The beginnings of relationships can be tough. Everyone feels a little awkward during the initial stages, with both parties posturing to show only the most attractive parts of their personalities while always striving to strike the delicate balance between appearing interested and “stalking.” And as if this part of the process wasn’t already enough of a challenge, it still required finding and meeting someone with a mutual interest in the first place.
Fortunately the Internet has helped play a role in increasing the efficiency with which people can establish mutual interest and get to that first date. Online dating became one of the early stars of the Internet, both in its ability to engage audiences and to establish real revenue streams from paying customers.
But despite its lofty position as one of the high-profile categories of the Internet, in recent years it has faded to the background as social media has emerged and co-opted much of its mindshare. While the category has always retained its basic utility of being able to match people who were in the active pursuit of dates and relationships, its heyday was a good decade ago. However, some significant changes occurring in online dating today just might be signaling a renaissance for the category.
Online Dating Category Shifting to Mobile in a Big Way
The total multi-platform (desktop, smartphone, and tablet) audience for online dating is relatively stable these days, fluctuating between 35 and 40 million unique visitors depending on the season. However, the preferred methods of access to this category have been anything but stable. In just the past year, the category has gone from being desktop-dominant to a mobile-first category.
In July 2013, 65 percent of all online daters were using desktop in some capacity during their search for love, with the remaining 35 percent of online daters being of the “mobile-only” variety. By July 2014, however, those percentages had completely flipped with 60 percent of all online daters last month being mobile-only and just 40 percent of category visitors accessing via desktop.
Tinder Catches Fire, Making Run at Leaders Match.com and Plenty of Fish
Match.com has been the market leader for quite some time, having been around since the early days of the category. With more than 12 million multi-platform unique visitors in July 2014 it retains a strong number one position in the category, owning 4.2 visitors more than the next largest online dating property.
But the gap narrows considerably when looking at the number of visitors on smartphones. Match.com maintains its lead with 6.1 million visitors, but POF trails not far behind with 4.8 million. Perhaps most interestingly though, Tinder has vaulted ahead of some of its competitors in recent months to claim the number three position in mobile with 3.6 million visitors – up a whopping 1,400 percent in the past year.
Why has Tinder caught fire on mobile so fast? It probably has to do with the fact that it courted an audience – younger Millennials – which had previously been swept away from the category with the social media tide. And it also had to do with the fact that it adapted the experience very well to mobile, particularly with the use of the swipe feature allowing date-seekers to rapidly scan for potential prospects.
Adapting Online Dating to the Mobile Paradigm
So what does all of this mean for the online dating sector?
Like other sites built around personal profiles, online dating is subject to the network effect. The more people that use it, the greater utility it has, and the faster the adoption rate. As the networks become increasingly mobile, companies in the online dating space must shift their thinking to adapt to this new reality:
- Think Mobile-First: Online dating companies need to shift toward a mobile-first strategy if they haven’t already. This means investing in both the technology/utility of your online apps, as well as customer acquisition efforts – such as app install ads to raise awareness and increase app downloads. It doesn’t mean the traditional online presence has to go away, but the basic features of the service should be considered first and foremost with mobile usage in mind.
- Go Freemium: While subscriptions will always be an important revenue generator in this space, the model can create friction in bringing new people into the service and enabling the network effects to take hold. Tinder has caught fire in part because users don’t have to pay to get utility from the service. Users who want to get the most value from the service will be willing to pay for premium subscriptions, and advertising is obviously another path to monetization that most online users accept.
- Market to Millennials: Winning the hearts and minds of young adults is helping to rejuvenate this category. A staggering 53 percent of Tinder’s audience is within the narrow demographic of 18-24, which shows that Millennials can be engaged with online dating apps. But they think mobile-first and they are used to getting services for free, so these strategies must be utilized to market to them effectively.
The shift to mobile can be disruptive to established online businesses, but it can also be a huge opportunity. While it is definitely shifting audiences in the online dating categories, it is also engaged different audiences in new ways and helping breathe new life to the category. With a change in mindset and a shift in strategies, these amazing opportunities can be full realized.
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