Dating sites become mainstream and focus on more niche markets

Online dating has brought romance to millions of men and women, who will, no doubt, be celebrating on Valentine’s Day.

And now, a new website for Jewish singles, Jewcier.com, operated by Miami Beach-based Avalanche, is geared to help even more people find love through the Internet.

Stop Kvetching – Start Dating! commands the blog on Jewcier.com, written by Meir Strahlberg, chief executive of Avalanche.

“It’s meant to introduce Jewish singles to one another in a casual, stress-free environment,” said Strahlberg, sipping tea at Books Books on Lincoln Road, near his office.

Jewcier, which is now open to the public, joins nearly 20 other general and niche dating sites owned and operated by Avalanche, co-founded by Strahlberg and his Toronto-based business partner Kris Covino in 1997.

Among Avalanche’s largest sites are Date.com, launched on Valentine’s Day in 1997; Matchmaker.com, which Avalanche bought in 2005, and Amor.com, a Latin dating site also launched in 2005, which has more then 20,000 members in South Florida alone.

Avalanche’s domain names are words people naturally type into the Internet, so they don’t have to spend a lot in marketing, Internet dating experts say.

“They’re well respected within the industry for being savvy operators,” said Mark Brooks, an online dating industry analyst and editor of onlinepersonalswatch.com.

Within the last six months, Avalanche has added five gay dating sites to its portfolio, which already included GayDating.com: GayMen.com; ; GayMarriage.net; PinkWink.com, which is oriented toward gay women; MyPartner.com; and Gay.mx, a Mexican site.

Gay sites are “a growing part of our business,” Strahlberg said.

Avalanche also owns religion-oriented sites: ChristianMatchmaker.com and CatholicSoulmates.com; another Latin market site, Corazon.com; and a senior and mature market site, MatureSinglesClick.com.

Overall, the company’s sites have 10 million members worldwide, and 5 percent to 10 percent of them are paying members, Strahlberg said. You must be 18 to join and you must be a paying subscriber to send an email. The cost ranges from $10 to $30 per month, he said.

Online dating “is effective, it’s inexpensive, it’s very convenient,” Strahlberg said. “You can be sitting at home, or in the office, anywhere around the world and you can meet somebody.”

Experts agree that the stigma has evaporated.

“Online dating is not just for what I used to call the dating-challenged — the computer geek, the shy boy,” said Los Angeles-based online dating expert Julie Spira. “Online dating is for everyone now.”

Spira, who coaches singles and runs cyberdatingexpert.com, met her now ex-husband in 1999 on Matchmaker.com.

“Date.com and Matchmaker.com are fabulous brand names,” she said. “They happen to be really great names for dating sites.”

Avalanche’s sites are among 1,500 worldwide, in a still-growing industry that attracts 122 million visitors per month worldwide and 24 million per month in the United States, which is the largest online dating market, according to Internet data provider comScore.

The top 100 sites — including some of Avalanche’s — account for 92 percent of unique visits, Brooks said.

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