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McCall Martin
McCall Martin | Senior Editor

Who knew that when online dating sites first appeared in the 1990s they would change the world of dating forever? Before online dating, people were generally limited to meeting others in the same vicinity. Online dating offers the unique ability to connect people from all around the world. Today, over 49 million people have at least tried online dating, and there are more than 7,500 dating sites in the world. While online dating can seem “easier” in some ways, it poses new rules, expectations, and etiquette that may be unfamiliar to some. Before entering the online dating world, be sure to read our comprehensive guide. It can help new members make the most of their online dating experience and answer the question, “Should I try online dating?”

Generic vs. niche sites

If you're asking yourself, "Should I sign up for a generic dating site or a niche site?" the answer may be both.

Generic dating sites are designed to attract a wide range of people. They may contain a personality test or a questionnaire for members to fill out to give a general idea of what a person is like and some of their interests. There are people looking for long-term relationships, short-term relationships, casual hookups, and even friendship. Members have the opportunity to meet millions of people from around the world and each one could be a potential match.

It's common for people to go to generic sites like and eharmony because they have been tested and deemed more trustworthy. Most generic sites have an extensive, transparent privacy policy explaining how and when your data will be used.

However, going through thousands of profiles can be overwhelming. When there are too many choices, people tend to second guess their choices, leading to doubt and discontent. Some people may pass on potential dates if they are constantly looking for something better.

While filling out personality tests and the "About Me" section is generally useful in helping people get to know each other, some things are left out. It's almost impossible to put thoughts, opinions, and every personal detail into a small profile box. A potential date may see that you like hiking, but if you don't put rock climbing as well, they might pass on your profile.

Niche dating sites are for daters looking to find others with common interests, lifestyles, or beliefs due to their religious, cultural, or lifestyle choices. When signing up for a niche dating site, most people are under the impression that others on the site want similar things. This means they will have to spend less time filtering out irrelevant profiles and can spend more time connecting with like-minded people. A niche site is tailored to specific people and their interests. For example, a religious dating site (like Christian Connection) is more likely to have specific denominations of churches rather than just a generic umbrella term.

Niche sites will have fewer profiles and members, so you may run into the same profiles over and over.

Free profiles and paid subscriptions

Most online dating sites and apps allow anybody to sign up and offer a basic plan or a trial version for free. Depending on the site, a basic plan might only include looking at profiles, but not being able to send messages. Other plans allow members to post on discussion boards; however they limit how often you can post.

Members who are willing to pay and subscribe have access to additional features and services that are likely to increase the chances of meeting compatible potential matches. Plans vary in prices and can cost anywhere between $8 per month and $60 per month. Some companies offer month-to-month, 3-month, 6-month, and annual plans.

Many paid subscriptions are on auto renewal; if you don’t cancel your membership, the company will assume you are continuing your membership and charge you for re-enrolling in the plan. And while members may cancel their subscription at any time, most online dating sites don’t issue refunds for the remaining portion of the membership.

Background screening

Most sites don’t conduct criminal background checks or screenings on members. Members are fully responsible for any losses or damages whether direct or indirect. Members who decide to meet in-person are responsible to take necessary precautions to protect themselves. Several online dating sites provide “Dating Safety Tips” which explain how members can protect themselves from a hacker or scammer. If a profile is reported for inappropriate activity or some other reason, companies do have the right to conduct criminal background checks/screenings at any time.

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Online Dating Sites Frequently Asked Questions

Should I join a generic or niche dating site?

Generic sites usually have a wider variety of people so you're likely to find someone with similar likes and values as you. Generic sites are also more casual and versatile than niche sites. For example, Tinder uses a simple profile system and algorithm to connect users. Tinder users can easily swipe through profiles to find a match and start a conversation. Users looking for all kinds of relationships can benefit from this free dating app.

Joining a niche site means fewer profiles to sort through. Dating sites such as Farmers Only and Geek 2 Geek provide an online dating service for users with specific interests. If you have a unique interest, lifestyle, or hobby, joining a niche site might cater more toward what you are looking for, but there is no reason you can't sign up for both.

How much effort should I put into my messages?

While it saves time and effort, sending out a generic message is not ideal. Most people will see right through it. On the other hand, it probably isn't best to spend significant time on an email that might not get a response. We suggest spending five to ten minutes at most on crafting a personalized message.

What should I do if a profile doesn’t have any pictures?

There are a few legitimate reasons to not have a picture on a profile. Sometimes people just want to keep their dating life more private, or maybe they aren’t sure how they feel about online dating quite yet. However, not having photos can be a red flag. It could mean that the person is not confident in their appearance or it can even be an indicator of a fake profile. Be cautious when getting a message from a profile with no picture; don’t send personal or financial information until you are sure it’s not a scam or catfishing scheme.

When should I meet a match in person?

This answer will vary depending on the person and the relationship. Some online daters are comfortable meeting after messaging for a few days, while others might wait years before deciding to meet in person. Whatever your preference or situation, be sure to meet somewhere public, don’t rely on them for transportation, and be sure to let family and friends know where you are going to be and who you are with. Take precautions and trust your instincts. You are under no obligation to stay on a date if you don’t feel comfortable.

What should I do if nobody is looking at my profile?

If nobody is visiting your profile, it can be a relatively easy fix. The first thing you can do is change your pictures. Make sure the pictures are clear and a good representation of you. Also avoid using pictures of large groups, as potential matches may not be able to tell which person to look at. Next, check your settings. There may be something filtering your profile out of most searches. You may also want to consider having a friend write your profile for you. This strategy can help bring a new perspective to your profile. If this fails, move to another dating platform. Maybe the site you were on wasn’t the right demographic for you and another site will be a better fit. 

What is the best online dating website for me?

Finding the right online dating website can be a challenge with so many available options. Start by determining you overall intent for joining an online dating website. Decide if your purpose is to find a potential partner, gain more dating experience, or make new friends.

Once you have determined your overall goal, start sorting through your options. Before choosing an online dating app, read reviews from past and current users. Typically, the best online dating apps are correlated with a higher user rating. These metrics will help you decide which online dating apps are safe and effective. If you still can't pick just one, sign up for a few different online dating platforms and see what works best for you.

Check out our rankings for the best online dating site and find the right site for you.

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