If you really want to find someone who "gets you," matchmaking sites want your business. These sites recommend compatible members based on your answers to a variety of questions, which may evaluate everything from general dating criteria to obscure personality traits. It's important to answer honestly, as you may not be able to search for members based on your own criteria. These sites may even dictate how you communicate with matches, recommending specific questions and icebreakers before you can chat openly. The process takes work -- and because of that, matchmaking sites often are preferred by those looking for something for the long-term.
When you want a serious relationship -- maybe even marriage and a baby carriage -- reviewers say you're best off at eHarmony.com. The sign-up process at eHarmony.com involves hundreds of questions, and it is by far the most extensive of any online dating service. Experts say the effort it takes to join (up to an hour) tends to weed out those who are simply looking for a fling. EHarmony.com says it has more than 20 million ethnically, racially and religiously diverse registered users, though reviewers say members tend to skew conservative. Users also tend to be older: the site's core demographic is 35 to 65, eHarmony.com's Chief Operating Officer Armen Avedissian told the Wall Street Journal.
EHarmony.com is easy to navigate and visually appealing, experts say. However, its massive questionnaire is both its strength and its weakness. Questions are grouped into core traits, such as emotional temperament, social style and intellect; and vital attributes, such as relationship skills, values and family background. This data feeds eHarmony.com's much-touted 29-dimension matchmaking algorithm. However, you have to rely on the algorithm to select your potential mates -- you can't do any searches yourself. EHarmony.com also isn't cheap. To see photos and have a full range of communication options, you'll need to pony up for a one-, six-, 12- or 24-month membership (Est. $59.95, $39.95, $18.95 and $9.95 per month, respectively). Sometimes current members who've not yet paid will get discount promotions via email, however.
Note that eHarmony.com makes no guarantees that you'll be matched: You may wade through the questions only to be told "we are unable to find the right people for you." It also doesn't allow same-sex pairings. Like other sites, members complain it can be hard to cancel a subscription. They also say you may be matched with inactive members, but there's no way of knowing this except through non-responsiveness when you try to communicate with them. The site has an extensive page of safety tips and, like Match.com, it does screen members against sex-offender registries. It also has a couple other interesting safety features: RelyID (Est. $5.95), a service that uses public information to verify your identity, and Secure Call, which lets members chat over the phone without revealing their real phone numbers.
Chemistry.com (Est. $35 per month), eHarmony.com's closest competitor, is a less-pricey option that also uses an extensive personality test to match its members. Reviewers say it's much less restrictive than eHarmony.com -- most notably, it does allow same-sex matching. The questionnaire is also less time-intensive than eHarmony.com's, requiring 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Experts say Chemistry.com is not nearly as big as eHarmony.com, but since it's more liberal with matches, that may not matter as much as it usually would.
The site is "simple and easy to navigate," say AskMen.com editors, with no annoying ads. After completing the Chemistry.com questionnaire, you're shown your main and secondary personality types: explorer, director, negotiator or builder. It's these results that are used to find your matches. Like eHarmony.com, you can't search -- you must wait for the site to send you matches. You also must subscribe to contact people, though the site currently offers a three-day free trial. Subscriptions run from about $35 for a month-to-month plan to $13 per month for a six-month subscription.
Some members complain that it's too easy for scammers to make it through Chemistry.com's sign-up process and, while reviewers say the site is proactive in removing their profiles, they're still inundated with fishy messages. Others complain of a tricky cancellation policy and automatic subscription renewals. The site has an extensive page of online dating safety tips. It does not screen profiles against sex-offender registries or conduct any sort of background checks.
If it seems like little has changed about online dating in the past few years, perhaps you haven't been looking in the right spot. Dating apps have been shaking up the industry, especially among younger, urban users who aren't necessarily looking for their soul mate -- at least, not yet. Many of these apps integrate with Facebook, saving users from a lengthy profile-building process. Most app-only services feed users potential matches instead of relying on user searches, and many require mutual "likes" before allowing any sort of connection. Apps are often free, though there may be premium features that are only available if you pay a small fee.
Dating app Coffee Meets Bagel aims to combat two common complaints about dating sites: That the emphasis is on quantity over quality, and that meeting up with strangers is risky. It does so by matching you with just one other member each day, and by searching Facebook to only match you with friends of friends. Reviewers say that while this may seem limiting, the app often does an admirable job of picking potential dates. "I almost exclusively received highly educated, professional, attractive women. I'm not sure how their algorithm works, but it's fantastic," says Robert Leshner of VentureBeat.com. Coffee Meets Bagel says 96 percent of its users have at least a bachelor's degree.
Using Coffee Meets Bagel is simple. You're sent a match ("bagel") each day at noon. You can "like" or "pass" on your bagel, and if you both specify "like," the app connects you with an icebreaker and a temporary phone number. The app is free to use, but you can buy "coffee beans" to put toward premium features that include being able to see your personal Facebook connection with your match. You can also earn these beans for free by simply continuing to use the app. It's available for iOS and Android phones.
Reviewers say one of the potential downsides of Coffee Meets Bagel is running into "bagels" that you may have passed on in real life -- after all, these are friends of your own friends. A few others complain that they don't get enough information about their "bagel" to decide whether pursuing a potential connection is worthwhile. Safety-wise, most users seem to be more enthusiastic: Since they're connecting within their own social circle, they're more confident of avoiding scammers and predators. They also have a week to chat with a match via the app's private line before deciding whether to fork over any personal details.
While Coffee Meets Bagel is about restraint, Tinder (free) is the opposite -- its massive user base and more casual interface mean the possibilities are endless. Tinder claims it has made a whopping 9 billion matches in close to 200 countries. Reviewers also say it's easy to use -- so easy that Leshner of Venture Beat says it took him just five minutes to like or pass on 100 potential matches. However, this also means most Tinder users "are not looking for long-term relationships, but rather casual dating," say AskMen.com editors. Tinder users also skew younger, with 38 percent of users under 24 and 45 percent between 25 and 34, according to GlobalWebIndex.
When you open the Tinder app, you're shown another member's picture, which you can also click to view their profile. Swiping left means you're not interested, swiping right means you are. If that person also swipes right, the app then allows you to chat with each other. Like Coffee Meets Bagel, Tinder is free to download and use. However, there is a premium version, Tinder Plus, that lets you change your location to connect with users on the go; it also lets you take back an errant swipe and lifts limits on how many times you can swipe right (put in place to discourage users who might swipe right for everyone just to see what kind of responses they get). Tinder Plus is $9.99 for users under 30, or $19.99 if you're older. The app is available for iOS and Android phones.
Some Tinder users complain of scammers with fake profiles who lure them into conversations only to start spamming them or requesting money. Others complain that the app can be glitchy and customer service is spotty at best. Like other dating sites and apps, Tinder has a page of safety tips, but it does not screen users against sex-offender databases or conduct background checks.
In addition to these app-only sites, most of the other dating and matchmaking sites that we discuss in this report have apps as well. However, they are generally only available as part of your paid subscription.
If you've got a specific dating deal-breaker -- for instance, you prefer not to date anyone who doesn't share your religion or race -- you may be in luck. Niche dating sites have also seen quicker growth than their mainstream counterparts. Many specialty websites cater to those seeking love within a certain religion, ethnicity, geographical area or age range. While these sites typically have fewer members than more general services, that might be a plus for some users who find too many prospects overwhelming. You're also guaranteed to have at least one thing in common with every other member.
Among the most popular niche sites are OurTime.com, which caters to the 50-and-over crowd, and Spark Networks' religious-focused sites, including ChristianMingle.com and JDate.com, for those looking to date someone of the Jewish faith. If those aren't specific enough for you, several sites even zero in on lifestyle choices, physical traits and interests. Among them are FarmersOnly.com for the country-minded folk, DateSkaters.com if you want someone to skate through dates and life with, RedHeadPassions.com if finding another ginger is your top priority, GlutenFreeSingles.com so you never have to make two different meals, or (for the sci-fi lovers among us) TrekPassions.com.
Elsewhere in this report: