Recently I’ve been writing about how niche dating sites can offer more success than the big dating sites simply because the service has already narrowed down its members to those with the single quality most important to you. Because I’ve been offering this advice, I wanted to review some niche sites and I’m starting with CatholicMatch.com.
Look and Feel
My first impression when visiting the site was the beautiful photography on the site, mostly of churches, weddings or couples together. Many niche dating sites don’t put much effort into the look of the site, probably because they simply don’t have the budget to polish their service as much as the big sites. In the first few pages of signing up it becomes clear that CatholicMatch.com has taken time to make their site visually appealing. It’s hard to make some areas stand out, such as the profiles or search results, so the site does have many standard layout screens. But the attention to detail gives the service a much cleaner feel than most other niche dating sites I’ve seen (it was actually more appealing than some of the bigger sites I’ve seen). Even the subscription sign-up page has beautiful photography!
The sign up process is similar to most dating sites but some of the questions they ask are much more specific to Catholic needs and desires, which is obviously a good thing. Some areas I found most interesting include:
- The sign-up process allows you to claim which parish you belong to. The site actually shows you all the parishes closest to you, which I thought was a great feature. I was impressed with the number of parishes the site listed and the fact that it showed how far away each one was. It’s interesting to think that a dating site could actually help someone seeking a church. The parish information is marked as private so I’m not sure at what point in the dating process this comes into play.
- You are allowed to select which Rite you belong to, favorite Devotions, Prayers, and Sacraments as well as liturgical preferences.
- One of the most important features is specifying how important your faith is in your life with answers including:
- My faith is a part of my daily life
- My faith is important to me
- I turn to my faith in difficult times
- I consider myself Catholic but not always practicing
- I was raised Catholic but not really practicing now
- Get to know me first
I say that this is very important because there’s a big difference between picking a religion to put in your dating profile and actually having a dedicated walk of faith within that religion. At most sites you only know how important religion is to the person if they specifically state something in their profile text. Here, you know immediately for each profile you view.
- Finally, you are able to express if you accept the Church’s teachings on: Eucharist, Contraception, Sanctity of Life, Papal Infallibility, Premarital Sex, Immaculate Conception and Holy Orders.
Each of these areas, while unique to this service, will be of extreme importance to almost all of its members
The profiles at the site are fairly standard (not that this is a bad thing). In addition to the standard profile features, the profiles also have a Temperament Test which is like other dating site’s personality test. The profiles also include a nice feature called Personal Interviews. You add up to 20 multiple choice questions that you can write yourself and you then assign scores to each of the answers (also written by you). Other members can then answer the questions in your Interview and you can see how the people who took your Interview scored (only you will be able to see the scores). In this way, you can get a quick idea of how you match up with other singles on issues that you decide are important to you. This is actually my favorite feature of the dating service as this is a brand new approach to me.
The only down side I saw to the profiles is that there is no way to hide your profile. If you meet someone and think it may turn into something more, you would want to hide your profile so others couldn’t contact you. You can update your status to say that you’re in a relationship but only if you’re paying. Not a huge problem but a hide feature would be appreciated (especially by a reviewer like me who doesn’t want contacted but does want to check the site from time to time!).
The profile searching is standard and as is often the case most of the search options are locked out and only paying members can use them. I can accept this but I do feel like they should have allowed the Faith category to be searchable for free since this is the most important quality to all new members. I understand that the service will need to make some money to be successful but I don’t think allowing people to search on the faith-based qualities would hurt their bottom-line (I actually suspect it would help it).
Number of Members
The biggest struggle for most niche sites is acquiring and maintaining a significant number of members. It appears that CatholicMatch has overcome this problem. While the service is still low in membership numbers compared to the big sites, it does have a respectable number. As I’ve discussed in the past, a hundred members on a niche site is often more valuable than 1,000 members on a mainstream dating service since of those 1,000 members there may only be 50 that really match what you’re looking for. This is especially true of religion where people are apt to select the religion of their parents even if they don’t really consider themselves a member of that faith. For me (Pittsburgh, PA), I received results of close to 200 women within 25 miles of me which seems like a very reasonable number of members.
- Forums: As is becoming common with most online dating services, CatholicMatch offers a forum for its members to discuss both dating and non-dating related issues. When I viewed these forums the member activity on them was very high so it seems that the site has a strong community.
- Dating Advice: The site offers dating advice articles which is really important in my mind. When I try to find relevant dating advice for articles here I often find myself digging through tons of garbage before I find anything of value. I imagine things would be even worse if I were doing these searches from a purely Catholic perspective so the fact that valuable, faith-specific advice is offered right on the site is a great thing.
- Activity Notifications and Live Chat: Taking a page out of Facebook’s design, CatholicMatch has a toolbar that rests at the bottom of the page you are viewing that allows you to view recent activity (such as messages and who’s viewed you) as well as start live chat sessions
Another great thing about niche dating sites like CatholicMatch is that their price does have the tendency to be lower than the main stream sites. In this case, their pricing seems fair to me:
3 Months: $16.64 a month (for a total of $49.95)
6 Months: $12.49 a month (for a total of $74.95)
As I am quick to suggest when asked, I normally recommend the 3 month plans at dating services. A single month is normally not long enough to find success dating online and if you pay month to month you’ll end up spending $50 after two months. The three month plan will give you an extra month for the same price. As long as you can commit to yourself to use the service for two months, the three month plan is the best use of your money.
I was actually quite surprised a few times while reviewing this site. The attention to detail in the design of the site, the concentration on Catholic values in the profiles and the Personal Interview feature were all great. My only complaint is the limited searching options for free memberships, especially a lack of searching in the faith area. Still, even with that down-side I found the service to be very solid and well made, especially considering it is a niche site. If you’re a devout Catholic or if your faith is at the top of your list when looking for qualities in those you date, I’d recommend visiting the site to see if you agree with my impression. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.