The Best Online Dating Sites
Time to bust out the heart-eyes emoji
To find the needle in the haystack, you want lots of needles and not too much hay. After analyzing web-traffic data and talking to dating experts, we tried our luck and tracked the results to find which algorithms actually work and which site led to the highest quality hellos. The offline part, we've left up to you.
A meaningful algorithm pops the most promising profiles to the top. And, thanks to helpful prompts, those profiles are more likely to be robust, human, and charming.
With every generation comes a new way to date — and a new way for the previous generation to judge. There was a time, not too long ago, when online dating seemed crazy. Meet up with strangers? From the internet? What if they were secretly axe murderers just pretending to be normal people? (At some point, a similar point of view was likely shared when couples started dating unchaperoned.) But by now, online dating is mainstream: according to the Pew Research Center, a full 38 percent of single people in the US have tried it, and if you haven’t, you most certainly know someone who has. But how do you choose the best online dating site for you?
OkCupid is our top pick, but we’ll be the first to admit evaluating these sites is a subjective process. Chemistry, attraction, and love are obviously difficult to quantify, and (also obviously) different people have different desires, needs, and goals for their romantic lives. Plus, your experience with any online dating site is going to be colored by all sorts of things: your gender, age, sexual orientation, looks, location. The list goes on.
Knowing it would be impossible to evaluate the ineffable, we set out simply to find which online dating sites were most likely to get you a compatible match. The actual “going on dates” part we’ll leave to you.
How We Found the Best Online Dating Sites
We started by compiling every kind of dating website and mobile dating app we could find. Well, not every kind: We excluded sites that catered specifically to how someone looked or to “unscrupulous” relationships (think Ashley Madison).
We also didn’t evaluate anything marketed as primarily for hookups — the best dating sites facilitate all sorts of relationships, from friendship to long-term monogamy and everything in between. We found 68, from Alikewise to Zoosk, and started analyzing their user bases, functionality, quality, and cost to find our top picks.
We ditched mobile-only dating apps.
Evaluating the robust functionality of a full-blown website against the swipe-rightness of an app was too unfair. We briefly touch on mobile-only dating apps below, but apps deserve a review that’s all their own (so stay tuned).
We looked for sites that cast a wide geographical net.
There are great city-specific services (Dating Ring is a perfect example — it’s currently in New York City, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Boston, and DC), but we only wanted ones that have a nationwide user base. Who in Texas cares about a match in Manhattan?
We stripped out niche sites.
The argument is as old as dating itself: quantity versus quality. Are you more likely to find a match using a site that serves up the most people, or one where everybody checks off at least one of your Dream Guy/Girl boxes?
The answer: You’re most likely to find a match using both. “We recommend signing up for one major site with a guaranteed high number of users and a smaller, more niche site, to provide a good cross section of matches in your area.” says Krissy Dolor, the director of dating at eFlirt.
That said, comparing a site with millions of members to a site with thousands is like comparing LA to Lubbock. We wanted the LAs of the online dating world — but definitely take a peek at who didn’t make the cut. If one catches your eye, you should certainly add it to the mix.
We prioritized an active user base — the bigger the better.
Though she emphasizes that quality is crucial, matchmaker and online dating expert Carmelia Ray points out that “as a user, you want to have the most selection and options. When you’re putting in your search criteria, and it’s coming back ‘no matches found,’ that’s a bummer.”
But information about the size and activity of sites is hard to find. Match Group, for example, says it has 59 million active monthly users, roughly 3.5 million paid subscribers worldwide, and 2.4 million paid subscribers in North America — but Match Group includes OkCupid, Match.com, Plenty of Fish, Tinder, and many others. (That’s right: Most of the big dating sites are owned by the same company.) It’s impossible to know how many users are active on which sites.
We turned to Alexa, a web-traffic analytics company, to better assess how many people are on each site clicking around, and culled those with below-average numbers: fewer than a million active users in the US.
(What about mobile? Good question. In its 2015 Series 1 filing, Match Group acknowledged “a meaningful shift in [its] user base from desktop devices to mobile devices” with 68 percent of new users signing up via mobile channels. We can assume those numbers apply to most online dating sites. The problem is mobile users aren’t reflected in Alexa data — which means a dating site like Zoosk, with half as many active desktop users as our top picks, but way more app downloads, could have been left out.)
A Quick Note Our tester is a she, who is straight, white, and in her late 20s. Her experiences were inevitably impacted by these facts. Your mileage may vary.
And then there were four.
Our finalists are all likely names you recognize — OkCupid, Match.com, eHarmony, and Plenty of Fish — and our tester tried them all. She came up with a snappy username, entered her personal information, wrote detailed but pithy descriptions of her hobbies and interests, answered hundreds of multiple-choice questions, posted photos, and browsed profile after profile. She kept a detailed log of every view, like, wink, fave, and message she received. We used it all to find the best.
We looked at how easy it was to create a great profile.
Good online dating profiles are both extremely important and surprisingly hard to find. Dolor says, “When online dating, people skim through profiles, so it’s important to stand out in the crowd. Avoid being generic with clichés like ‘live, laugh, love’ or ‘I like to laugh and have fun.’”
One way for a site to help users avoid that trap is to offer lots of fill-in-the-blanks and multiple-choice questions — that way, you don’t have to come up with any clever turns of phrase. But of course, without your voice, it’s hard for your personality to shine through in your profile. The best sites strike a balance between both approaches.
And how accurate the algorithms were.
All four of our top sites used some sort of algorithm to match you with people you should be compatible with and interested in — and keep those “automatic nos” out of your feed. This is the real heart of online dating (anyone could sift through profiles on their own) and some sites do it better than others.
We wanted meaningful interactions to outweigh mediocre ones.
Since our tester was a straight woman, her experience with dating sites is weighted more toward receiving messages than sending messages. (According to a study from data off OkCupid, the majority of women don’t send the first message in online dating conversations.) To keep our judgments as objective as possible, we used the following definitions:
Unfortunately — but perhaps not all that surprisingly — the majority of the messages we received were mediocre or downright bad.
It’s not the most important thing in the world for an online dating site to be intuitive and enjoyable to use, with an attractive visual design. But those things certainly don’t hurt.
Cost was a factor, but not a big one.
Because none of our top four sites were exorbitantly priced, we didn’t take cost into account too heavily when ranking them. That said, the fact that OkCupid is free definitely stands out.
Our Picks for the Best Online Dating Sites
OkCupid They say you can’t be all things to all people, but OkCupid comes pretty close.
No matter what you’re looking for — casual hookups, marriage, polyamory, relationships with men, relationships with women, a little bit of everything — OkCupid can accommodate. It’s by far the best-looking and easiest to use of our top four, on both browser and mobile, with intuitive iconography and streamlined features. Two factors really set OkCupid apart from the competition: It produces the best profiles, and it uses the best matching algorithm.
OkCupid sports a clean layout on both desktop and mobile (left) and it's playful enough (right) to make for a fun overall experience.
The standard fields you fill in on your profile are open-ended without being too general, which lets people come up with creative, interesting answers almost without trying. Yes, it includes the standard prompt to list your favorite movies, music, and TV shows, but it also asks you what six things you couldn’t live without and what you spend a lot of time thinking about. With those kinds of questions, it would be hard not to come up with unique answers that show potential dates what makes you you. OkCupid was the only site we tested where we never ran across a profile left blank or populated by “I’ll fill this out later.”
In addition to the more free-form profile prompts, OkCupid also lets you answer multiple-choice questions, which it uses to produce its famous match percentage. Like many other dating sites, OkCupid algorithmically compares your answers to those of other users to determine if you’re compatible. But unlike most dating sites, it (a) lets you choose the answer you want your partner to give, and (b) lets you rank how important the question is to you.
OkCupid uses your answers to these questions to do a bunch of math, so that whenever you look at another user’s profile, you see a “match percentage” (which measures ways you’re compatible with someone) and an “enemy percentage” (which measures ways you’re not compatible with someone). Though OkCupid emphasizes high match percentages, it’s just as important to have a low enemy percentage.
(Left) OkCupid's multiple-choice questions offer users an impressive amount of options. (Right) Match Percentage gives you a quick glance at your compatibility with other members.
Regardless, of the 70-plus matches we browsed during our two weeks of testing, 9 seemed promising — more than on any other site, though Match.com came in a close second. On the receiving end, we got relatively few messages (16), but of those, 19 percent were good — a higher percentage than on any other site. It was also the only site where we received more mediocre messages (7) than bad ones (6). And of the 166 total messages we received across all sites, the best one overall was on OkCupid.
Though you can pay for fun bonus features like incognito mode, read receipts, and a larger inbox, all of OkCupid’s core features are free to use: messaging others, answering questions, and checking your match percentage. If you do choose to upgrade to a paid “A-List” plan, the site is still affordable at $10/month. (It’s also the only site that lets you pay month-by-month, although the cost goes down if you buy in bundles: $8/month for 3 months, and $5/month for 6 months.) Our advice: Take advantage of the deals and special offers the site will advertise to you as you use the free version, and don’t pay for the “boost feature.” It’s supposed to net you more profile views, but did basically nothing for us both times we tried it.
While you can pay for more profile views with OkCupid's Boost feature, we got a big fat zero and an enthusiastic note from OkCupid: "We gave you a boost — 0 people saw you!"
Best for Long-Term Relationships
Match.com The only dating site with an emphasis on meet-ups that bridge the gap between profile and person.
Match.com was the first real dating website, and it’s still among the best. It has a reputation as a better place to search for long-term relationships than the more hookup-friendly OkCupid, and science backs that reputation up: According to one study, Match.com and eHarmony produce the most marriages of any dating sites or apps. It’s free to build a profile, but you have to pay to use the site effectively; if you’re not a subscriber, you can’t do even basic things like read your messages. Luckily, it’s affordable: $31/month for 3 months, $27/month for 6 months, $25/month for 12 months. (Though, again, look for the deals and discounts the site will advertise to you when you’re using the free version.)
Like OkCupid, Match.com tries to strike a balance between letting you use your own words and helping you fill in pre-fab questions and fields. It does a decent job, but not an outstanding one. The information it asks for is more boring (how many times a week you exercise) and often too open-ended (describe yourself in your own words), which means people often don’t complete their profiles, or they fill them in with the kind of clichés Dolor warns against.
Match.com's open-ended prompts can lead to incomplete or cliché-filled profiles.
The design is more cluttered than OkCupid, so it’s harder to take in information at a glance, and it seems a bit redundant to offer winks, likes, and faves. But the app is more streamlined, and everything is easy enough to use, whether you’re accessing the site from a laptop or phone.
Match.com's mobile app (right) offers a more streamlined interface compared to its desktop version (left), but everything is easy to use on either platform.
Match.com did a good job at showing our tester potential dates she was actually interested in — though not as good as OkCupid. Without the sophistication of OkCupid’s algorithm, the site often matched her with people based on meaningless similarities: “He shares the same birth month!” Match.com seems better suited to the user who wants to browse matches on their own and decide for themselves who they consider compatible. Still, of the 70 matches we browsed, 6 seemed promising.
We received 32 messages — twice as many as on OkCupid — but we would classify only one of them as good. Seven were mediocre, and 24 were bad: That’s 75 percent bad messages and only 3 percent good ones. So although Match.com may be better for marriage-minded daters, not everyone is marriage-minded enough to take the process seriously or put in enough effort.
One great feature that sets Match.com apart from other big dating sites is that it organizes and promotes a lot of in-person events like speed dating, happy hours, and game nights. As Dolor says, “The only way people can truly evaluate whether or not they’ve made a good match is by turning online conversations into offline dates, and seeing where things go when they’re face to face with someone.” And people seem to need help transitioning from online to offline; a 2013 study from Pew Research indicates that a third of people using dating sites have never actually met anyone from those sites in person. No dating site facilitates that better than Match.com.
eHarmony While it's one of the better-known online dating sites, its much-touted matching algorithm was meaningless: Is liking cats really the most important thing?
As a dating site, eHarmony has a reputation for being old-fashioned and marriage-oriented, and it likes it that way. “Do you want fast or forever?” one of its TV commercials asks. Industry expert Mark Brooks, who runs the website Online Personals Watch and acts as a consultant for online-dating companies, has never had eHarmony as a client, but still considers it one of his favorites. “They are a high-integrity outfit that are devoted to helping people make long-term matches,” he says. “That's the ultimate goal really: great relationships that people feel inclined to stay in.” Like we mentioned, eHarmony and Match.com, are neck and neck for the most marriages, with eHarmony eking out the top spot by 0.7 percentage point.
Though it’s not exorbitant, eHarmony is the most expensive of the sites we tested. The most basic plan costs $40 a month, and you have to pay for three months minimum upfront. That’s $120 before you have any idea whether you like its services or not. But that up-front investment — of both money and time spent filling out the site’s extensive profile and personality questionnaires — can be a good thing. “A lot of men bail when they have to answer a lot of questions up front,” Brooks says. By weeding out the men who aren’t serious about finding a long-term partner, eHarmony benefits both men and women. Men have less competition, and women can choose from men who “are a bit more thoughtful and inclined toward a longer-term relationship.” (If this point seems like it only takes straight people into account, that’s because it does. People looking for same-sex relationships can’t use eHarmony. If they try to sign up, they’re shuttled to its sister site, Compatible Partners, which may be the only gay and lesbian dating site on the market with a name obviously invented by straight people.)
Our experience on eHarmony was mostly negative. The design is buggy on both the website and the app, which makes it harder to use. For our tester, the matching algorithm was completely ineffective — she didn’t find a single interesting prospect — and we got way fewer views (7!) and messages (4) than on any other site. The site regularly told our tester that someone was a “great match,” even if the only thing they had in common was that they didn’t smoke, or in some cases, even if the other user’s profile was blank. That was extra disappointing considering how much money the site cost.
eHarmony often offered potential matches based on the flimsiest of connections — like a love of cats.
The few interactions we did have, however, were more pleasant because of a great eHarmony feature: Guided Communication. You can always send regular, old messages on eHarmony (as long as you’re a paid subscriber), but as we learned, many people are not very good at writing messages. If talking about yourself isn’t your strong suit, the Guided Communication feature can help you out.
Guided Communication consists of three stages: Quick Questions, Make or Break, and Digging Deeper. They let you send increasingly serious prewritten questions and reply with prewritten answers (although they do give you the option to use your own words if you want). This feature spared us from having to field messages that just said, “Hi sexy ;)” and spared the people messaging us from the stress of coming up with something fresh and snappy on the fly.
eHarmony's Guided Communication feature can help when you're struggling with what to say.
Plenty of Fish It certainly earns the "Plenty" in its name — we received a ton of interactions, but the overall quality was pretty bad. Still, it's popular and free.
Plenty of Fish is difficult to use, not too pretty to look at, and frankly overwhelming, at least if you’re a straight woman. We got way, way, way more activity than on any other site: a total of 1,461 views and 114 messages. This would be a good thing — more potential matches, more choices — except that most of the interactions were extremely low quality. Only 5 of those 114 messages were good. Twenty-six were mediocre, and 83 were bad. Many times, we weren’t sure if the messages we were receiving were from a real human or a spambot, because they just said “hey” or something similar. Clicking through to the sender’s profile didn’t help; most people don’t spend very much time filling out their profile on POF, and it was hard to tell if something like “........” was written by a scammer who didn’t want to invest too much time in a fake profile or a guy genuinely looking to date who just got bored while filling out his info.
All this activity is especially bothersome on the POF app, because its default setting is to notify you every time you get any form of interaction: views, likes, messages, etc. Until our tester changed the settings, her phone was constantly blowing up with POF notifications, including an annoying fish icon that popped up on her screen no matter what app she was using.
(Left) We weren't too impressed by the quality of messages we got through Plenty of Fish. (Right) By default, the POF app is set to notify you of all sorts of interactions, which got tiresome quickly.
But Plenty of Fish is still useful for two main reasons: It’s free, and, like all our top sites, has millions of users. And despite its reputation as a site for more casual daters, Plenty of Fish is responsible for 5.7 percent of online-dating marriages. Plus, if you actually do put effort into crafting a great profile and sending high-quality messages, you’ll really stand out.
Apps and Niche Dating Sites to Consider
Most online dating sites that started on desktop have an app version as well (all our top picks do), and they are increasingly the way users interact with the services: In 2014, Match.com saw a 35 percent increase in the number of people who use Match.com through the app each month, and a 109 percent increase in who used the app only. Likewise, 62 percent of eHarmony users come through a mobile device as of 2015. That increase is in large part driven by the rise of mobile-only dating apps, like Tinder, that encourage users to make split-second decisions based off a few pictures and some bare-bones facts, as opposed to full-blown profiles.
Tinder, the swiping app supreme, burst on the scene in 2012 and hasn’t stopped booming. Its core functionality (you can only message with someone when both parties “swipe right”) has become a mainstay in the world of online dating: OkCupid and Match.com have both created similar functionality in their apps.
If online dating was an eyebrow-raising institution in the early days, Tinder took it to extremes. A scathing 2015 Vanity Fair article heralded Tinder as the “dawn of the dating apocalypse,” using it as the poster child of a pervasive hookup culture where men get to call the shots. That, in turn, inspired a slew of articles defending Tinder (and even touting its marriage-making potential), but more interestingly, thrust some of the similar-but-different dating apps into the spotlight:
The Sadie Hawkins of the group, Bumble operates similarly to Tinder in that you swipe right to indicate interest — but women have to message first. It’s received a lot of press as the “feminist Tinder,” something co-founder (and former Tinder employee) Whitney Wolfe supports: “I think we are the first feminist, or first attempt at a feminist dating app,” she said in an interview with Vanity Fair.
- Coffee Meets Bagel
While it has a sizable user base (it claims 21 million users internationally as of 2015), Coffee Meets Bagel avoids the rapid-fire swiping game, serving up just a single match a day, sourced from mutual friends on Facebook.
Another Facebook-centric app that sets you up with mutual Facebook friends. There are rumors that Hinge is making moves to become the first “serious” dating app that focuses on long-lasting relationships (meaning it’ll start requiring a paid subscription to use the service — dating apps tend to be free).
For those looking to augment their online dating with something a little more streamlined, niche sites guarantee that at least one of your pre-reqs will be fulfilled. There are approximately 2 bajillion to explore, ranging from the obscure (matches based on your pet) to your looks (redheads only) to your interests (your taste in books). A few have become hugely popular, and while their user bases don’t compete with our top picks, there certainly aren’t slim pickings.
- Our Time — Best for Seniors
One of the only dating sites that is geared specifically to users 50 and older, Our Time (formerly called Senior People Meet) is also the most active, with over a million monthly users in the US. (Dating For Seniors, by comparison, has only a little over 16,000.)
- Christian Mingle and JDate — Best for Religious Affiliation
Obviously there are more than two religions, but these sites are ubiquitous and, on sheer number of users alone, blow every other faith-oriented dating site away. ChristianMingle and JDate are both owned and operated by Spark Networks, the parent company of some 30 niche websites, and boast several hundred thousand active American users each. While most online dating sites have search tools that can prioritize religious orientation, ChristianMingle and JDate build it into their communities: ChristianMingle includes a prayer wall and faith-based profile questions, and JDate claims to be responsible for more Jewish marriages than all other dating sites combined. As of mid-2015, both ChristianMingle and JDate branched out into the app world, with JDate buying out its biggest competition, JSwipe.
- LGBT Online Dating Sites
With the exception of eHarmony, which shunts its LGBT users to Compatible Partners, each of our top picks has a thriving gay community. The low user numbers for same-sex sites indicate that they’re not as compelling as the major players — Gay.com has fewer than 40,000 monthly users; Compatible Partners’ user total is even lower.
Did You Know?
Accurate algorithms make a difference — but online dating is still a crapshoot.
OkCupid’s algorithm stands out because, while most online dating sites rank you as more compatible with someone if you both answer a question the same way (and less compatible if you answer it differently), OkCupid lets you choose what you want your potential match to answer — and how important that answer is.
For example, on OkCupid, we answered “no” to the question, “Do you ever intentionally try to make people angry just to see how they react?” Any algorithmic dating site would pick up on the fact that we would be more compatible with someone who also answered no to that question. And indeed, we chose “no” as the answer our partner should give (and marked it very important). But sometimes the “both answer the same way” approach doesn’t work so well. One OkCupid question asks, “How would you describe your body?” Our tester chose “slender” — but that’s not necessarily the answer she wants a potential date to give. In reality, she doesn’t care very much about body type at all. OkCupid let her specify that her possible partner could choose any answer: slender, average, athletic, or voluptuous.
And while that did seem to net our tester the most appealing partners, scientists have long discredited the notion that algorithm-based matchmaking definitively produces more lasting relationships — in fact, there are studies that show similarity (and complementarity), have “virtually no impact on relationship quality.” This is not to say that online dating doesn’t work — no one is claiming that. But the real benefit, scientists say, is bringing together singles who find it difficult to meet others through “more conventional” methods: work, hobbies, friends, etc.
A good profile goes a long way.
A complete profile not only makes you more approachable, but also boosts your chances for an accurate match. “After question number 40, I’m pretty sure people just go ‘right, right, right, let’s just get this over with,’” says Ray. “They don’t go through it.” But when you get bored and quit putting effort into your profile, you make it harder to find a match: If the site you’re using employs an algorithm, you’re giving it inaccurate or insufficient information. (This is one of the reasons sites like OkCupid “gamify” the process of building a profile — you can watch your match percentages rise and fall as you fill out more questions, swipe via their Quickmatch functionality, etc. — which all informs who you’ll be matched with.)
One last piece of advice from Dolor: “It’s best to keep your profile action-driven, so talk about things you enjoy doing, not the personality traits you possess. Ultimately, positivity is key.” Still need help? Ray, Dolor, and other matchmaking services and online-dating experts can be great resources.
Beware of scammers and harassment.
Dating sites aren't all fun. You've heard the stories: obscene photos, cruel messages, persistent creeps. Online dating can also be prime hunting ground for scammers and catfishers. These scammers prey on people’s trust by pretending to be madly in love with a user, then convincing them to send cash — sometimes lots of it. Worst of all, you may have no legal recourse, especially if the scammer lives in a different country. “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is not true,” says Brooks.
Percent of online daters by site who responded yes to "Have you ben contacted by someone through an online dating site in a way that made you feel harassed or uncomfortable?" Source: Pew Research Center 2013 Online Dating & Relationships Study
Key takeaway: Watch out for red flags. According to Brooks, “a typical pattern for scammers is to get users off the dating site ASAP. Once they're off, they'll build confidence over a period of months, and then make a small ask, followed by bigger and bigger asks. By that time, their victim is hooked, and the sunk-cost fallacy kicks in.” Other signs, according to UK company Scamalytics, include bad grammar, fake photos (you can do a reverse image search on Google to see if the picture is actually of, say, a model), and inaccurate locations (someone who says they are in NYC but has an IP address that points across the country — or the world).
How can you protect yourself? Don't be afraid to use the "block" button. And get advice from friends, says Brooks. "Don't send money. Do a video date. Listen to your inner voice. It’s usually right.”
The Bottom Line
Online dating isn't niche anymore — 38 percent of people have tried it, and lots of people have had success with it. To get the best results, sign up for one of the big four sites and a smaller, targeted site too. Then, fill out your profile completely and send personalized messages like you're the real person you are.
OkCupid The easy-to-use interface and fun prompts led us to the most robust, promising, and human profiles.
Make it to the three-month mark. Ray says it typically takes at least that long to start getting results. She’s seen many clients who “put up a profile, and they get off it after a week,” and then wonder why online dating didn’t work for them.
Don’t be discouraged by bad interactions. The majority of your online interactions will likely be lackluster at best. That’s just how dating works — we simply don’t fall in love with every person we meet. Even if you get rejected many times, even if you field dozens of rude or crude messages, “you really, really have to have thick skin,” says Ray. “You have to learn how to not make it personal, and just know that there’s somebody out there.”
Stay safe. If someone is harassing or threatening you on an online dating site, use the block and/or report features. The block feature will prevent them from being able to contact you, and the report feature will bring their profile to the attention of the site’s moderators. When meeting someone from a dating site in person, follow common sense safety rules. Meet in a public place, and tell a friend where you’ll be and when you expect to get back.