OkCupid or Match.com: What’s Better for Online Dating?

I got a request to write up a Match vs OkCupid post, and that’s just exactly what I’m going to do.

In one corner, we have the hipster-cool OkCupid, (which is now owned by Match.com, although the founding team is still on board doing all the work.) Cupid started as SparksNotes, a note-taking service for college students, and then morphed into a personality test site, with built-in virality: you could post your test results, sort of like badges, on other websites, which inevitably drew more people into the site to take the tests.

OkCupid’s history is interesting because it basically started with everything you find on a dating website (tests, quizzes, personality profiles), minus the dating. Now it’s probably the premiere free dating site on the Internet, taking second place to Plenty of Fish in terms of raw traffic, but since I can’t bear to subject my eyes to the hideous awfulness that is PoF (and neither can any of my friends), it’s #1 in my book.

In the other corner, we have Match.com, the undisputed king of online dating websites, free or paid. Match is also amongst the oldest matchmaking properties on the web, having been started in the mid-1990s.

Since we’re focusing on the efficacy of these two sites from a user’s perspective, I’ve broken down the experience into a five main categories:

  • Efficacy. What are the quality of the matches and quality of dates?
  • Ease of use. How long does it take to get off the site and meet someone in person?
  • Value. What does the site deliver vs. what you give up to use it?
  • Design and aesthetics. Is using the site and/or mobile app a pleasant experience?
  • Network. What type of people are using this site? What is the dating pool like?

A couple of notes: in an informal and totally non-scientific poll, the first four categories represent what most people are looking for in a dating website: that it gets them good dates, that it’s easy to use, that it’s a good value, and that using it is enjoyable (or at least not unpleasant. Plenty of Fish utterly fails in the Design & Aesthetics category, which is why it’s not even on my radar.)

The fifth category, Network, is sort of the category that rules them all. Even if the website looks and works awesome, if there’s nobody on it — or nobody attractive to you — it fails. With online dating, the pool is the product, and you’re paying to get access to the pool. 

So let’s start this cage match, shall we?

Efficacy: How Serious Are You?  

You can’t talk about the efficacy of a dating site without talking about its user base. OkCupid is free, supported by ads. It attracts people who would rather not pay for online dating, but are OK with looking at ads. I think this indicates a slightly-less-serious, or at the very least slight-more-cost-conscious, dating pool.

(You can pay OkCupid $10 a month to get access to some premium features — ability to search by  body type, and a few other perks — but I imagine fewer than 10% of users actually do this.)

On Match.com, users are free to browse other profiles and wink at other users, but messaging is locked away behind the subscription. Monthly access can be had for as little as $15 a month (a 6-month commitment is required) or as much as $35 (a one-month subscription). Match also offers a “guarantee” for an extra $1 per month — they will pay for another 6 months of use if you do not find your “special someone” in the first six months — although there are reports that this guarantee is hard to qualify for and sometimes enforced in a shady manner.

So I think it’s fair to say that Match.com users are more serious: if they’re messaging you, they’re serious about meeting someone, because they’re either paying for it monthly, or they’re on a 7-day free trial period and trying to get a date in seven days.

Here’s my experience. I tried Match.com once, and used it diligently for 6 months. I met one woman in person.

Now, granted, at the time my “online dating game” wasn’t very strong, but I still find this metric pathetic. Arguably, I wasn’t looking for something serious, so I was using the wrong site for me at the time: but I still find 1 date in 6 months to be an indicator of efficacy for me personally.

Of course, arguing from anecdotes is useless: I know at least one girl who got married from using Match.com. Now, she did spend about 10 hours a week on the site for 6 straight months, but if that’s what it takes.

In contrast, I have found OkCupid much more efficacious. I have met dozens of girls through the site, many of whom turned into friends, and several of whom I had short romantic relationships with.

Simply because of the cost difference, I think of OkCupid as the more efficacious site, but it really does depend on what you’re looking for. If you want to meet someone for the long term or someone who is serious about getting married, Match.com probably has the better network for you.

Winner: Depends what you’re looking for. Match for the more-serious, Cupid for the less-serious.

Ease of Use: How Fast Can You Get Offline? 

In my view, the objective of online dating is to make it offline dating as quickly as possible. Unless what you’re really looking for is a pen-pal, most of us will admit that actually building relationships takes place in real time in the real world, not mediated by electronic screens.

So which site gives you a faster time-to-real-life? It’s really a toss-up, because it depends on your skills with your profile, messaging and pictures, as well as the motivations and confidence of the other person in question.

There are all kinds of people on both sites, both very secure and bold people who are willing to meet up after 1-2 messages, and people who expect to exchange 20+ messages through inmail before a phone number is exchanged.

Having said that, I will also say that there are specific things a guy can do that make it more likely a girl will give you her phone number within 1-2 messages. I know, because I’ve used these techniques, and the success is repeatable. Recently, a girl gave me her number in the first reply message she sent to me (and then followed it up with a “wow, I just read your profile, it’s so good” message).

This one’s a toss-up, because I believe there are specific guys that everyone can do to improve their time-to-real-life, which work equally well on both sites.

Value: Free vs Paid 

Cupid wins. I’m just going to call it out right now. Free beats paid any day of the week, especially if you use an ad-blocker on your browser so you don’t have to be brainwashed by their ads.

I suppose there is some actual value in the signaling function of paying for online dating, whether on Cupid or Match. vis a vie the fact that guys willing to pay will probably be viewed by women as “more serious” and perhaps also “more marriage-material” which might be what you’re going for. For those of not going for that, it will probably hurt more than help: all the casual chicks will say, what kind of loser has to pay for online dating?

From a user perspective, the value equation has to be optimized for your time. Whether or not you’re spending monthly on online dating, my presumption is that your time is valuable, and you want to spend as little time as possible finessing your profile, messaging hundreds of women, and crafting the perfect reply. There are shortcuts and quick rules-of-thumb for all these activities that will radically boost your success rates. I intend to write about all of them in future articles, so stay tuned.

Online dating shouldn’t take more than 1 to 2 hours a week. That should be enough for you to get the results you want, whether it’s setting up 3 coffee dates with attractive women or 1 coffee date with one seriously attractive, seriously compatible woman.

Design and aesthetics: Cupid Takes the Cake 

This category seems to me an easy call: OkCupid wins, hands down, as the site with the superior user interface, design, and general look and feel.

Match is no slouch in this department, boosted by a recent redesign, but they’re still not up to Cupid’s standards. Nobody in the online dating game is (although WhyDon’tWe has plenty of pretty buttons with rounded corners.)

I mean, come on: which would you rather spend an hour staring at?

OkCupid profile. Notice how much cleaner it is.

On mobile: I have to plead ignorance here, since I’ve only ever used Cupid’s app, and my verdict is: it’s good, but not significantly better than the website experience.

I doubt Match.com’s Mobile Match is significantly better than their on-site browsing experience either, so I’ve got to call this one a tie. Sound off in the comments if I’m totally wrong here.

I will note that Cupid’s app has a “Locals” feature that tries to identify potential matches who are nearby, in your neighborhood, and allows you to post suggested date ideas that others can take you up on. I’ve had virtually zero success with posting my own date ideas, although one woman did contact me using the feature, once.

In general, I think dating sites are still struggling with the local-social-mobile intersection. Eventually, someone might solve this and make it a killer app — I know what kind of product I would pay for in this space — but nobody has stepped forward with the right product design yet, and no incumbent is thinking about it in the right way, so it might take a while.

Network: Dating Pool or Dead Pool? 

I know by now you’re probably convinced I’m a shill for OkCupid, but it’s not true, and this category will demonstrate why: churn.

Churn is a reality of online dating websites. Generally, the better the product, the higher the churn: paradoxically, people who stay on the site long-term, continuing their search month after month, are by definition frustrated daters, not getting results. So a good churn rate indicates one of two things:

  1. Your site is so godawful that people get off as quickly as they get on
  2. Your site is so damn good at matching folks that they get off as quickly as they get on

I’ve heard that Match.com turns over their entire customer inventory every 6 months. This makes sense, given their six-month membership packages, and their six-month guarantee: people probably think, “Okay, I’ll give this online dating thing a serious shot for 6-months, and see what happens.” One way or another, they’re getting off the ride after that 6 month period is up.

Cupid has no such artificial restrictions. In one recent sample, fully 30% of profiles I messaged over a two-day period disappeared within the business week. That’s a huge, colossal, stupendous amount of churn. It’s much, much more than Match.com’s.

So what’s going on here? Are Cupid users less serious about dating? Probably. Are they more apt to jump on and jump off at a whim? Probably.

The flip-side problem to too much churn is not enough. In other words: the dead-pool effect: people who create profiles, then abandon them shortly afterwards, either because they started dating someone, or because they got discouraged and gave up. This easily leads to the common problem of “messaging dead profiles” — beautiful people who haven’t logged in lately. Technically, they’re “active users” (although every dating site defines “active” users differently) — but they’re not going to see your message.

If I had to guess, I would say that Match’s inventory is probably, on average, more “stale” than Cupid’s. Is this good or bad for you? Well, it’s neither, because you’re going to use the only smart tactic that can be deployed when faced with the oscillating problems of too much vs. not enough churn: you’re only going to message people who are online now, or who have been active in the past day. 

Listen, profiles are products: but unlike a can of tuna, a profile has no “best-buy” date and no known shelf-life. A lot of is going behind the scenes with every profile you view, and you don’t get to see any of it: that ‘perfect profile’ that you’re convinced is your soulmate could disappear any instant. If they haven’t logged in in the last 3 days, odds are they’re not going to, either.

If you’re serious about getting results from online dating, you should therefore only be reviewing product that is guaranteed “fresh” — that is, product that is using the site at the same time you are. The bigger the local pool, the easier this is (i.e., in a big city) — if you are in a rural area or a small-ish city (less than 1 million people), you’re going to have to expand your browsing to longer and longer temporal scales (last 5 days, last week, etc.)

A final note: since OkCupid is free, it’s not unusual to run into the same people on both Match and Cupid.  It’s also not unusual to see the same person on the site for a long period of time; there are a few women on OkCupid that I have seen pop up multiple times, on and off, over a 3 year period. I call them the “long-term-available” and I suppose I share a certain camaraderie with them, since I’ve obviously been in and out of serious relationships during the same time period. Maybe one day we’ll all have a big meetup and swap stories.

The Final Analysis: What’s Better, OkCupid or Match.com?

The answer: it depends.

Here’s my advice: if you’re looking to get into a seriously-long-term relationship and/or marriage, use Match.com. It probably has a dating pool slightly more aligned with that intention, and in any case, putting your money up front signals your seriousness, which is the right message to send to potential mates.

If you’re just looking to get your feet wet with online dating and you’re not sure how serious you are about marriage or finding a long-term mate, use OkCupid. It’s free, it’s easier to use (IMHO), and the dating pool is just as good as you’ll find anywhere else on the Internet. Plus, it’s more fun to use, and that counts for something, right?

If you find yourself straddling the fence, use paid OkCupid. The additional options will make your searching and messaging more effective, and help you spend less time and get better results.

Of course, there’s nothing to say you can’t use both sites, and many people do. But if you’re like me, your attention is already spread thin enough. A busy man only really needs one dating site and application.

I hope this has helped your decision making. Sound off in the comments if you (dis)agree!

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6 thoughts on “OkCupid or Match.com: What’s Better for Online Dating?

  1. smoothreentry November 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Smooth ReEntry and commented:
    I challenged this guy to write a review on OkCupid vs. Match.com. Wow, he delivered in 24 hours! I’m impressed! A very well thought out post.
    And for the record, I’m sold on OkCupid now. That is going to be my reward for escaping purgatory, so I am going to wait 25 more days before I publish a profile.
    Immodest blog title aside, this is a great post. Thank you author!

  2. Deliberately Delicious November 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm Reply

    I’ve never tried OK Cupid, but had the same experience on Match as the author – very little action 🙂 I’m a Plenty of Fish girl, because everyone who is on the paid sites is there too, and it’s like one big cocktail party. You just have to be careful who you get stuck talking to in the corner 🙂

    • L&F November 6, 2012 at 7:49 am Reply

      Nick Paumgarten, who writes from the Atlantic: “If the dating sites had a mixer, you might find OK Cupid by the bar, muttering factoids and jokes, and Match.com in the middle of the room, conspicuously dropping everyone’s first names into his sentences. . .”

      . . .and, I would add, Plenty of Fish would be the beefy guy with a stained wifebeater and 5 days of facial hair, propositioning every woman who walks by 😉

      I might try PoF again, but it’s really going to be hard to drag myself through the ugliness. Aesthetics matter to me, a lot 🙂

      • Deliberately Delicious November 6, 2012 at 7:45 pm

        It’s the onslaught that I find most difficult (and most endearing) about POF. And you’re right about the beefy guys in stained wifebeaters. Something I’ve noticed about POF is that lost of men don’t get “league.” 🙂

  3. smoothreentry November 29, 2012 at 11:55 am Reply

    I had friend tell me about Match’s “Stir” events. To my knowledge the other sites do not have something similar. It sounds kind-of neat to me. Makes me tempted to try Match too.

  4. Drew June 9, 2013 at 7:33 pm Reply

    Yeah, these are like speed-dating meetups they do in real life. I think it’s a great idea and a great way to get out from behind the keyboard. I would suggest it’s worth it just to try it out.

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