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How do I get people to sign up for a paid membership once they've signed up for a free membership?

My wife and I founded http://HEROmatchmaker.com - it's a dating service designed for heroes to either meet other heroes or for people who want to date a hero (police, fireman, EMTs, doctors, military, etc.). We're growing slowly but surely, 2+ members per day. We have both male and female heroes, but our site is (not surprisingly) more than 70% women.

I really have two questions:
  1. How do I drive more traffic to my site or how can I take it from it's current 10,000 members to 100,000 or 1,000,000 members?
  2. I currently offer free membership for people to view profiles and photos, but they have to pay to send a message. Our paid membership are lacking. How do I get more people to pay for memberships?

I'm currently using google analytics and google adwords. Our traffic comes mostly from a mix of social media, adwords, and google searches; but the traffic just isn't high enough. What is a better way to spread the word?

11 Replies

Brandon Burns
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Brandon Burns Entrepreneur
Experience Design & Creative Director
Give your customers something that is of equal or greater value than the cost of the upgrade. The ability to send a message obviously isn't it. Keep trying new things until one clicks.
Sandeep Arneja
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Sandeep Arneja Entrepreneur
Co-founder & CTO at ListenLoop.com
Hi Kurt, my buddy Rodrigo ran dejamor.com and can definitely gave you a few tips. I have cc'ed him - [removed to protect privacy] You guys should connect. - Sandeep
Travis Brodeen
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Travis Brodeen Advisor
Technical Marketing Expert, Business Coach, Founder and CTO at ENVOKEN
Kurt,

Really cool idea.

You should spend some time discovering popular hero support blogs and bloggers, put together a mini media kit or just overview of what you've got going on and then reach out to all of them. Give them some talking points.

If you hit it hard enough you can end up with quite a few blog stories written about you, in what I would assume is your target market.

Best of luck.

Travis
Michelle Bonat
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Michelle Bonat Entrepreneur
Software engineer and entrepreneur
suggest looking at how FounderDating does this. they got you to pay, right? :)
Jeb Stone > Analytics PhD
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Decision & Data Scientist / Experimental Psychologist / Business Intelligence
Dating sites get their users from four main sources: Acquisitions/user-swaps, exclusive partnerships (usually revenue-sharing deals), SEO, and lead buys. Match.com and eHarmony have locked in just about every portal partner you could ever think of; PlentyOfFish and the majors have built up so much link juice that they can only be beaten at SEO with hyperlocal strategies which don't scale well. You could potentially do a user-swap with another smaller site if that's consistent with your terms of service. However, the most realistic choice is probably to buy traffic. PlentyOfFish used to make their money selling traffic to paid dating sites; I'd check to see if they're still doing that. Groupon and LivingSocial are actually good lead generators but will probably skew female. You may have an advantage with these types of sites -- the discounting aspect makes it difficult for the likes of Match.com to justify buying these leads over non-discounted leads. Co-reg deals used to be common but I'm not sure of the required scale. Also, the Facebook video ads used to work pretty well back in the day. Mate1.com is a good example of a dating site that focuses on the lead-buy strategy. They're very sophisticated at it and I understand they make more than a little money doing it. My advice would be to focus on a few markets at first though rather than buying nationally because your conversion rate per market will increase more or less in step with the number of profiles you have... that is, buying traffic for your better-penetrated markets is likely to be more profitable because they'll convert better. Also, conversion rates of dating leads are seasonal, so buying traffic can be profitable at certain times of the year and a money-loser at other times. Your particular site may show less seasonality. In terms of converting registered users to paid status, there are lots of things you can try. I would start with a competitive analysis of what Match.com is doing at each step in the conversion flow. For starters, you'll notice that email on Match is pay-to-receive rather than pay-to-respond: you can't see exactly who emailed you unless you pay. Seems to work pretty well ;) Also, the occasional discount offer seems to motivate the price-sensitive. Most of the innovation in the dating industry goes into optimizing conversion and billing, so there's enough fruit there with price and package mix, contact/email, and conversion flow changes to keep you busy making incremental revenue for a lifetime. Best of luck! -Jeb
Michael Brill
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Michael Brill Entrepreneur
Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products
To Brandon's point, if your current user base isn't engaging in they way you want them to (sending messages), then your problem probably isn't user acquisition at this point. You're not going to market yourself into providing real value for users.

I could be completely wrong, but I just took a look at the site and it seems that you do put up quite significant barriers to use the site. There are almost 40(!) main nav options and when you click any one of them, you're presented with a monster sign-up form with probably 100 lines on it. If nothing else, I'd look at your bounce rates and my guess is that it's going to be pretty dismal. Assumedly once a user runs through this gauntlet and wants to connect with someone, you stop that from happening by asking them for money (again, I haven't gone through the process... just going on your comment).

So, yeah, my $0.02 is focus on the users and worry about $ later.
Kurt Celis
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Kurt Celis Entrepreneur
Founder at HEROmatchmaker

Brandon - Good idea. I actually tried something along those lines already but maybe I need to try something else. I'm offering $5 to anyone that signs up for a paid membership ($2.95 or $5.95 based on level) and that $5 comes back tot hem in the form of a Starbucks E-Gift card or they can just select to have it donated to one of the charities available on the site.

Sandeep - I'll shoot him an e-mail, thank you.

Travis - We've had a few blogs articles written about us and some of them do feed to us. But gettign onto the right blogs is tough. I'll work on putting together a mini media kit.

Jeb - Some great information, thank you. It looks like you're fairly well versed in this area and you've given me some great homework for the weekend.

Michael - Good points. Although a majority of the sign up is optional (only a few mandatory fields), it may work better with a shorter sign up sheet. It is a simple solution to remove the otpional fields from the signup and juast leave the mandatory fields to see if member sign-ups vs. bounces change.

Aleksandra Djordjevic
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Aleksandra Djordjevic Entrepreneur
Enterprise Innovation Catalyst and Coach
Aswan Morgan
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Aswan Morgan Entrepreneur
Mobile Entrepreneur; eCommerce Personalization, Optimization & Conversion Expert
I agree with the points on streamlining signup and accelerating the user's path to value. Also, consider holding off monetizing your site. As there is a network effect here and you're in the early stages, focus on growing the community first and then pulling revenue levers.
Candice Hughes
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Candice Hughes Entrepreneur • Advisor
CEO & Founder Hughes BioPharma, AdapTac Games, Digital & Mobile Health, Biotech, Technology Scout

The largest issue to me seems to be the gender imbalance. If you have 70% women and you want the users to pay to send messages then you need to have people for them to send message to. Ergo, you need a lot more men in your database. Since you have a targeted audience, I wouldn't worry what Match and other big sites are doing. I would go to places where your specific target market resides- any sort of police associations, medical associations, etc.

Once you fix the gender imbalance, I feel your paid messaging will certainly increase.

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