Five Ways Online Dating Sites Should Be Better

I was watching the CNBC special ‘Love at First Byte’ last week, and I was intrigued by listening to the executives at prominent online dating services discuss their websites. These sites have developed algorithms that match members based on the profiles, tests, and questionnaires members fill out…and they attempt to stand out from one another by how well their algorithm ‘works.’

This is what online dating has become. Rather than a way to connect with someone interesting online with the goal of meeting offline, online dating sites now compete to see who can, in the words of one popular dating site CEO, ‘engineer the next great relationship.’ It is an ongoing competition with the impossible goal of being so perfect as to identify perfect matches before they even meet.

Is it any wonder there is still a stigma to online dating? Even in 2012, with internet access virtually everywhere on every computer and smartphone, single people are often hesitant to give these sites a try.

Below are five ways in which I feel mainstream online dating sites can and should improve, and about which I am adamant with the dating site I started:

1) Downplay The Algorithms. To a large extent, the scientific formulas and algorithms used by dating sites are marketing tools. It’s hard to imagine they truly feel people can be matched based on a collection of data points, however extensive the collection of data points may be.

2) Have Respect for Members. One prominent dating sites states something on its website like ‘we know what you need in a relationship. We will show you the mistakes you’ve made in the past.’ Will some people be drawn to this? Sure, especially if they feel vulnerable and have had a tough time meeting people. Is it reasonable that a dating site really knows what a complex individual needs in a relationship? No.

3) Respect the Complexity of Relationships. Most dating sites trumpet efficiency and even productivity. Yes, in order to be viable, it’s important to have many members meeting on the site and forming relationships. but most dating sites seems to ignore the nuances of a relationship. We see the image of two good-looking people meeting online, going out to dinner, and ‘6 months later we were engaged!’ This is Marketing 101, of course, because it draws people in. They want to be those people. But this isn’t marketing for Pepsi. Relationships are much more complex, and boiling them down this way is misleading…and targeted, it seems, to the vulnerable. Instead of selling this dream, sell the value of your site, the ease-of-use, and the quality of its members.

4) Put in the Effort to Make the Site Look Nice. Some of the very large dating sites do this very well…but others, including one that boasts the most members, does not. Design is certainly not the most important factor, but it goes back to the respect-for-members idea; people will be telling others they met on your site. Will they want to boast about meeting on a site that looks like a Jr. high school project?

5) Give Members the Ability to Find Their Own Matches. Most dating sites do this, but some prominent ones do not. These sites rely solely on a matchmaking formula to provide a member with a list of daily matches. There is no searching the site for members, therefore members are not empowered to meet people on their own. Members are at the mercy of the dating site, and are reliant on an algorithm to find prospective dates. These sites also tend to be the most expensive ones.

Of course, this is not to say these sites are not effective. They all boast case studies of single people joining the site, meeting the man/woman of their dreams, and living happily ever after.

But that doesn’t mean they should stop innovating or making their sites better for members. While online dating is a business, the forming of relationships is a complex and sensitive phenomenon, and should be treated accordingly.

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