The best online dating site has

  • Members in your age group. Millennials will probably find the most options on mobile-based apps, while older singles might do better with a traditional dating site. Seniors may want to consider a niche site that focuses solely on their age group.
  • Members in your area. It's extremely disappointing to sign up with a service only to find that you have very few matches within a reasonable distance. For that reason, lesser-known sites and apps may only be a realistic choice for users in large, urban areas; if you're in a more rural area, you'll probably have better luck with more popular services with more members.
  • A profile that reflects who you are. Some sites have a limited number of questions with standard answers that don't let you express fully who you really are. The more you can customize, the better you can attract the right kinds of matches.
  • Features to help whittle down the list of possible matches. Keyword searches offer flexibility, but a search form with multiple, different search criteria can also help.
  • Security affiliations that protect your personal information. Although this isn't a standard in the industry, it's a plus if the dating service uses a privacy program like TRUSTe to protect your personal information; look for the trademark on the website.
  • An easy-to-use mobile app. If you think you'll do the majority of your online dating on the go, make sure the site has an app that's compatible with your smartphone. If you're rarely at a computer, you may want to consider an app-only service, as these maintain a greater focus on ease of use.
  • Extensive safety tips. Most dating sites and services don't screen members for any sort of criminal past, but they should still include a discussion on how to stay safe and avoid scams.

Know before you go

What's your dating goal? Different sites focus on different kinds of interactions, from short-term hookups to long-term relationships, so you need to be honest about what you're looking for.

Check the privacy policy before registering. Most dating sites share your personal information with other companies but may allow you to opt out to avoid receiving spam. Apps often require you to grant them access to your Facebook account. If you're uncomfortable with this, you may be out of luck.

Consider niche sites for a more specific pool of singles. Some dating sites are geared toward singles with certain compatible requirements, such as age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, location, income, religion or interests, which can save you time.

Be patient. If you're serious about online dating, a one-month subscription may not do much for you. Even matchmaking sites like eHarmony.com and Chemistry.com require patience and the weeding out of incompatible matches.

Be safe -- and skeptical. You've may already have heard the basics: Never post personal contact details on your profile, make sure to meet in public, and trust your gut about anyone who seems too good to be true (they probably are). That advice all still holds true, but keep in mind that you may never need to meet someone in person to be at risk. Scammers are adept at forming deep virtual relationships with would-be victims, gaining enough trust to eventually empty the other person's bank account. Be wary of anyone who seems to fall for you too soon, continually backs out of in-person meetings, immediately asks to chat outside of the dating site or app, or asks for money for any reason. ScamBusters has more tips on recognizing online dating scams.

Buying tactics and strategies

If you're interested in using any subscription-based dating site, make sure you know the terms and conditions before you enter your credit card information. Even if you sign up for a promotional offer where you can communicate with others for free for a limited time, be careful -- most will automatically sign you up for a subscription if you don't cancel by the time the trial expires. And when you have an active subscription, users say renewal can kick in one or two days before the end date of the subscription period, so it's best to cancel two or three days in advance. Make sure you retain some sort of proof of cancellation: Some members complain that they've asked for cancellations only to be charged anyway. 

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Online Dating Services | Best Matchmaking Sites | Our Sources

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