The Ultimate “Online Dating Guide” — (For Men & For Women)

Online Dating

The Ultimate “Online Dating Guide” — (For Men & For Women)

Brittney Mayer Brittney Mayer

The internet is a seriously awesome resource. You can find guides for just about all the important things in life as well as the fun things — including nailing a job interview, eating healthy, traveling on a budget, and online dating. If you want to know how to do something, there’s a guide for it out there somewhere.

Since we like to think of ourselves as “the authority on all things dating,” we’ve created a guide to online dating with 12 tips to help you navigate every step — from the very beginning to the very end.

1. Know What Your Goals Are

It’s good to go into online dating knowing what your end goals are — just like you would probably do if you’re applying for college or starting a big project at work. Is it a hookup? Is it a casual date? Is it a relationship? Is it marriage? Once you answer these questions, picking the right dating site out of the thousands of options will be really easy.

2. Choose the Site That Can Help You Accomplish Those Goals

One of the most important decisions you’ll make in online dating is which site to use, and we want you to be as informed as possible. In addition to keeping your goals in mind, we’ve picked out our favorite dating websites for you to consider.

And remember you don’t have to choose just one — most dating websites have a free trial or account that lets you do pretty much all of the important stuff. You’ve got nothing to lose by signing up for several.

Match: For the All-Around Best Experience

We tell everyone who’s looking for a dating site that excels in every category to use It’s been the preferred service for singles since 1995. Here’s a quick glance at what Match has going for it:


Relationships: Friends, Dates, and Relationships

Match System: Browse by zip, age, appearance, more

Our Experts Say: “Match has facilitated the most dates and relationships of any dating site, and its large audience and high success rate make it our top review...” Full Review »

Browse Free: View Photos Now

As you can see, Match has the size, the affordability, the inclusiveness, and the reputation. Plus, whether you’re looking for a fun night out or a long-term commitment, Match can connect you with the right person.

Zoosk: For On-the-Go Daters

We say that Zoosk is a top pick for busy daters because it has one of the best mobile experiences, and that’s because it’s integrated with Facebook and Google+. Just sync up your dating profile with one of your existing social profiles, and you’re good to go.


Relationships: Fun Dates, Serious Relationships

Match System: Search and get match recommendations

Our Experts Say: “Zoosk is integrated with social media sites, like Facebook and Google+, so it's very popular with singles on the go...” Full Review »

Browse Free: View Photos Now

No matter where you are (at a bar with friends, waiting for the bus, shopping at the mall, etc.), Zoosk can match you with that special someone or someones. The app has been downloaded more than 30 million times on Google Play and the App store, and its 38 million members exchange more than 3 million messages a day.

eHarmony: For Serious Relationships

If it’s a serious relationship you want, it’s a serious relationship you’ll get if you use eHarmony. The site was created by couples counselor Dr. Neil Clark Warren (who is also a clinical psychologist, Christian theologian, and seminary professor). And its mission is to prevent singles from having to weed through the not-so-serious daters.


Relationships: Casual Dates, Deep Relationships

Match System: Personality test suggests matches

Our Experts Say: “Accounting for 2% of U.S. marriages, eharmony's compatibility-based system and commitment-minded user base are ideal for those seeking a serious relationship...” Full Review »

Browse Free: View Photos Now

With 4% of marriages in the United States coming from people meeting on the site, eHarmony is also clearly very good at what it does. The one possible hiccup is the site is strictly for heterosexual men and women. However, eHarmony’s sister site, Compatible Partners, caters to the LGBT community.

BeNaughty: For Hookups

People like sex — it’s no secret. That’s why sites like BeNaughty exist. Hookup buddies abound here (13.3 million a month to be exact), and you can browse and flirt with all of them without having to pay.


Relationships: Hookups, Chats

Match System: Search by encounter, location, and more

Our Experts Say: “BeNaughty is a premier hookup app where you can feel comfortable expressing your desires. Plus, it's free to join, browse, and flirt...” Full Review »

Browse Free: View Photos Now

BeNaughty isn’t one of those sketchy sex dating websites either. The site verifies every member and uses SSL encryption to make sure your private information stays private.

3. Put Time Into Your Profile & Photos

Now that you’ve chosen a dating site or two, you don’t want to throw up a half-assed profile, which will blow your chances of success before you’ve even started. By half-assed, we mean only uploading one photo and saying a couple of sentences about yourself.

Studies show it only takes one-tenth of a second for people to form an opinion about someone else. Terrifying, right? Don’t panic — if you follow just a few tips, you’ll capture their attention and maybe even receive a message.

One, upload a handful of different photos (e.g., different types, different outfits, different poses, and different environments). Second, be unique, detailed, yet concise, and honest about your characteristics and wants. For more in-depth advice, you can read more about how to write a good dating profile here.

4. Know What the Dating Site’s Features Are For

It seems like technology, in general, is getting more advanced every day, and the same is true for the technology dating websites use. In the ’90s, dating websites only had a couple of features in their tool belts. Now it’s dozens, and it’s all to improve the experience for you.

You’ll want to understand how the features and tools work on the dating site you’ve signed up for because it’ll help streamline the process. For example, eHarmony doesn’t have any kind of browsing functionality, which means the site finds and delivers all the matches to you. If that’s a turnoff for you, we suggest picking another one.

Screenshot of the Zoosk Carousel

Understanding the features a dating site has will make a big difference in your overall experience. For example, Zoosk’s Carousel allows you to quickly yay or nay potential matches — kinda like Tinder.

Another example is Tinder. We’ve all heard that you swipe right if you like someone and left if you don’t, but it’s worth stating again because many a single has swiped the wrong way. (And you can only take that swipe back if you’re a paying member.)

Before you start searching, get familiar with the dating site’s layout and all the different sections and buttons. Most of the time, there’s a little question mark you can hover over that will explain what something does, or you can always read the site’s FAQ or Help pages.

5. Have Certain Safety Precautions in Place

It’s a fact that there are some horrible people on the internet, and, similar to other industries, scams in online dating can and will happen. However, there are tons of safety steps you can take to prevent being taken advantage of.

The dating websites themselves take care of most of the security for you — with SSL encryption and member verification, as we mentioned earlier, as well as Block and Report buttons and 24/7 customer support.

A lot of the power is in your hands as well. Some of the basic precautions to keep in mind are to never give out your address, family members’ full names, and things like that until you’re 100% comfortable with someone, and never, ever give out your financial information. For the first couple of offline dates, we also recommend meeting at the venue instead of having him or her pick you up or meeting at their place.

6. Look Beyond Your “Type” Every Now & Then

The beauty of online dating is you can be as specific about your likes and dislikes as you want. But the beast of online dating is also that you can be as specific about your likes and dislikes as you want.

Screenshot of a lock and key that don't fit

Try not to limit yourself when you’re online dating, and step outside your “type” comfort zone from time to time.

Try not to pigeonhole yourself or the people you’re going to encounter. Focus on the dealbreakers (doesn’t want kids, but you do) instead of the non-dealbreakers (hates Bill Murray movies, but you don’t). It can be fun getting to know someone who’s a total or somewhat of a total opposite, and it’s not guaranteed who we’re going to fall for.

7. Make a Genuine Effort to Send Unique Messages

This might seem like an obvious tip that doesn’t need to be said, but you should avoid copying, pasting, and sending the same or similar messages to a bunch of people. It can be common for disingenuous online daters to do this because they’re just hoping for a yes. However, it’s probably the quickest way for them to get a no or be ignored entirely.

The most it takes is a minute or two of reading someone’s profile, finding something that catches your eye or that you have in common, and mentioning that in your message. We go into more detail about the do’s and don’ts for messaging in this article.

8. Get Your Friends’ Opinions

Or turn to whoever your closest confidantes are. From setting your match criteria and reaching out to someone, to choosing an outfit and following up after the first date — a fresh pair of eyes can really make you see things differently.

Photo of friends around a computer

Getting your friends’ feedback on your online matches will make you see things in a whole new light.

Also, I don’t know about you, but my friends are super upfront when they have a good feeling about someone I’m interested in and when they don’t, and I wholeheartedly trust their feedback.

9. Arrange the Date in a Public Place

Congrats, you found a match and are planning the first date! However, you still want to take some precautions. Arranging this date at a public place is another piece of safety advice that we believe is non-negotiable.

Just so both parties are totally comfortable, you shouldn’t pick them up, and they shouldn’t pick you up. You truly never know who the person on the other side of the screen is. There’s plenty of time to do that once you’ve gotten to know each other.

10. Hide Your Profile If You Want to Be Exclusive

A majority of dating websites have the option to hide your profile if you want to take a break from online dating — either because you want to clear your head, you met someone and want to see where things go, or any other reason.

Photo of a check yes or no note

When you meet someone you click with, feel free to hide your dating profile to see where things go. You can always unhide it later if you need to.

You should find this feature in your settings, but if you can’t, contact the dating site to see if they offer that or if they can freeze your account. You never know until you ask!

11. Take Breaks as Needed

Speaking of taking breaks, we know online dating can be frustrating if you can’t seem to get it right. There’s no shame in going cold turkey for a week or however long you need to get back into the necessary mindset. Use this break as an opportunity to hang out with your loved ones more, take on more challenges at work, take up a new hobby, or whatever else you’ve been putting off since you started online dating.

12. Most Importantly, Have Fun!

Online dating guides can give you a million steps to follow, but the one that really matters is to enjoy it. These tips aren’t the be-all and end-all — some may work for you, while some may not. Test them out, see what they do for you, and if you’re not happy with the way things are going, make some changes. You’ll find your groove in no time!

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