Thursday, February 09, 2006

iDate 2006 Online Dating Conference

Miami - February 2006

The iDate 2006 Online Dating Conference was an eye-opening look at the current state of online dating. I enjoy staying on top of the highest traffic industries on the Internet because the advances and opportunities for testing are more frequent and interesting than in lower traffic situations like the average corporate site. The knowledge I gain from working in industries such as these are immensely valuable in my work in lead, traffic and sales generation for medium sized companies in every industry.

I was a guest speaker at this conference, speaking about promotion of online dating web sites from the affiliate perspective.

The main theme of the presentation was maximizing conversion on web sites from initial visit to free profile, and then maximizing conversion from free profile to paid subscriber with email. Many of the smaller dating sites have not got this figured out yet, while the bigger ones are taking the perfection of this art and science to a new level.

Insights I shared were effective home page and landing page design, including focusing on giving the visitor what they want (the ability to immediately search members) while getting what the web site owner needs (getting permission to market to the visitor via email). It's surprising how many owners thought this was golden information - but when I looked at some of the sites of the attendees after I got home I could how badly this info was needed.

Corporate customers outside the dating industry should take heed to this concept, too. What is it your visitors really want - and how can you give it to them while enticing them to give you their contact information?

The key, of course, to getting conversions to sale is to get the email. Let me repeat that - get the email, get the email, get the email. Do whatever you have to do to get the email. Give away a free e-book, a free prize, access to something incredibly cool and impossible to resist. Once you have an email address you can (and had better) start a calculated campaign to educate, entice, remind and persuade the prospect to become your customer. It is getting incredibly expensive to get a qualified visitor to your site. It is equally expensive, if not impossible, to get them back if you didn't get permission to start a communication with them. Get the email and then start working to get the sale. Very few visitors will become a customer on their first visit to your site, but many more email contacts will become customers over time. If people get one thing from my Internet marketing talks I hope it is this, because this will help them the most.

My other thoughts in this area included the growing importance of niche sites. Since the industry is now maturing, it has become impossible to create a general dating site to take on the leaders unless you have more money than Microsoft. (And Bill, I wouldn't recommend it to you either). With a niche site, at least, you have a hope of becoming the leader in your category. All the profits tend to go to the leader - so be the leader or find something else you can lead in. Niche sites also convert far better, because you can advertise to niche audiences and speak directly to your prospects while having an offer even the leading generalists can't compete with.

Here's another idea - take a page from the adult industry and offer a free tour on your site. New customers appreciate the hand held walk through of your site, how it works, and what they can expect. Visits to tour pages (from my direct experience) are very high. You can tweak them using what you learn from your web analytics software and achieve high conversions at the end of the tour.

One more idea - be different. Don't be a copy cat. Find something that you can do or offer that is truly different. PerfectMatch has their 'Duet' matching system and an ask the expert column called "Dr. Pepper'. Why aren't other sites offering something special like this? It's perceived value that helps the visitor differentiate you from the other sites that they are considering. I heard offering a free e-book on how to meet someone special in 90 days.

Hello! What do people really want? Figure it out and give it to them.

On the topic of affiliate programs, I suggested to the bigger ones that they adopt revenue share and maximize pay-outs because the CPA (cost per acquisition) is getting higher as competition gets more intense. Affiliates take all of the risk and cover all of the expenses in their promotion of your sites, so owners should never think that they are paying too much for sales that they would otherwise not have had. Owners must think in terms of lifetime customer value of sales generated by affiliates. Most good affiliates promote many sites and will send the majority of their traffic to the sites that convert the best and payout the highest amounts. In this respect, web site owners (in any online selling environment, not just dating) are competing for the best affiliates just as they are competing for customers.

I had one very interesting comment from the audience when I hesitantly brought up trust and honesty in payment reporting. I say hesitantly because I didn't want to offend all of the honest owners I suspected were in attendance, but obviously I am naive in this area. I like to believe that most people and companies are honest. Perhaps I am wrong about that because one well dressed attendee immediately commented that "all dating affiliate programs are skimming".

So what I occasionally suspected is true? Is this really why they resist putting my tracking gifs on their pages - because then I will have bonafide proof that they are skimming? This is terrible! I knew the temptation to skim must be too great to bear - but I honestly had no idea that it was the rule, not the exception! At least if this one attendee was correct.

It just plain makes sense to treat your affiliates honestly, because (for me anyways) it's all about the conversion. If I can get I higher conversion rate from site A than site B, I'll do more A and less B - it's that simple.

Some owners mentioned that they only focus on their top affiliates, giving them high payouts and the like. This is a mistake as well. I said, what makes you think that only your top affiliates are super affiliates? I, for example have two sites that consider us "super affiliates". Yet I promote dozens of dating sites via various online portals and such. I am sure the other dating sites that I promote think we're lame ducks - but they have no idea of the traffic we are able to send to them! If you only pay your top affiliates well, you will never know how many sleeping super affiliates are lying in your database just waiting to be activated.

1 comment:

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