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Mar 08, 2004
How To

How Match.com Gains Nearly 50,000 New Paid Subscribers per Month

SUMMARY: Match.com is in the home stretch to hit 1,000,000 paid members in the next month or so. In our exclusive interview with VP Business Development Stephany Verstraete,
you'll learn:

Surprising data on how unimportant seasonality is to sales
Tips on search and affiliate campaigns
What non-click online ad metric is worth tracking
How to convert more surfers to registrants


Includes screenshots of three different landing page styles that work:
Can you say Global Dominance?

At nearly 30 million visitors per month Match.com's sites together get nearly three times more traffic than its nearest competitor's. Plus, Match.com is going to hit the one million paid subscribers mark any week now.

General stats

The sites, which include udate, have 12 million registered members. Regardless of geographic region, the male/female breakdown holds steady at 60/40. The target demographic for the central Match.com site is a 28-45 year old who may be willing to pay up to $19 per month to find a partner for a "serious" relationship.

The sites gain 46,000-48,000 paid subscribers and lose roughly 16,600 per month, for a net gain of 30-32,000 new paids per month. We predict at this rate, Match.com will hit one million paids by mid-April 2004.

An average of 40% lapsed subscribers ultimately return to become paid members once again, presumably when their relationships hit a downswing.

Most fascinating fact:

Match.com discovered that, for them at least, the relationship business is much *less* seasonal than anyone guessed. Match.com's marketers confided that they find the competition's frenzy of holiday and Valentine's Day ad spending "very entertaining" because online eyeballs come at a higher price tag then, but subscription sign-ups remain steady year-round.

So, it's actually more profitable to keep ad expenditures steady year-round rather than investing most of your budget in a few, more expensive, seasons.

Making partnerships work harder

Match.com has been partnered with MSN.com for almost five years and AOL for more than three. What have they learned over the years?

VP Business Development Stephany Verstraete who's in charge of all US outreach marketing, says the most important thing is letting your partner have true control over their initial co-branded page. In fact, partners design and host their own initial pages.

"When I'm on a branded site like BET, I'm choosing to be there for a reason. I'm self-identifying in some way," says Verstraete. "Partners get a higher conversion rate when the entry-level page is not jarring."

Plus, although a few elements remain the same -- some static content and some type of interactivity -- different demographic audiences convert best with very different entry page styles, and we don't mean just slotting in a photo of the right demographic.

For example, sites oriented to women do well with quizzes. Heavy content sites such as MSN.com do well with entry pages featuring links to lots of articles (see link below for sample.) Sites catering to younger men tend to work with cut-to-the-chase simple pages focused on the search box.

Just as their counterparts at Classmates and other mass market subscription sites have, Match.com continue to invest significant work in improving the usability of pages further down the conversion process. They use focus groups, site metrics reports, and usability lab data to design each page to work harder. Every element on every page from layout to typeface has been tested and retested.

Affiliates

Smaller affiliates get a standard set of templates for entry pages they can work with, choosing colors and photos to fit their site. "We preserve our expertise in how the elements should be laid out on the page," says Verstraete.

Match.com has a team of three marketers focusing on affiliate programs, one of whom spends the bulk of his time coordinating with legal and eyeballing results looking for potential fraudulent tactics. "We have a zero tolerance approach on spammers, we will terminate our agreement immediately."

The team bring top affiliates together for a group meeting at least once a year in Dallas (where Match.com is headquartered.) It can be tough to get the "sharing best practices ball rolling" at these events because everyone's wary of giving away secrets.

Verstraete has found it helps to share some data on her own marketing results - especially search marketing - even though she knows she risks her pay per click prices going up dramatically as everyone tries to hop on a winning keyword.

Search marketing

Verstraete's team resist the urge to use search ad grouping tools to make reviewing results easier. "We really watch return at a keyword level. Search can bring you very qualified leads, but it's dangerous if you take your eyeball off focusing on bringing the right qualified leads."

Match.com will pull out completely of paid search ads under certain highly competitive terms if the price isn't right. The site is otherwise dominant enough that it's not worth losing money just to be there.

They only block affiliates from buying ads under the terms "Match" and "Match.com". Otherwise affiliates can bid away to their heart's desire, even competing with Match's own marketers.

"We want to support top affiliates. Nothing makes me happier than to have the top three listings be Match and two affiliates. They are much more adept at this than us. They are very focused. We watch them very closely to uncover interesting words. We learn as much from their activity as they do from us," says Verstraete.

Match.com's team have been carefully testing and tracking PPC contextually-served text ads (such as those available from Google) separately from classic search ads. So far they've learned contextual ads "get a lots more window shoppers." In other words, much higher clicks but lower conversions than traditional paid search.

Online ad test results

Verstraete's team selected a new online ad agency last fall, choosing the one they felt had the best reporting and measurement tools. (Most creative is done in-house.) So far tests have revealed that "access to post-click, post-view data has been very, very helpful."

In the past, Match.com had evaluated online ad success "very linearly -- what did they do directly." Now, they are tracking whether consumers, who didn't convert to clicking or registering immediately, ultimately ended up coming on board. The results have already helped the site change media buying tactics, especially continuing in some spots that hadn't appeared to be profitable in the past.

Creatively, Verstraete says pop-unders are still working, but her team put heavy caps in place so no one site's visitors see too many in a row.

She's frustrated though that site publishers only allow caps per total traffic instead of per individual user. "A very small percent of people account for a disproportionate number of pageviews. If you're one of those avid Web surfers, you're going to see a disproportionate number of my impressions.

"The publisher that can crack that nut could stand to make higher ad rates. It's a big opportunity."


In next week's ContentBiz -- MatchMobile: Lessons from its one-year anniversary selling subscriptions to mobile phone content services.


Useful links related to this article:

Screenshots of different Match.com landing pages, and MatchMobile in action:
http://www.marketingsherpa.com/match/ad.html


IAC/InterActiveCorp (Nasdaq: IACI) which owns Match.com:
http://www.usainteractive.com/


Avenue A - Agency that's helping with Match.com's online ad campaigns:
http://www.avenuea.com

See Also:

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