E.U. Dating Trends

Alex Henderson

Professional matchmakers have been bringing couples together for centuries, but in the Internet era, matchmaking is much more high-tech than it was in the past — and one of the most profitable areas of the world when it comes to online dating is the European Union (E.U.). Online dating is popular all over the E.U., from Portugal to the Czech Republic to Finland. European companies like the France-based Meetic (which acquired Match.com’s European activities) and the Germany-based Parship have been making sizable profits bringing E.U. daters together. But while the E.U. dating market can be quite lucrative, it is also a market that requires a lot of study and research.

Gary Taylor, senior partner account manager for the Global Personals-owned WhiteLabelDating.com, stressed that the E.U. continues to be a very different online dating market from the U.S. and must be treated accordingly.

Localization is essential when running an online dating business in Europe. -Gary Taylor, senior partner account manager for WhiteLabelDating.com

“The European market is very different from the U.S. for a variety of reasons,” Taylor emphasized. “The first and most important one is the language barrier: where the U.S. has 50 states with online dating sites predominantly in English, Europe has many different countries which speak different languages. Therefore, localization is essential when running an online dating business in Europe.”

Linguistic preferences continue to vary considerably when it comes to online dating in the E.U. In the Netherlands and Sweden, for example, proficiency in English is at such a high level that many online daters in those countries have no problem dating English speakers even though English is not their native language. But in Spain, where fluency in English is not nearly as prevalent, many online daters only want to date other Spanish speakers. According to Taylor, the language barrier remains the biggest challenge for dating sites in Europe. Taylor said that the online dating market in Europe can be divided into monolingual dating sites and multilingual dating sites, and the monolingual ones still dominate the market. Taylor described users of monolingual dating sites as people who “are less likely to build a relationship with someone who doesn’t speak the same language.”

Taylor noted that the U.K. continues to be a vitally important part of the English-language online dating world: “Outside of the U.S. — a huge online dating market for both mainstream and casual dating — the U.K. is the largest English-speaking dating market. As early adopters of online dating, the stigma attached to online dating is long gone among British consumers, and as such, the U.K. dating market is booming and welcoming niche dating with open arms.”

The EU, like the U.S., has its share of online daters who are looking for very specific things, and niche dating can still be quite lucrative in E.U. countries. Taylor cited the BDSM, cougar/MILF, gay and BBW (big beautiful woman) niches as some of the most popular among European online daters. According to Taylor, densely populated cities in Europe tend to have the heaviest concentration of gay online daters.

Cougar/MILF dating, Taylor said, is an international phenomenon — and that includes Europe. “The MILF/cougar market is very popular,” Taylor observed. “The market has been growing very quickly across the globe. As online dating has been made more socially acceptable, so has dating someone considerably older — or, for that matter, younger — than themselves. I believe that mainstream media have helped with making the market more acceptable, especially for the female members.”

The mobile/wireless sector still enjoys a prominent place in online dating in E.U. countries. Europe has been on the cutting edge of mobile technology for a long time, and many E.U. countries were quick to realize that a mobile device could be used for a lot more than making or receiving phone calls — it could also be used for everything from checking soccer scores or getting the local weather forecast to viewing erotic content. And with smartphones being so popular in E.U. countries, that is naturally affecting the online dating sector. In E.U. countries, dating sites are often being accessed via smartphones rather than—or at least in addition to — desktops and laptops.

Dating sites that do a lot of business in E.U. countries will need to continue being as mobile-optimized as possible. “Accessing the Internet through mobile is becoming increasingly popular across Europe and is fast becoming the primary way that members use dating sites,” Taylor noted.

In the E.U., many porn consumers prefer actresses and models who have a look that is sexy but natural. And similarly, Florian Tauber, head of product management for the German site Lustagenten.com, said that one important difference between online daters in the U.S. and online daters in the E.U. is that in the E.U., there is less demand for a “barbie doll” look. Many E.U. daters, according to Tauber, like “hot and sexy” but not “plastic.”

Tauber cited European countries where German is widely spoken as some of the most attractive dating markets in the E.U. “Germany, Austria, Switzerland are still growing and well-funded markets,” Tauber observed. “We are talking about 7 million singles who are active users of dating platforms .... If I had to choose, my entry market would be Germany.”

Tauber said that for those who hope to attract paying customers in the E.U. online dating market, one of the most important considerations is still billing — and Europeans, he said, are by no means identical to Americans when it comes to how they want to pay for a membership on a dating site. Asked to comment on differences between online daters in Northern Europe compared to Southern Europe or Eastern Europe compared to Western Europe, Tauber replied: “I think the difference has less to do with the content — it is more about the acceptance of payment methods. In some countries, specific and independent payment methods are already in place. For example, in Germany, direct debit is a very common method to pay. In the eastern part of Europe, for example, mobile payments are more accepted. So you should be very well-informed about the situation of your target market if you want to step into that market.”