Thursday, September 3, 2009

5 Lessons from Darwin Dating

In early 2006 Mike and I read a book called 'Buzz Marketing' which provides a framework for building buzz for your brand. We decided to try out the framework and Mike came up with the concept of a joke dating site for attractive people only. We enlisted the help of James Duffy and Darwin Dating was born.

The site definitely got the buzz we'd hoped for, and now has over 20,000 members, but we haven't made a lot of money from the site. That said we've learnt a lot, here are those lessons:

1. If you want to build buzz, the framework in 'Buzz Marketing' works. It's probably obvious if you've seen the Darwin Dating website that we used the 'controversy' angle to get people talking! You can download the key chapter in the book here, but essentially the theory is you need to push the '6 buttons of buzz':
- The taboo (sex, lies, bathroom humor)
- The unusual
- The outrageous
- The hilarious
- The remarkable
- Secrets (both kept and revealed)
While we designed the Darwin Dating brand to satisfy these 6 buttons, you don't have to go that far. We pulled a little stunt when Google did a flyover of Sydney for Google Maps a few years back that got us some good buzz. (Read the comments on the post!)

2. Buzz = lots of links to your site = great for SEO. For a long time (and sometimes it still does) Darwin Dating ranked on page 1 of Google for the keywords 'dating website' and 'dating websites'. Not bad for a very niche, joke dating site. We put this down to all the buzz related links to the site and...

3. Encouraging people to link to your site = great for SEO. And who better to do this than your customers or users! They just need a reason to do it. To join Darwin Dating, users need to be voted in as 'attractive'. We provide newly signed up users with code to embed a 'vote for me' button on their website or blog so they can encourage their friends to vote for them. Not everyone takes advantage of this but enough people do resulting in lots of links to our site.

4. If your business requires a critical mass or users, make sure you've fully thought through all the implications before you begin and planned your strategy accordingly. Dating websites require a critical mass of users in a geographic area before you can charge users and make money. While Darwin Dating has 20,000 members we only have critical mass in two markets, London (5k members) and New York (3k members). We could charge members a fee in those markets, but not in places like Sydney (100 members). As we've since learnt, other dating sites either target specific geographic regions, or group together 100's of niche dating sites like ours that all share the same membership base.

5. Make sure you're passionate about the business you're building. It makes us feel really bad when we reject 'ugly' people from Darwin Dating and they don't realise the site's a joke. This hurts our motivation and has played a big part in us not working on the site a great deal in nearly 2 years. We've taken a lot from the experience of working on Darwin Dating, and the site's still up and running so hopefully we'll continue to learn some more. We'll do a follow up post to this one about how we're applying these lessons to Shoes of Prey and Clickversity.

Fun postscript - last week a Darwin Dating member emailed us to delete their account and say thanks as they're now engaged after meeting their partner on Darwin Dating! That's our first known Darwin Dating marriage, hooray! (Both members are HOT by the way!) ;)


  1. Interesting and valuable knowledge - have you guys read the 4 hr work week? It basically says if you set up an internet business in the way discussed in the book, you can get away with only working 4 hrs a week!

  2. Hi James. I haven't read the 4hr work week but a few people have mentioned it's a good read so I'm going to have to get myself a copy. I shouldn't critique it before I've read it, because I'm sure it covers all this, but I imagine you'd want to find a business with some fairly high barriers to entry so you don't have to spend time protecting your market position and can keep the business going off only 4 hours a week.