MIXERGY - Sep 8 - Mark did this interview from Malta, where he’s making a name for himself in the online personals industry through his blog Online Personals Watch and consulting company Courtland Brooks.
Q: How are you managing your company from Malta?
A: 3 years ago I took a trip to Shanghai. There was an Internet dating conference in Shanghai, and I decided to stay there for 2 months. And business grew. I learned that my clients did not care where I was based as long as the work got done. I brought 15 people onto my team.
Q: What exactly do you do when you consult online personal sites?
A: We help Internet dating companies make more money. And also companies that want to talk to them. We do PR, business development, and strategic advisement.
Q: Can you tell people a little more about the blog?
A: In 2004, when I was working with FriendFinder, I noticed that I was getting great snippets of information from the press. And I consistently didn't have time to read all of the articles. So I thought it would be nice if somebody could summarize and extract the best intelligence out of what the press were writing about. So in June of 2004, I started OnlinePersonalsWatch.com. The idea is that we condense three hours of reading into three minutes of reading a day. In January of 2005, I had three jobs offers on the table, so I decided to take all three. And that is how Courtland Brooks started. At a point from there, I knew a lot of people that I thought could do a better job than me. So, I hired them.
Q: Is there still money in the dating world? It seems to me like most people either go to one of the top sites or they go to Facebook.
A: The reason dating sites have a future is because it's one thing to be single and another to be single and available. And it's even another thing to be single and available and looking. You don't find that on Facebook. Yes, you can find people that say they are single. But are they really single? Are they dating? Are they really available?
Q: But Markus at PlentyofFish has blogged that social networks are taking customers away from dating sites.
A: Yes. It is taking attention. But people want a more focused experience. There are two surprises that we have had in the dating industry. The first one is that social networking didn't kill the dating industry. And the second one is that Internet dating didn't kill the matchmaking industry.
Q: What about the idea that there are already enough established players out there that it is really hard to come in with a new site?
A: It is. Without a doubt.There are thousands of Internet dating services. I rather think it is like starting a restaurant. It's not that difficult, you would think, to start a restaurant. But there's a lot more moving pieces that go into building a successful restaurant than meets the eye. And the same with Internet dating.
Q: Let's say Casey Allen, who I see here in the audience, decides that he is going to start an online dating site. What's the first thing that you'd recommend that he do?
A: First question is, is he a marketer or a technologist? If Casey is a marketer then he should go down the white labeling route and use a service like White Label Dating, DatingFactory.com or EasyDate.
Q: What if Casey Allen happens to be a technologist and he can code something up? What would you advise him at that point?
A: There are two extra routes that he can take. Number one is to use an off the shelf software like BoonEx and another option is use a programming outfit that has already built dating sites in the past.
Q: How do you bring people into a site today?
A: All of the major dating sites spend a lot of money on PPC. So, Overture and AdWords are an absolute mainstay of the industry. PlentyofFish is a wonderful place to run ads. If you can pay an extra 50 cents to a network, then you can get 10 times more traffic. Commission Junction and ShareASale have a good reputation.
Q: What else brings people in?
A: SEO. Also I'm a big fan of affiliates. The problem with affiliates, by the way, is there are rogue affiliates that will send junk traffic. The only way to deal with them is you've got to understand their position. They want to make money. And affiliates tend to be short-term based. They don't care too much about the brand, because they will just switch out to a different brand. So, the only way to really manage rogue affiliates is by laying down guidelines.
Q: We talked about how to get people in the door. What about getting them to multiply? By multiply, we mean viral marketing, getting them to bring their friends..
A: Let's start with Zoosk. They are one of the great, recent, success stories. On a typical dating site, you sign up. You've got to put in all your information. With a Facebook based social dating site such as Zoosk, some of that information can be sucked over. And so that really improves the initial conversions and efficiency. Plus, you know, the kinds of people that are on Facebook are going to be a little bit more social. When people talk about a good or a bad experience they think of as Internet dating. They don't tend to think of it so much as, it's Zoosk. It's Match.com. It's FriendFinder or Fling or whatever. I think the industry as a whole needs to make sure that they have a good experience. That means not allowing scammers. Scammers are actually very good for short-term conversions, funnily enough.
Q: How is that?
A: Because they are very active about communicating with people and getting them to convert.
Q: Do you have a sense of what percentage of sales these scammers are responsible for?
A: I don't know. I think for some sites, it is quite significant. For sites of integrity, it is very small, because they kick them off.
Q: What else do people do to multiply?
A: I am a big fan of success stories. ChristianCafe.com is very good with success stories. So is Match.com and PlentyOfFish.com. Now, there is a bit more to be said for social media these days and mobile.
Q: Can you give me an example of one company that's doing social well and how they are doing it, and then one company in mobile and how they are doing mobile well?
A: PlentyofFish does well as a social dating site in and of itself. In terms of social media, well, actually, Zoosk is a good example. They have had some music videos that have been featured, and so has PlentyofFish. PlentyofFish has been in a video on Lady Gaga. So, that's quite a new thing for the industry. I think OKCupid has the best blog in the industry. Again, they have got material that is extremely compelling, extremely interesting. And so they are getting the press talking about it.
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See all posts on FriendFinder See all posts on Match.com
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See all posts on DatingFactory See all posts on ChristianCafe
See all posts on Cupid plc See all posts on OkCupid
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