Monday, March 11, 2013

Dating Online - Are Free Dating Sites Worth the Trouble?

Online dating websites, like many things on the Internet, are usually run as businesses - organisations, or individuals, provide a service and take a fee for that service. Fair enough. But what about those sites that don't charge fees? Can they really provide the same quality of service as the bigger companies?
First of all, let's think about what "free" actually means. For one thing, a huge amount of dating site advertising claims that their particular site is free, but when you sign up, they very quickly direct you to an upgrade page. Usually, of course, eagle-eyed readers will notice the tell-tale phrases that should give the game away:
  • Free-to-join!
  • Free to search!
  • Review your matches for free!
All of which mean that you will, at some point, have to pay if you want to use their facilities.
Some sites though, will go so far as to declare that they are "completely free" or have "no hidden charges" and then when you've signed up and looked at a few profiles and want to make contact with someone, you'll get a little message pointing out that to send emails you do actually have to be a fee-paying member. Thankfully, these unscrupulous renegades are in the minority, so for the sake of clarity let's assume that when we talk about free dating sites, we do mean completely free of any charges whatsoever. Okay.
Quality Dating
So how can a free dating site provide good quality service? Probably the only way they're going to be able to do that successfully, is if they have money coming in to support their technical needs, web-hosting and server costs, not to mention staffing. There are some sites that are run by enthusiastic individuals who simply build dating websites to fill a particular niche that interests them, and these tend to be quite small with hundreds or thousands, rather than million, of members. Women Behind Bars, for example (although not completely free) is run by a chap who is clearly trying to offer a service for American women in jail who have no other way of building relationships with men on the outside.
Such small enterprises, because they are often run on a part-time basis, can be poorly organised, have very simple design and navigation tools and in some cases, are only updated two or three times a month. So, leaving the small fry aside, how do the rest of the free sites make money?
Affiliate Advertising
There's a huge market for advertising goods and services on the Internet, and in recent years a great many companies have emerged who coordinate affiliate advertising. How does this work? Well, let's say that wee Angus McTartan has a website about Scottish traditional dress and culture. He can approach companies like Commission Junction and Affiliate Windows and apply to join the campaigns of several advertisers whose products or services relate to his particular niche. Angus can then display adverts on his own site, with links back to those organisations, so when customers click on one of his ads, or sign up for a product or service, a small percentage of the earnings will arrive on his proverbial doormat. He can also sign up with individual companies who may not need the services of a huge company to organise their adverts.
The successful free dating sites then, make money by displaying adverts on their sites. The style of these can range from the quite subtle to the luridly over-the-top, and in some cases interfere with the layout of the website. preventing would-be daters from getting the most out of their online experience. Obviously the more visitors a site has, the greater chance there is that people will click on the ads, so it's in the interests of the owner to create a user-friendly experience, with plenty to see and do, as well as plenty of good quality profiles.
The effectiveness of any dating site is reliant on having enough profiles to keep new members interested. So if you're interested in a free dating site, where's the best place to look?
Here's a selection of some of my favourite free dating sites to get you started:
Meet Your Greens: niche site for vegetarians, earth mothers and anyone interested in saving the planet. Actually you don't need to be a badge-wearing eco-warrior to join, but with a strong community feel, you'll maybe get a more fulfilling experience here than with many of its competitors.
Honey Contacts: This one is for Russian daters and has a clear layout and good quality profile photos. Not much point joining if you don't live in Russia, but a very nice site anyway.
Zyngle: relatively new addition to the matchmaking scene that has a refreshing design and is easy to use. It's also free from all the paraphernalia that most dating sites tag on to keep people coming back, and means that dating is top of the agenda.
Oasis: these guys have been around for quite a while and with more than nine million members, are at the top of their game. It's also pretty busy and at any one time you'll find several thousand members online.
Smooch: This one isn't completely free, as there as extras to be had by upgrading, but you can certainly use it very successfully without paying a penny.
Whichever one you go for, bear in mind the small print: as always, if you don't read it, you might find you've signed up for something a little bit different to what you expected. As Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to say "let's be careful out there."
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