Running a dating app business in 2017 is becoming an increasingly hard task. Founders need to find clever ways to monetise and increase retention, so the mobile dating experience needs to be architected to keep people coming back from day one. Because of these challenges, dating is a bit of a taboo in the startup world and there are many justified reasons to steer clear of the industry.
Dating is a crowded space. The main competition are corporate ventures, and traditional investors won’t invest (Tinder and Bumble are corporate ventures!). IAC (owners of Match.com, Tinder & OkCupid) is the only real credible route to an exit. User acquisition rates are very costly and retention rates are low. Finally, it’s very hard to monetise users.
Beyond all that, it is a lot of fun playing cupid and bringing people together. Plus, everybody loves a challenge! I tried myself back in 2016 with Double (Tinder for double dates). Unfortunately, we were not successful in monetising the app and had to wind down the business. I did, however, learn a lot about how to grow dating app businesses and apps in general.
One of the key learnings was the technology known as deep linking. Deep linking is the secret sauce of the main big dating apps (think the biggest). Their phenomenal growth can in part be attributed to this technology.
User acquisition costs are very high in dating so any growth hack to get free users is a top priority. Having a healthy pool of new users daily is the life and death of any dating startup. I now work with Branch, the mobile growth experts and industry leaders in deep linking.
Below, I detail my top five tips for organically growing a dating app using deep links with examples. We used these hacks at Double to achieve approximately 80% word of mouth referrals. They really work!
1. Referral schemes
Everybody has that one single friend who is in the market for dating. So, if you’re going to tell them about the next big dating app, you may as well get rewarded for it. Referral schemes work well in dating apps especially if they are incentivised. For instance, invite a friend and in return receive 10 credits. Invite a friend to unlock new functionality e.g. GIFs in chat. The referring user now has more incentive to invite their friends to the service.
An amazing example of this is The League. Before launch, The League created a prestigious viral waitlist. The waitlist encouraged users to invite as many friends as possible. In return, they were pushed up the queue and gained early access to the app. The end result was an impressive 30% boost in installs through referrals.
Where should I promote the referral scheme? Everywhere and split test!
- Viral list before launch
- On profiles
- In the profiles feed
- On the menu
App examples – Happn, Double, Coffee Meets Bagel, The League.
2. Content sharing with personalised on-boarding
Using a dating app is a very social experience. Before even meeting a potential date, users take screenshots of profiles and send them to friends via SMS and WhatsApp for feedback. You might see a profile that isn’t right for you but is perfect for a friend. This is a natural sharing behaviour.
It makes sense to completely optimise this experience for the user by giving them the right tools. Tinder does a great job of this with its “recommend to a friend” feature. Here’s how it works:
- User clicks “recommend to a friend” > sends link to recommended profile using an SMS to a friend.
- Referred user receives an SMS with recommendation link > user clicks on link and installs app.
- A personalised on-boarding screen appears saying: “Gary recommends Emma – Sign up now for a chance to match with her”.
- The referred user signs up and the first user he / she sees is the recommended profile.
This is a great way to get free high quality users with higher retention rates. A referral from a friend is very trustworthy and results in higher engagement than paid ads.
App examples – Tinder, Double.
3. Web to app installs using smart banners
Marketing Land reports that app traffic converts 120% times higher than mobile web. This trend is set to continue given that the user experience on apps is better. You should take your existing mobile web traffic and convert those users into high quality app traffic. You can do this by using a smart banner on your mobile website.
Most new dating startups are app-only. If you have a website beyond the standard informational site, then this strategy is a no brainer. It’s better to think of the website as an app traffic source rather than a platform for users.
Many travel and ecommerce apps (Airbnb, Jet.com etc) are taking advantage of this web to app installs strategy using smart banners. In some cases, it accounts for almost ⅓ of their total installs. This strategy would work more for established companies like Match.com or eHarmony who have a strong web presence, but even newer startups like Once have fully-operational dating websites. If it works well in other industries, then it’s likely to have the very same impact in dating.
4. Deep linked email
One of the biggest challenges dating startups encounter is how to improve their retention rates among their existing pool of users. Push notifications work well but can be intrusive and switched off. With 70% of emails opened on mobile it makes sense to engage your members using email as a strategic channel too. You can email your users with updates on new matches or new messages.
On the emails, you can include links to profiles that you think the user may be interested in. You can then deep link them straight to that particular profile when they click on the link inside of the app. This increases engagement and provides a much better user experience than taking the user to the homepage of the app. Once does a great job of daily emails to notify the user of their daily match.
5. Social media marketing links
As a marketer, it’s very challenging to assess the effectiveness and ROI of your mobile app marketing campaigns, especially across many channels like social media, bloggers and influencers. With Branch, you can generate marketing links that allow you to track the install and custom event data of these campaigns.
For instance, if you did an influencer campaign with a famous YouTuber, you can place a Branch link to your app in the description of the video and channel all downloads to it. In the Branch dashboard you will be able to see how many installs and even the revenue that this campaign generated.
Branch enables dating startups to integrate all these features. You can also check out loads of great case studies on deep linking use cases on the Branch blog. If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss further. Let’s fire some deep linked cupid arrows together!
By Gary MacDonough
Gary is the co-founder of group dating startup Double, and now works as an Evangelist at Branch. Branch provides deep linking technology for mobile app developers to gain and retain users. The San Francisco company seeks to help solve mobile discovery by connecting users to relevant app content through deep links.