We spent five days trying out 10 different online dating services to figure out which one is the most effective and affordable. That meant monitoring three fake profiles for 24 hours, collecting match data and using the features of every website and app. We looked at which websites give free access to other users’ profile photos and messaging, and whether you have to pay to access extra features. For on-the-go dating, we also used apps and evaluated them based on how user-friendly they are.
That being said, services you pay for usually provide some extra user value to justify the price tag. There’s usually more advanced matching algorithms along with other bells and whistles, and because you must pay to use them, they tend to attract people who take online dating a little more seriously. Of course, many free sites have matching systems that work just as well as (if not better, in some cases) their paid competitors, and each dating website or app tends to have its own unique aspect that makes it stand out.
Hinge focuses on common connections that you and a potential partner share on Facebook. Which is great if you trust the judgment of your friends and family. Of course, some of us are trying to meet new people, far removed from our everyday lives. (Hinge may have gotten the hint, since you no longer need Facebook to sign up.) The app also asks questions to help you match with better connections, which can be a plus for serious relationship seekers.
How does it work? There are no gimmicks or USPs with DatingDirect. In fact, it’s fairly similar to our old friends Match, mentioned above. You can start looking at potential dates for free, then when you like the look of someone and fancy striking up a conversation, you need to subscribe. Like a lot of the best online dating sites, it also has a handy instant messenger service which makes chatting to your matches easy and breezy.
If you’re tired of the back and forth of trying to schedule a date that works with your busy schedule, check out Now, an app built specifically to make that easier. Available in the Apple App Store and Google Play, it matches you with people based on your schedules. This probably isn't the best app for finding a meaningful connection, as it's based solely on you having free time simultaneously with another user, but it's a good way to schedule a lot of dates and have a lot of fun.
Sharon Kroll and fiancé Lee Wallender are the Seattle-based writers and dating experts behind The Dating Gurus. Kroll said it’s easy to get lost in the sea of possibilities when online dating so it’s important to limit the number of sites you’re on to three and make sure you’re not spending all day checking them. It’s also important to make the first message you send count.
The experts say: For those who are at a loss as how to sell themselves in 500 words or less, this site offers the opportunity to be described by your friend. It works on the premise your friend can sell you better than you can but they can also embarrass you too. MSF has a more chatty style in the profile and gives you a greater insight into your potential date’s world.
SeekingArrangement is skewed toward young women seeking older men, though there are other websites and apps to use. While the name of WhatsYourPrice might seem a little too on the nose, it has options available for both men and women to bid on potential dates. Happy Matches has a plethora of options for women seeking to financially support someone, as does Sugar Elite. However, it does cost money to use many of these services.
Who it's for: Picky people looking for something super specific in a partner. And guys, this is not the place for the younger millennials: EliteSingles loves to brag that 82% of their members are college grads, and with most of its members being 33-50 years old, we can pretty surely say that the main target is mature, working professionals rather than the the Tinder-using generation. Sorry college kids.
Why it's awesome: Founded in 2000 by Dr. Neil Clark Warren, eharmony is the site for serious daters. A spokesperson for the site says it's been used by 54 million people, and is apparently responsible for 4 percent of U.S. marriages. Users answer a lengthy questionnaire that helps eharmony determine what it calls a "a select group of compatible matches with whom you can build a quality relationship." Spira says she's always seen eharmony as a "matrimonial dating site.""That doesn’t mean you’re going to walk down the aisle, but it certainly means that you’re looking for a very serious relationship that may or may not lead to marriage. It may lead to living together or at least being in an exclusive, committed relationship."
One thing to note if you don't fall into the cis-hetero dating pool: While most of the apps reviewed here are inclusive, there are those that are friendlier to the LGBTQ community than others. For example, OkCupid goes beyond forcing users to choose between being a male or female, including options like Hijra, genderfluid, and two-spirit. If you're a man seeking a man or a woman seeking a woman, you'll want to steer clear of eharmony: It doesn't even give you the option of a same-sex match.