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UX Lessons from Pornhub: SFW Insights from a NSFW Website

Insights / 04.06.2017

Zach Leffers / Strategic Planner

Inspiration can come from unusual places. In the case of this blog, it came from PornHub.com’s (<- click at your own risk depending on your company’s blocked sites… and, if you’re at home, be sure the kids aren’t standing in the room) outstanding website taxonomy and user experience. Allow me to explain. Please.

One of Red Door Interactive's clients has a particular audience segment they want to reach – millennial men, at its most vague – and in an effort to find them online where they’re most, ahem, attuned to visual stimulation, RDI recently explored advertising on Pornhub.
 
Make no bones about it: the Internet and pornography have a symbiotic relationship. Per data collected by digital intelligence platform Similarweb, Adult Websites are the sixth most visited website category, accounting for 5.3% of web traffic between September 2016 and February 2017, ahead of categories like Financial Services & Banking, Games, and Sports. Pornhub itself is the 22nd most trafficked site in the world, 11th most trafficked in the United States, and the second most trafficked adult website (Top honors go to www.xvideos.com. Again, be wary of clicking).
 
Moreover, the Internet grew up with pornography. The first computerized image was of a woman in pin-up style, and pornographic web board communities were early pioneers in streaming video, live video feeds, and online credit card transactions, including anti-fraud measures like matching a user’s IP address to the credit card address to deter theft. More to the point of this blog, though, is that pornographic websites continue to innovate and refine web UX, which you can see simply by visiting these sites. Let’s dive in.

Were you to visit Pornhub, (I shouldn’t need to tell you – again – that the site is NSFW; office URL restrictions made this blog a real chore to write) you’d be immediately presented with an extraordinarily immersive sensory experience that could be quite overwhelming. Sidenote: shout out to www.fotor.com for its quick, easy photo pixelating editor. But if you have an inkling to your personal sexual interests and proclivities, the site is incredibly easy to navigate. Prominent predictive search gets you into the search results and content quickly with even just two or three keystrokes. Results include video titles, actor profiles, and content channels, letting you quickly find the content you’re interested in. 

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If you’re feeling more adventurous or exploratory, you can elect to navigate the site by content genre or category, with 90 categories from which to choose. Selecting the Category option in the home page’s top navigation bar takes you to a tile-based menu of content genres. Again, the focus is on visual immersion rather than a dropdown list of category names. Pro tip: image-based navigation is more visually titillating than text-based lists. I won’t include a blurry photo of the category tiles; just use your imagination or your web browser. 

Pornhub clearly understands its users’ behaviors and intent, and makes video discovery a key element of the initial navigation. Hovering over the Videos category provides you with the options to choose from trending videos, those that are most viewed over specified amounts of time, highest rated by other users, or, you can click into curated video channels, amongst other options. You can also see what searches are trending if you’re looking for your own search inspiration.

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Consistent tagging of content is the real gem here. Videos are tagged by category, interest (or fetish), brand or production studio, featured performative acts, and performers’ names. This allows for product grouping so that users can discover similar or related content, and it fosters autogenerated playlists of content related to what a user has watched. Serving up content predictively based on user behavior and demonstrated interest means that you’re providing your audience with more of what they want, helping them to discover content relevant to them and adding value to their onsite experience. It also keeps them on the site longer and encourages browsing. The image below is an example of what’s included with each video. While the video I used for this example is touted as safe for work, its associated tags were most certainly not. Again, use your imagination or venture over to Pornhub to see for yourself.

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Beyond design and information architecture, UX also encompasses taking user feedback into account. Here Pornhub excels. Its feedback forum fosters the opportunity for users to provide suggestions for new features and refinements of current ones. Pornhub community managers frequently respond to posts with insights about advanced search and filter features:

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Key Takeaways:

Design with user intent and content type in mind. Pornhub makes it easy to quickly find desired content via its predictive search functionality, or to explore and discover new content based on what’s trending or what genre a user seeks. 

Organize your content in ways useful to you and your users. This applies both to onsite navigation and information architecture. Pornhub uses its intricate tag system to organize content in meaningful ways and create links across videos, also making it easy for users to find their preferred content pieces and types. On your own site, think about how you could taxonomically organize content in ways that are both intuitive and navigable for your users, but also useful to your own site infrastructure.

Use user behavior and interest to add value to their experience. In Pornhub’s world, it’s fairly safe to assume that a user watches the types of content they find appealing. Therefore, Pornhub uses this to continue to stream related content, constructing playlists of similar content for its users. Doing so allows the site to act as something of a pornographic guiding light, adding value to their onsite experience.

Listen to your users. Your site audience knows what they want, and they can have useful input in design innovations and tweaks. Solicit their feedback and make a good faith effort to incorporate their best ideas. You’ll find that this fosters user loyalty and an investment in your site on their end.

And that’s that. There is good web UX inspiration to be found across all genres and site types, and pornography websites have been driving the UX train for decades. Hopefully I’ve distilled the lessons from my discovery here so that you don’t have to, and you can incorporate more of these principles in your own web design. And, if you’ve noticed any other stellar performers (pun intended) in the UX realm, leave us a comment below so we can check them out.

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