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I am setting up a dating site, have the software (aedating, could be switched to Dolphin), and the niche, but I am wondering about the advantages and disadvantages (in marketing, SEO, gimmicks, whatevah) of having two sister sites or one combined. If I didn't own the software for the dating site it might be a diferent question, but I have it, including a vBulletin forum, and I have always thought of my potential site as a community even before that became a buzzword. If I set them up as sister sites they'd be joined by plenty of links, and a two-for-one membership offer, but then of course if they were combined they'd get the two in one anyway ..... I would like to have just one forum if I had the two sister sites, I mean it's hard enough as we have seen here to get your forum started let alone have two running at the same time with almost identical subjects and the same members - lots of possibilities either way .......
I'd love to hear your opinions
The advantages are: many people who use social networks and single, and there is much cross-over between the two marketplaces.
Even if people say they're looking only for friendship, in many cases they are really looking for dating.
We have found our social network attracts more women than men, whereas our dating site attracts more men than women. Running both balances the sexes.
When people get together and pair off, a dating site has to shut out those people even if they are still enjoying using the service. Running a social network as well allows you to retain those people, and they are usually evangelists for the site who can really encourage the newbies.
The disadvantages are that single people can get annoyed when they can only find people looking for friendships on the site.
And if you run forums, you'll find that the site names keep getting mentioned and this can be very confusing for people who don't understand that there are people from two sites using the forums. (Why should they understand this anyway?). Brand management becomes much harder.
Although it is working OK for us, I wouldn't have done it this way if I had set things up properly for the dating site in the first place; we got stuck into a free-dating model and this has been extremely difficult to shake off. But the social network is not free.
The social network was launched years after the dating site, and the dating site members pre-populated the social network. Without big bucks, I wouldn't want to start either type of site these days because of the difficulty in attracting a large enough number of customers.
On balance our dating site members are very happy with new "friendship" direction and don't object too strongly. I believe that the best relationships come about through being friends first anyway, so running a social network and dating site together allows this to happen much more often that just a pure dating site could achieve.
PS: we don't allow members from one site to log in to the other, meaning that we can use different rules for what's free and what's not on both sites.
GordonS, one thing I'd like clarified please: when you say you got stuck in a free dating model from the beginning, well, isn't it pretty much inevitable to start as a free site and stay that way for a long time, because of the need to build up your membership till you have several thousand members? I don't recall having heard of any dating site that started from the beginning as a paid site.
I know someone who just split her year-old dating site into two, one a free community site and the other a paid singles site, to try to get on the "MySpace" gravy train, but she only has about 600 members and she seems to have lost many of them - well the two sites have no cohesion, totally different colours, logos, different styles of forum ..... the funny thing is that branding is the big buzzword these days but it is nothing new after all, it used to be called advertising instead of branding, that's all, and as you say, there is so much competition out there now .....
I'm pleased to see so much consideration for your members along with your solid logic :-)
We started the dating site as a free site, never intending to make people pay. This was in 1999 and we did not realise there WAS a market for paid-for online dating. The dating site is now known as a free site, and probably will be for evermore.
But with the social network, we had a pre-populated database and could therefore actually start our social network from scratch as a pay site without going through the motions of attracting say 10,000 members before starting to charge, as we already had that number and more through the dating site.
I think different principles apply when thinking about charging for dating and for friendship. Online dating is a pretty easy sell. If you don't have a girlfriend/boyfriend, and you want one, then you're prepared to pay for it and with online dating it's easy to see what you're getting.
But with social networking, far fewer people feel they don't have any friends AT ALL, and therefore getting people to pay is much harder because what you're selling them is much more vague.
As for your friend, we have kind of done the exact opposite. Instead of splitting a working site into two, we have bolted another brand onto an existing site.
We are able to use different marketing methods for each site, with different marketing spends, and yet spending on the one brand benefits the other. The more people you have, the higher the ratio of paying customers you'll tend to get - that's a truism throughout the online dating industry I think.
Hope this helps. Thanks, G.