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Valentine’s Day is a difficult one for single people, and a great many of the UK’s 15m singles turn to online dating sites to find a special someone with whom to spend the evening.

Research suggests that there are 24m first dates in the UK each year,  of which 69% are arranged through online dating.

As a result, online dating is an enormously competitive market, and sites must send relevant, engaging email that perfectly matches their subscribers’ wants and needs.

An analysis of data from our online dating clients shows that their inbox placement rates were far higher than the cross-industry UK average, with 90.2% of sent emails reaching consumers’ inboxes.  

The best performing client enjoys an inbox placement rate of 96%. Compare this to the 86.4% average across UK email marketers for the same period, and it’s obvious that dating sites are doing something right.

These good looking vital statistics are largely due to these dating site clients applying much of their own first date advice to their email marketing programs:

Make sure your prospect is really right for you

There’s nothing worse than realising half way through a date that you have nothing in common. Prepare by checking out their profile to make sure that you’ll have things you can talk about and mutual interests.

The best performing online dating sites are the ones who are making the most effective use of their email subscribers’ data. The online dating industry is all about connecting people and understanding customers to provide the best possible matches.

By intelligently analysing email subscribers’ profiles, interests and history, the best dating sites segment their subscribers to send them the most compatible, relevant individuals.

Subscribers see the value in this, and this helps to drive email engagement as a result.

Your reputation may precede you

Making a good impression is absolutely essential on a first date, and make no mistake that your date will have scrutinised your profile beforehand.

Don’t exaggerate, honesty will always make a better impression than one you can’t live up to.

Likewise, dating sites must ensure that the impression they make, i.e. their reputation as an email sender, is as good as it can possibly be.

This reputation can be negatively affected by poor data quality, spam complaints and spam traps to name just a few. Any email marketer that is failing to deal with these issues is going to struggle to get their emails into the inbox.

Be presentable, make eye contact and smile

Take a look in the mirror before you leave the house, and make sure you’re looking your best.

Marketing emails have to make a good first impression, and the best way to do this is to ensure your emails look good in any environment.

For example, our latest mobile report showed a 73% increase in email being read on iPads.

Just as people need to make sure they’re looking good before their date, email marketers should use a rendering service to ensure that their emails will display correctly in various browsers and look as they intended.

Be punctual   

Timing is everything when it comes to dating, and there’s no excuse for showing up late.

Likewise, there’s nothing worse for a subscriber than to receive a great profile only to find out that their “perfect match” stopped activity on the site months ago and they’re now engaged to someone.

Ensure you’re only emailing subscribers with current content to provide a great consumer experience.

Give yourself and your date an ‘out’

You can’t always tell if a first date isn’t going well. You have to be prepared for the possibility that they might not like you. Be courteous; provide a simple honest option for you both to be able to call it a night.

Dating sites that provide a simple, one-step process to unsubscribe from emails give a better experience to users. After all, it’s better to spend time and money on people who really like you.

The creative sites offer subscribers different ways of staying in touch with their brand after they unsubscribe from emails,  never cutting all ties to maintain that “What if?” factor.

Failing to get the unsubscribe process right means consumers’ complaint levels are more likely to increase in response to unwanted emails, which could lead to all of the brand’s future email communications being blocked by ISPs.

Dating sites wouldn’t want a subscriber hounding another member. It makes sense for such email marketers to practice what they preach.

Don’t talk too much

Try not to bombard your date with as many facts about yourself as you can spit out over the course of a meal. A date should be a conversation, a dialogue, with as much give as there is take.

Likewise, a major issue for online dating sites’ consumers is the sheer deluge of email that the bad sites send out. Many of the emails that get sent are trigger-driven: every time the consumer is viewed, browsed or winked at, they receive yet another email detailing the account activity.

Subscribers are rapidly tiring of this type of volume-driven approach, and email senders need to remember that sometimes less is more.

Don’t get “wrong-numbered”

It happens – you meet someone, exchange numbers, then when you send a text to ask if they’d like to meet up again, it turns out that you’re trying to arrange a date with the local taxi company.

Data quality is an issue for all email senders. Many online dating sites encourage their members to upload their address books. It's a quick win from a list building point of view, but there is no guarantee that these addresses will work, or that they will create sufficient recognition to generate a positive response.

Many of these addresses may be either extremely old or no longer valid – both of which can be very damaging to sender reputation and, ultimately, email deliverability.

Online dating is increasingly more competitive. Large sites that don’t effectively segment their user base are losing subscribers to new sites specifically designed for niche interests, whether single parents, mature singles, particular professions, different religions, vegetarians or pet lovers to name just a few.

The mass market sites have to work harder than ever to engage people.

Email marketing success, like most digital marketing disciplines, is increasingly determined by relevance and engagement. If subscribers don't receive content that fits their stated needs and interests, then they are going to vote with their "spam" buttons, and nothing’s more certain to wreck your chances of a second date than by banging on about something your date has absolutely no interest in.

So marketers, show your email programs a bit of love on this Valentine’s Day, and it may very well be the beginning of a meaningful relationship with your subscribers.

We’ll be examining data to keep you informed as to how the UK’s biggest dating sites performed on the day in question in a further blog post in a couple of weeks time.

Guy Hanson

Published 14 February, 2012 by Guy Hanson

Guy Hanson is Director, Response Consulting at Return Path and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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