We all have seen the television and online ads for dating sites. One site, eHarmony, spent over 100 million alone in advertising in 2007 and, even with the rest of the advertising market flagging, seems to still be going strong.
Part of this is because of the widespread popularity of paid dating sites. In 2005, the last year statistics are readily available from, Americans spent well over $500 million on online dating services, making the second most popular form of paid content on the Web, just behind adult content.
Online dating is big business and, despite the down economy, it is still growing. Though many sites are seeing a slowdown in their membership, the top five paid dating sites are getting larger and more popular than ever.
But where free dating sites are low-risk environments to dabble with the online romance scene, paid dating sites bring with them a great deal more commitment and risk. As such, it is worth taking the time to make sure that an online dating site is right for you and that you know what you are getting into before you turn over your credit card.
Advantages of Paid Dating Sites
Though paid dating sites have the obvious disadvantage of a price tag, often a very high one, they bring with them a greater concentration of serious potential matches.
Where a free dating site has no barrier to entry, the monthly fee of a paid site acts a filter. Anyone who is not seriously looking or may even be running a scam, has a motivation to cancel their account. Where a free dating site may be filled with abandoned accounts and casual users, paid dating sites have a higher percentage of serious daters.
Also, since paid dating sites don't have to cater to a large audience to be profitable, just a small number of paying members, they can focus on niche audiences including ethnicity, religion, country, politics, age and much more. If you have very specific needs or wants, a paid dating site can help you avoid wading through countless unrelated matches.
The bottom line is that paid dating sites offer a much higher quality of matches and, theoretically, of service as well. Many sites have patented matching technology systems, such as eHarmony, and some even run background checks on potential daters, such as true.com, to ensure that the best possible candidates are found.
However, this does not make them perfect solutions. Many sites do bring with them a series of potential problems to be wary of.
Drawbacks of Paid Dating Sites
The biggest drawback to paid dating services is, obviously, the price. Most dating sites cost at least $10 per month and many cost several times that. These sites can be a very expensive proposition, especially over the long haul.
However, some online dating sites, especially smaller ones, have become notorious for making it difficult for individuals to unsubscribe to their services. This impacts both users that pay for a free trial and are unable to unsubscribe before the paid period and customers that signed up for recurring billing but can not get it to stop.
Before joining any dating site, it is best to closely review both the billing and cancellation policies. Understand the terms of how billing is handled and, if possible, use a traditional credit card, not a debit card, as it can better protect you in the event of a dispute.
Finally, it is also difficult with many online dating sites to tell whether or not it will work well for you without first signing up and paying at least some membership dues. Though most sites offer a free trial or at least some period of reduced membership costs, it is often not enough to see if there are matches of potential interest in your area. As such, many are forced to "fly blind" when registering for such sites, hoping that the site works out and the costs aren't too great.
Unlike with free sites, most can not afford to try out many different paid sites at one time, this makes careful research and planning all the more important when picking out a paid dating site to try. Fortunatley, however, there are plenty of such sites to choose from including the following.
Of all the paid dating sites, Match.com is both the largest and the most broad in terms of direction. Match doesn't offer much in the way of gimmicks other than its large size and the fact that its staff pre-screens every account and every photo for appropriateness before allowing them to appear online. Matches can then communicate privately using an internal email system before sharing their personal information.
Match offers a free trial for interested users, but the monthly fee at the site is fairly steep, $30 per month plus extra for some additional features. Still, these fees may be acceptable to many for one of the most popular and best-reviewed dating Web sites.
Due to their commercials, virtually everyone is aware that eHarmony is targeted at using science to help people find their matches. eHarmony members, upon registering, fill out a very lengthy personal battery that is then matched, allegedly using research from 5 PhD researchers on staff, to find the best matches.
However, even interaction is structured on eHarmony. Matched members answer a structured series of questions with one another and then, only if that goes well, are they told to move to a meeting in a "neutral place" such as a coffee shop.
All of this science does cost, however. A single month at eHarmony costs almost $60. However, discounts are plentiful on the site, including the ability to register for an entire year, at the cost of about $250 or just over $20 per month as well as coupons that are sent to you toward the end of your free trial.
If the idea of online dating appeals to you, but you're scared about meeting criminals or other creeps, True.com may be for you. Every member of the site is screened for a criminal record and for a marriage record before they are allowed to communicate with anyone on the site. The site even threatens to prosecute criminals and married individuals that attempt to circumvent the system.
Beyond that, True is a fairly typical dating site with an internal mailing system and a solid, if standard, matching and profile system.
The worst part about True is its lack of an effective free trial. Members must turn over a credit card just to register and will be charged for their three "free" days if they continue. All totaled, True's membership fees are about $50 per month, making it one of the more expensive dating sites.
Though Yahoo! may be the search engine of second choice for many, its dating service is both very large, very robust and relatively inexpensive. Much like Match, Yahoo! finds its strength in its numbers though it does offer two different matching types, ones selected for you by Yahoo! and ones you choose browsing. It also gives users a "5-star safety program" and a 6-month promise that offers you another six months for free if you do not find anyone after your first six months of trying (so long as you are active on the site).
Yahoo! also offers a wide range of free features, including the ability to search matches and even create a profile, reserving paid accounts for those who wish to communicate via IM or email. This makes it a great "try before you buy" site.
If you do decide to buy it costs between $16 and $30 per month depending on how long of a commitment you register for.
LavaLife bills itself as a "classy" dating service with a slightly more upscale market. It is also one of the oldest companies in the field, first founded as Teleclassifieds in 1987, the company first made its jump to Web-based dating in 2001, when it also took the LavaLife name.
LavaLife also has a very heavy focus on providing different kinds of access to the site including a very strong mobile and a continued phone presence. It also breaks down the community into three subsections, dating, relationships and intimate encounters, based upon the kind of dating the user is looking for.
Lavalife currently costs between $20 and $40 per month depending on how long of a term you sign up for, making it one of the best deals around.
Online dating is tricky and, when you involve credit cards in the process, it becomes that much more so. No matter what site you decide to visit, it is important to read reviews of the site, go through its terms of service thoroughly and be absolutely certain you know how much you are paying and how you can cancel your contract.
Paid dating sites can very easily turn into a headache but they do offer both features and an audience that can make the risk worthwhile. Though they probably aren't right for people who are dipping their toe into online dating but, for those who are more serious and want a stronger focus, they can be great deals.
However, choose your site very carefully and make note of how much of a free trial it offers. More importantly though, be sure to stick to reputable online dating sites, both paid and unpaid, to help you protect your privacy, security and your information.
Most importantly, be smart about how you use these sites. Even though they are paid membership sites, they still have memberships well over one million people. They are very much public places, just like the broader Web.
If you do that, as well as conduct yourself with honesty and class, online dating can be very rewarding. That goes for both paid and unpaid sites.