SAN FRANCISCO: In the fight for the top spot among purveyors of love connections on the Web, one company is gaining on the online dating giants by using some old-fashioned techniques -- advertising on radio and TV.
If you want to get married and don't live under a rock, you've probably heard eHarmony founder Dr. Neil Clark Warren pitch his service as the solution to your problem.
In eHarmony's radio and television ad campaign, the marriage counselor and author is joined by couples who found their "soul mates" with help from his company's compatibility test that asks everything from religious preferences to whether a person is dominant or submissive.
That ad campaign cost the company more than $10 million last year and is just one example of how eHarmony stands alone in an industry where its competition tries to keep things casual, inexpensive and in participants' control.
Where users of popular dating services from Yahoo Inc. and InterActiveCorp.'s Match.com can post a quick profile and photo and browse through the information posted by other singles at their whim, eHarmony allows users to see only those individuals its patented matching technology deems a good fit.
The 4-year-old dating site, which has 4 million members and 3,000 confirmed weddings, is far more structured than other offerings, even going so far as to suggest that users follow a pre-set method of communication, including multiple-choice questions and a section about "must haves" and "can't stands."
Membership, which runs nearly $100 for three months or almost $250 for a year, is about 2 1/2 times that of rival services.
"EHarmony, based on their personality test, says 'We know you better' ... They've obviously tapped into something. More of my clients ask me about eHarmony than any other site," said Evan Marc Katz, founder of e-Cyrano, a provider of online profile writing and dating coaching.
"It's about giving up control to a higher power. You're losing freedom of choice and gaining a more focused search ... It's like being set up by your parents," said Katz, the author of a how-to book on online dating.
While some singles don't mind ceding their early compatibility decisions to someone else, others may find the service limits their options and thwarts serendipity, he said.
Just as the service is not for everyone, not everyone is for eHarmony. Unlike other companies, it has no qualms about turning away some potential members -- along with their money.
"We don't make it easy. You have to go through a 436-item questionnaire just to get a chance to pay," eHarmony Chief Executive Greg Forgatch said.
To date, eHarmony says it has turned away fewer than 10 percent of potential members. Rejects include people who are separated or have been married four or more times, as well as those, whose test results indicate they are depressed or not telling the truth. Because eHarmony's research shows that a marriage entered into at a young age has a lower-than-usual success rate -- you're also out of luck if you're under 21.
FINDING MORE THAN A NICHE
As competition in the fast-growing, $450 million U.S. Web personals industry intensifies, mainstream companies like Match.com have added scientific testing to rival offerings from pioneers eHarmony and Monster Worldwide's Tickle.
So far, eHarmony's approach appears to be paying off, according to a recent eHarmony-commissioned study from the comScore Networks research firm as well as data from other sources.
During February, eHarmony led the ‘personals’ category in new subscriptions by grabbing nearly 38 percent of total U.S. subscription sales generated by the top 12 dating sites, comScore said.
The Internet research company added that eHarmony's rate of converting visitors to members was six times the average of other sites, but declined to make additional data public.
Hitwise.com, which tracks Web traffic, said eHarmony was the sixth-most-visited dating site for the week ending May 1, after Yahoo Personals, Tickle (formerly eMode), MatchNet's American Singles, Match.com and Friendster, a free site that introduces friends of friends and was just a hair ahead of eHarmony.
EHarmony says women account for 60 percent of its members and that it is not suffering from the man shortage seen at high-end matchmaking services and other more serious dating outlets. Nevertheless, user data from Hitwise tells a somewhat different story. It said about 73 percent of the visitors to eHarmony's site are female.