We caught up with the chief executive officer (CEO) of a string of US dating affiliate websites, Meir Strahlberg, to discuss industry changes, fraudulent traffic and the ‘lucrative’ UK market.
The business, which operates a network of general and niche dating websites, such as Date.com; its flagship brand, Matchmaker.com and Amor.com, now offers one centralised portal, OnlineDatingCash.com, for the thousands of affiliates who promote its sites.
Q: Having worked in the affiliate dating industry in the US since 1995, what are the biggest changes you have seen across the affiliate channel?
MS: The first change has to do with the type of traffic that affiliates are sending. In the early days of the internet, almost all ‘whales’ or big affiliates were primarily sending traffic via email marketing. In later years, this shifted to SEO. These days, there is a wide diversification of traffic forms that affiliates use to generate income. Social media and mobile traffic are bringing in a tremendous amount of sales, and these traffic types are relatively new for us, and for our affiliates.
The second major change has to do with the types of offers that affiliates are promoting. When we started, affiliates were most interested in general dating offers. Date.com and Matchmaker.com were our primary brands, and this is what affiliates wanted to promote. These days, we get several requests from affiliates to promote our niche sites. We have close to 20 niche brands ranging from sites based on religion such as ChristianMatchmaker.com or Jewcier.com, to interest based sites like Golfmates.com, to gay/lesbian brands like Gaydating.com or PinkWink.com.
Q: How familiar are you with the UK affiliate scene and what are your views on it?
MS: The UK is our second largest market and it’s a great one. We offer high payouts for UK traffic. Because of how lucrative the UK is we find that many of our US-based affiliates focus on this market and generate traffic there. We also have a number of UK affiliates sending traffic to our US offers. The internet has really broken down geographic boundaries and borders.
Q: How did you get into the affiliate scene and what were you doing before?
MS: We were very involved in CPM based media buying and didn’t really focus too heavily on affiliate marketing. But affiliates kept approaching us, with an interest to partner up and promote our sites. We decided that this was something that we needed to start paying attention to. Nowadays, we actually dedicate the largest part of our media budget towards affiliate marketing.
Q: What other forms of performance marketing do you use or do you plan to dabble in?
MS: In the past, we’ve done direct response television. It’s something that we’re considering to try again. However, 100% of our performance marketing currently comes via the web. We are very happy with the results, and our affiliates are too.
Q: What have been the big challenges you have come up against and what concerns, if any, do you have about the future of the affiliate industry?
MS: When we started in affiliate marketing there were many affiliates who sent us fraudulent traffic. This took up a lot of resources and cost us a lot of money. We pursued this in a number of ways. First, we dealt with it from a legal perspective. We prosecuted several affiliates with some even sent to jail. Second, we have developed our own internal system to qualify incoming traffic and to monitor suspicious affiliate activity. As fraudsters come up with new ways to attempt to scam, we constantly keep up by finding new ways to detect them.
Q: Many believe the industry as a whole has become far more professional over the last couple of years. Do you agree?
MS: Back in the early days of the Internet, you needed to be a high- level geek / techie to yield traffic on the net, and just as able to navigate it. There were no affiliate networks and Google didn’t exist. It was the Wild West. There were a lot of hacker types who figured out creative ways to send traffic. Some of this traffic was ‘kosher’ but some was not.
These days there are a lot more mom-and pop types who are involved in internet marketing to earn extra income. They maintain blogs, they have figured out how to arbitrage SEM, and they’ve figured out creative and legitimate ways to generate quality traffic.
The industry has matured. Affiliate networks now exist, and affiliate marketing has become a profession that is being pursued by everyone: kids graduating high school/college, as well as adults who do this part-time, or as a full-time profession.
Q: From affiliate dating sites aimed at Latinos and Catholics to single parents and golfing enthusiasts, the sites are pretty niche. What others do you have in the pipeline and do you just use the same template for each?
MS: We are about to launch three new niche sites and are very excited about them. The first is a joint venture with a large legal web site. This new site, LegalCupid.com will be focused on lawyers who want to date other lawyers. Aside from thinking this is a profitable niche, I got tired of spending money on lawyers, and thought that it was about time to make some money off them.
The second site will be focused on singles that follow a spiritual lifestyle. Our religious sites, ChristianMatchmaker.com, CatholicSoulmates.com, and Jewcier.com, all do very well for affiliates. We think that SpiritualClick.com is going to do great.
The third site is focused on the senior market. Seniors are our most valuable demographic and we think that SeniorSoulmate.com is going to be a very popular affiliate offer.
Each site shares the same back-end technology, but each site has its own nuances and modifications which makes each brand unique.
Q: What is the most unique affiliate publisher you have worked with?
MS: One of the most creative and highly effective approaches that we have seen was from an affiliate who set up a survey on his website. He would ask his members a few creative questions which were fun and humorous. For example: ‘what animal would you describe yourself in bed?’ After the member completed the survey, a message would direct them to our site where they would be prompted to join.
We are very flexible and allow affiliates to use creative, customised methods of marketing our offers, as long as we approve it to ensure that it meets legal guidelines.
Q: What are your future plans for the business?
MS: Over the last year we’ve acquired several sites including MilitarySingles.com. These days we are very active in evaluating acquisitions and we’re always looking to purchase great brands.
We are also very involved with joint ventures. We are evaluating a number of other markets, and I love talking to companies with creative joint venture ideas.