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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 made it easier than ever before to meet potential matches. Thanks to these romantic platforms, you can scroll through a pool of prospective partners on your phone, looking for the perfect date. This could feel a little overwhelming at first, but don’t worry – most of our top picks do the legwork for you, narrowing down the pool so you’re only shown matches who meet your specific criteria.

Many of the best online dating sites and apps now have video chats, so you have the opportunity to check you have chemistry with your match before meeting them in person. And plenty of them have additional features that make it easier to communicate with people too, via chat messages and question prompts.

We conducted quite a bit of testing to evaluate which platform was the winner out of the below. We created profiles for each platform, then calculated how many matches we made across a 24-hour period. In addition to this, we also evaluated platforms for things like useful features and safety measures that have been put in place.

On top of this, we also have round-ups of the best gay dating apps, the best dating apps for women, the best Christian dating sites, and the best senior dating sites. These guides can help you narrow down your choice, if you’re finding it difficult to pick one of our options below. 


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

Overall, Match.com is our favorite dating site. It has one of the best sign-up processes and it gave us a good number of high quality matches when we tested it out. On top of that, it also regularly pushes new features, like the latest video chat function that allows you to meet remotely. It even has an AI dating chatbot feature, called Lara, that will give you dating tips and advice on where to meet.

The only drawback to this site is that it 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.

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

The best thing about this platform is that it feels fresher than its rivals, eHarmony and Match.com. It's filled with vibrant colors, has a quirky sign-up process, and is packed with fun-to-use features. Like a few other modern dating platforms, it's also a site that can be used to simply forge new friendships, so it doesn't have a purely romantic focus.

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: Best dating app for meeting new people

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.


How we tested the best dating sites and 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 this isn't always the case. Setting up a profile is usually free, but quite a few of the apps and websites we tested only offered some of their matching services free of charge. This isn't usually the case for the more recently created dating platforms, like Tinder and Bumble, but the older relationship-focused dating sites tend to operate on this basis.

For these sites, 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.

Is online dating safe?

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. 

Does online dating work?

There's no guarantee that using a dating site will help you find a relationship, but it's certainly a very popular modern tool. A recent study from Stanford sociologist, Michael Rosenfeld, suggests that nearly 40% of US couples meet online. And another study (albeit from the same researcher) suggests that couples who meet online are no more likely to break up than couples who meet offline. 

Given the above, it seems like the trend for online dating isn't waning anytime soon - and it doesn't look like the relationships forged via apps and websites are any different in terms of prospects to those that have been created in traditional settings. 

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.

Millie Fender

Millie is a former writer for Top Ten Reviews who now works across Future's Home portfolio. Her spare time is spent traveling, cooking, playing guitar and she's currently learning how to knit. Millie loves tracking down a good deal and keeping up-to-date on the newest technology and kitchen appliances.