Internet dating defies economic gloom
With many people looking for a partner preferring to search online than in a bar or club, the web dating business is worth more than £2bn a year worldwide and niche targeting is helping businesses meet customer needs.
One of the fastest growing online dating companies is Global Personals, based in Windsor, which was set up eight years ago.
It currently employs 100 staff and has 14 websites including Just Widower Dating and Just Divorced Singles which cater for very specific markets.
But 85% of Global Personals' income is from selling software for other people to host their own rebranded sites - known as "white-label" sites.
"We provide the technology, customer care and database for other brands to put their label on it and market it to consumers," says founder Ross Williams.
"In the last eight years, we went from nothing to £30m a year in revenues."
It is a good money-spinner for Global Personals as they take half of any revenue generated by the white-label sites.
The service is used by individuals who want to set up a dating business and also by several media companies for their linked dating sites like FHM, Bizarre and Maxim magazines. In total it hosts 6,000 white-label sites.
But industry insiders point to the downside.
Marc Leznick, who runs internet dating conferences for the industry, identifies potential drawbacks: "There are two things. Number one, I'm sharing the revenue. And now, let's say, three or four years pass and I want to sell this business. All those users are the value of the business, but I don't own them - the white-label host does."
'Pick up' training
One person who did not want to share his revenue is Richard La Ruina. He runs one of the new crop of courses springing up and advertised online, which teach people how to pick up partners.
Called "Pick Up Artist Training", it is for men looking for women and involves spending two days at "boot camp". It teaches how to secure a woman's number, how to text her, where to go on a date and how to behave. The charge is £779.
Dharam Raja who teaches on the course did it himself three and a half years ago.
"By the end of it, I felt I could go out and meet a woman and take her out on a date and get into a relationship if I wanted one."
Critics have suggested the course concentrates more on picking up women than developing a relationship.
The website bears testimonials like "Managed to pick up three girls in a week."
Dharam rejects this: "If we advertise as 'Come and find your one true soul mate' - for women that might be spot on, but most men would search online for 'How do you meet women?'
"You have to be on top of search terms for such things. Not all guys who come on the course want to sleep their way through the world. Many guys want to just meet the right person."
Another specialist target is the Asian market, where sites such as Shaadi.com appeal to people who are more interested in settling down than dating.
The Mumbai-based company claims to have fixed more than two million weddings worldwide since it opened 15 years ago.
The site uses the same search criteria that families would use when trying to arrange a marriage in the traditional way but does everything online.
Sanjay and Sunita met using the site and have been married for eight years.
Sunita says: "I wasn't getting any younger and had already been through a bad marriage where I was formally introduced.
"So this was a platform where the parent aspect was not there, and this would mean it was my decision rather than been influenced by outsiders."
Her husband Sanjay believes matrimonial sites can help bridge the gap between traditional family values and modern dating.
"It still isn't acceptable for people from our community to come home and say 'This is my boyfriend' or 'This is my girlfriend', so sites like this can act as a buffer until that does become the norm."
You And Yours investigates consumer issues daily at 12 noon on BBC Radio 4. The investigations into the dating business can be heard from Wednesday 7 December to Friday 9 December. Or catch up later at the above link.