The Delicate Art of Selling Sex Toys Online
A complete guide to reaching a target group that can be hard to reach
Introduction: In 2018, I wrote an article about How to sell sex toys on social media, asking whether it even possible to do so and if so how. It turned out to be a topic many people wanted to read about, indeed its one of the most read articles both on my medium profile and on my website.
Before we go on, it should be said that it’s clear that selling anything related to the adult industry — in particular, sex toys — isn’t really that easy. At CES in 2019 and previously, the industry has been basically shunned despite some huge leaps forward in tech. The adult industry for me isn’t something to be afraid of, we’re all here because people have intercourse across the globe, so perhaps its time tech firms get over that — perhaps they just need to figure out a better way of serving ads if they are worried about the wrong people seeing them! After all, they can show sexual health-related ads — maybe they can figure this out…
I don’t think its much of a surprise people want to read about this topic. They want to know how to advertise to an audience they normally can’t get to because of social media rules or search engine advertising rules. But also I think there is a bigger question here of how you can afford to attract an audience into buying your product.
Can stifling and expensive advertising rules be overcome?
Can you sell sex toys online without breaking the bank or the rules?
How to Advertise Sex Toys on Social Media
Social Media companies are squeamish (to say the least) about advertising around sex. In fact, pretty much anything related to pleasure or enhancement, and of course porn.
Lets be clear its not just sex, porn, sex toys — its also erotica too, here’s Rachel Kramer Bussel’s experience.
But can you advertise Sex Toys on social media?
Well surprisingly there are ways around this hard block, even where the item in question is described as helping “sexual health discovery” however, it is clear to see there are a number of sexual health ads that are making it to social media (great news), and these include for the little blue pill, and this may see the door open more in the future. But for now, can you get around the block in other ways?
Lioness, as we’ve reported previously, did so really well by basically posting videos to Instagram of testimonials they had been sent and reading them. There was no visual of their product and, probably most importantly, the link went to their youtube page, not their website. It’s clearly a brand awareness driven advert, but they can help an adult brand gain traction and grow sales if the next video they see entices the customer further. These ads appeared on Facebook and Instagram.
Fine from Dame says the company invests in paid Google search advertising, and she’s found a semi-successful Facebook workaround: paying to boost posts from her own entrepreneur Facebook page of news articles in which she’s appeared. They sometimes are allowed through — and she’ll see $3 in sales for every dollar she spends, she says — and sometimes are taken down. — AdAge
This tactic, in essence, is again about diverting traffic away from a direct promotion to a secondary location (PR). However, this is likely to contain some direct marketing and links to the product or website as well as some real product information.
Rodriguez’s Unbound focuses on email and driving traffic to its content marketing blog, which covers topics such as gifting sex toys in the fraught era of #MeToo. The company occasionally pays evangelists to rave about its products on Instagram, and otherwise hopes that people will follow its Instagram and Facebook brand pages, which describe the company discreetly as a “website in New York, New York. — AdAge
This tactic is basically influencer marketing on social media. However, again, rather than drive users to your website it focuses on brand awareness and discovery. It’s about ensuring people are talking about your brand and your brand is one of the first things on their mind if they want to buy something of an adult nature. Don’t forget that you can also tie this up with affiliate marketing (see below).
The reality is that social media is changing, I am seeing more adult adverts for sexual health and wellbeing than ever before — almost daily. I’m not saying the rules are about to change, but the number of times things are being flagged or removed is reducing, I believe. I do think there are some real battles ahead, but there are ways around social media advertising and promoting products.
It turns out that you can advertise the blue pill and you can talk about it getting you hard! Check out this ad!
So is it all fair in love and social media advertising? Well…you let me know, have you had success advertising your products?
It seems like the goal posts are moving currently, and not all advertising is equal. This isn’t a male vs female thing (as some suggest) its simply a ‘more open world’ thing and where targetted advertising can happen it seems social media is open to this.
Can You Use PPC for Advertising Sex Toys?
Advertising on Google and Bing is a little easier than on social media, simply because Google says it “is allowed only under certain conditions” and Bing says you “may participate in the Adult Advertising Program.” You can read their full policies here: Google and Bing.
What this means, in reality, is this:
Google will run PPC only ads, not display ads or GDN ads, within permitted countries where conditions are met.
The rules. Google has often been asked to comment or clarify on this but just points to the policy. To me, there isn’t much to clarify — the rules are clear: don’t be obscene, talk about sex, masturbation, oral sex, etc — but you can talk about sex toys, lubricants, aphrodisiacs, and even sexual enhancers.
Bing is a little more interesting in its rules. First you have to be registered as mentioned above. Secondly, they have caveats on their categorisations. So for example on sex toys — if you are into your bondage, then you probably won’t find it advertised on Bing as “Advertisers may not advertise violent activity, brutality, and torture related content.” and they cite “ Looking to inflict pain? Huge inventory. Free shipping on the latest toys.” as an ad that would be disallowed.
The rules. Bing has a ton of rules and they are pretty much all about the form of your website and it’s content. I highly suggest reading through the rules in detail and ensuring you always meet them. I’ve heard stories of once banned always banned.
Driving Sex Toy Sales With Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing or referral marketing is one of the biggest forms of marketing in the adult industry.
There are a ton of sex toy and adult industry stores offering schemes, one such large brand is LELO.
Offering a small % per sale can mean a huge reward for adult companies looking for huge sales each month. The more a blogger or influencer makes the more they are likely to invest in promoting your products or company. They obviously have to follow the same rules as your company on social media but they can post a review or a video talking about your product and promote that. They can do all kinds of creative things, outside the box, and they’ll be making money alongside you.
Think of them as your brand ambassadors to work with.
Buying Online Media for Sex Toys
There are two ways to buy media online, through networks or direct-to-source (webmasters as it were). Ultimately, the right solution for you depends on what you want to achieve and how much time and money you have, amongst other variables in the mix.
But there are a few things to consider before we dive into this a little more.
- Who is your audience? Give some real consideration to this before you even look to buy online media space. What is the demographic you want to reach? Where are they located (country/countries/cities etc)? How wealthy are they? Do they look at the web at certain times of day?
- Is your current website traffic converting? If it’s not, I promise you spending money on online media to send traffic is money down the pan. If you want to spend on brand awareness great but no amount of that will increase your conversion rate.
With that said, let’s take a look at ad networks vs direct to source.
Think of these as your one-stop shop for buying media online they have a fairly large inventory of websites on which to advertise and often it will be the type of websites you want. It's important that you check and double-check — sometimes they will over-promise on this and only have one or two in your niche.
Think of an Ad Network as your planner, buyer, and optimiser. The key thing to remember is that they’re only as good as the brief you give them and the communications you have with them throughout your campaign. If your marketing manager doesn’t communicate well with them, your campaign may start well but never be optimised. It could dwindle to nothing and ultimately, whilst your spending remains, your goals don’t get achieved.
Ad Networks are great but they are only as good as the people behind the campaign, both you and them.
Some of the key adult niche related networks are ExoClick, TrafficJunky and Traffic Factory. There is nothing to stop you using multiple Ad Networks, and I’d heavily advise you to look beyond these three.
Direct to source
Direct to source is a little tougher but can be just as rewarding, if not more so. DTS is simply where you arrange your own ads direct with, for example, a forum or blog owner. This could be specific to a single blog or across the whole site. Such ads can run for a fixed period of weeks or for a number of clicks, the same way an Ad Network can — it's usually time-based.
These tend to be a much more cost-effective way of brand building and sometimes gaining traffic as website owners are often willing to strike better deals for space than Ad Networks. Also, you may be able to strike a deal for an ad takeover, or something unique such as your ad in an email which may not be possible via the ad network.
DTS does have it’s drawbacks. In the time it can take you to set up a handful DTS campaigns, you can have many websites live via an Ad Network — this said, Ad Networks are more expensive by their nature due to this.
Other Ways to Market Sex Toys Online
That's the big stuff out of the way, but what else can you do to market your adult-related goods online? Here are a few ideas to help you promote your products.
Get some PR
We mentioned in the social media section about how Fine from Dame was using Facebook promotions to link to articles she was interviewed in. This PR is amazing for any product and brand, but it doesn’t have to be something you promote — especially if you’re a start-up, it can be really expensive to do this. Just try to ensure you get a link to your site or you get lots of brand mentions.
Write lots of great content
I’m not talking your average rubbish here, I’m talking 1000 words plus great content. Post it on your blog, on Medium, on other people's blogs and forums. Share content where your audience is and where you want them to go (your site). Share links to your awesome content in a friendly way on social media (organic) and ensure you reply to any comments.
Update your social media with news
Keep your social media updated with the latest news and pics both from your own company and the industry. Keep talking to your followers and interacting, be friendly and community minded, be fun and engaging.
Give advance warning of offers
This is one of a few industries where advance warning of offers works a treat. An email and/or site banner a few days or week before a huge offer is starting can engage your audience and gets their mind working, thinking the toys and wondering if an item is in the sale. Whereas constant sale emails are kind of a turnoff. We all know retailers like that — is there ever a time when they aren’t having a sale?
Have a specialist microsite
Within your main site have a microsite which specialises in a new product, awesome selling product, or something that has a huge number of hits that you want to sell hard on. Ultimately you want to draw a huge amount of attention to it, make it look different and ensure users aren’t distracted by 1001 other products. These sites often gain traction because people talk about them on social media with friends.
Sounds odd but you can use Amazon, both to fuel affiliate sales (you don’t have much choice, it does it anyway) and sell your product if you make your own. PLSRx does this really well by not selling it on their website but through Amazon itself. All the key content is on their own website but you can only buy through Amazon who ship the product.
Optimise Your Website
As an SEO with almost a decade and half of experience, I can’t write this guide without talking a little about the need to optimise your website, and in this case your product page.
Whether your adult product is for “extreme restraints”, a “rampant rabbit”, “love egg” or some other sex toy, these optimisation ideas can help you to improve your conversion rates.
Use the right keywords
Using Google Keyword Planner, check that your product description (and other pages) are targetting the correct keywords and phrases for your audience. Also, check that there is enough traffic in your target countries/markets. Also, do this on Google Trends.
Keywords in the right places
Once you’ve selected your keywords, ensure you embed them across your description, alt text and meta titles. If you can also put them within links to your products, both on your own site and from other sites < reinforce your keyword strategy for this product.
Implement structured data
I can’t emphasise this enough: every product website should have structured data as part of its setup. S.D. tells search engines and other bots what specific information is such as the product title, SKA, price, offer price, product description, etc — removing the rubbish around it and allowing it to show this in another way perhaps on a search engine or another site — allowing users to access your data and your site more easily. It also makes your site easier to index and rank. You can read about product structured data here.
Got a real location? Implement this stuff
My guide for local SEO. This will help get people into your real-life store, whether you have 1 or 100.
Update your meta tags
I so often see on e-commerce sites, products are uploaded and after a year sales are sinking but they have thousands in stock. The issue is no matter what you do it won’t shift unless you update product details such as meta tags — also don’t forget to update ALT Text on images. Don’t forget to include your keywords.
Ensure you are tracking/using analytics
As a website owner, I love data. You should too. Data is everyone's friend and ensures we make the right choices. It can help you make a choice about improving a design or making a change in the navigation or whether to remove a whole product line. Data is king online. If you haven’t already, implement Google Analytics, including the ecommerce section.
Marketing in the adult industry is not impossible. Indeed, with a few caveats and workarounds you can actually meet your audience on their own turf and engage them.
There are plenty of ways advertising could be easier, but I don’t think that has or will stop the industry from growing. Indeed the ‘sex toy industry’ in 2016 was globally believed to be worth $15Bn (Forbes) and its only growing.
We live in a world where sex is a taboo subject, despite the fact that sex is part of daily life and how we came to be. The question for social media has to be when will the rules change and what will they change to? Will they follow search engines rules, will they be more restrictive, or will they stay the same?
I can perhaps see time restrictions in place across adverts (following watershed hours), I can certainly see platforms having more qualifications for age limits (no longer a tick box exercise but real age verification requirements) and without which you can't access certain things including this kind of ad and perhaps betting ads too, and I can also see within PPC ads the visual ads opening up, but to a restrictive set of websites initially. Things will change but it will take time, maybe years.