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Best online dating sites and apps 2021

Best online dating sites and apps 2021
(Image credit: Getty)

The best online dating sites and apps have swiftly adapted to our modern day needs, allowing singletons to connect remotely while we’re living through the pandemic. Whereas before the focus was always on searching for a good match then meeting up as soon as possible, a lot of dating apps now incorporate features that let you video chat with your potential partner.

One of the ways you can speed up your search for a serious relationship is by making sure you’re only using the very best online dating sites and apps. Our list below has narrowed down which ones are worth your time if you’re after a long-term romance. But we’ve also highlighted apps that we think are worth trying out if you’re looking for casual hook-ups.

There are a lot of great free dating apps out there, if you’re unwilling to pay for a subscription. Tinder and OkCupid are great options for casual daters, ranking highly in our list of the best dating sites and apps. However, if you’re serious about trying to find a partner, we still think it’s worth splashing out a subscription to our top-rated dating site, so you’re connected with other people who are also committed to finding the one.

We took our time when testing out these dating apps, creating several profiles and measuring which ones got the most engagements. We also gave extra points to any dating websites that had in-depth sign-up processes, which carefully matched you with like-minded people. In general, we have more faith in these as they have delicately calibrated compatibility tests, rather than random matching processes.

A final note before you dive into the ultimate list: if you’re looking for a more niche dating pool, you might be well served by other platforms. Take a look through out round-up of the  best gay dating sites, the best senior dating sites, the best Christian dating sites, and the best dating apps for women instead. 


1. Match.com: Best online dating site overall

Best online dating site overall

(Image credit: Match.com)

Match.com

This platform is perfect for anyone who’s just starting out in the dating game but knows they want something serious

Membership: Paid | Platform: App and desktop

Free access to photos
There is an app and a desktop version
Compatibility ratings
Messaging isn't free

Match.com is a dating site that has a very pared back free tier offering. Essentially, when you first sign up you can have a brief browse across other users’ photos, but you won’t be able to reach out and message them. Instead, you can send them cheeky ‘winks’ to show you’re interested.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time, though. We found that this site had one of the best sign-up processes and it gave us a good number of high quality matches, too. Your matches actually come with a compatibility rating, so you can see how well you’re likely to get along. It also has a video chat feature, so you can talk with your date remotely.

Available as an app or via desktop, it manages to get the balance right of feeling welcoming, but not cheesy. Overall, this is definitely one that’s best-suited to people who are looking for relationships rather than short-term flings, but you’ll have to pay for a subscription to access the best features. 


2. OkCupid:  Best free dating site

Best online dating site that's free

(Image credit: OkCupid)

OkCupid

Free messaging options and an edgy, fun-to-use platform make this site one of our top picks

Membership: Free and paid | Platform: App and desktop

LGBTQ-friendly
Large user base 
Have to pay to see who likes you

OkCupid feels a lot fresher than its rivals, with a quirky sign-up process and a brilliant set of fun-to-use features. It’s not limited to people who are searching for relationships though, as it encourages people to join even if they’re looking for casual affairs or to form new friendships.

It’s one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly apps that we tested, allowing users to enter a range of genders and sexualities for potential matches. We enjoyed testing out both the desktop version and the app, finding them easy to navigate, and we liked that it assesses your personality before asking you to upload photos. 

Unlike apps like Tinder, you can’t get a good read on who likes you, as that visibility is only available to paying members. But as your matches come with a compatibility rating, you should be able to figure out which users are the most likely to fit well with your personality.


3. Plenty of Fish: Best dating site for rural areas

Plenty of Fish: Best dating site for rural areas

(Image credit: Plenty of Fish)

Plenty of Fish

With a huge user base and a free messaging option, this popular site is a hit with users of a particular age

Membership: Free | Platform: App and desktop

Free messaging 
Good compatibility system
 Narrow age range 

Plenty of Fish has a user base of at least 150 million people, so in theory there should be lots of members for you to match with, wherever you live. Like the other older dating platforms, the sign-up process relies on you going through a five-minute long questionnaire that analyses your personality, before you’re allowed to build a profile and upload pictures.

Previously, the site used to pride itself on its lengthy sign-up process, but now it puts its free messaging at the forefront of its advertising. You can contact up to 25 new members a day and once you’re locked in a chat with a person you can talk as much as you like.

Like the other platforms, it’s available to use as an app or via your desktop, and both versions are easy to navigate.

The only drawback with POF is that it has a narrow age range. According to Statista, the site is mostly populated with people aged 45 - 54.


4. eharmony: Most thorough dating site

eHarmony

(Image credit: eHarmony)

eharmony

Anyone who wants a comprehensive dating experience should sign-up for eHarmony

Membership: Paid | Platform: App and desktop

 In-depth sign-up process 
You need to pay to access the good stuff

This is another site that has a really bare bones free offering, which essentially lets you assess the local dating pool before you commit to getting a subscription. But we really like that the site is exclusively for people searching for long-term relationships - this should mean that everyone you match with is serious about finding a partner.

The sign-up process for eHarmony is really in-depth. It took us about 15 minutes to complete the questionnaire, which is what the company uses to pair you up with other users. You can either download the app to use the platform, or log on to the company’s website. 

If you want to message other users, though, you’ll have to sign up for a subscription. It may well be worth the price - eHarmony boasts that it’s the dating site most likely to lead to a happy relationship.


5. Tinder: Best for casual relationships

Tinder review

(Image credit: Tinder)

Tinder.com

While it’s not strictly true that the app is just for hook-ups, in reality most people on there aren’t looking for long-term relationships

Membership: Free | Platform: Desktop and app

Lots of members
Easy to use 
Genuinely fun to use
Users aren’t matched based on their personalities

Famous for its addictive swiping function, Tinder still has an impressively large user base that draws in a younger crowd (over half the users on there are aged between 18 and 25.) It’s free to use and you can either access it via the famous app or on the Tinder.com site.

The thing about Tinder is: it’s genuinely fun. Swiping across profiles to pick the ones you like (and reject the ones you don’t) is a little bit of an ego boost. A study from 2017 actually found that most people are on the platform to use it as a form of entertainment.

It’s definitely not as in-depth as the more established dating platforms, which try and assess your personality before matching you up with users. Instead, Tinder relies on your location, and pairs you with other singles who happen to be nearby.

All in all, this is definitely definitely best suited to people who enjoy the rush of dating, rather than singletons who are serious about settling down. 


6. Coffee Meets Bagel: Safest dating site  

Best online dating sites and apps: best for safety

(Image credit: Coffee Meets Bagel)

Coffee Meets Bagel

This dating app relies on users mutually ‘liking’ each other before they can start their digital flirting

Membership: Free or paid | Platform: App

Limits your daily matches so you consider profiles more carefully
Names are private until you and another user both like each other
Setup asks you what you like in a mate
You can’t “like” an unlimited number of users in one sitting
Only available as an app

Coffee Meets Bagel limits the number of profiles you can view at one time, forcing you to consider the profiles you do see more carefully. The service gives male users 21 curated matches every day that they can either like or pass on. The women, in turn, get to see which men have liked them and decide whether to like them back. If they do, the matched pair can then chat for free.

Setting up your profile is fast and only requires a few quick facts about yourself and your appearance. It also uses “beans” as currency, which you can earn either by doing certain actions, like logging in often, or by simply purchasing them. You then use beans to unlock special features in the app and to “like” other user profiles. 

In our tests, the maximum number of profiles we could like before running out of beans was five a day, which we would think keeps most people from being flippant about their matches. The messaging feature also has a seven-day time limit for conversation between two people, which forces you to decide whether you want to take action on that potential love connection. In general, we found that this one was populated with people who are looking for long-term relationships, rather than hook-ups. 


7. Bumble

Bumble

(Image credit: Bumble)

Bumble

Ladies always make the first move on the popular dating site, which was created by one of Tinder’s original founders

Membership: Free and paid | Platform: Desktop and app

Video chat
Easy to use
No real matching algorithm 

Bumble’s main selling point is that it encourages ladies to make the first move. Once two people have swiped right on each other, the woman has 24 hours to message the man. But if the man is keen on the woman, he does have the option of extending that 24 hour period.

Available as both an app and via the website, Bumble is unusual in that it has completely different app modes for different types of relationships. You can use Bumble BFF if you’re just looking for new friends, Bumble Bizz if you want to make business connections and Bumble Date if you’re searching for romance. We like that it has a wide range of options for this. We also like that rather than having to narrow your search down to one particular gender, you can say that you’re interested in meeting men, women or everyone.

The main drawback with the site is that the matching system itself is a bit lacking. Other than creating a profile, you don’t enter any details on your character and what sort of person you’re hoping to meet. So you might have to do a fair bit of swiping before you find a good match.

  • Read our full review of Bumble

8. Elite Singles: Best dating site for professionals

Best dating sites and apps: Elite Singles, for professionals

(Image credit: Elite Singles)

Elite Singles

Academics and professionals will feel at home on this dating site

Membership: Paid | Platform: App and desktop

The site gives you the results of your own personality quiz
Messaging isn't free
Long setup process

This site boasts that the vast majority of its users have received some higher level of education, with over 80% of its members holding at least a university degree. You don’t actually have to show your qualifications to sign-up for the process, but you will have to show your wallet, as messaging isn’t free on the website or app.

What we liked most about the platform was its sign-up process and matching system. When you sign-up, you’ll go through a thorough questionnaire that evaluates your personality according to the Five Factor personality test. You’ll then be matched with other singles in line with your results; but you’ll only receive 3- 7 matches a day, so you really have to consider each one carefully.

It feels like this dating pool might have narrow appeal, though. We think this is a good fit for anyone who really wants to meet and date people from a similar educational background, but if you’re open to a wider range of characters try out one of the other options first.


Dating apps: the best of the rest 

 

We also tested and reviewed the following services, but they didn't make the cut for our list of best online dating sites:

Zoosk: Zoosk verifies each user’s identity, which helps eliminate scammers and fake accounts. Available in a desktop version or app, the website pairs you up with matches based on a survey you take when you sign up.

Chemistry: This dating website asks users unique questions during the sign-up process, but we didn't get very many matches during our tests. It lacks an app, and you also can't send any messages unless you pay for a subscription.

Specialized dating sites

We tested online dating websites and apps aimed at broad audiences, but there are many options for tailored dating experiences. 

If you’re looking for something specific in a mate, odds are there's a dating website or app just for that. For example, the Color Dating app allows users to focus on a specific ethnicity. Christian Mingle caters to singles of the Christian faith. 

Silver Singles is a paid service for people entering their golden years who are looking for a relationship. 

There are also websites for people with certain medical needs. SpectrumSingles.com is geared toward people on the autism spectrum, while Dating4Disabled is an option for people with disabilities. 

There are also options for people living alcohol-free lives, like Single and Sober. It's similar to OKCupid, but its users don't drink. In short, there are plenty of online dating options, no matter what you’re looking for in life.

How we found the best dating sites and dating apps

We spent more than a week testing more than a dozen popular dating apps and sites to figure out which are the most effective, affordable and ultimately the overall best dating apps. That meant monitoring three made-up profiles for 24 hours, collecting match data and using every feature a dating website or app comes with. We looked at which websites give free access to other users’ profile photos and messaging, and whether you have to pay to access extra features.

Sites received bonus points for having good compatibility systems, an easy to use interface and a sizeable user base for members to peruse.

How much do the best dating sites cost?

A lot of dating websites and apps advertise the fact that they’re free, but be careful what you’re signing up for. Setting up a profile is always free, but most of the apps and websites we tested offered only some of their matching services free of charge. Most of them make you pay to view user photos and send messages.

If you want access to the best dating sites, you’re going to have to pay for it. Premium options cost about $10 each month for basic service, or if you want more effective pairing with people you’re more likely to get along with for an average of $40 per month. You could also pay less if you purchase a membership for several months at a time.

Online dating success tips

Julie Spira, a Los Angeles-based author, online dating expert and CEO of Cyber Dating Experts, said honesty is the key to online dating success. This is becoming easier and easier with social media.

“These days because people are connecting their Instagram accounts to their mobile dating app we have an opportunity to see what someone looks like in real life and whether those photos match the profile,” she said.

Sharon Kroll and fiancé Lee Wallender are the Seattle-based writers and dating experts behind The Dating Gurus. Kroll said it’s easy to get lost in the sea of possibilities when online dating so it’s important to limit the number of sites you’re onto to three and make sure you’re not spending all day checking them. It’s also important to make the first message you send count.

“Whether you’re a guy or a girl you have to actually read the person’s profile or little blurb and do your homework,” she said. “Search for clues about the person’s occupation or interests and be prepared in the first contact to initiate a conversation about those specifics.”

If the thought of signing up for an online dating service without any help is scary then read our online dating tips

Fake users and bots

The downside of online dating is the lack of face-to-face interaction, at least when you first start chatting with someone. This leaves users vulnerable to chat bots, or people who are only on the dating sites in order to scam other users.

There are a few things to look out for when you first start messaging someone, which should give you a good indication of whether or not they’re genuine. If it’s a bot, you’ll likely find that their language is quite mechanical. If it’s a user who’s trying to build a relationship in order to scam you out of money, you’ll often find that their language quickly becomes very floral and romantic. Watch out for early declarations of love.

The clearest sign that someone may be out to scam you is if they ask you for money. Basically, if another user on a website ever asks for money, credit card details or other log-in information, they’re probably not really looking to start a relationship. You should report them to the platform you’re using and block them, too. 

Check out our article on online dating scams for more.