic problem, you just have a conversion problem.

I thought I’d share my own story that I learnt way back when I was heavily involved in affiliate marketing – a great apprenticeship in seeing how different sites can convert seemingly identical traffic.

I used to do a lot of quick and dirty SEO projects as a profitable hobby. Single page sites promoting one product that I could get ranked ahead of the lamer retailers with a bit of on-page optimisation and some cunning link tricks. Nothing that would work these days, but happy days when it did.

I managed to get a tip off from a PR agency about a new product that an “adult retailer” Ann Summers were releasing. I’ll spare your blushes and just put this link to the remnants of the site, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

I spun up a site, grabbed my affiliate links, built a couple of links into the new domain and within a few days I was riding high on the search results and making 10% commission on a £50 product a few times a day.

£5, £5, £5, kerching, kerching, kerching.

Happy days. A couple of times I came back from the pub with more money than I had when I’d left. All for an hour’s work.

A couple of weeks in and I got a call from one of their competitors who had managed to source an identical product from the same factory in China, and were selling it at the same price but with free shipping.

The guy asked me if I’d try swapping my links to his store for a bit and offered me a slightly higher commission as an incentive.

I was a bit dubious. After all, Ann Summers and the Rabbit brand were big news at the time. They’d even been on Sex in the City. But I knew the power of a free shipping deal and decided to give it a go.

Now I knew that some sites could convert better than others, but the extent of what happened next bowled me over.

Not only did I convert almost double the amount of clicks from my site into sales, the pattern was downright weird.

£8.23, £2.35, £18.16, it went on, seemingly with no pattern. I called the merchant to see what was going on.

They were simply way better at three things that made their business perform at 2-3 time that of their competitors.

  1. Up-selling -getting people to but a higher priced product than the one they started out looking at.
  2. Cross-selling – getting people to buy additional products, like batteries (this is harder than it sounds unless there’s an extra you can’t do without.)
  3. Repeat selling – getting people to come back, mostly via email, to make a second transaction.
    As I was getting credit for sales up to 30 days after the initial click from my site, I was getting 2 or even 3 transactions out of some of the buyers.

The traffic was exactly the same. Same search terms in Google, same landing page, same click-tracking. But the two sites were way different. And all the BS we get fed about brands came to nothing. If the consumer knows they’re getting the same product, can get it cheaper, and trusts the alternative seller, that’s all the branding you need.

So, if you run any type of business, the biggest question you can ask yourself when you make a sale is “what else can I sell them now”.

You might have a loss making business, but if you can answer that question and act on it, you turn things around pretty quickly.


Stephen Pratley

I build email lists, that grow into one-man businesses.