These days, choosing a dating app or site can feel almost as complicated as choosing a significant other. Do you go for the free one that only shows you faces? Pay a little bit more and spend lots of time filling out questionnaires? Go for an internet-connected but ultimately more old school matchmaking service? And that’s not even getting into the hyper-specific online dating sites like Farmers Only or dating apps for Pokemon Go that have popped up in recent years.
Charly Lester knows the online dating struggle perhaps better than most of us. Her blog 30 Dates — which she “started as a joke” and in which she goes on 30 blind dates before turning 30 — went viral back in 2014 and suddenly she was inundated with questions from single people around the world about what sites they should join and which dating experts they should be listening to. But Lester felt like her opinion wasn’t enough — she’s just one woman, after all — and she decided to create something “more democratic and definitive.”
The result is the UK Dating Awards, which pulled in people from across the online dating industry to their first event in 2014. The Awards feature a panel of independent industry experts who bestow 20 awards every year, from “Online Dating App of the Year” to “Dating Expert of the Year” and “Best New Dating App.” And the events have been such a hit in the UK that she’s expanding to the States, with the first US Dating Awards event scheduled to take place on September 15 in New York City.
So I asked Lester how singles who are searching for their next love online can know what the best online dating app or site is for them. Here are her top tips.
1. Don't Assume Too Much From Positive Reviews
Lester says that a lot of apps direct people who love the app to write reviews. " I've also heard stories of apps that don't even exist having hundreds of thousands of great reviews, so it seems there are ways to cheat the system,” Lester tells Bustle.
2. Find Out What The People You're Interested In Are Using
“Speak to guys or girls who fit the criteria you're looking for, and find out which apps they are using," she says. "It's all well and good if you like using an app, but you need to be on the ones where the people you'd like to meet can be found.”
3. Use More Than One App At A Time
Bustle and Happn recently teamed up for a survey on dating app behavior and found that most Happn users (79 percent of women and 90 percent of men) use more than one dating app. “I normally have four or five on the go at any one time," Lester says. "It means you don't get bored, and you can also work out which type of apps work best for you. When you have a few different apps running at the same time, it can be a lot easier to work out what works for you.”
4. Look For Anti-Scammer Software
A lot of the more developed apps, particularly those which are also online dating sites, use anti-scammer software to help protect you from romance scammers. The company Scamalytics is a good one to look out for — apps and sites using the software will display the logo.
5. Prioritize Out Apps That Require Selfies
“These days a lot of apps have taken 'anti-catfish' measures, requiring users to take selfies when they sign up to the service. Not only does this help you work out if someone is who they say they are, it also allows you to check they are using recent photos.”
6. Look For Automatic Content Moderation And Report Buttons
“Good apps will use software such as ioSquare to make sure that people can't send you explicit messages," she says. "And all good dating apps should have a report button and a block button, so you can flag inappropriate photos and behavior, and stop someone communicating with you at the touch of a button.”
7. Go For The Shortest Subscription Length For Paid Apps — And Keep An Eye On Payments
“There are a huge range of paid and free apps out there, and different apps suit different people. If you want to try a subscription app, opt for the shortest subscription length (even if that's more expensive) so you can try the app out without committing to six or 12 months. Be careful about auto-renewal schemes — always check your bank statements to make sure you're not still being billed for a site or app once you've left.”
8. Double Check What Data They’re Collecting — And What They Can Do With It
“Data sharing and data protection are really important these days," Lester says. "Be careful what information the app has about you, and who it can share that data with. The Online Dating Association (ODA) is the dating industry trade body, and they have a code of conduct which ensures their members abide by data privacy laws.”
9. Find The One That Fits Your Personality
“These days the functionality of dating apps varies hugely," she says. "Depending on which forms of social media you use, you might find a particular app suits your personality. Some now link heavily to Instagram, others use Spotify.”
10. Check How They Use Your Location
“Apps also treat your location in different ways," she says. "Some apps will not only use your location to match you, but also share where you are. Others are more static, and simply offer a range of options within a radius of a chosen point. Different options work for different people, but always make sure you're aware what information about you an app is showing to other people.”
11. Look Out For the Dating Awards Badge
“The Dating Awards run all over Europe, and in the UK, and are coming to America in September," says Lester. "The Awards are judged by a panel of dating industry experts, who try all the different apps and sites and then crown one app 'Dating App of the Year.’ There is also an Award for 'Best New Dating App.’ Keep an eye out for the winners — the awards are judged on safety, user experience, popularity, price, innovation and a range of other criteria, and should help point you in the right direction.”
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (10); US Dating Awards