I bet you’ve read a lot of similar stuff if you’ve ever been interested in launching your own Facebook or Match.com. Dating industry experts and semi-experts keep trying to find a fault-free formula for building an online community business with no hassle and money waste. Before you get down to reading ‘another 10 tips’ on your way, I’ll tell you that there is no prefect solution. But still, there are ways to minimize the time and money loss, and avoid typical mistakes. So, here are the 10 pieces of advice we’ve drawn from watching hundreds of online dating/community projects succeed and fail:
1. Choosing a niche for your future site is crucial. All your steps towards launching a site of your dream will depend on this first decision. Are you building a join-free social network with a few paid privileges and loads of advertisement? Or is it going to be a niche site with unique conception and membership system encouraging your members for subscriptions? Whatever path you choose – it has to be a mature decision based on the goals you want to achieve.
If you don’t have a very strong marketing and development budget – we would recommend you to go for a specialized niche site, as that means significantly lower competition, and thus, more chances to succeed.
2. Don’t develop a site from scratch. Go for a full-fledged dating software instead. A custom dating site sounds like a good idea… but only if you are ready to pay a devoted programmer for his continuous job on keeping your site competitive.
There is always a huge amount of work, time and investment behind custom site development. You will have to choose a developer very carefully. You will probably be in continuous need of his services, because keeping the site up-to-date requires new features, and platform adjustments for new appearing browser versions and coding standards.
Good news about professional properly supported dating scripts is that their developers will take care of all that, thus saving you time and money. Just make sure that the dating or community software solution of your choice comes with an unencrypted source code. This will allow you to modify it for your needs without reinventing the wheel.
3. Be very picky when it comes to a hosting company. Please. When a community/dating script provider attracts your attention to server requirements – this is for a reason. Any program (whether it’s a computer game or dating software) has certain system requirements to run properly. If you don’t want your members to ‘enjoy’ downtimes and mysterious error lines on the site pages – check with the preferred hosting company if their servers are configured right for your dating script.
So, choose the dating software first, and then go for a suitable hosting company that meets the script system requirements (not vice versa). Simple, and will save you a lot of trouble later.
Another important aspect to pay attention to is backups. Make sure that your hosting provider backs up all your web site data, and that you will have easy access to it in case of emergency. We’ve been trying to help one of our customers lately who lost more than 500 000 members because of a server crash. If the hosting company was able to provide him with the database backup, the situation would not be so desperate.
4. Don’t become a clone. Facebook rocks, no doubts. MySpace is cool, also true. But why would people prefer your site over them if it offers similar features and design, but a significantly smaller community? If you aim at building something really worthy, something that has a chance to compete the “social networking monsters” one day – offer something unique. OK, we know that today’s variety of community sites leaves almost no room for “unique”. But true success is never easy to achieve. If I were to launch my own dating or social networking site – I would do my best to make it stand out in a crowd. Otherwise, how are people supposed to notice it?
If you still want your site to be a clone – it makes sense to at least make it geo-targeted or niche-oriented.
5. Do SEO. Spend on online marketing. You can never overestimate the importance of site promotion. A clever marketing campaign can work wonders for your site popularity.
You can find tons of articles, tips, guidelines on site promotion on the web. Participate in webmaster forums, read the blogs of “seo-sharks”, optimize your site for search engines, do promotions. Or turn to professional SEO and marketing agencies, who will do the dirty job for you. This costs money, but keeps your hands and mind free for other stuff to do.
6. Go for offline promotion. TV, radio, newspaper ads and promotional fliers are great tools to improve your brand visibility. Internet businesses mainly concentrate on online marketing and set offline advertising aside. But that means neglecting a whole sector of potential customers with fairly low brand competition. If your site is geo-targeted – offline marketing is especially efficient for business promotion.
7. Learn some coding to manage small issues on your own. No one is talking about major programming languages, but HTML and CSS basics are a ‘must-know’. You should also have a clear idea of what FTP, CPanel, SSH, database and nameservers are. This knowledge will help you perform minor web site adjustments without going through a heap of manuals and bugging customer support every time.
8. Work on your site design. Follow the color marketing principles. That does matter, otherwise why would so many clever marketing specialists would be engaged in color marketing that studies the influence of colors on people’s mood and behavior. If you want to be professional and efficient in every little thing – make sure that your site template reflects the conception, and puts your members in the right mood.
9. Don’t get apart from reality. Listen to your site members’ feedback. Trying to make your community site more user-friendly and feature-rich, you may forget who you’re actually doing the whole thing for. Site users do not like clustered member interface and dozens of notifications. Most of them don’t want to get an email every time someone visits their profile or photo album. They don’t want a 3D game that works in one browser only. They don’t want a fancy video chat that goes down whenever there are more than 3 users online. Expanding your site functionality is good. But features have to be ‘reasonable’, user-friendly and well-tested. Check from your site members if they like the interface and features that you offer. Show them that you care. This will help you see how well you are doing, and get your users involved in making the site better.
10. Remember that online dating/community site business is a full-time job. Working on the site development and promotion during your lunch break, and for an hour between dinner and a favorite TV show is not enough. If you want your project to be successful… I mean really successful – you will have to invest all your time, and plenty of funds.
Building your own competitive dating/community site is always hard and time-consuming. But the results will be truly rewarding if you follow the simple rules of common sense and stay confident about your project success.