What the best online dating site has

  • Members in your age group. Many online dating sites are geared to, or attract, people under 35.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mobile applications. If you are rarely home or are often unable to access a computer, look for a dating site that has applications with features that are phone friendly, even if they cost extra.
  • Promotional offers. Many dating sites offer promotions, but they may require paying for a long-term subscription.

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.

Understand the billing and cancellation policies before paying any money. Users report subscription renewal can kick in even one or two days before the end date, so it's best to cancel two or three days in advance and then double-check that it went through.

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

Expect it to take time to find a suitable match. 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.

Read advice for newbie online daters. There's plenty of free advice for those new to online dating. Two good places to start are About.com and Oprah.com.

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