What The Online Dating Industry Doesn’t Want You To Know

It used to be that when I talked to my friends about online dating, they all had the same thing to say:

“Oh yeah man, I’ve got this on lock. It’s a system. Here’s what I do.”

They would proceed to describe what they do. It was invariably something like the following:

  1. Fire up browser

  2. Go to online dating site

  3. Hit the “search” function

  4. Open 20 tabs with different women’s profiles

  5. Hit “new message” on all 20 tabs

  6. Copy-paste slightly modified message into each tab, based on a few inserts from her unique profile

  7. Sit back and wait for the awesome results to roll in

This never seemed to work too well. I’d see these same guys out on dates with women ten years older than them, or women who already had kids, or women who were alcoholics. “Where’d you meet that girl?” I’d ask. “Match,” they’d whisper.

I’m not bagging on these guys. They’re good guys, and they’re not stupid. I did this exact same thing, and got similar results: women who couldn’t remember where they parked their car after two drinks, women who drank heavily on the first date, women who couldn’t stop talking about their ex or dead husband, women who’d had zero long-term relationships in their lives.

At first I thought it was just a tainted pool: that any woman who had an online dating profile had to be “damaged goods” or “defective” in some way. (Judgmental, I know. The irony of thinking this as a guy with an online dating profile escaped me.)

Then, I got a bright idea: I would start my own dating website.

My buddy joined me as cofounder and we began our industry research.

Oh boy, did we learn.

The online dating industry is designed to make you feel like you’re accomplishing a lot, because all of these sites get paid either by showing you advertising or by hooking you into a monthly, recurring membership fee.

I quickly realized the awful truth: dating websites weren’t trying to help me get dates.

Dating websites were trying to keep me looking for as long as possible.

This terrible realization had massive implications for how I had to go about dating.

Suddenly it all made sense: why would the hot girls appear “online” before I signed up, only to evaporate when I finished my profile? Why would attractive women start “checking out my profile” like clockwork after I hadn’t logged into the site for a week? Why were there so many gorgeous, well-written profiles that had been created 2 years ago and still weren’t deleted?

The answer is simple. Online dating is a network-effects industry: if you have hot profiles, you’ll get signups.

No hot profiles, no signups.

Because of this, it is a common practice in the industry to jump-start the “network effect” is to “seed” the site with fake profiles (or pay people to put up profiles they have no intention of using) and you have a recipe for really frustrated men.

As more “real” users sign up, these fake profiles are gradually “weeded out”. . . but not before amassing hundreds of thousands of hits, views & messages from real users.

The fact is, every modern dating site has significant churn — users logging on, creating profiles, then deleting them a day to a week to a month later — either because those users couldn’t find anyone they liked, or they were disgusted by the massive influx of crass messages landing in their inboxes (the most common outcome for women.)

In fact, in my own experience with popular free dating site OkCupid, between 15% and 30% of all profiles I messaged went dark (deleted) every week. (That’s a HUGE annual churn rate.)

Finally, the incentives of a dating site, particularly a free one, create massive “dating market” inefficiencies:

  • Messaging is usually free, meaning 99% of the men message (disgusting things) to 1% of the “most attractive women.” These women get fed up and leave.

  • Technology is still stuck in the MySpace era with pictures and text, leaving no possible chance of sensing body language or chemistry. With Photoshop, anyone can look like a supermodel (or superman).

  • Studies have already shown that both men & women men lie significantly in their profiles — see the charts below for just one example. (I guess Yo Goti was right when said “Men lie, women lie.”)

So, given all this, is it still possible to meet cool, beautiful people via online dating?

It is. . . but you have to be strategic.

You also have to guard your time carefully, message appropriately, and stack the deck in your favor as much as possible — since the deck is, by default, stacked against you.

In upcoming posts, I will describe those “deck-stacking” techniques I found most useful.

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