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Look at the new True.com ads. They don’t even bother showing faces anymore. Is this progress? No. Does this raise the bar for online dating? No. Does this type of marketing even make a dent in the Adult Friend Finder revenue? Probably not. I’m surprised that they didn’t say that the a*s in question was a True.com member.

Let’s look at the difference between total monthly visits and the number of unique visitors at a few upstart dating sites (thanks Markus).

Look at the drop in total number of monthly visitors to True.com last summer (2007), from 45 million monthly visitors down to 10 million and up around 20 million today. The number plummeted so much because, among other reasons, they stopped buying as much traffic and advertising.

Monthly Visitors: Singlesnet is up 50% over this time last year, Mate1 is down 27%, True is down 36% and match is down 12.5%.

Match’s numbers are more stable because they spend pretty much the same amount on marketing each year. Everyone else is all over the map, because they are buying so much cheap traffic on social networks. This type of spending is generally unsustainable.

A press release will bring a bump in traffic just like an ad on Myspace. Do you want short term spikes that usually can’t be sustained, or a long term strategy for increasing growth over time, including a strong brand, positive reputation and a service that’s actually useful?

I don’t feel that many sites can withstand the hit they take when the ad dollars run out and there is no corresponding growth in the number of signups. We’ll see where these sites are in another year. By that time they will have made their millions, so this exercise is really a waste of time.

Go raise $10-20 million. Start a generic dating site for less than $100k. Spend all your money on driving visitors to your site. Make millions. Pay out millions, rinse, repeat. The problem is the millions it takes to get the initial traction.

I listened to a lot of people this week pitching their site as the next big thing. Without a tremendous amount of capital, it simply isn’t going to happen. Everyone thinks they can start a site for short money, sit back and watch the money pour in. Reality Check: It doesn’t work that way.

A few thoughts:

It makes more sense to focus on niche sites these days. Without a huge war chest, nobody can compete with the majors, at least in the US.

Running a dating site means 10 hour days for the first year. Are you ready for that kind of commitment?

Don’t overestimate the power of press releases at launch time. Send one on the free PR nets, follow up with key people, move on and start focusing on smart spending. There is traffic to be acquired, myriad ways, and you don’t have to resort to lowest-common denominator ads on Facebook and Myspace.

If you want to make a lot of money, do an adult site and take a sliver of the market from AFF and Fling. Or just become an affiliate. It’s a lot less work and there are no customers to deal with. You’re going to be an internet marketer, not running a dating site, so you better get used to it.

If you really are passionate about the business of online dating, why not get a job at a dating site? Better hours, stability and you won’t get a call at 3am when your server crashes. Just a though.