Is Advertising Killing Free Online Dating?

TechCrunch has a guest post from Eric Clemons, Professor of Operations and Information Management at The Wharton School. The article, Why Advertising Is Failing On The Internet, talks about how online advertising in it’s current format is doomed.

This got me thinking about the relationship of advertising to free online dating sites. I started out thinking this post would be about how the drop in ad revenue discussed in the TC post would affect online dating, but decided I’d throw out my more general observations about advertising and online dating instead.

Granted, advertising is not going to hurt online dating, but as a revenue source in it’s current format, it’s certainly not helping. Connecting brands with customers on dating sites is wide open territory at this point. No dating site has cracked the code yet, most are relying on ad serving networks to deliver targeted advertising. This is a big mistake I hope will be addressed by smaller ad networks catering to online dating sites.

Disclaimer: I often run ad-blocking software in Firefox. When it’s not on, I probably click an ad every week or so. I’m also very good at ignoring ads when I’m browsing. I think display advertising on the internet is broken and marketers for the most part are either stuck in their ways or choose to remain ignorant instead of trying to fix the problem. Paid dating sites that feature ads drive me crazy.

In order to make enough money to survive, free dating sites are currently stuck in a revenue rut. All they can do to earn enough money to keep the lights on and the servers running is plaster sites with (for the most part) un-targeted advertising.

PlentyofFish is trying an interesting experiment where members can purchase a badge that identifies them as a Serious Dater. The badge simply signifies intent and is a weak value proposition, because even an axe murderer can buy a badge. But some people will buy them.

Diversity in revenue streams is a good thing for online dating sites, but there are only so many Dr. Phil DVD’s people will buy, especially since he’s doing a good job impersonating Jerry Springer these days. Highlights in the search results seem to backfire - “If she felt the need to place a red border around her profile, what’s wrong with her?”

POF is now a hybrid free/paid. The basic site functionality is still free, but you’ll be able to buy all sorts of bling for your profile. PlentyofFish is turning into Myspace whereas OKCupid is becoming Facebook. Plenty of holes in this analogy but you get my point. I would pay POF $25/year for a custom-looking profile. I’m not saying clowns-on-acid Myspace custom, just something that isn’t quite so horrid to look at and easier to read.

Let’s think about two different types of online display advertising.

With CPM advertising, a certain number of visitors are required to visit the site and simply view ads in order for the dating site to get paid. CPM advertising is for the pro’s. If you’re not spot on with your creative, you’re throwing good money after bad.

The CPC model still requires a ton of visitors, because only an infinitesimal amount will actually click that University of Phoenix/fat burner/mortgage ad. That’s two ways ads are priced, there are others like Cost Per Action but I won’t get into those here.

Regardless of the type of ads displayed, any free dating site with fewer visitors than necessary to remain profitable through clicks or impressions will fail. Let’s say the magic number is 200k monthly uniques. If the site receives less than 200k visitors, it doesn’t make enough revenue to stay afloat.

However, it is very difficult to start a dating site with an empty database of members. Thats why White Label Dating appears to be running away with the paid dating white label market. Their value proposition to startups is that they enable you to launch your site pre-populated with members, avoiding the empty database problem.

If the future of online dating is free, why isn’t someone buying up 10-20 dating sites comprised of many demographics and starting Free White Label Dating? Build an ad-targeting system, integrate with Facebook for new members, buy a few sites and bam, there you have it. Is this a crazy idea?

What happens when ad prices bottom out or we simply start using browsers that block ads by default? Will POF and OKCupid disappear? Does this mean that there is no way a free dating site can ever launch without considerable marketing costs? (Ignoring Facebook for now, there are still costs associated with the development and ongoing maintenance of FB apps).

I talk to lots of people considering starting free dating sites. I tell them to go talk someone into giving them $250,00 for early-stage marketing, then think about starting the site. That’s what it costs to start a successful free dating site. At least. Anything less and you’re going to run out of money before you hit the magic number of members required to run a self-sustaining free dating site.

I’m sure people will disagree with my numbers, we have to start with some baseline assumptions, please feel free to correct me in the comments.

The fact is, no other sector online has the failure rate of online dating. But dead dating sites are like zombies, they limp along in the night on $20/month servers, never quite expiring, becoming more of a hindrance than a help to singles.

People think you can throw up a site and the money will start pouring in. It’s not even that way with White Label Dating. You only get paid for the members you convince to sign up to your site. Guess what, that costs money ($2-$10k month at least to really get going) and now you don’t run a dating site, you’re essentially an affiliate marketer. When most people hear this they usually say they had no idea that’s how it works.

Do you know which dating site could turn online advertising on it’s head? Friendfinder network. Problem is, they are so clenched about the IPO that’s not happening anytime soon that they are unable to see what an amazing opportunity lies at their feet. All the great ideas end up in pr0n/adult first, as usual. I’m not going to explain it here, the idea is just so darn good I’m going to let it percolate for a while.

What happens next for free online dating sites? Giant expanding ads for Viagra and SinglesNet? Or perhaps the current circa-1999 web-ring style of ads networks will continue, where every ad on a dating site is for another dating site? As a single person, I don’t like that model much. It may be good for business but what kind of message are you sending to your members when all you want them to do is leave your site for somewhere else because you’ll make more money off of them that way?

Hopefully this dislodged some thoughts that we can take up in the comments. Off to get a haircut.

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Related posts:

  1. Online Dating Advertising Links
  2. Advertising on Online Dating Sites
  3. Hot Or Not Goes Free, Online Dating Continues to Suffer
  4. Advertising Woes Hitting Online Dating?
  5. Casualkiss goes from free to paid to free

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Online Dating Links for March-23-2009

Match has launched an iPhone application. Downloading it now, will play around with it tonight and review tomorrow.

Dilbert loves using his phone on dates.

Fewer Ads Can Boost Click-Through. For the love of God, less junk ads on dating sites, please!

A Pretty Woman Beats a Good Loan Deal …the effect of a mere photo of a woman on a loan offer was equivalent to nearly a 5% difference in the loan interest rate - a huge dfferential in the lending world.

Smart Guys Date in Parallel : I don’t agree but I liked the blog title and the geek undertones.

Talked to OneSite. They power American Idol, Belief Net, NASCAR, NBA, WWE, Univision and Marvel Entertainment, tying social networking functionality into their existing content and Content Management Systems. Now that is some serious social networking platform power. It ain’t cheap but go behold what a serious software platform looks like that scales to the moon.

Someone proposed an edit to my OKCupid profile. I think that is so cool. OKCupid profiles are basically like Wikipedia pages, anyone can edit your profile, but you have to approve the edit before it goes live.

I haven’t visited a paid dating site in weeks. I really can’t tell the difference between free and paid sites until I come across a scammer.

I spent $70 on my Serious Dater badge at PlentyOfFish and have not had a single woman email me. These days nobody seems to be writing back on either type of site. advisor unveils secret to successful relationships

Online Mobile Social Networking

From the Twitterverse:

Allthedates: Did you know…51% of UK women under the age of 50 have never been married?

OverheardatWLD keeps us up to date on the funny things people say around the office. the customer service tweets are hilarious (but probably not for the customer).

“I’m afraid that we can’t take responsibility if a member decides not to respond to your email sir”

“I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for you given that it’s not our site, I’d love to help, I just can’t!”

“We assume that people who sign up to an internet based service have access to the internet…”

“In Japan they have a penis festival. The floats are really quite a sight.”

Go see I love you, Man. Great movie.

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  2. Online Dating Insider Links for January 7, 2009
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Are You Interested Launches iPhone Application

SNAP has launched it’s first iPhone application, based on it’s popular Facebook Platform dating app ‘Are You Interested?’, which presently has more than 12 million users. SNAP’s new iPhone app allows users to:

  • Browse photos of singles in their area and tap “Yes” on people they like
  • View their “Matches” and find out who likes them Check out the “Buzz” and meet singles in their area who are online right now
  • Contact singles: send and receive winks and messages

I downloaded the app and was prompted for my username and password when I said that I have an existing account. I’ve used AYI on Facebook forever, but what is my username and password? Is it specific to the recently updated Are You Interested website or is it my Facebook login? At I see the Facebook Connect login option, which I click. Oops, it’s asking me for my email, password, name, username and birthday. This is so annoying I almost screamed. Ok, too much caffeine today but still, the idea behind Facebook Connect is to make signing up for a site easy. There is a difference between registering and logging in with Facebook Connect and this is the first time I’ve seen it as a registration option which ignores all of my Facebook data. Not great but moving on.

Now there is another screen asking for my country, city gender and if I have an iphone. Why the heck isn’t it pulling at least some of this information from Facebook? Is this not possible?

One thing I’ve learned about Facebook applications is not to shoot the messenger, so to speak. Facebook does crazy things with their API’s weekly and frequently break things. This is also SNAP’s first iPhone app so we’ll try to cut them some slack. That said, they really should have let me beta test it first. Read on and you’ll see why.

Now I’m asked to upload a photo via the website in order to show up in search results. Bravo! This is fantastic, no more “user does not have a photo” problems. But wait, I tried to upload a photo, the status bar froze and I don’t know what to do now. Clicking register again doesn’t do anything, there is no alert helping me figure out my next move. I can’t even go back to the home page. Fail.

I went back to the iPhone application and was able to log in successfully, phew. It seems like the default search says I am seeking males between 38 and 47 but perhaps it’s females and I’m not paying attention? I like the ladies under 40, just saying.

The initial iPhone help screen is a nice touch. The application features five buttons, should be simple enough. Now it’s asking me to upload a photo. But there is no button to click to upload a photo. The registration and photo upload process clearly didn’t get the attention is deserves.

Now I am asked to fill out a bunch of profile fields on the phone. I guess these are the fields that never made it from the website. But I can’t fill them out. I click on (null) for my age and the screen goes blank. Do people even know what null means?

Somehow I get to my profile and am able to change my gender. I decide to cut my losses and restart the application.

I’m greeted by an image of an appropriately-aged female from nearby, hooray, after a kludgy beginning, things are starting to look up.

Clicking on people spins the image around, making it feel like the person’s information is written on the back of the photo. Very Apple, slick.

the filter doesn’t allow me to search around Boston, I’m getting Cheeseheads from Wisconsin.

I clicked next on a cutie and now she’s gone, where is the back button? Of course there is none, they want you to keep clicking. Frustrating but it’s all about the pageviews.

The browse feature is just as it says. You can say Yes or Skip, that’s it. Clicking Buzz displays a chronological list of member status updates. I wish this displayed my Facebook status. Strange that most of the status messages are “Username logged in” right news to text that says “Online Now”, straight from the redundancy department redundancy.

I was trying to figure out how to send someone message. You have to go to thex Connections window, then select Send Message or Send Wink. Not being able to do this from the Browse window is a serious bummer. why not add the buttons in the Browse window.

Connections window has My Likes, Likes Me and Matches. Pressing the buttons is difficult with my wide fingers

The Write a Message feature let’s me compose a message to any combination of My Likes, LikesMe and Matches. Sending default canned messages to groups of people is boring. Why can’t I personalize the message? The ability to write a custom message is available from Buzz:select person:Click Send Message. I’m kind of confused now. Figuring out the specific contexts in which I can perform certain actions is difficult for all applications at first, usually gets easier after using an app for a few days.

Messages window shows my Inbox, Sent and Winks. Business as usual.

I’ve clicked around the few dozen women who have installed the application. At this point I can safely say that I while I prefer the iPhone version over the Facebook application by about 1,000% in terms of simplicity. The Facebook app, with at least 23 actionable links on the front page, has become overcrowded with ads, leaderboards and ways to earn points. But finding the app on my iPhone takes a while (50+ apps installed and no easy way to rearrange them) and I’m at my computer more than out with my phone. It’s also easier to click the multiple emails I receive from AYI each day.

Will the AYI application send me an SMS each time someone winks at me? Will those winks show up in the Facebook application? It appears that nothing I do on the iPhone app shows up in my Facebook stream. Lost opportunity if that’s the case.

Then again, SNAP doesn’t want all their eggs in the social networking basked. That’s probably why they ask for so much information on the website.

The price needs to be 99 cents and much more viral for it to really take off. My guess is that that more people will pay for the mobile version of Are You Interested if SNAP adds location-based services to enable people to perform local search and connections.

It will be interesting to see how Zoosk and Skout respond. Will Skout copy the HotorNot features of both Zoosk and Are You Interested, creating a BrightKite/Loopt/AYI/HotorNot mashup? We’ll see, these social/dating/mobile hybrids are fascinating to explore, especially since no one has created the killer app, yet.

SNAP anticipates revenue in excess of $1.08 million for the quarter ended December 31, 2008, and total revenue in excess of $3.0 million for the year ended December 31, 2008. Not bad for a fledgling social networking application developer cutting it’s teeth on iPhone development at the same time.

Download Are You Interested at iTunes now while it’s free, they’ll start charing for the application in a few days.


I can log into the website with Facebook connect now.

The beta Are You Interested site is much cleaner than the Facebook application. It can update your Facebook status but not bidirectionally AFAIK.

The website has three buttons at the top of each photo: Yes, No and Yes (but don’t tell). What does that mean?

Add FourSquare to the mobile/social apps

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Related posts:

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  2. How to Build an Online Dating iPhone Application
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eFUEL Launches outRAGEousEncounters

Watch out Fling, there is a new adult dating site in town. I talked with eFUEL in December and it seems like they officially launched a new site today.

With approximately 17 million profiles available and full-access membership fees that range from as low as $13.08 to $31.95 a month, and a lifetime membership of $193.95, is instantly a major player and force in the very lucrative online dating industry.

What the heck is a virtual adult dating site? All the women appear to be prostitutes. Am I supposed to videoconference with them? I’m scared to sign up and since you can’t do anything without creating an account I’m outta here.

I did appreciate the opportunity to self-identity as a Female-to-Male Transexual. You just don’t see that option on signup forms often enough.

The press release says the new site has 17 million profiles yet Compete says 323 monthly visitors. How in the world did they get 17 million profiles? That borders on false advertising if not outright fraud. Something doesn’t feel right here. Ok, I see it now. Read the fine print, the site is powered by Datech Limited, which is better known as World Dating Partners, the other white label dating provider.

Let’s see: Dating is good, Adult is $$$, we have all these identity offerings, why not build a dating site and hit all three concepts? Then lets tell everyone we have 17 million profiles on opening day.

Does this mean that World Dating Partners has 17 million profiles specifically tagged as adult? That would be staggering.

I’ll leave it to readers to comment on your thoughts on the success of

Free background checks are coming. eFUEL runs several identity verification and background check companies as well, which I’m sure will be used on the site.

Speaking of identity verification, I spent several hours this week talking with background check companies and their data providers. Still waiting for online dating sites to take advantage of these services. Integration is easy, the data is pretty ok (it’s the weakest link in any verification system) and the front end usability is pretty darn smooth. How long is it going to take for dating sites to wake up and smell the coffee? What’s holding you back? I’d really like to know.

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Unfit to Date, and Yes, It’s All About The Robots

I saw these Plenty Offish ads all over the T in Boston yesterday. I skipped several trains and loitered by this ad at Park Street Station to hear what people had to say about it. If the 10 or so people I overheard and polled, it’s time for POF to hire a real marketing company. Most people said that they can’t possibly delete people unfit to date because they heard it was a one-person company.

I loved that the OKCupid Staff Robot said I should meet someone. I mentioned that to her in an email and she wrote back and said, “I live 5 minutes from you and far be it from me to ignore any robot directives.” That made my day, regardless of the outcome.

I also like how I can rate people’s emails. I wonder what the Staff Robot is using the ratings for?

Online Personals Watch has the gender breakdown for ChristianCafe. Many more women than men as the age groups get older.

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Signs of Cheating in a Relationship

The following is not really about signs of cheating in a relationship, but rather the story of one of our Christian single women readers sharing her heartbreak on finding signs of cheating in her relationship. She also offers some some relationship advice when you find signs of cheating in a relationship.

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Casual Dating Sites grow every day! Online Booty Call reached 3 million!

Casual Dating Sites are more and more popular. People are easier to flirt online then in a real life. Speed dating and casual sites are growing in attendance and activity.

For example, OnlineBootyCall, the world’s number one destination for casual online dating, today announced that it has proudly reached a momentous milestone: three million members and counting. From its inception in 2003, the site has experienced phenomenal growth, adding both thousands of new registered users and making more than 40,000 bootycall connections daily. In fact, in just a six-week period, from January 1st through Valentine’s Day weekend, the site has experienced a 38% year-over-year growth.

From today’s television lineup to our favorite magazines, it is clear that people’s dating patterns have changed. More and more people are interested in casual, fun dating rather than getting involved with someone too quickly. In addition, with the average person spending an average of 32.7 hours a week online (IDC), it is not surprising that more and more singles are trying to find a date online. In fact, U.S. online dating revenues are estimated to reach $1.32 billion in 2009, up from $1.18 billion in 2008 (eMarketer/Piper Jaffray).

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Christian Singles Girls Being Unequally Yoked

The following article on Christian single girls being in an unequally yoked dating relationship comes to us from Tracy:

I thank the Lord for this site. After choosing to live in sin for the past two years, the Lord has been merciful and has forgiven me, and filled me with his Holy Spirit once again. I was angry with God for being “alone”, and being a single mother. I rebelled, and decided that I was going to be in an unequally yolked relationship, and that “I” was going to enjoy it. For 18 months the relationship tore me to pieces! I had gotten so deep into sin, it appeared as though I would have never gotten out. I did everything I knew was against God’s word. I got into a relationship with a married man, he left his wife (he had already planned to leave if it wasnt me it would have been someone else). It was love and romance for two weeks, and then hell for two weeks. The cycle was like this for 18 months. I was filled with torment, anguish, and a loss of control. I resisted going to God b/c I wanted things my way. I wanted to believe that I could make it work, if I just changed a certian way. But it was NEVER meant to work. So, for the first time in my life I got into divination in order to keep the man, taro, and horoscopes. The devil had me as his puppet. I spent tons on psychotherapy, blamming myself for everything that went wrong in the relationship. Believe it or not, for the first time I even tried a drug to escape the pain…this nearly caused me to completely loose my mind. But thank you Jesus, because of his mercy, there were moments in the midst of this evil that I was able to cry out to Jesus for help and he heard me. I knew that I was not strong enough without his power to get out of this sickness. God heard me and he answered me. After dozens of breakups (I was the one always getting dumped and accepting him back) the man finally dumped me for Good. I believe that he found someone else, while with me (no suprise), God worked it out to where I caught him flirting and I confronted him on it. He said it was the last straw. Thank you Jesus! Thank you for my mind, thank you for your holy spirit. Thank him for forgiveness and mercy, and goodness. The devil came to destroy me. And I was helping him to do that all the way. But if it had not been for Jesus, I might have been dead today. Its just not worth it getting into an unequally yoked relationship when YOU KNOW that you shouldnt. The devil comes to rob kill and destroy, and he will use any opportunity. Its worse when we know, and willfuly go into sin. Ive had bad experiences before, in unequal relationhsips but obviously didnt learn. This experience was to really teach me and seal the deal to live for Christ. Emotionally, the loss leads me, at times, to miss the man I thought I loved, but what I have to remember is that this man was never good. He is a sinner, and has no desire to know God. Satan is a seducer, and so he presented this man as good on occassion to keep me in as long as it would take to destroy me. When I feel that sadness, or loneliness come on, each day I read my bible, and pray and cry out to the Lord about the pain my disobedience caused. And each day, I desire to get closer to Jesus b/c he is all I have and he loves me for real. The filling of his spirit makes me feel like I can get through this. I also pray that God fixes that part of me that led to my desperation to need a man so badly that I would be willing to go all out to go to hell. There is a problem in my flesh that needs healing. Im happy I had a chance to share. There is so much that I could share, but for sake of space, Ill cut it short. Thanks for reading.

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Valentines Day Gifts for Boyfriend

Looking for some Valentines Day gifts for your boyfriend? Since Valentines Day is right around the corner you may want to start thinking about what useful Valentines Day gift to give to your boyfriend. If you have no idea (and most of us don’t, the following list of top Valentines Day gifts for Boyfriends may help.

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