[The article has been updated in May 2020]
“There are bad sides to everything but I think, for the most part, online dating is one of those things that is really solving one of the society’s problems.“ Gary Kremen, co-founder of Match.com.
Don’t you agree?!
A lot of entrepreneurs do, as the global revenue in the Dating Services segment amounts to $2,141m in 2020 And the market is still growing at a pace of about 4.3%.
Online daters pursue different goals. Some look for serious relationships, some want to just flirt, others are in search of ‘no strings attached’ hook-ups. In response to this demand, there is already a wide array of successful online dating platforms trying to cater to those needs, along with the diverse interests of users.
Each of these services has its own way of providing value to users, for example:
- Online dating and matchmaking websites offer sophisticated search and recommendation mechanisms to help daters find the right partner
- Casual dating websites, whose audience is comprised partly of married users, offer special features that help with discretion (e.g. blurred pictures)
- Specialized dating websites concentrate on very specific groups of people united by common lifestyle (e.g. vegans), religion, income level, body type or even disability.
So how do you build an online dating website in one of those niches? And how much it will cost?
These are the questions we cover in this article.
We go over the core ‘must-have’ features of a dating website, as well as show some examples of advanced functionality that can give you a competitive edge. We will also give you a rough estimation of how much time and money it may take to build a dating website with a certain feature-set.
The goal of this article is to give you an idea of the workload for building a dating website and help you in preparing your Project Specifications.
Disclaimer! We are giving very rough estimations, based on our experience with similar projects at Greenice. The time estimates include custom software development, project management, and QA time. And the cost estimates are based on our average hourly rate of $35.
One the best ways to start your dating website is by first building an MVP with the most critical functionality and then proceed with upgrading it, based on the market feedback. We take a modular approach to web development, which allows us to add new functionality pain-free after the website’s launch.
So here is the functionality your dating website will most likely require:
- Registration and profile creation
- Searching and matching
- Admin functionality
- Responsive design.
Continue to see what goes into each.
1. Registration and Profile Creation
Unless you’re going for anonymity, the first things you will ask a user to do on your website is to register and create a profile.
Profiles play a central role in most of the dating websites, as based on a user’s profile others will decide on user’s attractiveness and compatibility. In addition to that, many online dating platforms generate match recommendations for a user based on the profile information.
Therefore, profiles have to be quite informative, which can mean a lot of work for your users. One way to solve this problem is with a social login. So your users will be able to sign in with one of their social accounts. In such a way your website will automatically import some of the profile information, saving time for your users. As a bonus, social sign ups will also help you with verifying users, e.g. making sure they are real people.
Here are the profile related features your website will require:
- Create a dating profile
- Email address, location, looking for, birthday
- Username, height, previous marriage, children, ethnicity, education, religion, smoking and drinking habits, body type
- Social login, so users can sign in with their accounts on other social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.)
- Import all Personally Identifiable Information, so that users didn’t have to re-enter their information (username, email, age, interests etc.). Check what PI data you can get from different social networks.
- Authenticate and authorize users.
- Answer multiple choice questions like “How often do you exercise?” and “Do you enjoy traveling for fun?”The more you answer, the better the site can gauge compatibility.
As I’ve already mentioned, in certain niches of online dating the approach is the reverse. In particular, many ‘hookup’ type of websites choose anonymity over scrupulous matching. Pure.dating is a good example of anonymous dating service that requires only a picture and no other personal data to become a user.
2. Searching and Matching
As the sole purpose of an online dating website is to help daters find each other, your website should be doing that in the most efficient way. Some industry leaders, like Zoosk, put a lot of emphasis on the function of searching and matching, calling on complicated algorithms and machine learning (more on that below).
But the good place to start is to set up a comprehensive filter search. You can come up with a list of filters most relevant to your audience and in such a way help daters narrow their options.
As for the matching, you can also generate ‘people you might like’ lists based on personality test answers.
- Search by filters:
- Age range
- Distance from user’s location (e.g. 3 – 100-mile radius)
- Other filters may include height, religion, relationships, children, ethnicity, education, smoking and drinking habits, body type
- Can save popular searches for easy access later.
- Recommendations, based on personality tests.
Another ‘must have’ feature for most online dating websites and apps is instant messaging.
- Instant Messaging
- Expressing interest (e.g. sending winks)
- Send digital gifts
- Adding members to friends list.
4. Monetization Mechanics
Have you already thought of a monetization model for your website? Here are some ideas to consider:
- Paid membership
- Freemium accounts, where members can use your service for free but have to pay for certain premium features, for example:
- Paying to get on top of search results
- Paying to see more than a certain amount of profiles a day
- Paying to send digital gifts
- Connecting to advertising networks.
Security is one of the biggest challenges of online dating. This is what David Kremin meant by ‘bad sides to everything’ in the opening quote to this article. That’s why you should definitely think of ways to secure your users against all kinds of fraud. Here are some of the basic safety features you can adopt:
- Verification with social network accounts and phone numbers
- Creating a block / ignore list which prevents people from flirting with you
- Reporting fake profiles.
6. Admin Features
You will also need functionality to manage your website. The basics will include:
- Managing profiles
- Reporting and analytics.
Mobile audience is very important for every online dating service. However, depending on your business idea, in the MVP phase, you might just do with a responsive website, that will look good on all devices.
- Responsive web development.
As you can see in the screenshots above, OkCupid and POF are doing a great job with responsive design, while Eharmony could use some improvement.
Development Time Estimation
The core functionality described above will take about 3-5 months of development time for one developer. So from $15k to $25k.
Find out how much it will cost to develop YOUR dating website!
Where should you go beyond your MVP? The opportunities for improvement are endless, so it is important to decide on the top priorities for your website.
Think of the most important aspects of your online business for your users. For some, it might be a mobile experience, for others security or super-precise matching recommendations.
Below are some ideas of advanced features you might consider investing in.
Improved Mobile Experience
According to Statista one of the biggest trends of online dating is that it will be shifting more and more towards mobile. This happens due to ever increasing mobile penetration, as well as the fact that daters are inclined to search partners based on location.
One way to improve the mobile experience is to turn your website into a progressive web app (PWA) that will imitate a lot of native mobile functionality (add to screen icon, offline mode, full-screen mode etc.), while still being a website. You can learn more on pros and cons of PWAs in our article.
Another way to go is to build a cross-platform mobile app (e.g. with React.js) that will be adopted for iOS and Android.
- Progressive Web App
- Cross Platform App.
Development Time Estimation
Progressive Web App: from 2 weeks (70 hours), from $2.5k.
Developing a Cross-Platform App for iOS and Android: from 8 weeks (280 hours) from $9.8k.
Advanced Searching and Matching
Companies like Zoosk are doing their best to harness technology in an attempt to help their users in finding a perfect match.
Zoosk uses big data and algorithmic recommendations technology to help users find partners. Its “proprietary Behavioral Matchmaking engine” learns from users’ clicks, messaging, and other actions to help produce more accurate matches. The idea is that the more data Zoosk obtains from its users, the better its recommendations can be.
This how advanced matching works at Zoosk:
- Shows you automated matches that are based on Zoosk behavior-based matching technology
- You will find matches based on your searching patterns (Who You Like) and matches based on other members searching patterns (Who Likes You)
- The more you use the service the better your matches will become.
Development Time Estimation
A rough estimation of the advanced matching feature: starting from 4 weeks (140 hours), $4.9k.
We don’t know the exact algorithm Zoosk is using, so the estimation is based on our assumptions.
How to apply this to Your business
Let’s sum up. We suggest starting with the core functionality that will include registration and profile creation, communication, searching, monetization, security, and admin functionality, as well as responsive design.
Once you’ve gotten the basics, you can start upgrading and improving the user experience. You can improve anything from mobile presence to implementing machine learning technologies for the most efficient searching and matching.
I really hope we’ve answered at least part of your questions on how to start a dating website!
Get a cost estimate for your dating website.