In the digital era, technology is evolving more rapidly than ever—and as technology evolves, so does online dating. The heterosexual dating market continues to evolve technologically in 2013, and while webmasters have an abundance of technology at their disposal, they are also facing a straight dating market that is much more competitive than it was in the past.
I think the BBW dating niche is performing really strong. We have two brands in this niche. —Alfonsus Kusuma, vice president of sales and marketing for Dating Gold.
One of the most important technological advances of the 21st Century has been the growth of mobile/wireless technology. In 2013, websites are often being accessed via smartphones rather than on desktops or laptops — and that includes heterosexual dating sites.
“Mobile is completely transforming the adult industry, and dating is no exception,” explained Gary Taylor, senior partner account manager for the Global Personals-owned WhiteLabelDating.com. “We’ve seen a total shift in the way that consumers choose to access dating sites, with 40 percent of all WhiteLabelDating.com traffic now coming from a mobile device. We’re expecting this number to be over 50 percent by September 2013. This can largely be attributed to the fact that users want access to services instantaneously. In addition, the enhanced privacy of viewing adult content on a mobile phone means that users can access and, more importantly, interact and convert at any time from any location. In 2013, we’re expecting mobile billing services to further adapt to better suit the needs of the adult industry; with better mobile payment options, mobile dating has the potential to explode to even dizzier heights.”
Taylor pointed out that in 2013, companies have a lot of technological tools that can help them gain a better understanding of their traffic. “Online dating has evolved greatly over the last five to six years,” Taylor noted. “The availability of data, insight and analysis has perhaps been the most significant change in allowing us to understand our users and, therefore, run a successful dating site. It is also a fantastically more populated dating market.”
Alfonsus Kusuma, vice president of sales and marketing for Dating Gold, observed: “Six or seven years ago, you could count the top adult dating companies with one hand. Nowadays, a lot more companies are getting into the dating market; that makes it more challenging to get traffic. This is good for affiliates and for the surfers, as they have more options to promote or join.”
Companies that hope to profit from heterosexual online dating are not only marketing themselves in the U.S. — they are looking to other parts of the world as well. Taylor cited the U.K., Australia and South Africa as three examples of lucrative markets for straight dating sites but stressed that webmasters need to understand the nuances of different markets.
“No two dating markets are the same,” Taylor asserted. “To identify differences between international dating markets, you need to observe a number of factors. In Australia, for example, 70 percent of the population live in the ten largest cities, whereas in the U.S., the population is much more spread out. This is something to consider when selecting price points, which are largely affected by affluence, thus affected by urbanization.”
Taylor continued: “South Africa is also an interesting market to compare to the U.S. It’s an exceptionally fast-growing economy where users have almost skipped PC and laptop usage altogether, heading straight to tablets and smartphones. South Africa, therefore, has a huge smartphone penetration; 60 percent of our South African traffic is mobile, in comparison to around 30 percent in the UK. Improvements to mobile billing can largely explain the amount of new, fast-growth markets springing up almost overnight.”
Despite all the financial turmoil that has been taking place around the world in recent years, online dating sites continue to be quite lucrative for companies that are marketing themselves wisely — and that includes companies offering straight dating sites. “Everyone needs love and sex,” Taylor said. “It’s human nature. Online dating is merely the latest evolution of the way in which we form relationships. The fact that the dating industry has continued to see growth even throughout the economic storm is a true testament to that.”
As online dating has continued to grow in popularity, one of the most intriguing and unorthodox options has been virtual dating. With virtual dating, Internet users are not going on actual face-to-face dates. Rather, they find one another online via websites that offer virtual dating (also known as “v-dating”), and they get together online for virtual dates or “v-dates” without actually meeting in person. Virtual dating isn’t for everyone, but that is true of niches in general. And in 2013, the virtual dating realm continues to have its supporters as well as those who still aren’t sure what to make of it.
“In 2013, I think we will see more virtual dating sites,” predicted Alfonsus Kusuma, vice president of sales and marketing for Dating Gold.
Some of the better-known virtual dating sites have included Smingle.com and iVirtual.com. Another proponent of virtual dating has been OmniDate.com, which is operated by Quantum Media, Inc. (a company founded in 2007). OmniDate.com has pointed to various research on the subject, including a study that researchers from Harvard University, Duke University and M.I.T. conducted on Internet dating. The researchers, OmniDate.com has noted, concluded that v-dates can lead to successful in-person dates; if two virtual daters get along well in that virtual dating environment, according to the study, they are more likely to get along well when they meet face to face on a real inperson date.
With a v-date, a variety of places can be simulated in the virtual environment. The v-date might take place in a simulation of an outdoor café in Rome, or it might take place in a simulation of a restaurant in Seattle, a jazz club in London or a cruise ship in the Caribbean. The virtual daters will choose the simulated environment in which they want to interact, and that environment might be thousands of miles from where they actually live.
Sites that offer virtual dating have had more female customers than male customers. One explanation for that is that men tend to be more visually inclined than women; they want to see what someone really looks like, not look at an avatar on a computer screen. Another explanation is that women like the safety factor of virtual dating: v- dates allow women to “date” someone without leaving home.
Gary Taylor, senior partner account manager for the Global Personals-owned WhiteLabelDating.com, isn’t especially bullish on virtual dating. How much the niche will grow in 2013, he said, remains to be seen.
“I haven’t seen virtual dating take off just yet,” Taylor said. “That’s a very niche market in itself. Early imitations of virtual dating have been and gone, but failed to gain traction. A number of newer products have launched, but the trend is yet to really hit the front of the marketplace.”
Virtual dating, like real in-person dating, can appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests. Many of the people who are meeting online for virtual dates are heterosexuals who are interested in vanilla relationships (that is, relationships that are not kinky). But virtual dates certainly don’t have to involve people who are vanilla and heterosexual; there are many other virtual options as well.
In March, ABC News and the Washington Post conducted a poll on gay marriage; 58 percent of the people surveyed believed that same-sex marriage should be legal in the U.S. And as public support for gay rights continues to increase among Americans, more companies are recognizing the importance of gay consumers — and that includes companies that specialize in online dating. In 2013, many webmasters are realizing that gay consumers are far from one-dimensional; different gay daters have different interests, and the gay dating sector is reflecting that diversity.
“While straight adult dating is still very strong, I see a lot of gay dating and niche dating doing well,” said Alfonsus Kusuma, vice president of sales and marketing for Dating Gold.
There are many specialties and micro-niches within the gay dating sector. Some gay dating sites are catering to daters who are commitment-minded, while others are catering to daters who are looking for something more casual (the so-called “casual sites” or “hookup sites”). Dating sites specializing in twinks (boyish gay men) continue to have a following, as do gay dating sites focusing on bears (hairy gay men) and daddies (older, more mature gay men). And gay BDSM sites remain plentiful, catering to daters who are not looking for something vanilla in a relationship. That includes dating sites for leathermen (gay men in the BDSM community who are known for wearing a lot of leather).
The gay dating sector has not only become more diverse — it has also become more competitive. Gary Taylor, senior partner account manager for the Global Personals-owned WhiteLabelDating.com, stressed that online dating companies that don’t do their research carefully are going to have a hard time getting ahead in the gay sector (or for that matter, any sector of online dating).
“Five years ago, people threw up a website and hoped it would work,” Taylor explained. “In 2013, every good landing page is tested extensively to assess which content achieves the best conversions; multi-variant testing is really popular. Secondly, marketing channels, and their reach, are far more advanced than they were in 2006. The marketing options now available from Google, Facebook, advertising networks and affiliates — who have improved targeting options and implemented real time bidding ability — have made it both easier and harder to push traffic towards dating sites.”
Taylor continued: “It is also a fantastically more populated dating market. Six years ago, you could probably count the big online dating sites on your hands. In 2013, the boundaries are more blurred. Brands come and go quickly, as the speed and ease with which you can set up a new site or launch a new advertising campaign across different channels has improved vastly.”
Ethnic dating sites still have their audience, including sites aimed specifically at black, Latino or Asian gays. And because the gay dating market has become so competitive, some webmasters are looking for esoteric niches that have not become saturated. For example, there are dating sites focused specifically on gay cowboys.
“Trends are forever changing, but over the last few years there has been a particular rise in niche dating — a trend now sitting at the forefront of the market,” Taylor noted. “This growth is, in part, due to the fact that acquisition costs are so much lower in comparison to more generic dating terms. Niche dating also allows content owners looking to monetize their traffic through an additional revenue stream to closely tailor their dating brand to suit their offering.”
In 2013, approaching a gay dating website as a get-richquick scheme is a recipe for failure; there is way too much competition. But with the right market research, the right promotion and enthusiastic customers, the gay sector can still be a profitable part of online dating.
Niche dating has been around for many years. Even in the 19th Century, people hired professional matchmakers who could cater to very specific things they were looking for in a mate (for example, someone who wanted to date redheads exclusively). But technologically, niche dating has evolved considerably over the years — and thanks to the Internet, it has never been more plentiful or more diverse.
Gary Taylor, senior partner account manager for the Global Personals-owned WhiteLabelDating.com, said that the niche daters of 2013 are not shy about looking for very specific things when dating — and the sites that are able to cater to their interests will be the ones that niche daters are more likely to come back to. “Consumers know exactly what they want and, what’s more, they place a greater trust in search engines to find the object of their desires for them,” Taylor explained. “Four years ago, the average search query was an average of two keywords long; in 2012, the average query was five words. Location, interests and/or characteristics such as age, height or weight are among the most common search trends. The popularity of niche sites follows accordingly.”
In 2013, the amount of online dating niches and microniches is endless. Cougar/ MILF dating, BBW (big, beautiful woman) dating, interracial dating and BDSM dating are all viable online dating niches in 2013, and the various niches sometimes intersect. Niche daters who are hoping to find a BBW over 40 who is into spanking and has a latex fetish realize that Google and other search engines can be used to pursue that interest. In the past, niche daters might have been more willing to settle for something that wasn’t quite what they were looking for; perhaps a submissive white male with a fetish for dominant Asian women might have been more willing to date a dominant woman who wasn’t Asian or an Asian woman who wasn’t into BDSM. But these days, niche consumers realize that there are many options in the online dating world.
With niche dating, websites don’t pretend to be all things to all daters; they realize that they’re catering to a select audience. Dating Gold, for example, has been catering to the cougar/MILF niche with CougarsPlay.com and MILFsHookup.com, the BBW niche with HookupBBW.com and Asian dating with MyAsianHookup.com.
“I think the BBW dating niche is performing really strong,” said Alfonsus Kusuma, vice president of sales and marketing for Dating Gold. “We have two brands in this niche.” Taylor observed: “The niches seeing the fastest growth and most sustained levels of interest are those that have been around the longest: cougar, MILF, BBW and swinger sites have the most consumer interest and thus, see the highest search volumes.”
BDSM is an area in which one finds countless dating micro-niches, ranging from spanking to tickle torture to flogging. Some BDSM dating sites cater to daters who are into really hardcore BDSM (for example, people who are playing with bullwhips and other single tails), while others are aimed at daters who are seeking more a BDSM-lite experience. Taylor noted that the popularity of E.L. James’ BDSM-themed novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” has inspired webmasters to start new BDSM dating sites, but he suspects that some of them are jumping on the kink bandwagon without adequately researching the BDSM market.
“After the Fifty Shades phenomena, a number of new BDSM dating sites popped up in an attempt to try and capitalize on the publicity, but these brands haven’t really sustained any longevity,” Taylor noted. “There are a number of opportunities for dating businesses within the BDSM market, but these Fifty Shades-style sites were simply jumping on the bandwagon rather than directly engaging with the BDSM community. Despite that, we are seeing a number of small pockets of niche interest infiltrate the dating scene; BDSM is among them, alongside anal, spanking, water sports and other fetishes.”