Marketers believe that "Free" is the most powerful word in the English language. Whether you're trying to sell cereal or computers, the word "free" is the most compelling thing you can put into your advertisements.
Love is no different a service in that regard.
Though the Web is famous for its paid dating sites, many of which advertise regularly on TV and in newspapers, the Web continues to have a very strong collection of free dating web sites.
However, free dating sites are still very serious business. One of the more popular ones, PlentyOfFish, reportedly takes in over $10 million per year and may be worth $1 billion when compared to Facebook in terms of size.
Despite this and their great popularity, they are not an ideal choice for everyone when it comes to online dating. Before you sign up and start searching, it's probably worthwhile to take a moment and make sure that it is the type of site that's right for you.
The biggest, and most obvious, advantage of free dating Web sites is that they are free. One can easily set up an account, find matches and start sending messages without giving up a credit card or taking any financial risk.
These sites are ideal for people who just want to dabble, at least initially, with online dating or are curious as to what they might find. They're also great for those who don't want to give up personal information, including credit card details,
Also, these sites, by their very nature, tend to have very large communities to choose from. Larger free sites routinely have membership numbers many times higher than their paid counterparts, meaning that there are more people to match you against, more people to talk to and a greater chance you'll find someone you're interested in.
All things totaled, free can actually be a very good deal and many happy couples meet via free sites. However, they are not perfect and do come with some limitations that are worth noting.
First off, free dating site still have to earn revenue and most do so through advertising, and often lots of it. Ironically, much of this advertising is for other, paid dating sites. This advertising can be very intrusive when one is trying to use the sites and can make them less attractive.
In addition to or in lieu of advertising, many use a "freemium" model that provides a basic account at no charge but offers upgrades to receive advanced features, such as additional profile tools (more images, custom name, etc.), the removal of advertisements, etc. These sites often push these upgrades very hard in the on-site advertising. Though free accounts may be functionally the same as paid ones, free members are often viewed as second-class citizens, both by the staff and by the other members.
Free sites also tend to have very serious issues with personel and support. PlentyOfFish, for example, has over 10 million users but only one full-time staff member. Support at these sites tend to take place via forums, where members help members, FAQs and elsewhere on the Web. In short, support and technical help tend to be user-driven.
Finally, free sites tend to be much more simplistic and broad in nature and also have a higher rate of inactive accounts. Where paid sites routinely have patented matching technology and/or a niche focus that lets you find the exact type of people you are likely to be interested in, free sites make their money by bringing as many people as possible on board and offering as many match opportunities, whether they are well-targeted or not.
Because of this, many find that it takes longer and is harder to find potential dates on free dating Web sites, making the choice of free versus paid a classic case of time vs. money.
On the Web, there are literally dozens of free dating sites that may be worth your while including some of the most popular dating sites operating today. Here is just a sample of some of the larger, more important free sites that are not "freemium" in nature.
Plentyoffish, or POF as it is known to its members, is one of the largest and best-known free dating Web sites. The site claims to have a powerful chemistry test that has had its results cited in a Nobel prize-winning study. It also claims that its members go on over 18 million dates per month.
The site boasts that it is "about 5 times larger than any paid site" but, a quick look at estimated traffic, seems to reveal otherwise. Still. there is little doubt that Plentyoffish is a well-known and respected dating site with many millions of members. Most impressive of all, as mentioned above, the site was created and is operated by just one person, making it an oddity among Internet success stories.
Created by the same team that made SparkNotes, OKCupid is a free matching site that focuses on making it as easy to use as possible. The sign up process is made extremely short and as much of the system as possible is automated, including cropping of images, etc.
OKCupid is also unique in that it lets its members help in writing matching questions, which gives the system a much more unique feel compared to traditional, and largely standard, personality tests.
Though it may not be the largest dating site, it still has an extremely sizeable database of members and, with its matching technology, may be a great choice.
CasualKiss is a well-known and popular free dating site that has a strong emphasis on finding people through tests, including both their own personality and other profile tests as well as member-created ones that are available for members to take.
However, the main selling point of CasualKiss is, as the name suggests, it is a very laid back environment. CasualKiss is almost more of a social network than a dating site, with lots of tests, the ability to customize profiles heavily and less of a focus on high-pressure matching.
In short, CasualKiss is the free dating site for people who want to take it easy and not feel pressured into finding someone every time they log on.
Though there many free dating sites available, they aren't the only way you can meet a potential match on the Web.
Classified ad sites, such as Craigslist, have largely replaced the personal ads that were once in newspapers. Every major city has its own personals section that anyone can post to, at any time, for free. Though such sites may not have advanced matching technology, they are potentially powerful ways to get oneself out in front of a slew of interested singles.
Also, social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace have also replaced much of the functionality of online dating sites. Though they aren't for the express reason of finding matches and there are many people who are not single or looking on these sites, they are designed to introduce people to those in their area and make it easy to learn their interests and if they might be available.
These sites also often have special applications or sections designed for those who are looking for someone to date that includes matching profiles, lookup of area singles and more.
In short, there may be no need to sign up for a special dating site, just change the way you handle social networking.
Perhaps the greatest advantage to free dating sites is that there is no reason to join just one or two. Since they are free to join and don't come with monthly fees, you can easily sign up for as many as you can manage, seeing what each of them have to offer and deciding which is right for you.
Free dating sites are a great place to "dip your toe into the water" of online dating, get a feel for what is out there and learn the ins and outs of online dating. If you find someone that you're happy with, that's great. If not, you can move on to another free dating site, stick around and see if things improve or, if you wish, take your new knowledge and sign up for a paid site.
In the end, free dating sites are just tools for helping you meet people on the Web. If there are other sites that work better or as well, they deserve the same consideration.
No matter what site you choose though, it is important to remember that online dating is only as effective and as useful as the amount of work you put into. This involves not just effort in creating and promoting your profile, but in being honest, in having the courage to reach out to new people and working to create connections that can survive offline.
It's not an easy thing, but millions of people have done it so it may well work for you too.