I'm going to step out onto a limb and make a statement. The trouble with pay sites is directly related to the pay site owner, not the surfers.
There are so many millions of surfers out there who WILL join. Who WILL stay. If only you, the owner, would give them what they want and need.
Imagination. Yours, Not theirs. Limiting your ideas to what you see on sponsor sites keeps you in a small box. This is in no way a dig on sponsors. Every affiliate program carefully chooses what sells best for them. They have created their business model, based on their research, their finances, and their sense of what works for their program. Don't try to copy your sponsors. They've already used their imaginations. For you to create a poor imitation, lands you amongst the ranks of the mediocre.
Think about what's not out there and create that. You've heard me mention micro fetishes. There are sites out there that cater to the bizarre, the ugly, and the hairy. Even if you do create teen sites and mega porn sites, think of a different sales angle. New colours. New styles. Give your site a signature. Do something different. Many of you started out being surfers. Remember the sites that made you stop and look? Ask yourself why those particular sites appealed to you. Never stop surfing. Join other pay sites. Don't copy them. See what they have. Don't limit yourself. Your decision to create a pay site should be determined by what you know how to sell, what content you already have, what content you can afford, whether or not you can lease or buy.
There are pay sites that are filled with stories and they're making money. I have seen successful pay sites that are so insulting, so offensive, they are successful. Perhaps, the surfer finds it humourous or it appeals to his/her sense of powerlessness, the inability to say or think these things in public. Your site is the visualisation of someone's fantasy. Not all fantasies have anything to do with sexuality, per se. People are filled with angst about the inequities of life. I am not an advocate of rape sites, which most people think of when they think of anger. There are all kinds of anger in this world. From the guy who is afraid to give someone the finger to the guy who secretly wants to spank his wife to the guy who wants to tell his female boss to go to hell. Think about everyday life and all those times you couldn't say exactly what you were thinking.
There's a site out there now that started out as a joke. It took off because it was irreverent. Great site. Great imagination. I won't mention the name here because I don't want to spam, although they deserve credit for thinking out of the box. They are not the only ones to do this; but, their sense of humour shows on every page.
Pretty sites versus ugly sites. Four page tours versus one-page scrolls. Designed sites versus your designs.
Research. Surf. See what's out there. Many different styles sell. BUT. It very much depends on the niche you're marketing AND your target audience. Go to your favourite search engine and type in a key word. Then, follow the links. You'll find sites you've never seen before. Sites that are wildly successful because they've managed to appeal to some element the surfer is seeking. Remember. We live in an increasingly isolated society. Tap into what surfers are thinking about, complaining about, longing for, deprived of. Any site that gives the surfer a sense of belonging has an advantage and the potential for creating a member of long standing. Think about the words used on a site that appeal to you. What attracted you to continue reading or looking? Is it the samples? The words? The combination of both?
When I am surfing, I look for the owner who talks to me. Clever words will keep me turning the pages or scrolling down. Graphics that don't take forever to load have a greater chance of me staying. Choosing sample pics, where the model appears to be looking directly at the surfer would hold his interest longer. A tour is advertising real estate. The length of it is determined by what you want emphasised as a sales point to your target audience. You only have a minute amount of time to pique their interest. Use it wisely. Don't clutter your page with useless information. My pet peeve is the one that states how fast your server loads. That's unnecessary. If it didn't load fast, don't you think the surfer knows? And, if it doesn't load fast, the surfer is already gone. Talk to your surfer. Draw him into the world you're creating. It's his fantasy. Give it to him. Use the graphics and the words to build his excitement.
Your level of expertise usually determines whether or not you hire a designer. Not all sites require the services of a professional designer. There are many that won't sell without their services.
The decision to go with a polished, slick look has to be weighed, by considering the size of your pocketbook, the quality of your content, the amount of your content, the niche you're selling, the audience you're trying to attract. There are certain niches, that, if you show them a professionally designed site, your sales will be zero. They don't like the so-called 'gigantic blood-sucking corporations who are only after their money' outfits. They want to see sites that make them think the owner is one of them. There are other niches that absolutely require a professional look. This is why research is so important. Take the time. Making a mistake in the beginning can cost you long term money.
Member retention is down. Promises on the outside are not kept on the inside. The members' area is a mess and looks neglected.
Surfers are no longer as stupid as they were four to eight years ago. Computers are in more homes now than ever. Prices have dropped. Where it was a luxury to own a computer before, it is readily available now. Surfers are becoming savvy to poor sales hype, broken promises, boring text and overused pictures. They know how to join a site for three to five days and cancel, before converting to a join. Give them what you promised. Don't make wild claims to have something on your site that you don't have. Keep your insides neat and easy to navigate as your outside tour. Put something personal on the inside, be it a newsletter, a hostess, a personal letter from you, the owner. Pay attention to your links. Make sure they work. If you're offering live shows and xxx videos, check them. Nothing pisses off a member more than not being able to access all the features your site offers. Also remember to test your site in AOL and Netscape and Opera. A sale is a sale is a sale. Those who have proven to be spenders are those who have joined AOL. Make sure you tell them that on the outside. FAQ's on the inside are a great tool for keeping members. Questions with answers go a long way in helping your member feel more at home. Site maps. Instructions on how to cancel will help avoid chargebacks. There are plenty of people who don't know the first thing about computers; yet, they own one. The more information you give them, the better.
Updating is neglected.
This one is simple. Always update. The amount and frequency of your updates is determined by the niche you've chosen. Mega sites require far more than micro niches. Constantly be on the lookout for new features to add, even if those features are not germane. News. Advice columns. Stores. Wallpapers. Personals. Message boards. Chats. Upsells on videos. On the outside of your site, tell everyone that you've updated and when you updated. This serves a dual purpose. Not only does the member get to see what you're doing, the surfer also sees. When you promise to update weekly, do so. If a surfer bookmarks your site for the future, when they return, they will see how often you've kept your word. That can often turn a surfer into a member. One that stays.
Customer Support is poor or non existent.
Again. This is a simple solution. Don't build so many pay sites that you cannot keep up with your clients. They are the difference between you eating and not eating. Make sure you have an email that works. Respond in a timely fashion and offer a solution. Even if your support is automated, make sure it's in working condition. A missed email from a customer means a lost member. Every time. Most people are getting very tired of poor customer service, both mainstream and adult. Keeping in touch with your customers can often lessen your refunds and chargebacks, something that is critical to the webmaster.
Pricing is out of whack with service offered.
The niche you've chosen will sell best if priced according to what the market will bear comfortably. Gone are the days where a surfer joined and then forgot about the rebills. Price your site reasonably and you stand a better chance of your surfers joining and your members staying. Research other sites. Much of your price range depends on what you're offering. If all you have is one thousand pics of transsexual and fifty thousand bonus pics, charging the same amount as a site that offers exclusive transsexual content will not make you popular amongst those who join that type of site. There is a saying. You can always raise your price. Never lower them. That's true and not true. Start with a reasonable join price, which reflects what you have on the inside. Don't go so low as to beat out the competition. All that does is make your surfer think you have nothing.
Dollar stores are fine for what they are. If you treat your site like a dollar store, that's the audience you will attract and your profit margin won't be very good. On the other hand, if you charge Bloomingdale prices for a K-Mart site, you will be the recipient of few joins and many chargebacks.
I have heard from those who want to create a membership site how impossible it is to get enough content. This is not true. There are sites that begin with less than a thousand pictures. Their prices are lower because they offer less. But, the site offers much in the way of personalisation, that, surfers join and become part of the site community. They stay and see the site evolve. As you create your business plan, think of what you would want in a member site. Start to collect the pictures and movies you'd need. This is a long term business decision you're making. The planning of it should probably take more than a few weeks. It might take a few years. In the meantime, you're building your galleries and feeders and AVS's and hubs and surfer traps. You're building your traffic base, so, by the time you're ready to open your member site, you'll be ready. You'll have researched and surfed to the point where you know what YOUR audience wants. And, then, you'll be able to supply it. In the form of the colours and text and graphics on the front end and the content on the inside.
What makes a pay site successful depends entirely upon you. If you limit yourself, you've effectively shot yourself in the foot. There is much competition out there. Take the time to read. Ask a lot of questions. Seek that which is different. Don't be the box.