The first questions that you should ask yourself are: "What type of dating site do I want to start and why?" If your answers to these questions are "A site that brings people together," and "To make money" — then you need to do some more homework on your business and marketing plans before wasting your time, energy and resources.
In today's ultra-competitive dating-site market, simply wanting to be a "one size fits all" matchmaker isn't going to cut it, unless you have the virtually unlimited advertising budget you'll need in order to compete with players such as eHarmony — a mainstream dating site that has successfully extended its brand by offering quality services, via aggressive (and very expensive) television advertising.
This isn't to say that competing against these sites is impossible; just that it's very likely to be unprofitable for all but the most highly capitalized organizations. Having said that, David does not need to take on Goliath; he can simply eke out a living where the giant fears to tread.
As many e-commerce operators will tell you, specialization is the key to realizing success — it's all about finding a niche. For most XBIZ readers, this will be found within the realm of "adult dating," meaning those people seeking casual sex rather than marriage or any other form of long-term relationship.
But even in this limited arena, the competition is fierce, with heavyweights like Adult Friend Finder, IwantU.com and other players leading the way. A quick search on Google for "adult dating" returns well over a million listings, as well as a robust selection of paid listings, illustrating the competitiveness of the market and the need to specialize.
Narrow your market as tightly as possible and see if there's a place for you: perhaps you might want to focus on hooking up gay dads, or swinging housewives, or even narrower markets like handicapped lesbian voyeurs. Just as in the adult site business, the smaller the slice of the pie, the juicier and sweeter the taste may be.
For those who perform their market research with due diligence, the thought of competing with the established players can be daunting. All is not lost, however, because most of the heavyweight dating site operators offer affiliate programs, often with substantial payouts. This allows potential dating site owners to profit from established brands, while dramatically reducing start-up and operational costs and lowering their barriers to entry.
Geo-IP targeted advertising tools are commonly offered by these programs, allowing affiliates to place profile listings on their web pages that seem to show a bounty of ready and willing folks from your town, all just a click away. This is especially useful for those affiliates who wish to construct a local or regional portal (or at least one that appears so).
Dating site affiliate program DatingGold.com offers free, ready-made Wordpress themes, allowing for a quick and easy dating-site solution using this popular free blogging tool. Get yourself an amateur or dating-related domain name, sign up for a basic hosting package, install Wordpress and the DatingGold-supplied theme, and you can be up and running with your own dating site in a matter of hours with very little start-up expense. Just add traffic and you're on your way to profitability — it doesn't get much easier than that.
Of course, for some potential operators, doing things the easy way isn't the goal; trying to address shortcomings in existing programs while offering enhanced, value-added services is more important.
For example, while FriendsAndSoulmates.com isn't "an adult site" in the sense that it doesn't target users simply seeking sex, but instead, it is designed to introduce individuals looking for romance and want to establish a long-term relationship with the right person. Some of their approaches and ideas are interesting and worth noting.
Like many dating sites, registration and posting a basic profile will be free of charge, as will be seeing whether or not there are any responses to the profile. Accessing those responses, however, will require a paid membership. There are three membership tiers: the free profile; a "special friends" level that allows access to the profiles and provides for communication between members; and the "soulmates" level that offers a variety of enhanced services.
The site will also offer advice columns from both a man's and woman's perspective, as well as shopping and gift-giving features, where members can "pre-shop," building up a virtual "wish list" of items that other members can send them with the click of a button. This is a great revenue stream that will be fueled by announcements such as notifications of member birthdays, as well as holiday specials and other seasonal promotions.
But what the builders hope sets them apart is their travel services. "Our main focus is travel: a lot of people get on dating sites and chat but they never meet," said partner Dan McLind. "Ours will have a travel club and it will show on the member's profile when they're traveling and where they're going. We'll offer special cruises and parties where members can meet in a safe environment. And if those meetings go really well, discounts on a wedding in Maui will also be available. But if they go really badly, our 'Rate-A-Date' feature will let the next guy or gal know just what to expect."
Regardless of the approach you take to profiting from online dating sites, it's clear that one size does not fit all, but as long as people are lonely and looking for love, lust or something in between, there is money to be made in this market segment.