Who knew? Somewhere between the AOL personals and Grindr, online dating got cool. Seriously - this isn't desperate propaganda from the millions of lonely souls hoping to justify a last-ditch attempt to find love: Matchmaking is an ever-expanding industry, and since the advent of the mobile app the there's been a discernible upturn in the marketability of dating sites worldwide. The dating site's elevation - from your deepest, darkest browser history secret to a proudly displayed app on your smart phone's home screen - was a long time coming. Match.com was founded in 1995, and increasing interest led to more suitable match options and more happy-ending stories; and this self-exacerbating success continues today.
But now everyone wants a piece of the matchmaking pie, with over 1500 online dating sites competing in the USA alone. As online dating has expanded, so too have the variety and styles of dating sites available. On the more conventional (or 'romantic', if you will) format, favoured by sites like eHarmony, users pay a subscription fee and get matched with suitable candidates. The attraction of sites such as these is the volume and variety of users available, as well as the purportedly detailed algorithms through which matches are discovered. There are plenty of other sites catering to the slightly more niche market. Looking for an Irish farmer? There's a dating site perfect for you! And then there's the explanatorily named SugarDaddyFinder for the enterprising young singleton, as well as sites that deal with specific ethnic and cultural groups. With the online dating industry valued at $2 billion in the US as the end of 2012 - a figure that's expected to keep growing -we’ve compiled a list of the five most popular and profitable dating sites in the world today.
5 OKCupid $50 million
Founded in 2004, OKCupid had over 3.5 million active users by 2010 and offers matches and meet ups for both gay and straight singles. The site matches users by asking a number of questions, ranging from an assessment of physical appearance to probing enquiries on social and political attitudes. Those matched are then given scores based on the potential for friendship and romance, and possible enemies are even identified. OKCupid doesn't require users to pay to use the service, instead generating revenue through advertising. The business plan seems to have paid off, as OKCupid was acquired by Match.com in 2011 for a cool $50 million.
4 Zoosk $90 million
San Francisco-based Zoosk raked in $90 million in 2011, and it's been increasing in popularity since. This site boasts over 25 million users worldwide, depsite the relatively hefty $30 monthly fee. To use Zoosk, it's free to contact a user for the first time but if they peak your interest you'll have to pay up, because only paid users can send more than an introductory message. Like several other dating sites, Zoosk has piggybacked on Facebook's social media dominance, creating a popular Facebook app.
3 E-Harmony $180 million
This U.S. dating site has had its fair share of ups, downs, and controversies since it was founded in 2000. Psychologist Neil Clarke Warren pioneered the method of personality assessment to make matches online. E-Harmony was originally a Christian-orientated dating site and controversially didn't offer same-sex matches - and Warren has been known to speak out against same-sex marriage. After sustained controversy, though, a spin-off site for same-sex matches - 'Compatible Partners' - was developed. Warren has always been reticent about the site's revenue but estimates suggest the site was peaking at over $200 million back in 2009 and has fallen to about $180 million this year.
2 Plenty of Fish $200 million
Like many dating sites, Plenty of Fish try to keep tight lipped about their profits and revenue generated but with a net worth of $200 million, it’s fair to say that the Canadian-born Plenty of Fish founder Markus Frind isn’t doing too badly for himself. Like its competitor OKCupid, Plenty of Fish is free to use but generates its tidy profit through selling advertising space. The site, which debuted in Canada in 2003, has expanded to key markets inclduing North America, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Ireland. The site has become so successful that it has even given rise to a number of spin off unauthorised sites, such as Plenty More Fish. Frind can take comfort in the fact that imitation always has been the most sincere form of flattery - and in his couple of hundred million dollars.
1 Match.com $401 million
If you're looking for variety of choice, Match.com may well be your best bet: It's both the largest and the wealthiest dating site in the world. The website forms part of the IAC group, which owns several other popular dating sites including OKCupid and LoveandSeek.com. IAC also own a number of well-known non-dating sites including About.com. In 2010 the collective turnover from IAC’s dating division was $401 million, demonstrating that - in spite of the online dating taboo that may have lingered in the early noughties - there's still some serious cash to be made. IAC's 2011 purchase of OKCupid demonstrates their dedication to the businesses of matchmaking, and Match has gained popularity due the reportedly high success rate of long-term relationships and even marriages born on the site. These matches are made using a number of complex algorithms which the company continuously develops to create the best matches for users. With a subscription price of $20 per month, it's a fair price to pay for the promise of a lifetime of happiness.