12 Mandatory Features Needed for a Successful Internet Dating Website

By: Robert Thomson

Love is big business. So are the things that happen because of it, from engagement rings, big weddings and honeymoon trips all the way to marriage counseling and divorce proceedings. Though the 50-50 success rate of marriage is daunting to many, we plainly are wired with a basic human need for companionship and love. We all want to find that special someone. To make that more efficient in a busy world, and hopefully increase our chances at finding love, tens of millions of people have joined dating websites.
A lot of time, effort, creativity and hard work go into any business venture, and different kinds of ventures can succeed at the same time, in the same industry, because of the sheer unending variety of people in the world. Of the following 12 must-have features you need if you want your Internet dating website to succeed, MatchMaker.com may have eight, Yahoo! Personals seven and Chemistry.com nine, and probably none of the Top 50 dating sites listed by No1Reviews.com has the whole dozen.
Variety is the spice of life
Frankly, that is not as important as what combination of features is successful for you. There is enough human variety, as previously mentioned, to keep all types and sizes of dating sites going great guns. There are dating sites geared to seniors, gays, fetishists, hobbyists and fellow religionists. Not only is there "someone for everybody," but there are more ways than ever to find that special person.
The features listed below are not in any particular order, of course, and may be implemented in slightly (or greatly) different ways on numerous dating sites. It may be safe to say that most listed features are being used by most dating sites, but if you think you have the "next big thing" in dating websites make sure to examine every operation on its own merits. Something that works for, say, single college professors may not be as effective on a site geared toward skateboarders (such as a James Joyce book discussion club). It's all about "the mix."
1. Blogs: Dating is daunting for some people. Blog content that addresses fears, qualms and jitters is very helpful for some folks. Other bloggers can share dating tips, suggest date itineraries and encourage the less adventurous.
2. Chat rooms by subject: Even though some sites cater to specific population segments and groups - such as Christians, Asians and/or athletes - there are always further divisions and additional subgroups. Having chat rooms with established subjects, covering the span of interests of the membership, will make people feel even more at home, and comfort is key.
3. Chat rooms by region: Some people are excited by the prospect of a transnational or interstate romance, while others may want to restrict their amorous activities to a 12 square block area of downtown Chicago. Chat rooms with regional boundaries is one way to put people who live close together even closer together, although virtually at first.
4. Special request chat rooms: People with common interests need a way to find others like themselves. Some dating sites have been quite responsive to member requests for special chat rooms built around musical taste, cooking or worldviews.
5. Message boards/ads: When someone becomes a member of a community based on trust and mutual respect, other subjects than love and marriage may come up, too. A message board can announce local and regional events, concerts, sports contests and other activities, while also allowing for a certain degree of commercial exchange. The latter is difficult to supervise, however, and most dating sites do not permit members to sell and buy from one another - not officially, at least.
6. Discussion forums: A forum is, quite simply, a chat room where you write your message without being interrupted. It is not where a dynamic, tit-for-tat dialog takes place, but where you can read expressions of opinion on various topics and put in your two (or five) cents yourself. Different sites have different ways of handling the occasional disputatious forum posters, but for the most part, people are not on the dating site to have heated arguments. A forum can be quite educational, at its best, or just a jumble of disjointed slogans, at its worst. A good moderator is a must.
7. Online magazine: The online "zines" at some dating sites are colorful, informative, slick and entertaining. At other sites, they are crashing bores. Beauty (and sense) is in the eyes of the beholder, of course, and the biases you show up with will be what makes you feel a part of the action, or apart from the action. Reading the sites' zines is a quick way to get an overall feel of the place if, in fact, it is available for non-members to read.
8. Different sections for casual, intimate and marriage-minded dating: After being debuted by Lavalife.com, a Canadian site, the division of dating sites into distinct section based on one's goal has been duplicated elsewhere. The sections are designed for (1) casual dating, (2) intimate encounters and (3) members who want to find a spouse.
9. Background check: There is, at least supposedly, some kind of a "background check" at each of the dating sites, but the term can be defined in a lot of ways. Of all the sites surveyed by No1Reviews.com, it is True.com that does the most thorough check of all. They search public records to ensure a member is single, free of felony convictions and has no arrests for sex crimes. They claim they will pursue civil action against any members who turn out to be married or convicted felons. While some may feel this is "over the top," the peace of mind it affords the legitimate lonely-hearts clubbers is invaluable.
10. Census data: At eHarmony.com, a heavily advertised dating site, the system selects the profiles you can view. You cannot just browse around as on just about every other site. While you may not need intimate information on specific people, it is nice to have an overview, a site "census," to help you get your bearings. For example, Date.com - with two million members and over 50 marriages in 2007 - regularly advises its members about its site population. Its ratio of male to female members, an important statistic for many people, is fairly even at 54 to 46%, respectively.
11. Ease of navigation and clarity: It seems obvious, but when you look at the home page of some dating sites, you have to wonder who's in charge sometimes. The sign-up page at Yahoo! Personals, for example, has membership and offers details that are in cream-colored type against a white background. The text is just visible enough to make you wonder if you are really supposed to be able to read it. Good site design means you can read what you're supposed to, see what you need to and get where you're going, quickly and directly.
12. Flexibility and growth: Customer feedback and ongoing market research leads the management of online dating sites to make continuous refinements, the better to serve the changing needs of its membership. With the right system and software, of course, the dating site can introduce additional social networking tools and resources when the membership needs them, or support the dating orientation with more powerful matchmaking "algorithms" as they are developed. The line between social networking and dating can be thin at times, and today's successful dating sites need to be light on their feet to retain, and satisfy, their growing (and motivated) clientele.

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