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How to Choose the Right Online Dating Site

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The internet is continuously changing our social world and our lifestyle habits. The abundance of online dating websites is a perfect example of this digital revolution at work in our everyday lives. With so many online dating sites to choose from, it can be difficult to know which one is right for you. With this in mind, we have compiled a buying guide for our readers. It reveals the tests we use to assess a dating website's ability to deliver good results to its members. Our top ranking dating sites consistently perform better than their competitors when we put them to the test on a range of important features.


Chances of getting a date

  • Membership Size & Scope: Internet dating can be reduced to a statistical numbers game. The more members you have to choose from, with your preferred demographics, the better your chances of finding someone you like. Therefore, when we look at a dating website we try to determine the size, male to female ratio, and geographical reach of its membership. When sites clearly advertise their membership counts in the multi-millions that's a good sign. Those that refrain from mentioning numbers usually have much smaller databases than they would care to admit. If a site operates regionally or in a geographically small population center (like the UK) your chances of getting a date will greatly depend on whether you fall within this catchment area. Sometimes it can be beneficial to join a nationally-focused dating site which will have lots of members within your local area; or to join a niche dating site (like Senior dating) which will have lots of members looking for someone like you. However, in general, the "bigger is better" maxim holds true.
  • Membership Activity & Involvement: Another key factor to consider is the activity and involvement of the members of a dating sites. While gross membership numbers are great in theory, it's the number of actively involved members that really matters. Sites that are structured and managed well, with a powerful range of interactive features, are more likely to keep their members active, involved and happy to be there. Please see the features section for more details on well designed and implemented features that contribute to the camaraderie and feeling of belonging that we look for in a website. Occasionally a site with fewer members will be rated higher than one with more members. This can be because, in our opinion (based on site data), the larger site is heavy with stale or inactive members which can skew the validity of membership count. There are sites that have great features and really have an active involved membership who use the site regularly for dating and also for their social use. Those sites are graded up as they improve the chances of relationship successes.


Features offered to Free / Premium Members

  • Access to members' photos and profiles: All sites let you see the main photo, most let you enlarge it, some let you see all the pictures a member has posted. The same approach holds true for profiles. All let you see basic info, most let you see partial profiles and some give access to everything in a members profile. It makes sense to allow a new member to "get interested" in others at the site. This area is where that aim can be achieved. Sites that do a great job of getting a high percentage (+70%) of members to post photos are better, as a rule, than those that don't. There are a few sites that have utilized the bright idea of rewarding new (free) members for posting photos and completing their profiles with access to the sites E-mail system. We mention that in our review and grade them up accordingly.
  • Communication: The way a site manages its features and its members will have a significant impact on the overall effectiveness and appeal of any dating website. When new members join a site it is important that the site does its best to retain them, first as Free members and then later as Premium members. Sites keeping newbies engaged will go a long way to making them feel comfortable. Chat Rooms and Instant Messaging both deliver a real time communication experience for the member. We look for features that build a community environment at a site rather than a disjointed collection of individuals. Many sites offer chat rooms or instant messaging to Premium members, some sites even offer these tools to Free members. All dating websites have some sort of e-mail options. Some sites let Free members reply to emails sent by Premium members, while others sites require a Free member to upgrade before they can reply. Keep this in mind as it can have a serious impact on your ability to communicate with the people you are attracted to, regardless of whether you're a Free or Premium member.
  • Search Parameters: Some sites let Premium members perform more detailed searches by allowing them to apply a more extensive range of filters. For example, they may allow you to search for specific eye color, hair color, height and weight of a prospective partner, whether they smoke or drink, their academic qualifications (degree, masters, doctorate), their distance from your zip code, etc. A massive database of members is pointless if you don't have some powerful search features to help you rule out people who are likely to be totally unsuitable for you. The more refined you can make your search, the more likely you are to find someone who matches your personal preferences. For example, distance from your zip code might be important if you're tired of long-distance relationships and want to get to know someone who lives within commuting distance. Height might be important if you're a taller than average lady and are looking to find a man who is taller than you.
  • Value-Added Special Features: This one is easy to explain but tough to quantify. Obviously, value-added, special features have an impact on members that use them well. We have to make a subjective judgment on the potential degree of impact those features will have on members. Some great features are useless if they are not used or difficult to get involved in. We judge special features on whether they are useful, easily employed, confidence builders or camaraderie boosters. There are many such features out there:
    • Video profiles are becoming increasingly popular as users embrace a multi-media approach to online dating. If you have an alluring voice or accent, then a webcam message can be a fabulous way to reveal it.   
    • Webcam Chat is an emerging feature allows users to communicate with audio and/or visual modes through their webcams. This can be more dynamic than using an Instant Messaging system as you can see the person's facial expressions, body language, etc. The real-time, audio-visual dimension can be especially useful if you want to titillate others  with some alluring moves or outfits!
    • Forums & Chatrooms: Some online dating sites host forums and chat-rooms where members can share their thoughts on an wide variety of topics. This helps to create a community feel among members and can also give you a window into a member's attitudes. For example, this medium can highlight someone's thoughtful and diplomatic approach towards others; conversely it may also reveal someone's rude or bigoted side. So as well as being a fun way to interact with people, it can be a useful lens through which to view someone's whole persona.  (See: Online dating 'good for romance')    
    • Computerized matching: this is often based on personality tests which you complete on-site. This feature, depending on how the site gathers the information, is used well on some sites or nearly ignored on others.


Value for Money

Most sites entice you with a free trial that allows you to explore the site and determine whether you wish to sign up for a paid subscription. There can be quite a bit of variation in the pricing structure for online dating sites. Sometimes the higher subscriptions are justified as a site offers a broader range of noteworthy features which greatly enhance your online dating experience; other times they represent poor value for money.

We try our best to keep our reviews up-dated but, from time to time, sites introduce new membership structures with designated features, or suddenly under-cut their rivals in an attempt to increase their market share. So we recommend that you visit the merchant sites to see their current offers and pricing plans before making a final decision between two sites.


Quality / Size of Members' Photos

Profile photos are usually the best way to draw attention to yourself.  Look out for sites which allow you to upload a series of high quality photos as these can be a fantastic way to show people the various dimensions of your personality (with scenes of you socializing with friends, playing sport, chilling out in your bedroom, etc.). A site with few profile photos should probably be avoided, as it implies poor member involvement.


FAQs and Technical Support

Look out for sites that have taken the time to compile a comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section as this will be very useful if you need to quickly resolve a common issue. Some sites also offer technical support by email and phone, 24/7. This can also be an invaluable asset, so keep it in mind when you choose between sites. 


Ease of Joining / Registration

There can be a sharp difference in dating websites' registration processes. Some sites only require a few morsels of information and can be completed in a few minutes. Other sites require more detailed replies and can take up to an hour to fully complete one's profile (although most sites let you come back at a later time to fill in the blanks).

Statistically, there are more women on dating sites which employ more detailed data-gathering methods. Apparently men tend to be less willing to spend the time filling in the blanks. So if you can be a patient man and complete the more detailed registration process, you may have less competition and more women to choose from!


Ease of Use / Navigation

A dating site with a user-friendly design can make all the difference. Firstly, it should have a broad range of search parameters to help you separate the wheat from the chaff. Secondly, it should display your search results in an way that makes it quick and easy for you to visually scan through the listings and identify members with whom you think you may gel.

For example, it helps to have a reasonably sized profile photo, the key information neatly laid out, the ability to easily access more information and larger photos at the click of a button (without losing your place). There should also be an option to save attractive profiles to a private "hotlist" or list of "favorites". These kinds of user-friendly tools can greatly enhance your online dating experience and improve your chances of finding a good match.


“Powered By…”

You may see the term "powered by" on some online dating sites. This indicates that the site shares the features, structure and, often, membership directory of the larger, more established site. Many users are reassured by this factor as it offers the security of being associated with a major site while at the same time having a slightly more specialized focus. Others will just want to cut out the middle-man and join the parent site directly. This practice is relatively common, so don’t be worried if you see that a site is “powered by” another.


The Bottom Line

This is the means by which we evaluate a site's potential for getting good relationships off the ground. You'll go through a similar evaluation process with each site you visit, as you judge each site for its suitability. The next step (if you haven't done so already) is to visit or re-visit any of our top rated sites, in the light of the criteria we have just discussed.

Depending on how certain criteria impact on your personal preferences, you can steer clear of the sites that aren't favorable and focus on the ones that are. There are some very significant differences in some dating sites. It's not a case of "they're all the same". Some are so different that they are difficult to review in the context of the others. So try to keep these key criteria in mind while you're browsing. With that, we wish you good luck with your dating site experiences!