Dating and Search Ready to Commit

At first it seems like a twist on the show "Lost": Take one of the top ways people use the Internet, the leading paid content category, and a resurrected dot-com brand name, toss them out into the Web, and see what hijinks ensue.

Look a little deeper, and Lycos Dating Search is a shrewd maneuver from the former search giant.

Lycos Dating Search is a free search engine that lets users search results, or profiles, from five dating sites: Matchmaker (owned by Lycos),,, Tickle, and Participating sites share revenues with Lycos through a cost-per-acquisition, cost-per-click, or hybrid performance-based model.

Why marry search to online dating? Each partner complements the other.

Online dating is the leading paid content moneymaker, with millions of subscribers who buy in. Yet it is experiencing some tough times, partially a victim of both its own success (the goal for any subscriber is to find the perfect pairing and stop paying for the site) and its own failure (those who strike out online grow tired of it - how much rejection can one person take?).



Search, meanwhile, has emerged as arguably the most attractive acquisition model out there for Internet-based subscription services. The chaplain: Lycos, a former superstar that was kicked around and left for dead but now aims to get its bark back.

Curt Degenhart, senior product manager of Lycos Dating Search, says Lycos investigated the business model last year and found that online dating customers compare 2.1 sites on average before joining one, and up to half of a dating site's members will consider competitors at any given time. Additionally, anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent of new members at top sites were members of a competing site.

In other words, customers hold dating sites to the same high standards to which they hold their dates.

Dating sites have always used search in myriad applications. Throughout their existence, they've depended on at least adequate site search functionality. A high percentage of traffic comes from natural and paid search, with competition fierce both among broad players and niche sites.

Dating sites are among few that consistently offer personalized search; "saved searches" is a nearly universal feature. Additionally, consumers use advanced search functionality, selecting anywhere from a few to a dozen traits when looking for a match. Dating site users must inherently be among the most sophisticated searchers out there.

Curt built a strong claim that there's a need for Lycos Dating Search. It's also a fascinating case study about a sector that lives and dies by search, both for acquisition and for keeping its customers satisfied. Expect more sites, including niche dating sites looking for broader exposure, to join Lycos Dating Search in the coming months.

Yet, there's this ominous question hovering over anything with the Lycos name attached to it, one of those "if a tree falls in the woods..." type of question. Why should anyone pay attention to Lycos?

Adam Soroca, general manager of search services for Lycos, acknowledges Lycos has been hibernating. Yet he notes that after Korea's Daum Communications completed its acquisition of Lycos in October, Lycos Search found itself with some new manpower behind the scenes, including a restored research and development team.

Adam won't give details of what's coming from Lycos, but he provided a framework. The plan for 2005 is to differentiate. Adam sounds confident that Lycos found one thing it can do better than anyone else, and that's where it will prove its value. Lycos Search will release a number of features toward this goal throughout the next six months and officially announce how everything ties together by the year's end.

Lycos relaunched its home page in January, bringing back an old icon (the black dog) and slogan ("Go get it!") that Adam says still have strong brand recognition and affinity. The new Lycos home page shows a strong focus on search, with tabs to access all the enhanced search features (such as products, multimedia, and people searches).

Talking to Curt and Adam, there's a sense that Lycos Dating Search is a mere sideshow, the act that attracts people into the tent and commands attention but has little to do with the spectacle that's coming.

In the meantime, the sideshow's exciting entertainment. It exemplifies how deep a role search plays in a still-lucrative category, and other vertical search sites will highlight this further. Expect new vertical search opportunities for nearly every type of site.

The only question that remains: Who will launch the first search engine for vertical search sites?

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