Grant Langston has learned a lot over his 16-year tenure at eHarmony, the popular dating site launched in 2000.
But only in his six months as the company’s new CEO has an important lesson become clear: Love conquers all — except when other dating apps are much easier to use.
“Whatever the onboarding time is for us,” Langston recently told Business Insider, raising a flattened hand to about eye-level, “Tinder is here,” he said, lowering his hand about two feet. “We’ve got to get in the universe of ease of use, so that the person who wants a relationship can see a way to use us.”
Historically, eHarmony has not thought of swipe-based apps as competitors, since they tend to cater to more casual daters. But there are plenty of people who now use those apps to look for long-term partners — on Tinder it’s 80% of users. Langston sees that shift as his best chance to entice marriage-seekers and, in the process, revive a dying brand.
‘That’s our failure’
Langston is the first to admit eHarmony needs help. Though the company essentially pioneered online dating a decade and a half ago, it has since fallen far behind the pack.
Dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and many others offer addicting swipe-based interfaces and seamless design that keep younger customers coming back. eHarmony users, on the other hand, fill out detailed questionnaires in the hopes of finding secure, long-term partners — a far cry from mindless thumb swipes.
Langston blames eHarmony’s continued focus on marketing over user experience for its current challenges. While other apps are free and simple to use, eHarmony’s users complain about high costs and poor functionality. The app has a one-star rating in the App Store.
I’m like, that’s our failure. That person should be on eHarmony.
By last count, eHarmony has about 750,000 paid subscribers and 10 million active users, which is about the same number it’s had since 2012, Langston says. Tinder, meanwhile, has roughly 1 million premium users and 50 million people using the app. Two-year-old Bumble is also quickly gaining steam, having already accrued 3.5 million active users.
But as millennials creep into marriage age, the new CEO hopes sleeker pages, faster load times, and promising matchmaking algorithms can lure those with “swipe fatigue” away from the hookup apps of their youth.
“When I see people who use Tinder and they say in their headline they’re not looking to hook up and want a real relationship, I’m like, that’s our failure,” Langston says. “That person should be on eHarmony.”
Laughing their way to the top
Langston isn’t hoping sleeker product design will get him a bigger userbase — at least not yet. He says business is still strong, even if it’s not growing. His primary goal for 2017 is to increase user satisfaction. In an industry such as his, where customers may be quick to blame a poor experience on the service rather than their own shortcomings, that can be tough.
“How can we improve this business so that people who come to us and don’t find the person of their dreams are still satisfied with the experience?” he says.
Part of eHarmony’s answer to that question has been refining the site’s matching algorithm.
In the beginning, about 16% of users who completed the questionnaire would receive a notification telling them the site couldn’t make any matches for them. It was a disappointing dilemma: They’d either have to adjust their preferences or find a new dating site. Langston says only about 4% of people now get that notice, and most of them are already married, which the site frowns upon.
The company is also currently conducting extensive research into people’s senses of humour with the intent to incorporate that information into its matching algorithm.
eHarmony built a portal where users can watch dozens of 30-second videos — from improv comedy to movie clips to viral prank videos — to determine their “humour profile.” Do they prefer fart jokes or would they rather watch “The Daily Show”? The new feature will then categorise their sense of humour based on nine different types.
“At this point, it seems very likely that it will be an important way to match people,” Langston says of using humour to pair daters, but he adds that isn’t the final step. “You have to ask yourself, Does it correlate to better relationships?” That answer will come with further testing over the next several months.
The company is also making other small fixes attempt to help the app feel fresher. Due to decreasing numbers of older users, eHarmony dropped its Guided Communication feature, which offered prompts to help users start chatting. And now when people get a match, they see an entire dashboard about their compatibility, not just the notification that a match has been made.
A future of inclusivity
Product issues notwithstanding, the service is still wrestling with some philosophical challenges in its quest to capture younger users.
For instance, only after eHarmony settled a 2005 discrimination suit in 2009 did it start a site for same-sex daters. That site, Compatible Partners, is successful on its own, Langston says, but he acknowledges that it would probably do better if it lived under eHarmony’s roof.
“In the long term, it has to be there,” he says. “It has to be joined together because eventually it just looks weirder and weirder for it to be separate.”
Then there’s the issue of cost, a common gripe among the one-star reviewers. Set against a backdrop of freemium dating apps, eHarmony’s model may seem overly demanding. You can fill out the questionnaire and get matches for free, but you have to subscribe to see their photos or talk to them. A monthly subscription costs $US59.95 per month, while a six-month subscription amounts to $US15.95 per month. People who pay for Tinder’s premium service, Tinder Plus, are charged no more than $US19.99 per month. For people under 30 years old, it’s $US9.99.
Langston says eHarmony has built up a loyal subscriber base over the years — generally people who have drifted in and out of the dating pool. Capturing new ones will mean confronting the fact that millennials have grown accustomed to paying nothing for dating apps.
Despite those challenges, Langston still believes that the right design tweaks, in combination with 16 years of algorithm research, will allow eHarmony to prevail over newer, more self-guided services in helping people find love.
“People who have a great time on Tinder, maybe they find someone,” he says. “Good for them.” As for the people that don’t, “they will come our way.”
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