Freddie Mercury might have most succinctly described the plight of lonely people everywhere when he plaintively asked, “Can anybody find me somebody to love?”
It’s a common predicament — so common, in fact, that more than 22 million Internet users visited online dating sites in October 2007, according to Internet audience measurement service comScore Media Metrix.
And there are plenty of dating sites out there trying to find a somebody for everybody who comes knocking. But while every perfect pairing is a success story that builds a site’s reputation, it also represents two customers who might never need to come back. So how do you stay in business when your business attempts to assure that your customers will never need your services again?
Court them to keep them
Although the individuals who use online dating sites have different goals — some want to date casually while others are looking for long-term relationships — it stands to reason that most people won’t remain members of a site indefinitely. Customers of Perfectmatch.com, for example, maintain membership for five months on average, according to Duane Dahl, president and CEO of Bothell, Wash.-based MarketRange, which owns Perfectmatch. Dahl also is co-founder of the dating site.
Acquisition becomes increasingly important to combat this natural attrition. While the standard online acquisition methods, such as banner advertising and search engine marketing, apply, there are a few standout tactics in the space. Several sites have attempted to establish themselves as respected sources for relationship advice, apart from their abilities to match singles with each other. The idea being: Come for the advice, stay for the ability to hook up with like-minded singles.
Match.com, for instance, has an editorial division that focuses on developing content not just for its members, but for the world at large, through its e-zine, Happen (www.happenmagazine.com). The site features articles on dating, pop culture and other topics.
“Editorial is one more way to show that we can help people become more successful at dating in general, as well as on our site,” says Jared Cluff, director of online acquisition for Dallas-based Match.com.
Lavalife, which maintains three separate communities — casual dating, long-term relationships and intimate encounters — started its e-zine, Click (http://click.lavalife.com/magazine), in 2006. Stephanie Barrington, vice president of consumer marketing for the Toronto-based company, points out that editorial content broadens the site’s offerings and provides a competitive advantage in the increasingly crowded Internet-dating space. Click also features bloggers writing about their love lives and a dating advice podcast.
All this serves to make Lavalife a trusted information source for people interested in the “journey of dating,” Barrington says.
Making content available to consumers is one thing, but getting consumers to engage with that content is another. That’s why Match.com and Perfectmatch.com have created distribution networks for their content.
Cluff and his team have developed content-distribution relationships with AOL, MSNBC and other sites, which has resulted in the daily publication of Happen articles on those sites, clearly noting
Match.com as the source. Dahl says that Perfectmatch.com has similar partnerships with MSNBC and iVillage, using articles written for the site by relationship expert Dr. Pepper Schwartz.
Tease the service, seal the deal
While not true across the board, many Internet dating sites offer some of their services for free and then charge for more in-depth versions of those services.
Perfectmatch.com, for example, makes its proprietary Duet Total Compatibility System personality test available to any individual who wants to take it. The site then matches users’ profiles and reveals how many matches have been made. But users have to pay the monthly $59.95 membership fee before they can contact their potential matches.
“[Internet dating sites] often allow individuals to sign up for free,” Dahl says. “But it falls to us to communicate the value of our proposition to the consumer, so, ultimately, they will pay that fee and take a chance at finding love.”
For Lavalife, signing up and viewing profiles and videos based on criteria set by the user is free, and users can even send a “Smile,” a predefined message that allows individuals to show interest in one another, before any user-generated e-mails are exchanged. Essentially, users can see if anyone on the site piques their interests, or if anyone else is interested in them. But if they want to send real messages, they have to pay the membership fee.
If a user starts to fill out a profile but doesn’t pay the fee, Lavalife doesn’t give up easily. Triggered messages are sent to users’ personal e-mail accounts to encourage them to add photos to their profiles or remind them that Smiles from other users are waiting for them, Barrington says. “It’s really a great way to drive people back to Lavalife so they can check out their mailbox, check out more profiles and hopefully sign up for the full service,” she adds.
At Match.com, notification e-mails go a step further. A user who opts-in for e-mail communication can have matches sent to his personal e-mail address. Cluff notes that these Matches by Mail notifications are dynamically generated based on criteria set by the user and can be sent weekly, daily or anywhere in between. Notification e-mails also contain editorial and success stories, all in an effort to showcase the benefits of paying for site membership.
Once again, it’s the ability to communicate with other users that defines membership.
Closing the deal, Cluff notes, is a matter of presenting users with messages based on the needs they’ve defined. Dahl echoes Cluff’s strategy, noting, “Active, diligent, relevant communication with our users are the only guarantee of success.”