Match.com is now a household name. The site’s huge marketing budgets and strong history have made it synonymous with online dating. PlentyOfFish, by contrast, is a minnow. But at the moment, the small fry is winning and if Match doesn’t do something fast, it could well find that it’s no longer the biggest fish in the pond.
There are a number of reasons I think Match is losing out to PlentyOfFish:
Easy Profile Creation
While the first registration step to Match is short and consists only of one form asking for username, email and password, the complete profile is spread over no less than eight different pages.
After the initial basic information screen, PlentyOfFish offers just one more page (followed by an optional quiz) to enter all the information you need.
I am sure that Match thinks its process is more organized — and it looks organized on the page — but for the member, it’s so much easier to be able to complete everything on one page without having to click to the next page, and the next page after that.
This problem continues with profile updates. Every time you want to update a piece of information, you have to figure out which screen you need to reach in order to edit it. It’s a very tedious process.
Match has to approve every word you submit before you can publish it. The same is true of photos. You can upload any image you want, but you won’t be able to see it online until Match gives it a thumbs-up.
Why is this bad? Because when people sign up to a dating site they are excited and optimistic. They want to start playing right away!
Start sending emails before your submissions have been approved though, and the people you write to will only see half a profile. They’ll ignore you.
Sure, you can wait 24 hours but when you’ve just seen someone you’d really like to meet, you don’t want to wait a day before you can contact them. The same happens when you update a profile. You can’t be spontaneous! You have to wait and wait and wait.
I can understand Match’s thinking: they don’t want anyone to post a photo of themselves naked or — God forbid — upload porn. It’s a valid concern that PlentyOfFish doesn’t worry about for two reasons:
- It’s free. When people get something for nothing, they’re less likely to complain.
- It’s a lively community. When someone abuses the system, others are quick to report it and the profile is taken down fast.
PlentyOfFish wins here because its active community means that even the worst case scenarios (porn, advertisements, spam, etc.), are corrected quickly, allowing users to start messaging immediately.
Logging into Match can be like walking into a library. It’s quiet, it’s boring, and if there are people there, you don’t really know it. Sure, there are some interesting items to pull down and look at, but it’s not the kind of place that leads you start a conversation.
Logging into PlentyOfFish though is like walking into a hot bar full of people. The site is alive, active and dynamic. It has energy. It’s all down to the following features:
- Who’s Online? – PlentyOfFish shows you who is currently online. If you’re interested, you can drop them a quick email and get a reply immediately. That’s instant gratification at its best!And because other people can see that you’re online, you get a lot more messages, giving you more reasons to come back.Match doesn’t have an “Who’s online?” page. You have to search, then tick a box. It’s too many steps for something so basic, and doesn’t incentivize returning to the site and staying on it.
- Changing thumbnails – Each page on PlentyOfFish shows members’ thumbnails, often with the word “chat” below, inviting you to say hello. The pictures change constantly so that you feel there’s always a lot of people flowing through.On Match, I have to search before I can see anyone. PlentyOfFish introduces potential dates to me.
- Forums – A forum is a basic feature for any online community. It suggests activity and shows real people online, posting, talking and interacting with each another. You can read or participate and even contact those who you think are cool based on what they write. Why doesn’t Match do this?
At PlentyOfFish, you really feel you’re joining a party.
While the PlentyOfFish profile is straightforward and completed in a single page, the Match profile is complex and hard to use. You see only three photos initially. (It took me a while to realize I can click “See more” to see the rest of the photos, but when I do, I have to wait for a new page to load… and wait again when I want to see each picture. And I still can’t see the picture and the profile at the same time.)
PlentyOfFish puts all the photo thumbnails at the top of the page and enlarges them with a cursor hover. There’s no need to go to a new page, no need to wait for pages to load and I can see all the information I need right away.
Sophisticated design doesn’t always mean good design. Sometimes, simplicity is exactly what the user needs.
No Horny Teens or Dirty Old Men
One of the biggest problems with online dating is that every schmo can contact you. Both Match and PlentyOfFish — and every other dating site — have this problem, and there really isn’t a full solution. However, PlentyOfFish does have a brilliant feature that cuts out many of the undesired emails before they even reach you: the site lets you control who can write to you! You can filter your emails by:
- Age. So no more emails from horny 19-year olds or creepy 75-year olds!
- Gender. No emails from females if that’s not your thing.
- Country. Nigerians who want to send me money will just have to find my email address.
- Radius. If you’re not into long distance relationships, you can restrict contact to just those within a 75-mile radius.
- Email size. You can even specify how long the email must be for a first contact — so no “hi” emails.
All these restrictions work in just one direction. You can still contact whoever you want, unless they’ve filtered you out, of course. For me and for most women, it’s not about the quantity of emails, it’s about the quality.
Now if I could only control a few more options like height, children, etc, that would make it even more powerful!
It’s pretty simple, and I really don’t know why Match hasn’t copied it.
Even after restricting for age, country and radius I still receive about ten times more emails on PlentyOfFish than I do on Match. I opened both profiles on the same day with the same photos.
You might think that the quality of people on Match would be higher than the quality on a free site, but it really isn’t. Many people, like myself, use both sites and the quality varies on both.
I want options, which means more emails from quality members.
Better Email Notifications
When someone sends you a message on a dating site, you receive an email notification. When someone sends you a message from Match, that notification contains a whole bunch of functionality errors.
- The “from” email address changes with the user. The email always comes from [username]@talkMatch. Even if I add that address to my approved list, the next email — with a different username — will end up in my junk folder. It’s hugely frustrating.PlentyOfFish sends an email from the same address. You can add that address to your contacts, and messages will always go directly to your inbox.It’s a huge oversight on Match’s part and a very easy fix.
- The email contains too much information. Match’s emails don’t just contain the message. They also include the photo and some of the sender’s profile. But since most people don’t make a good first impression, I can ignore most of the messages I receive and never bother log in into Match. PlentyOfFish tells me that someone has been in touch but doesn’t tell me who they are or what they look like. It’s enough to make me curious, and that means I log in to the site. Once I’m there, even that person isn’t right for me, I’ll soon be browsing the thumbnails, chatting online and meeting new people. I’m an active user again.
- Wrong links. The link to the username on Match leads to a reply box, not the profile. It’s an odd thing and very annoying.
What Both Sites Are Missing
Where both Match and PlentyOfFish come up short is in the quality of the photos. On dating sites, the best dates go to the people with the best dating profile photos, leaving everyone else to settle for less than they could have won.
People do tend to look much better than the images they put on their profiles so posting bad dating profile photos reduce their opportunities every day. All a member needs is at least one good, professionally-taken photo of themselves, in a natural light at a flattering angle and with good composition.
Most people don’t expect to find a supermodel on a dating site, but they do want to know how you look like before they meet you, without having to guess and without taking a huge risk.
Both Match and PlentyOfFish do very little to educate their members about the importance of good photos, or offer easy solutions like LookBetterOnline.com which would allow them to take their online dating experience to the next level. On Match, for example, I can see ads for toothpaste and hotels but not for what members really need: good photos. PlentyOfFish advertises yet another dating site on which you can place a bad photo, but this time receive a bunch of fake emails and pay for rejection.
Match can keep acquiring free sites like OKCupid and still claim they are number one, but until they implement the appeal these free sites have — the simplicity, the ease of use, the instant gratification and a lively community — they will lose in the long run.
Do you think Match is losing this race?
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