As with the Internet itself, the online dating scene has progressed a lot in recent years. While, once, it was thought of as the kind of thing you only did if you were something of a social misfit, today it’s considered to be one the easiest and most convenient ways to meet your perfect partner. In fact, these days, online dating is Big Business, enjoyed by millions of single people, as well as many (we may as well face the fact, because it’s true) who aren’t single. As you read this, so many people have had a positive Internet dating experience that it’s odds-on that you’re familiar with a lot (perhaps even most) of the dating sites out there – and certainly the ones which are considered to be market leaders.
Despite this, though, it’s likely that there are still a significant number of people who aren’t especially familiar with what’s available, and who aren’t very sure about the things that make one site better than another – or different, anyway. In order to help those people – and you may be one of them – we’ve taken a brief look at some of the better known online dating sites, and presented our results here, in one place, for your convenience. We’ll stick to a few broad remarks about how the industry works – we hope you find them helpful and informative.
So, where to start? Well, there’s probably no better place than with Match.com and Dating Direct. These we mention in particular, because they’re the market leaders in the UK by some distance, when measured by membership size. Even if you’ve been living on the other side of the Andromeda galaxy for half your life, you’ll probably have heard of both of them. What you might not know, though is that they are now sister companies, ever since Meetic (the parent company of DD) acquired Match (in 2009). That’s not really relevant, though, as they are still effectively independent (though with a similar design and a common membership).
Why are they market leaders?
Well, mainly because they’re so HUGE (by the way, when we talk about size, we mean the size of the site’s database – in other words, membership). And, let’s face it – these two have BIG memberships. Eeeeenormous! What’s more, they have loads of features and functions (things you can do as a paid-up member), and are generally easy to use. Basically, they’re extremely professional businesses.
So, you ask (and it’s a good question) what’s their downside? To be frank, it’s not really very easy to say. If you’re joining a site so that you have a wide choice of potential partner, there’s little doubt that you’ll be happy with these leading sites. There’s absolutely no shortage of members to read about, look at and contact. But a ginormous membership isn’t always an advantage. Yes, you want choice – of course you do. But, there comes a point when the choice is so big that you can’t realistically hope to contact every member – and then the addition of even more members is a bit pointless. And remember, a huge membership doesn’t necessarily imply a membership that’s active. There are some sites that may seem to have a large membership – but, really, they’ve just purchased their database in a single lump from somewhere else and many (if not most) members are inactive. These members may (in fact, they almost certainly don’t) even know that they are a member of the site in question in the first place! We should say, here, that this isn’t true with DD and Match.com (or any other sites we review or mention on these pages). They run totally legitimate businesses.
Big isn’t always beautiful
Of course, a large membership isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That would be a silly thing to argue. It’s just that it isn’t ALWAYS a good thing, either. That’s because size of membership isn’t the only aspect of a site which will determine whether you like it or not. Take, for example, Encounters, which is owned by Times Newspapers. Whatever the actual size of their membership, we’re pretty confident that it’s not as large as DD’s, by some distance. But it’s a popular site that’s also well-managed with many nice features. One of these features is two-way compatibility matching. Another is a useful facility which allows you to add a voice recording to your profile. You can also describe yourself, along with your perfect partner, in great detail. Proving tons of detail isn’t the kind of thing everyone wants to do, so – fortunately – Encounters makes supplying lots of detail optional. This isn’t true of some sites, which make you tick every box before you can continue.
In addition to well known, broad-appeal dating websites such as these, there’s a lot of “niche-market” sites, too. In fact, this segment of the market is probably larger than any other. Niche sites are, by definition, targeted at those with specific tastes and interests, and they’ve exploded in number so quickly that, today, whether, now, whether you’re a golfer, a Goth, a gardener or a grandfather, you can be pretty sure there’ll be a site somewhere out there that’s designed to meet your needs. Generally speaking, niche sites have a good choice of standard functions, though their memberships tend to be smaller than sites designed to have broad appeal.
No sex please, we’re British
Now we come to another kind of site which is very common, and which we haven’t so far touched upon. We mean the so-called “Adult” sites. Whatever your feelings about this sector, the plain fact is that there’s a large demand for the services they offer, and some of them (so we’re told) provide a very sophisticated, powerful and easy-to-use online dating environment. But though, as a group, such sites may add up to a large market, it’s not a market that we’re considering here, so we’ll leave our comments at that for now.
Subscriptions – is there a better way?
The next subject to discuss is a rather touchy one – site charges. You’ll find that most sites (but not all), charge members to use them. This is reasonable enough, as they supply a service and it costs them a significant amount of money to do so. Like any business, they want to get a return on their investment. But just because – from their perspective – charging is a fair thing to do, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting a good deal? The fact is, you may not be, even if you’ve joined a site that’s known to be a leader. The reason for this is simple: most sites that charge their members do so in the form of a subscription – a fee which allows you to use the site for a particular period of time. Now, this is fine, so long as you know you’re going to use the site during that time. But what if you use the site very little during the subs period, or you’re not active at all? You’ve paid your dues, but you’ll be getting very little value from the money you’ve paid.
So, what’s the alternative? You can use a free site, true, but these often have a very dubious membership. Another way forward is to look out for sites which provide a “pay-as-you-go” charging model. These sites charge you only when you use their services. While you’re not active, you’re not paying – a simple and attractive charging model that offers much better value. But while this may sound good, there are – unfortunately – not many such sites around. Not many that are credible, anyway. However, one that we’ve come across is Tfor2.com (see our Top 10). With a very different look and feel to almost all other sites, it also has a “credit” system – this means that you earn points when you use certain features of the site (such as adding a picture), which you can then use for doing other things on the site (such as contacting other members). If you can’t earn points quickly enough to do what you want, you can buy them in “packages”, but these packages are very inexpensive and fair value – and you can even win them in competitions and auctions. A regular user of the site can end up never having to pay a cent for access to its quality membership!
Niche sites – a whiter shade of pale
Another interesting – but not very well known – thing about dating websites is that there’s a growing number of niche sites which claim (legitimately) to have very large memberships. Now you might think that this is a contradiction in terms, that niche sites must – by definition – have small memberships. And, until recently, you’d have been right. But not any more. Because, today, there’s something called White Label Dating.
How White Label Dating works
The idea behind WLD (sometimes call affiliate dating) is simple enough. Suppose, just for a minute, that you want to create and run a dating site of some kind. It doesn’t matter whether it’s niche or not. You will be faced with two main problems: (a) you first have to design and build the site, and (b) you then have to build your membership. Both are difficult and expensive specialist tasks.
At least, they are if you start from Square One. Fortunately, though, you don’t have to start from Square One – there’s WLD. This is an existing dating site, which has a big and established membership, and good functionality, that can be – so to speak – rented. All you have to do is design a homepage (a way into the WLD site with your own look and feel), give your site a name, connect it to the WLD site, and you’re done! And the WLD will even make the process of building a homepage easy for you by supplying a set of standard templates that can be given (to some extent) different words, colours and designs. Within a very short time (the claim is usually minutes, but you won’t be surprised to learn that the reality is somewhat different) you have a dating site, created to your vision and with an instant large membership. Usually, the WLD site will share with you any money it makes from people who join their site through your homepage.
There’s quite a lot of WLD solutions out there, and their use is growing – particularly by those who want to run a niche dating site. And there’s nothing wrong with that – nothing at all. It’s a perfectly proper and fair way of building a dating site, and some people who do it this way make a solid income from it.
But, while this may be true, what about those who use such sites? In other words, those that join a niche site which connects to a WLD membership. Once again, there’s nothing basically wrong with joining them – you may well find that they deliver a perfectly acceptable experience. It’s just that, if you pay to join www.underwater-tuba-players.com, expecting to find “thousands” of other members with a similar passion, you may be just a tad disappointed. That’s because you’re not really joining a close-knit community of people with a similar interest, you’re really just joining a group like any random selection from society, with no common interests. Another point worth noting is that, as the membership may have been built over several years, many members may be inactive – but that’s an problem which can affect all sites, not only those based on WLD.