Regardless of your personal opinions on online dating, there’s little question it has emerged from the lonely shadows of the Web’s dark-side and become embedded in the mainstream’s consciousness.

As the barrage of Valentine’s Day-themed press releases show no sign of letting up, it’s certainly as good a time as any to take a look at the broader online dating sphere. And it seems people are keener than ever to meet their match on the Web.

Online dating: It can only get bigger

New data suggests that there has been a 57% increase in online dating revenues in the past year, and there’s plenty of room for growth too given that only one tenth of singles currently use online dating sites. Digital marketing and billing manager Vindicia has been tracking the global activity for its online dating clients, and says that it has seen first-hand how the sector is flourishing despite the state of the economy elsewhere.

Social networking, and in particular Facebook, is contributing to the growth. Vindicia client SNAP Interactive, for example, is the company behind AreYouInterested.com, a matchmaking site inside Facebook that works via mobile apps as well as through the Web.

“Innovations in technology are expediting growth in the dating business, whether this is via location-based mobile apps, or by tapping into large and growing communities such as Facebook,” said Sanjay Sarathy, Chief Marketing Officer of Vindicia. “There is boundless opportunity in this market.”

Sarathy added that Vindicia’s online dating clients attracted £3.4 million (US$5.4 million) in revenues in January alone this year, compared to the £2.2 million (US$3.5 million) spent in January 2011. Sales have increased steadily over the weekends leading up to Valentine’s Day too – with dating companies seeing individual spikes of up to 40%, and a combined global spike of 23% last weekend (February 3rd) against the previous weekend’s spend (January 27th).

These figures are global, and are taken from across all of Vindicia’s online dating clients, which include SNAPInteractive, SpeedDate.com, Online Buddies and AvidLife.

Screenshot 15 520x276 Online dating spend grows by 60% on last year, and the industry can only get bigger

No stigma

I’d be more tempted to say that if there has been a spike in people using online dating sites in January, it’s more likely because people see the new year as a time to get their lives back on track, find partners and try to fulfill resolutions. But at any rate, if these figures are anything to go by, it seems more people are turning to the Internet to find love.

If you’re thinking that more money is being spent because rates are rising for Internet dating sites, Sarathy says this isn’t  the case. “Online dating isn’t costing more. Revenues are increasing because more singles are signing up,” he says. “Resistance to online dating has long been overcome, opening the floodgates to more and more sites catering to ever more tailored requirements in a mate. Vindicia’s clients have been clever enough to meet this demand and are reaping the rewards.”

What is certain, is the stigma of using online dating sites has long worn off. And it seems that the more people that use them, the more acceptable it becomes and thus perpetuates what is now a massive economy. The volume of business is so significant that last year, the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) began including dating agency fees in its ‘basket’ of household goods and services used to calculate UK inflation.

We’ve previously explored why people may wish to use online dating sites, whilst we’ve covered a number of dating-related startups including DuoDater, MyMatchmatchmaker and Tastebuds. There’s certainly growing interest and innovation in the dating space, and it seems clear that the industry will continue to grow – love is a fundamental human desire, after all.

As Sarathy notes, Facebook is an obvious avenue for driving the online dating revolution.

With almost 850m users freely plugging their personal information in to their profiles, Facebook can leverage this data and target accordingly. Have you ever changed your relationship status to ‘single’ on the social network? I’m not suggesting you should try it, but if you do, don’t be surprised if you’re suddenly inundated with ads for dating websites.