So, when Match launched in 1995, it was a game changer. Today, over 300 million people use dating apps, and industry leaders like Tinder, Badoo, Bumble — and Match — dominate conversations around the online search for love.
For product managers looking to build sticky dating apps, keeping up with changing times is a sure path to success. As you put together your product roadmap, consider these eight top dating app trends for 2023.
1. Enhanced Safety Features
Online dating comes with several risks, from fraud to stalking and sexual abuse --- so safety features have always been a big part of dating apps. Now, users are setting even stricter boundaries around putting themselves out there and making social commitments.
Netflix's 2022 documentary "The Tinder Swindler" exposed a scammer who targeted and tricked women into lending him money he never paid back. This fraud caused dating app users to become more careful and alert.
To tap into this user-focused trend and drive app usage, conduct research to uncover the specific boundaries your target audience members are setting. Are they hesitant to share details of their work or earning capacity? Do they feel uncomfortable discussing their political views? Would they be okay with sharing their live locations?
Help users feel safe on your app by making personal information profile fields optional. That way, users can choose which fields they want to fill in. You can also give users the option of filling in their details and making it only visible to people they've matched or are planning real-life dates with.
Bumble, for example, takes user safety and boundary setting very seriously. The platform lets users choose from over 40 optional profile prompts, so they only need to add information they're comfortable with.
Another security option you can explore is to let users choose the communication options they're comfortable with — chat, video, or call. You can even require ID confirmation from users so other singles can set their profile to only be matched with or contacted by people who have confirmed their identity.
Badoo's safety features include catfish prevention measures like post-match selfie requests, video chats, and a detector tool that blurs unsolicited genital pictures.
2. Personalized Filtering System To Match Users More Effectively
Research shows that "people's stated preferences for an ideal mate do not always align with what they find attractive in person." To match users with compatible partners more often, dating apps now collect implicit user feedback. This model is widely known as collaborative filtering, and it's when apps use past user behavior to predict the preferences of other similar users.
Say Sandra, an early app user, consistently swipes right on Christian men and swipes left on atheists or matches from other religions. The app collates this preference with other users' swiping habits and uses it to filter recommendations of Christian men it thinks Sandra and similar daters would love.
Another interesting matching model that modern dating sites use is content-based filtering, which considers both user behavior and profile information when connecting ideal partners. So, if Sandra updates her profile to include her religious and gender preferences, the app will use that information and her swiping history to filter her match list more accurately.
Also, while the geolocation filter (for finding nearby partners) has existed for a while, some users are now more interested in long-distance dating, aka "wanderlove." The platforms set to dominate 2023's online dating scene are those that cater to both audience segments.
With better filtering systems, dating apps facilitate more successful matches and meaningful relationships — helping users find their special someone faster than ever. One way to get ahead of this trend is to study the filtering models of other dating apps, especially the ones in your planned niche. Then, decide what techniques to implement, modify, or discard.
To ensure your app matches compatible daters more often than not, build an algorithm that:
- Collects user feedback on every recommended partner
- Curates each person's match lists based on their (explicit and implicit) preferences
For example, OkCupid lets users complete their profile and filter potential matches by criteria like gender orientation, political views, age, height, and more — which they can update anytime. The app then uses these interests and preferences to create match scores that show how compatible users are with each recommended partner.
3. More Niche and Special Interest Dating Apps
Generic dating apps like Tinder, Badoo, and Bumble sometimes make matching with compatible partners tedious and time consuming for users. Hence, the rise of niche dating apps — opening up a new world for users to find like-minded partners.
Niche dating platforms are a boon for both users and app developers. Rather than using more mainstream dating apps, some users with specific interests prefer to use apps made specifically for people just like them. And for niche dating app brands, their target audience is well-defined, giving them a competitive edge over generic brands.
The possibilities to explore under this trend are endless. But before building a niche dating app, conduct trends research with tools like Google Trends or Glimpse. Look out for niches that aren't filled so you don't face the same competition you are avoiding with generic dating brands. Consider untapped dating pools like an app for matching disabled daters or tech professionals.
Or, only explore saturated areas if you can significantly improve on what the current niche leader is doing to gain tangible market share. You can differentiate from existing apps in your planned niche by prioritizing social media listening — to identify the concerns users have with existing dating apps and fix them.
For instance, there are some popular faith-based dating apps like Muzz — built for single Muslims searching for marriage rather than casual dating. Similarly, Whispers4U prides itself on providing a safe environment for "differently abled" people to find love. Similarly, Grindr is custom-built for the LGBTQ community and Whispers4U provides a safe environment for "differently abled" people to find love.
Some users would also rather find partners with prestigious resumes or Ivy League degrees — and dating apps like The League cater to this elite audience.
4. Fewer Free Apps, More Paid Ones
Money can't buy love, but it definitely helps: of the 300 million people who use dating apps globally, over 20 million pay for premium features. That number is set to increase as more apps go beyond freemium packages to tiered paid plans with multiple advantages.
These paid plans include better search functionalities — like unlimited swipes, incognito mode, profile promotions, and more — that help users find their ideal partners faster.
If you're looking to build an exclusive paid app with no free version, study the membership plans of elite apps like The Lox Club and Raya.
But if you'd rather have a mainstream app, we recommend offering a freemium plan with limited features and paid packages with more flexible functionalities. Take a cue from established apps by doing a quick audit of their free and paid tiers and identifying parts of their business models that are worth copying.
Take Bumble, for example. The app offers a freemium plan and two paid tiers — Bumble Boost and Bumble Premium — allowing users with different dating commitment levels and spending power to find their fit. Bumble Boost offers users unlimited swipes, five weekly SuperSwipes, and current match extensions, while Bumble Premium has all the features of Boost, plus:
- Incognito mode to view people's profiles stealthily
- Beeline so users can see those that liked their profile
- Travel mode that lets users change their city while they're on trips
- Rematch to reconnect with past matches
These paid features have been a hit, with Bumble recording an annual revenue of $900 million in 2022, an 18% increase from 2021's $760 million. Plus, as of March 2023, the company reached a market cap of $3.65 billion (making it one of the world's top 3,000 most valuable companies!).
In an article about why dating apps are addictive, Spanish journalist Enrique Alpañés talks about the "gamification of love." In his words, "dating apps are becoming more and more like video games." If nothing else, Tinder's swipe feature and its corresponding popularity tell us all we need to know — gamification rules!
Just as games can easily keep you hooked all day, gaming features on a dating app drive user engagement. Gamification elements also contribute to product adoption and retention rates because they incentivize users to keep interacting with your app.
Get inspiration on gaming features for your dating app by studying what social platforms and other dating apps are doing with gamification. For example, you can offer points or rewards when users complete specific activities or hit certain milestones.
Hinge incorporates gamification by letting users send virtual roses to their fellow singles. Once a user sends someone a rose, Hinge places them higher on the person's list of matches. So, when users want to rank higher on their matches' lists, they use the app more: logging in to send a rose.
Tinder's swipe feature is also a great inspiration. And while you may not use Tinder's exact swiping model, you can build something similar --- say, a unique twist on like and dislike buttons that trains your algorithm to match users with high compatibility.
6. Diversity and Inclusion
Daters are becoming more conscious of prioritizing diversity and inclusion: recent Bumble research found that open casting (dating outside a specific type) is growing in popularity. Dating apps like OkCupid and Hinge are also focusing on building diverse and inclusive spaces by being mindful of gender stereotypes (male, female, non-binary).
To attract more users that value authenticity — especially millennials and Gen Zers — new and existing dating apps need to embrace these changes.
Boost diversity and inclusion in your own app by using UX designs and features that foster inclusivity. For example, consider allowing users to clear their swipe or match history — to prevent racial or gender biases from influencing the algorithm. To get more ideas, you can also study key research materials like this MSc thesis by Robert Clapperton, "Inclusive by Design: Creating A Dating App Built On Inclusive Design Principles."
Other user differences to consider in making your app more accessible and inclusive include ethnicity, race, religion, disability, and more. Say you're building an open-for-all dating app. Remember that your app isn't only for heterosexual couples or able-bodied people. So, as you build, keep marginalized groups like disabled users top of mind — for example, you can include audio intros for people who are vision-impaired.
7. Use of AI
With the rise of apps like OpenAI's ChatGPT and Google's Bard, AI has been making waves — and dating apps are not being left behind. The potential of AI in online dating is endless, from enabling more accurate matchmaking to authenticating user profiles and sparking conversations.
Leverage the trend by borrowing a leaf from other relationship-focused apps like Paired (a romantic relationship wellness app) and considering the kinds of actions AI can automate within your app. For example, you can incorporate AI into your online dating app by using it to:
- Facilitate in-app conversations via a chat API or chatbots that suggest conversation starters.
- Train your algorithm to send custom messages when users match, generate "you may also like" recommendations based on past user activity, trigger custom birthday notifications to matched users, and more.
- Scan ID documents to verify user identities by cross-checking them with existing data from trusted sources.
- Identify and moderate harmful content in images or text.
Existing apps already use AI in many creative ways. For example, Bumble uses AI to detect and limit unsolicited lewd images — its private detector feature blurs out nudity, so users can choose to view or block. In 2022, the company published an open-source version of the private detector on GitHub, so you can consider using it for your app.
Badoo also has a rude message detector — a large language processor that identifies and flags rude, homophobic, abusive, or discriminatory messages — to keep the app a safe space for users.
8. Budget-friendly Dating or "Infla-dating"
Many dating app users wonder, "Why do I have to spend so much money only to find out we're not compatible?" Our answer: you don't have to! Plenty of Fish has coined the perfect term for the solution to this spending dilemma, and it's called infla-dating.
This frugality doesn't equate to lesser-quality dates, though. It's simply a good alternative to expensive outings until matches get more acquainted and feel certain their relationships will progress beyond the first or second date.
Budget-friendly dating also provides an opportunity for users to explore their creativity with affordable date ideas — and daters (48% of single Gen Zers and millennials) are digging it! And 57% of Bumble users also say they are more interested in casual first dates than fancy ones.
Some ideas for implementing the infla-dating trend in your app include:
- Suggest simple date ideas to your app users, e.g., taking walks, going on coffee dates, attending free art gallery exhibitions, and more.
- Include a split-the-tab option for users to agree to split date bills 50/50.
- Let users add their maximum budget in their profile for potential matches to see.
The point is to make dating easier, more fun, and, most importantly, more affordable!
Dating Apps Are Changing — The Way You Build Should, Too
As dating apps evolve, product managers should consider each nuance to build products that match users' higher expectations and deliver outstanding dating experiences.
Ready to build a dating app users will always choose over others? Check out our resource: "The Product Manager's Guide To Building a Dating App."