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At OKCupid, Openness is The Key to Success

Great article about OKCupid in the New York Times, Looking for a Date? A Site Suggests You Check the Data.

In its fight against much bigger competitors like Match.com, PlentyOfFish and eHarmony, it has tried a number of marketing techniques, often with little success. But the blog, which OkCupid started in October, has helped get the company’s name out on other blogs and social networks. A post last month that set out to debunk conventional wisdom about profile pictures brought more than 750,000 visitors to the site and garnered 10,000 new member sign-ups, according to the company.

The research obviously took a lot of time and resources, but If this doesn’t once and for all show the dating industry that there is a huge upside to being more open and informative while helping members make the most out of the online dating experience, I don’t know what will. 750,000 visitors based on a blog post!

These days I am inundated with dating site social media spam clogging up Twitter with cloaked affiliate links and T&A photo enticements. This sort of lowest-common-denominator marketing will continue because it’s cheap traffic, but I like to think that sites taking more focused on branding and efficiently are the ones who will grow the most and succeed in the long run.

Someone should do a comparison between social media traffic results and generic dating site marketing like Adwords. It would be fascinating to see comparisons between cost and effectiveness.

The OKCupid article went viral primarily because it’s something people had never read about before. It was re-tweeted many times, and media attention begets more media attention. It wasn’t 101-level dating advice like “brush your teeth before a date” like so many dating site magazines publish (with a few exceptions, which I will be talking about in coming weeks.) The tone of the blog post was not that of an academic paper, which would never have gotten the same level of exposure.

Greg Waldorf, chief executive of eHarmony, which says it has more than 20 million registered users, was dismissive of the marketing power of OkCupid’s blog reports.

Of course he was. Waldorf’s quote is garden variety CEO-speak. I understand media quotes that position a brand against competitors, but that level of snarkiness in unnecessary. eHarmony clearly doesn’t understand the importance of great profile photos, which is inexplicable.

And what’s with the 20 million registered users comment? There are lawsuits brewing over statements like that. Shame on eHarmony and Match for using these irrelevant numbers in the media. They are both going to get spanked over these statements, just you wait and see. Monthly logins is a number I’d like to see used instead.

Eharmony doesn’t have to be concerned about OKCupid, but to be dismissive of the research is an indicator of just how out of touch eHarmony has become. The trend is toward openness and empowering singles, and that’s the polar opposite of how eHarmony works.

EHarmony doesn’t share anything. They are like the North Korea of the online dating industry. A big black box and a giant marketing machine. They have their top-5 position in the marketplace and will be there for many, many years to come. It’s imperative to understand how brilliantly eHarmony built the company, from the $100 million dollar early fundraising, to the commercials, and the fact that eHarmony is perfect for busy and lazy people who don’t feel like spending five hours a week on Match and need a lot of handholding.

Eharmony’s empire is built on a matching system that nobody really understands outside of the company. It’s probably the best black-box compatibility system available and there is nothing any competitors can do about it. Except Chemistry, which is spending tens of millions of dollars to take the edgy/urban/alternative people away from eHarmony, with varying degrees of success.

I wish someone could compare eHarmony to Chemistry.com and Perfectmatch. In the meantime, the Catalyst Group in New York has done an exhaustive comparison of Match and eHarmony, A Usability Study of Online Dating  is the best review of two dating sites I’ve ever seen. Every dating industry executive should read the entire report.

Read a Usability Study of Online Dating

While I’m at it, I would also like to see IAC break out Match and Chemistry financials and to report each PeopleMedia property on it’s own. Hey, we can dream.

PlentyOfFish thinks I’ve got a crush on OKCupid, and it’s true. I will not hide the fact that I believe that OKCupid is hands-down the best introduction site for urban, sex-positive, educated, liberated and worldly singles. No other site even comes close.

In fact, I unsubscribed from PlentyOfFish today. Longtime readers know that I subscribe and unsubscribe from dating sites all the time, and this time it’s POF. I’ve been on numerous great OKCupid dates recently and for me, personally, POF just isn’t delivering. And it’s not like PlentyOfFish is going to change anytime soon, at least from the member perspective. So I’m out, at least for a while. I’m going to replace POF with Match.

Maybe I’ll re-join eHarmony, but I’ve been on that ride before, not expecting a different experience, but it’s good to go through the signup process every once in a while to see what’s changed.

Note: not belonging to a dating site doesn’t mean I ignore it. I have logins all over the place, and my favorite market research has always been pulling out the laptop with friends and having them log into their favorite sites and search and emailing people together.

One final bit about PlentyofFish before I sign off. I’m sure that people in the dating industry have discussed these topics ad nausea, but I ran into POF execs at iDate and wanted to clarify my thoughts.

For a handful of people up in Canada running an international site nearing 100 million monthly logins, their stratospheric grow is unprecedented and worthy of a business school case study someday.

As a business, POF is trying to break through to the next level. The company is doing everything it can to monetize the stupefying number of logins it receives each month. Word on the street is that in Canada POF is landing higher-class advertisers, which I don’t see when I log in here in Boston. Anything they can do to lessen the number of slutty ads will be a bonus for all users and raise revenue accordingly.

Problem is, the company is too small, not to mention the fact that reliance on advertising is never going to get them to that magical $30-$50 million in revenue. What was once a bragging right has become a hindrance. To begin with, they need to broaden the team. Five people can’t possibly build out the strategy and execution plan that gets a free dating site from $15 million to $30 million. Not being critical of management, just realistic of the efforts involved and how revenue growth tends to swell the ranks.

While I’m certainly an avid OKCupid fan, PlentyofFish has a much larger opportunity to grow, especially internationally. Markus and the team need to focus on evolving the definition of the company from “we’re popular” to “we’re successful,” and that is no small feat.

PlentyofFish Demands Income Description

Saw this while browsing PlentyofFish:

Please enter your income, we use it for matchmaking and it will never appear on your profile! You will not show up in the rows of images on top of pages, My Matches and many other sections of the site until you do.

This is also probably used for courting advertisers and targeting purposes. Nothing to keep people from selecting whatever they want, but a very direct way to force people to provide additional information about themselves.

Getting people to fill out their entire dating profile over time without bogging them down at the time of signup is something I’ve helped a lot of dating sites with. As with all new features, Always Be Testing.

PlentyofFish Launches Serious Member Badges

POFstampsmallwhite.jpgAfter remaining free since it’s inception, PlentyofFish has officially launched the Serious Member feature. I was able to add my badge, which you can see in the screenshot below. It’s gigantic, like the sun.

I don’t hold open doors for women, I kick puppies and regularly taunt old ladies, but I’m a serious member now. How will this affect my interaction with women on PlentyofFish?

Here’s the pitch page, which can be difficult to locate.

Stand out in searches and when you send emails.

If you want others to know you are serious and you’ve put real effort into finding someone then you should get your serious member profile upgrade. Take a look at some of the screen shots below. Think about it, do you take people more seriously if they have paid for something? If you got 50 emails from random people and 2 of them were from serious members, which ones would you be more excited about? If you look at 20 people coming up in a search result and one of the profiles is in gold which profile would you look at first? This upgrade is about signaling intent and giving you the ability to stand out from 10′s of millions of other users. If you are serious about finding someone you can Become a Serious Member!

Men can expect women making first contact 9x more than before! (This one is shocking)

Women can expect a 40% increase in first contacts.

Most importantly people who message you, know that you are serious. You’ll get far higher quality emails.

Markus is coming around to what I’ve said all along. People who pay for online dating are generally considered more serious. This is not to say that trust and reputation tools can’t be integrated with free dating sites and social networks to create an authentic sense of “seriousness”, but it’s been the prevailing logic of paid dating for years. That and being able to offer real customer service.

Pricing:

1 year @ $5.95/month ($71.40)
6 months @ $7.80/month ($46.80)
3 months @ $9.80/month ($29.40)

Picture 1.png$10/month seems too high, this will hurt adoption rates. It will be interesting to see which option most people purchase. Kudos to Markus for not doing auto re-billing, I didn’t expect that.

Here’s a thought, PlentyofFish wants to sell. Valuation on a free dating site is much more subjective than a paid dating site. PlentyofFish will have billing information on all serious members. This could drive up the valuation of the site.

Previously I wrote PlentyOfFish Starts Charging Premium Membership Fees. Paying for a badge next to your photo is not exactly a premium membership fee, consider it a sign of things to come.

Full details at the PlentyofFish Serious Member page.

Plentyoffish Website Changes

Dating site PlentyofFish has made some recent changes outlined in this blog post.

Spent some time this weekend and rewrote parts of the site…

1. Ditched the paid virtual gifts on the weekend not really core to what we are doing.

2. Instead of allowing you to remove people from searches I added a new search that removes any profile you have ever viewed from the search..

3. Added a thumbnail cropping tool built in Ajax…

4. Revamped the profile system forcing better quality profiles…

5. Semi new design and cleanup of a lot of pages..

5. A whole bunch of tiny changes all over the place.

With so many different free sites all over the world the only way forward is to offer better features than paid sites and more of them. But only if it actually helps users.

#1 I wonder what it means that “virtual goods are not core to our business?” Does that mean nobody was using them or they couldn’t get people to pay for them.

#2 doesn’t make sense unless I still have the option to see people I have searched for. Do I? It’s difficult to tell.

#3 I saw the photo-fixer link, but now it’s gone. Where did it go? Why promote a feature that isn’t there? You would think that I would see the option on the photo upload page.

I uploaded a somewhat risque photo, which was deleted and I received a warning email but it didn’t tell me that my image was removed. Plus, I had it set to private. Bizarre.

Deleting an image doesn’t have a confirmation alert, oops there goes my fantastic vacation photo.

When I click “edit image”, I’m asked to log in even though I’m already logged in.
#4 What does “Revamped the profile system” mean? How does it force better quality photos?
#5 I see a new header graphic, thats about it. What else changed?
#5 again: Ok, so what are they? Why announce changes and not explain them?
When you log out, there is no option to log back in.
This was not meant to be a site review, but I have spent an hour or two on PlentyofFish this week, in my ongoing attempt to understand the draw of the site besides being free.

Plentyoffish Inc. Magazine Interview

200901081317.jpgI just read on Twitter that the Inc. Magazine article about PlentyOfFish is live. And the Money Comes Rolling In covers much of founder Markuk Frind’s personal as well as professional life, including his site’s rise as one of the most popular web destinations.

Entrepreneurs, do not read the article near sharp objects or firearms, you will want to use them on yourself when you’re done reading. Or, you will be inspired to crush Plentyoffish and take over the free dating market. I hope you choose the latter. Markus unapologetically tells the entire online dating industry that you’re doing it wrong. I for one disagree, because traffic doesn’t equal success and the site is practically unusable to me, but the sentiment rings true in many ways.

Markus doesn’t have anything good to say about Match or Yahoo Personals, yet their ads are all over the PlentyOfFish home page. Love the irony.

So much for spending an hour on the phone with the Inc Magazine reporter who wrote the article.

He came out of nowhere, and he didn’t seem to give a shit,” says David Evans, who writes the blog Online Dating Insider.

I’m more nuanced than that during press interviews, really. I think I called him ignorant and obstinate too, but in a good way.

What do we learn about Markus:

  • Plenty of Fish is on track to book revenue of $10 million for 2008
  • He works 10 minutes a day
  • His girlfriend is afraid of ghosts
  • He discovered a string of 23 prime numbers, the longest ever (2002)
  • The site creates an estimated 800,000 successful relationships a year

This quote had me searching for a tall building to fling myself off of.

“The site pretty much runs itself,” he explains. “Most of the time, I just sit on my ass and watch it.” There’s so little to do that he and his girlfriend, Annie Kanciar, spent the better part of last summer sunning themselves on the French Riviera. Frind would log on at night, spend a minute or two making sure there were no serious error messages, and then go back to sipping expensive wine. A year ago, they relaxed for a couple of weeks in Mexico with a yacht, a captain, and four of Kanciar’s friends. “Me and five girls,” he says. “Rough life.” As Frind gets up to leave, I ask him what he has planned for the rest of the day. “I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe I’ll take a nap.”

Let us look in the direction of Vancouver and silently nod our heads to a guy who has built an incredible company and lives a lifestyle we all wouldn’t mind living. Now step away from the ledge and get back to work.

Plenty Of Fish Extends Workday to 90 Minutes

Once held up as a shining example of how to succeed by working as little as possible, PlentyOfFish founder Markus Frind made a series of stunning announcement this week which have sent shockwaves of despair through the global get-rich-quick and affiliate marketing communities.

Entrepreneur fanboys, Microsoft programmers and bloggers were also saddened to learn that founder of the worlds largest free dating site has announced that the company will begin measuring the length of the workday in hours, not minutes. After working a grueling 11 minutes, 4-Hour Workweek guru Tim Ferris extended an already-exhausting day to comment, “I’m very disappointed in Markus, he’s working too hard and growing too fast, I do not condone his behavior.”

Taking several years to employ a second worker, the leading free dating site also announced it has increased the headcount to an astronomical four people, necessitating the move to a larger space.

To add to the despair, PlentyOfFish announced it has moved it’s global headquarters from the founder’s apartment into something called an office, where pants are required.

The explosive growth of PlentyOfFish has sent reverberations throughout the online dating industry. Industry experts say these events will place an enormous strain on the already-taxed resources at Match and eHarmony.

Eharmony President was heard saying, “For the love of Jesus, we’re going to have to spend another $100 million in advertising just to keep up.”

Match.com’s IT staff were seen ordering another truckload of servers and acquiring four additional Chinese social networks in the hopes it can regain it’s leadership position.

True to form, True.com has attempted to raise awareness about the unfair working conditions at PlentyOfFish by lobbying lawmakers and trying to get a bill passed stating its illegal to run a dating site in Canada.

PlentyOfFish Founder Markus Frind appears to be the most affected by recent events:

For the first few years it was just me and my server, sitting in my apartment working excruciating minutes a day, sometimes an entire hour was spent figuring out where to put more ads on the site. Then I would have to leave and go to the bank and deposit the giant checks from Google.

The basic website took four hours to complete, then I took a month off. Then I threw up some Sugardaddy.com ads and took a nap. Next thing I knew I had 30 million monthly visitors. Some guy named Suzuki said I was his hero and all of a sudden I was all over Canadian cable television.

Last week we had a meeting. To tell you the truth I didn’t know what to do so I went and bought a big bag of Cheetos and a case of diet coke. Having these “employee” people around is going to take some getting used to. I’m just glad PlentyOfFish is the best website in the entire universe, have you seen our internation growth? We are destroying Match in Albania!

Employees, office space and five hours of recent downtime due to circumstances beyond your control, welcome to the real world, Markus.

Plentyoffish.com Ranked #1 In UK

As the peak internet dating season approaches, Plentyoffish continues to trounce the free dating site competition. In the international arena, 7.2 million people in the UK visited the worlds largest free dating site in October, as opposed to 4.3 million and 2.1 million for Meetic and Match, respectively.

The press release I received states that a the main difference in how Plentyoffish markets itself is word-of-mouth marketing rather than heavy online ad spending. I find this statement difficult to swallow. I’ve heard from various industry sources that PoF spends quite a bit on online advertising. Do you really think people are talking about PoF enough to drive seven million monthly visitors in the UK?

PlentyofFish is about traffic. Buying traffic and making money of advertising revenue and affiliate marketing. If it sells, the acquiring company is most likely interested in the traffic and the eyeballs more than the fact that the majority of the audience are casual daters.

I keep receiving my weekly “new people on PoF” emails and try as I might, when I compare the quality of the people with Match, PoF doesn’t come close. That is not a dig towards the people on PoF, it’s my personal observation after belonging to hundreds of dating sites over the past 5 years.

Marketers salivate over PoF traffic, that’s a lot of inventory to sell advertising. Let’s take a look who’s on the site today.

Naughty-or-Nice.com. right on the home page when you are not logged in. This is a classic bait-and-switch. Initial ad looks like a True.com rip-off, clicking through you arrive at a site which is one page, a signup form asking you to create a login and showing how many singles match your criteria. Submitting the form redirects you to True.com and complains about my password. This kind of marketing pisses me off to no end. The one truth about True is that it continues to be disrespectful of potential and existing members. Enough about them, I could rant about True for hours, a rich vein of discontent in the online dating industry to say the least.

Reloading home page, we are greeted with an American Singles ad. The same American Singles that has been hemorrhaging users for years not as Spark Networks focuses marketing spend on more lucrative sites like JDate.

Next ad, after logging in, is K&N automotive filters (which I use and do get an extra 5 horsepower with). Just how targeted is this ad? Do women see it?

Google ads at top of page look like this:

Free dating sites chat rooms and affaire sites. Yuk.

Reloading page, it’s an ad for eHarmony. As I’ve said for ages, PoF reels people in, then sends them on their way to other sites, picking up anywhere from a few pennies to $50 every time someone exits the site via advertising. Nothing wrong with that at all. It’s the misperception

Next up, an ad for Microsoft Office. Yeah, I want to go read about Excel when I’m on a dating site.

Ok, you get the picture?

I’m the first to admit that these days I am totally biased towards larger sites like Match. Show me a site with a better variety of members from all walks of life, who are serious about finding someone, that’s as easy to use, has better profiles and search, and I’ll sign up today.

I’m in a major city, a serious online dater, and admittedly difficult to please when it comes to the type of women I find appealing. Larger sites seem to work better for me. If I was in my mid-twenties and into indie rock, there are many niche sites I could join, but at 39 I find the whole niche dating experience less than satisfactory. Believe me, if I found a niche that worked, I would work it and be writing about it.

Plentyoffish Worth $1 Billion According to Founder

I was reading Steve Rubel’s post about yet another Internet bubble about to burst, which led me to this article that says Plentyoffish.com is worth $1 billion according to it’s founder.

POF being valued at one billion dollars? Not a chance. Hundreds of millions? Definitely.
Markus, owner of Plentyoffish, recently  spoke with Read/WriteWeb:

But the crux of Markus’ argument is that despite having about 33 times the monthly traffic of POF, Facebook’s poor click-through ads should bring the valuation models closer. Markus said that “over 40% of Facebook’s pageviews are image related, ads in bad positions and users just generally looking to waste time.” He said that “there are only a handful of sections on the site [Facebook] that will generate good click thru rates for advertisers.”

I agree that most of Facebook’s ads are low quality, but then again so are POF’s. Trying to come up with a metric to compare Facebook with Plentyoffish is ridiculous. Facebook is a ever-opening platform with an ecosystem, 30+ million members, $250 million in revenue, and changing the way people experience the Internet. Their new ad system and deal with Microsoft is going to grow revenue closer to $500-$700 million a year.

POF is a profitable dating site with massive amounts of traffic. Is POF is worth more than Friendfinder? Hardly. I can see FriendFinder selling before POF, due to the fact that Friendfinder members are higher quality than POF members, therefore more valuable.

The top 10 dating site list fluctuates according to ad spend, with the major players moving a few spots every month, up and down like a yo-yo. If you pay attention you see the smaller sites popping into the top 1o, only to drop off due to a reduction in ad spend, ineffective ad buys or other factors. Remembert, dating sites have to spend huge amounts of money to attract visitors and this number will never go down.

Look how Singlesnet has become the defacto ad on Facebook and the number one dating site traffic-wise according to Hitwise. They came from nowhere just like Plentyoffish, and it’s a pay site to boot.

What about Mate1? Another opportunity to buy a top 10 dating site, but at what cost?

Online Personals Watch has the rankings. Check out the difference between the measurement companies.Markus has any number of enviable exit opportunities, but reality needs to set in on both sides of the table. Either way he wins, which is good for the industry, but is it good for singles?

Funny how when it comes to talking about selling dating sites, the last thing discussed is the people on the site. There is value in measuring a dating site’s success by the number of  visitors, ad impressions or the quality of it’s members.

Establishing a valuation on a ad-driven dating site right now is difficult proposition at best, might as well get out the Ouija board.

I am off to watch the Red Sox parade.

Friday 9-7- Linkdump

OK Cupid’s Sam Yagan Boston Globe Interview. Great backstory.

Four questions to Alex Panelli, CEO, Trilibis Mobile:

We recently launched MatchMobile in partnership with Match.com. The original launch included availability of a fully integrated mobile dating service in the US, UK and Canada. We will be deploying the service in additional 9 markets (and 9 languages) by the end of the year.

Lots of meeting this week. Image search, identity products, games and some other stuff I can’t talk about yet. It’s amazing what’s going on at the large dating sites. I now know that when I catch onto something, it takes about two years for the vendors and major dating sites to catch up with something people can actually use.

I have conversations scheduled with Susan Mernit at Yahoo and Match’s new PR director. I’ll post what I can here to give you an insiders view of what’s going on at the largest dating sites in coming weeks.

Another outrageous claim from Markus, who says it’s all over for AdSense. Outrageous! Speaking of Plentyoffish, “For those of you doing site targetted campaigns via  Google Adwords on  plentyoffish.com there are now new channels you can bid on instead of just Run of Site.”

Plentyoffish Relationship Needs Assessment

Plentyoffish has officially launched a relationship needs assessment feature. I believe this is the feature I wrote about back in May in a post titled PlentyofFish Is Now EChemistry.com. I had to re-read the title twice. Funny choice of words.

The Relationship Needs Assessment determines in great detail a person’s overt and hidden needs in a relationship. But that’s not all. This assessment provides users with highly specific guidance for putting the results in practice. Therefore, each user receives customized “Action Plans�? that outline specific questions and topics for the user to ask or explore with potential partners.

These “Action Plans�? are based entirely on the unique answer patterns of the test taker, so everyone receives guidance that is custom-made for them. There is nothing like this assessment on the Internet today.

When I think of PoF I think of massive amounts of traffic, competitors using the database as a marketing tool, mediocre quality profiles and oversaturation in the press by human interest reporters that haven’t spent 10 minutes on a typical dating site. And now certain tech pundits have elevated Markus on to a pedestal based on Alexa ranking, with little regard to the actual website itself. That’s what internet success is all about these days. It’s not the quality of the experience, it’s your traffic ranking and Adwords revenue. Maybe I’m old school. I prefer quality over quantity. And of course there is the sour grapes factor.

The media will contine to feed on itself, and the exposure is worth a few million more to Markus.

I have been using eHarmony for the past week or so. I want to take a test and have 25 great women show up in my inbox. I have been disappointed with the results at eHarmony. Pages broken or not loading, the majority of the women don’t have photos and those that do have been so far out of my range that I wonder what it’s like for people that don’t live in a major metro area. Is eHarmony better for conservatives in the heartland than liberals near the coasts?