The dating site problem – cause, effect and solution: answer

The problem, as we’ve discussed in the first two articles, is how do dating sites retain market share when their success stories – those members who’ve found their product works – leave as soon as it does?

Well, let’s look at three of the biggest dating sites out there: Zoosk, Match.com and eHarmony. First, take a look at last year’s returns, then what their plans for 2012 are and how they affect you, the dating site member.

They all work in a similar way – you can browse for free, but then you have to commit to £20/month (ish) to get in touch with anyone who takes your fancy. Longevity of contracts differ, but that aspect of their business is very much of a muchness. It’s how each site views its members and what they’ve got in store which will shake up the 2012 dating market (or not, in some instances).

It’s fair to say that, whereas Zoosk has a massive pool of membership feeding off facebook’s getting on for a billion membership, the other two have had to build, or acquire, their memberships, granted. But it’s also fair to say that once Match.com and eHarmony get you paired off, you, the couple, are nothing more than a marketing tool for the companies’ success rates. This is where Zoosk hope to change the level of the playing field.

Match.com, by their own admission, target their efforts into delivering the best experience for the user whilst they’re single so that, should they meet up with someone and disappear for a while, as soon as they’re single again, they’ll be straight back online dating with them. Apparently, this is true of 50% of its membership.

eHarmony, similarly, is looking to enhance its existing dating site membership’s experience.  Early in Spring they plan to release a facebook app that will merge the two timelines. Nice feature, but you’re not going to entice members to continue paying their fees when they’re in a relationship and they can get facebook free, without eHarmony’s influence.

This is where Shayan Zadeh and Alex Mehr of Zoosk want to make a difference. Instead of focusing on their entrepreneurial efforts the site as it is – they have 100 developers doing that for them at any given time – but they want to introduce features that will be useful to couples after they’ve got together. In essence, it’s akin to LinkedIn, the job and professional networking social site. You may not actively be looking for work, but you never take your profile down and you do nip in from time to time on the off-chance (that you will work out how to use it properly, this time).

You can see why, out of the three, Zoosk is the fastest growing and although they’ve still a way to go before they catch up with the other two giants in the online dating world, with facebook at their back, new innovations and an unparalleled vision of the market, you can bet everyone else is looking back over their shoulders.

Some of the ideas tossed in the couple-retention pot so far are anniversary gifts, discountable products, such as dining for two, scrapbooks for their uploaded dating site photographs and, perhaps most beneficial of all, relationship advice. This could be key for people who’re getting together after a long time being single or having been widowed. And, providing the couple do not stop their membership fee, all these extras will be offered at no further cost.

Now, that’s what I call growing a business from within. Cost effective customer retention so that if the couple stay together, they’re on the dating site, if they break up, they’re there, too. Guys, pure genius. Told you 2012 will be different. You bet.