These days, you can do just about anything online. You can get your grocery shopping done, plan an entire vacation, or apply to your dream job. And you can also use an online dating site to find a partner — perhaps a partner with whom you’ll want to share those groceries or that vacation.
But that’s way easier said than done. With so many options out there (and countless new ones popping up regularly), finding one that works for you is no easy feat. (That’s especially true if you’re hoping to stick with free ones.) And once you’ve actually chosen a dating site, it’s tricky to keep track of all the do’s and don’ts, or knowing whether the platform you’ve chosen is invading or undermining your privacy.
Don’t break into a panic, though! We’re here to help you narrow down your search. Turning to organizations like Consumer Reports and Consumer Affairs for advice on which tech products are worth it, we’ve put together some time-tested tips that they recommend for online dating users. Read on for some pointers about what to pay attention to, and what you can expect from the experience if you’re new to the world of online dating.
1. Decide whether or not you want to pay for access
Marisa Meltzer reports for Consumer Reports that “to pay or not to pay” is a major question among users when choosing an online dating site. “Both kinds are popular, so you can’t go just by that,” she writes. According to the 2016 Consumer Reports Online Dating Survey, more than 9,600 people had used an online dating service in the last two years, with 48% listing the subscription-based Match.com as their site of choice. But Plenty of Fish and eHarmony tied for second place (one free, the other paid, respectively), with each garnering a total of 23%.
2. Don’t assume paid services are better in quality
Interestingly enough, the same Consumer Reports survey found that free dating sites score slightly higher in user satisfaction. Many experts have weighed in on the question of whether the adage “you get what you pay for” applies to online dating sites. Some argue that paid sites attract more serious users, stating that free options may be more attractive to bots or those looking to hook up. Meltzer, however, doesn’t recommend writing off free platforms. “Even Tinder, despite its reputation for attracting users seeking casual romance, may deserve a more open mind,” she says. While intentions vary, you won’t really know how people on a given site behave and communicate until you give it (and them!) a chance.
3. Take communication under consideration
A major factor in how satisfied you’ll be with a given dating site is the kind of interaction you’ll have on there. Sure, the idea is for you to meet someone you’ll ultimately hit it off with, eventually taking your conversation offline. But in the meantime, the best dating sites for you will be the ones that match your expectations in terms of communication. On OkCupid, for instance, anybody can send you a message. Whereas on Bumble, Tinder, and eHarmony, you can only reach out to people you’ve matched with.
4. Try multiple sites or services to find your favorite
We’re not advocating bouncing around platforms, but give each one on your list a fair chance before you’ve made your choice. In fact, it’s OK, if you don’t find your favorite right away. A lot of people — maybe even you — want there to be one dating site that’s by far and away the best option. But the reality is that there isn’t a single “best” dating site. According to Meltzer, there are actually a variety of high-rated dating platforms to choose from, with 45% of online daters having tried multiple ones before settling on a specific one.
5. Know that the process can be exhausting
In a separate post, Meltzer revealed another interesting finding from the Consumer Reports survey. The respondents who were most active on dating platforms “gave online dating sites the lowest satisfaction scores Consumer Reports has ever seen for services rendered.” Meltzer’s explanation? “Finding a mate can be arduous and exhausting,” she says. Online dating is actually a lot of work. Searching for a romantic partner isn’t the same as shopping for a sweater; there are a lot of complicated emotions involved. So go easy on yourself if the process is a bit harder than you initially expected.
6. Check out your options
A quick Google search will reveal that there are tons of paid and free dating sites to choose from. But if you want a quick guide to the most popular options, Consumer Reports has you covered. Check out the organization’s “field guide” to get started on your own personal list. You’ll be able to read up on the process you can expect when you sign up, and compare some basic pros and cons associated with each platform.
7. Research the demographics of each dating site
As a next step, Consumer Reports recommends researching the demographics of each dating site, and “figuring out whether a large or niche site will best serve your needs.” OkCupid and Tinder, for instance, are more popular among millennials than members of Generation X. So those free dating sites may not be the best choice for Gen Xers or baby boomers (who are more likely to choose a paid dating site or app, anyway).
8. Read reviews of online dating sites
If you need more information about the platforms that everybody is rating as the “best dating sites,” then you may want to read some user reviews. Consumer Affairs is a great place to do that. Their best-rated dating sites include Bumble, Tinder, Mingle2, Plenty of Fish, OurTime, Chemistry.com, OkCupid, and Zoosk. Reading through the individual reviews, we recommend that you take each with a grain of salt, though, as they are written by people who are simply talking about their personal experience.
9. Consider starting with the “big three”
An expert tip that Consumer Reports learned? When searching for the best dating sites, you may want to start out with the so-called “big three”: Match.com, OkCupid, and Plenty of Fish. They’re among the most popular dating sites in the world. So unless you have a specific reason to narrow down the pool of potential partners, it makes sense to go with the platforms that have the most users, and therefore the most prospective matches.
10. Or go with a niche site
Consumer Reports recommends starting with the most popular dating sites, “unless you have a particular guiding factor, such as religion, race, or politics.” In that case, you can check out niche sites, like JDate, a site made specifically for those looking to meet Jewish singles. There are numerous others that are even based around specific interests or hobbies, like VeggieDate for vegetarians or Alikewise for book lovers. If you have a pretty specific idea of what you want to have in common with a romantic partner, niche sites like these can be a huge help.
11. Realize that people lie online
Anybody who uses the internet has probably realized by now that people lie online. They lie about their basic biographical information, their interests, and their age. They lie about how great their life is, and how much money they make. And some even take it a step further by posting fake or rendered photos of themselves. Nowhere is that more true than on online dating sites. It’s always a good idea to keep your guard up, and realize that the person you’re talking to may not be 100% truthful. Just as we recommend that you avoid handing out your personal information right away, it’s also a good idea to meet in a public place — at least on the first date. Your safety should always come first!
12. Watch out for online dating fraud
Most of us will catch on when we’re being catfished. Yet plenty of people still fall prey to online dating fraud. So it pays to be vigilant about what’s going on, and to stop talking with anyone that feels shady. According to Consumer Reports, plenty of people run into scammers on online dating sites. If someone always has excuses for being unable to meet up, or if they ask you for money, our advice is to run the other way.