Choosing an Online Dating Service

on;line dating service iconThe problem with choosing an online dating service is choice – too much of it! There are literally hundreds of services to choose from.

To choose an online dating service that’s right for you, the first thing you need to do is find out which features are available at almost every dating site (see our Beginner’s Guide to Online Dating for this).

This will help you avoid the many, many services that claim to have something special to offer, but don’t, are mediocre at best and an embarrassment to online dating at worst!

Secondly, you need to be clear about what exactly you’re looking for in an online dating service. As a newcomer to online dating, unfamiliar with all the options, you might be a little hazy on this front. So, here’s a rundown of the main areas in which online dating services differ to help you draw up a dating service wish list to compare sites to.

Relationship options
One of the most obvious things to think about when choosing a dating service is what kind of relationship(s) you’re looking for. Some services, including top dating sites like Match.com (singles dating) and eHarmony (soulmates) focus on one type of relationship only. The advantage of choosing a dating service that’s dedicated to a particular type of relationship is that everyone’s on exactly the same page in terms of intentions.

If you’re not clear what your intentions are, you might be better choosing a dating service where members can pursue different types of relationships within the same site. Again there’s no shortage of choice. At some multi-relationship services it’s not immediately clear who’s looking for what and up to you to figure it out, using the search tools. Others, like Lavalife, make life a little easier by having separate communities within their sites for each type of relationship.

Think about the type of person you want to meet. Are you open-minded, in which case a mainstream service will be fine, or you have a lengthy list of “must haves” regarding your perfect match?

If you have set ideas about the type of person you’d like to meet, finding them in a mainstream service could be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. (By “mainstream”, I mean that members are as diverse as the general population.) Instead, consider choosing a relationship service that specializes in bringing people together who have something very specific in common, whether it’s religion, political beliefs, ethnicity, body size, certain lifestyles – you name it.

Simply run a search for “dating (or matchmaking, or marriage)” plus whatever you’re looking for (vegetarian, republican, biker…) and I guarantee there’s a relationship service to match.

Matchmaking features
Dating sites have thousands if not millions of members so good search tools are important. However, it’s still up to you search out your perfect match and not everyone has time for this. Luckily many dating services have matchmaking features (more sophisticated search tools) that will help you find “the one” quickly and easily.

Matchmaking features range from the very simple, based on profiles and/or basic wish lists, to the sophisticated, based on personality and other tests as well as more detailed profiles and wish lists. Unless you’re unusually picky (or just very unusual), these one-click options will typically churn up a good selection of possible matches for you to take your pick from – popular dating services attract numerous new members every day. At most, you can opt for matchmaking searches to run automatically on a regular basis and receive your new match details by email – another time-saving reason to choose a dating service with matchmaking features.

At some online relationship services matchmaking features are part of a matchmaking service where the selection process is much stricter, usually because they’re geared towards serious relationships. Typically you’ll receive just a handful of potential partners over a length of time. For example, eHarmony (designed to help people into marriage) advises clients not to expect more than one or two matches a month. To choose a service like eHarmony, you have to be happy with the idea of letting the “experts” have complete control over who’s right for you and who’s not.

Tests
As I’m always saying, online dating services are about much more than dating. They’re also an opportunity to gain some interesting insights into yourself and the type of person you’re looking to meet which could improve your love life, online and off. If this appeals to you, choose a dating service with personality and other tests for members to take.

For the most part, larger, well established online dating services have the best personality tests because they have more resources to put into their design. For example, Match.com’s brutally honest Personal Attraction and Physical Attraction and eHarmony’s Personality Test are hard to beat for detail and insights.

Almost all personality tests are free to take and they usually go hand in hand with matchmaking tools that use the results to search out people you’re compatible with. By taking several tests and judging the results, you can find out which site is going to do the best job of helping you find your perfect match – if the results are a true reflection of what you’re like, they’ll be a true reflection of potential matches too.

Communications
There are two levels of communication to consider when choosing a dating service – what you get for free and what you get as a paying member. On both fronts, some services offer a lot more than others.

Free communications matter because they let you get to know someone, or at least that the interest’s mutual, before you spring for a subscription.(A subscription will let you communicate as much as you like.) At most services, free communications are limited to flirty icons and preset messages that members send to each other, but search around. Some services, like Lavalife and American Singles, are much more generous than others.

Once you subscribe, the norm for communicating is by on-site email and instant messaging. Yahoo! Personals, has stuck with this simple formula, even though others haven’t, and is as successful as ever.

At the other extreme, Match.com has continuously adopted new technologies to give members more communications options that any other dating service, possibly much more than you really need but great if you’d like to be able to use their service anytime, anywhere.

Entertainment
Think about what sort of experience you’d like to have with online dating services. Do you intend to focus on finding your perfect match or would you like to enjoy other activities as well?

Many services offer lots of extra entertainment including fun quizzes and polls, contests, articles and newsletters, as well as chat rooms and the option to sign up to meet new friends as well as dates.

Offline activities
If the idea of meeting someone online and having to meet them face-to-face at some stage is a little intimidating, look for a dating service that helps it’s members meet offline too.

This is a great new trend where members meet as part of a group to enjoy various social activities – shows, concerts and other events – in their area or elsewhere. You can get that all-important “feel” for someone in an atmosphere that’s relaxed and easy going with plenty of food for conversation. On the other hand, if you haven’t met someone yet, you might find someone you’d like to continue chatting with online, with the advantage that you’ve already met!

International dating
If you’re away from your native country, would like to chat in your native language or are planning to relocate or travel to a different country, some of the more established and successful online dating services have extended their services into countries other than the US. For example, Match.com is live in 27 different countries.

Cost & Payment Options
Most online dating services charge about the same for a subscription – between $20 and $25 a month – so cost isn’t going to be much of a deciding factor when choosing a dating service that’s right for you. Instead, look for value – they might charge about the same but there are big differences in what you get for your money. Also, check out payment options. Several
dating services accept money orders and checks as well as the usual credit cards.

Check out what discounts are available if you sign up for several months at once, as well as any special offers. Finally on this one, many dating services offer free trials so you can try out all the extra subscriber features before committing to a subscription.

More ideas to help you choose a dating service
When you’ve drawn up a checklist of what you’d like in a dating service(and hopefully this article has helped) choosing a dating service will be a lot easier. Compare your checklist to dating service reviews like the ones here at Dating Muse and, for more specific details, check out FAQs, help pages and “take a tour” features (all good dating services have these). And don’t forget, signing up is free and you can usually explore sites without having to post a profile first.

Most of all, though it’s important to choose a dating service that’s right for you, one you’ll enjoy using and are mostly like to have success with, choosing a dating service should be fun. If one dating service doesn’t work out for you, move on and choose another!