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Guide to Cheap and Free Online Dating

OK Cupid, with its smooth, eye-friendly interface and unique questions, is an obvious first choice for anyone considering online dating. It's easy to see why. The site offers full functionality for free and lets users browse for potential love interests almost immediately.

Several thousand personality questions range from raunchy to insightful, and users can indicate their importance for matching purposes.

Our second-place pick is the free online dating site Plenty of Fish, which offers additional features that aren't really necessary for a small monthly fee. Plenty of Fish stands out for its personality assessment tool and, like OK Cupid, lets users search for partners right away. The interface is less engaging, though, and the ads can be a little distracting.

Some date-seekers may go for Tinder, an online dating app for smartphones. Tinder has a reputation for quick hook-up connections, but users like features that offer some privacy and partial vetting of potential matches. We're a little put off by Tinder's method of matching users based solely on appearance, but satisfied customers counter that the focus on looks makes online dating seem more natural and is little different from approaching an attractive person at a party or restaurant.

How About We, a relatively new dating site that stresses shared interests, is a novel approach but doesn't quite make the cut. Aside from the bare basics, How About We asks users what going on an ideal date would entail. Based on this information and geographic location, users can search for potential partners. Unfortunately, this site requires payment, to the tune of $7.99 a month for a year, for access to useful features. Users also report struggling with a not-quite-ready interface.

What We Looked For in a Free Dating Site

Smooth Communication and Navigation.

If users are investing time in, or paying for access to, a dating site, it should function seamlessly. In this regard, we paid particular attention to the ease of contacting other users, reading messages, and finding a possible contact. We also looked for sites that provide a decent amount of privacy and the ability to block potentially abusive users -- an unfortunate scourge of the Internet in general. While we also noted additional features the sites offer, such as online forums and in-person meet-and-greets, we only valued these utilities if they were easy to use and self-explanatory.

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Tinder is far and away the easiest dating tool for immediate satisfaction. Just create a profile through the mobile app and link to a Facebook account. Users then see photos of potential matches based on location and if two people like each other's photos, a chat window opens facilitating a meet-up. They're protected against unwanted contacts because messaging is possible only if there is mutual interest. With How About We, on the other hand, users can read and respond to messages only if they have bought a subscription, so it's impossible to know whether the recipient didn't respond due to lack of interest or for lack of a paid membership.

Compatibility Tool.

Although matching tools on free dating sites are hardly the be-all and end-all of matchmaking, any half-way decent tool helps narrow the pool. As online dating has drawn in massive numbers of participants, the need for an efficient and effective way to sort through thousands of date possibilities is absolutely critical.

In this dimension, OK Cupid offers the best personality matching tool, with more than 3,000 questions that run the gamut from "Are you a dog or cat person?" to "Do you like biting?" Users can select how much each question matters to them and the type of response they'd want from a partner, factors that influence the match suggestions. By contrast, How About We makes matches solely by location and users' definition of an ideal way to spend time together.

The growing industry of quick or blind online dating sites, such as Tinder and Grouper, play more to looks or location than to compatibility. Although these sites have a certain appeal, especially if you're into a one-time thing and/or convenience, personality-focused sites are more likely to suggest meaningful matches (i.e., with long-term potential).

Active Community.

Online dating sites are only as good as their active member base. To assess this factor, we checked the Alexa ratings, which provide an unbiased compilation of usage data and site traffic, including how much time users spend on the sites and the gender breakdown.

OK Cupid is tops in terms of engagement, according to Alexa. The average user spends more than 14 minutes on the site compared with slightly more than 2 minutes on Plenty of Fish. OK Cupid also leads the free and cheap online dating sites with a rank of 131 on the list of most popular websites in the U.S.

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User-Friendly Mobile App.

One-quarter of all Internet traffic now comes from mobile devices. Is there any doubt that users of online dating sites want to check in on the go? Tinder is the winner here. Of course, Tinder was built specifically for use on smartphones, and its interface and ease of use are excellent. OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, and How About We also offer mobile apps, and each earns similar ratings at the Google Play Store.

Easy Sign-Up and Profile Creation.

Our testing found that it's easier to create a profile on some free and cheap online dating sites than others. OK Cupid, with its range of quirky and interesting questions, is addicting and fun. Plenty of Fish puts users through their psychological paces before allowing searches. How About We and Tinder require almost no set-up, just a paid subscription with the former to access functionalities that matter and a Facebook profile to link to for the latter.

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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap and Free Dating Sites
  2. Dating Site Reviews
  3. Discount Online Dating Features Comparison Table
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