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Inside The Online Dating Industry
by Joe Tracy, publisher of Online Dating Magazine

Online Dating Industry Concerns



If the online dating industry wants to promote growth, harmony, and satisfaction, there are a number of areas it must address. For years I have warned that the online dating industry is in danger of negative branding if it didn't change it ways. And now research backs up my concerns that the industry is taking two steps backwards for every step forward. The following Keynote research shows that users are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with online dating services:

» customer satisfaction with online dating services is low.
» customers are dissatisfied with misrepresentation.
» 30% (a number we've reported below) of people on online dating services are married or in a relationship.

In the past, I've highlighted the things that are bringing dissatisfaction of users to the industry. This includes:

1) High prices.
2) Poor customer service.
3) Automatic rebilling.
4) Must pay to respond to paid member inquiry.
5) Expectations not being met.

Let's address these one by one:

High Prices of Online Dating Services
When online dating first started to become popular, people were paying $19.99 a month to find potential dates and partners. Now most major online dating services are charging between $49 - $59 a month for the same service! It's a rate that has increased greater, in percentage, than gas prices.

Poor Customer Service by Online Dating Services
Poor customer service is bringing increased dissatisfaction of users who use online dating services. Most major online dating services live by the philosophy that "the company is always right." Not "sometimes right" or "many times right", but "always right." All you have to do is read through the dozens of online dating experiences to see that the consistent theme of complaint is customer service.

Automatic Rebilling
Major online dating services love automatic rebilling because they count on people forgetting to request not to be automatically rebilled in order to pad their wallets. This is the number one complaint to the Better Business Bureau about online dating services and is also the subject of lawsuits and chargebacks. This practice is angering people so much that they are going to extraordinary lengths to "right a wrong".

Must Pay to Respond to Paid Member Inquiry
When you sign up for an online dating service, you do so under the belief that you have full access and communication to others on the service. Yet, by far, the majority of companies force you to pay in order to respond to someone. So you may think that you have access to the service's "12 million" members when, in reality, you can only communicate with "two million". It's almost "bait and switch" - sign up to have access to our 12 million members, only to sign up and find out that more than 75% of the people you email will never respond unless they also pay. This method is so annoying that Online Dating Magazine has built it into the publication's listings of Online Dating Services, showing who does this and who doesn't.

Expectations Not Being Met
The expectations of online dating service members are not being met and this is leading to dissatisfaction. Interestingly enough, the reason the expectations aren't being met is because of the other problems mentioned above! Who wouldn't be frustrated sending out 30 inquiries only to get one or two responses? Many users don't realize that the reason they aren't getting a response is because the person they paid to email can't respond because they are not a paying member too.

These are all areas the online dating industry must address in order to revive a strong interest and growth in online dating. When they don't address it, they help out free services like Plenty of Fish and MySpace who grow because all the restrictions of other online dating services are removed with their service.

As long as major online dating services continue these practices, the door is wide open for a new service to come in and take away business. For example, if you are a serious new service with venture capital funding and great marketing, you have the prime opportunity to create comparisons that will always favor you. I'd recommend:

1) A comparison chart posted on your site that shows how you excel in these areas and your competition fails.

2) Press releases outlining the industry problem and how you differ.

The key is to set yourself apart. I heard of one online dating service offering a "money back guarantee." Smart. If you offer such a guarantee or allow paid members to communicate with non-paying members, or no automated rebilling then these are things you should be publicizing! If these are the greatest barriers for users of online dating services, then you need to show that such barriers don't exist with your service.

Would you shop at a store that didn't allow you to return items (defective or not)? Of course you wouldn't! And that's what many major online dating services are doing.

All one has to do is look at Google to see how customer satisfaction drove a business to huge profits. Google put the customer first - no pop-up ads or banner ads allowed, easy to use interface, etc. Reject the "put the company first notion" and return to "the customer is always right notion" and word of mouth will help you grow.

In January, I offered up a challenge to the online dating industry and we will honor that challenge. For services that do things that honor the customer, we will publicize what they are doing. If you are a well established service, let us know what you are doing and if it meets the challenge then we'll honor you with positive press coverage of your service.

Tip of the Week
How would you like to increase your traffic 20-fold? Webdate did over the past month and that is the focus of today's tip.

Tip #9: Create a Unique and Attractive Advertising Medium
You may not be too familiar with online dating service Webdate (unless you've been monitoring the news recently). Webdate isn't yet one of the major online dating services, but with their unique and creative advertising style, it's only a matter of time before that changes.

Last month, Webdate released a series of creative and funny "online dating" promotions that play off of online dating failures. These are like "mini-movies" showing humorous online dating situations and how Webdate differs.

The campaign is brilliant. Not only has Webdate traffic and memberships increased 20-fold since the launch of the campaign, but people are downloading these promos at a rate of 100,000 an hour!

To learn more about this, read our news item on the campaign.

Now what can you do that is unique and creative?

Awhile ago, online dating service Honesty First put a funny flash animation on their site about online dating. The service easily had a unique angle to increase interest. The problem is that nobody knew about the flash unless they visited the site. This is not marketing. Marketing is using the flash to get people to visit the site. I even emailed the site owner offering to put the flash on Online Dating Magazine (because we loved the creativity of it), but never heard back with a yes or no.

You need to use your unique advertising elements to push traffic to your site. This includes press releases, notes to dating blog owners, magazines, etc. highlighting the existence of the element and possibly permission to use the element (after all, your promotion is built into it therefore you want it everywhere you can get it).

Joe Tracy is publisher of Online Dating Magazine and is often quoted by the media in relation to online dating topics. His Inside the Online Dating Industry column is published every Friday.

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