Picking the right dating site or app is like buying a new car — you have a lot of options to consider. You may want something flashy that keeps with the latest trends, or you may want to stick with something more reliable and time-tested. It’s totally up to you.

These days, you can find pretty much any type of dating site to suit your fancy. Whether you care about a niche user base or a psychology-based match algorithm, there most certainly is a dating platform made with you in mind. You just have to find it. To help you get your priorities in order as you start your search, we’ve put together a list of the most important features to consider when choosing a dating site (or app).

1. An Easy Sign-Up Process to Get Started

First of all, you have to consider how much time you want to spend setting up your profile. Do you want to just join and go? Or do you want to carefully put together a detailed dating profile? The time you’re willing to spend signing up will affect the selection of dating platforms available to you.

For instance, eHarmony is known for its lengthy signup process. It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to complete the personality questionnaire, which includes about 150 questions that examine who you are and what you’re looking for. By gathering information on your temperament, family values, upbringing, and other details, eHarmony refines its matching algorithm to suggest potential dates who are compatible with you.

Photo of eHarmony's sign-up process

If you’re in a hurry to start dating, look for a dating site that has a quick registration process. If you don’t mind taking your time, there are sites like eHarmony that have more questions to answer.

If you don’t want to invest that time, however, a dating app might be more up your alley. Most dating apps require basic information and a few pictures upon signup. Basically, you download the app, type in your name and birthday, and start swiping.

2. Popularity & Membership Numbers Tell You if It’s Worth Your While

Dating is a numbers game. You have to go where the people are. Popular dating sites and apps are going to give you the best chance to meet lots of dates simply because their membership numbers are high. If a dating site has only a few thousand people signed up, it’s not going to have a large enough pool of people for you to match with — especially if you live in a rural area.

Of course, niche dating sites don’t have the sheer size of some of the larger dating sites, but they try to make up for it by sorting out specific types of people. The idea is that, while it doesn’t have everyone in the world signed up, the people who are there are going to have something in common with one another. Maybe they’re all liberals. Maybe they all like the TV show “Dr. Who”. Anything that brings people together can become a focal point for small dating sites to spark connections. If you’re willing to trade the quantity of people for the quality of membership, then a niche dating site might be right for you.

While independent dating platforms can struggle to compete with a longstanding dating site, like Match.com, which boasts over 1.3 million active users and 96 million registrations, they can create unique dating environments where singles don’t have to search very hard to find someone who shares their interests, values, or background.

3. Social Media Integration Adds a Layer of Trust

When you’re signing up for a dating platform, you may notice a button tempting you to “Log in with Facebook” or “Sign up via Instagram.” Many dating companies use these integration tools as a shortcut for folks eager to get swiping. It’s also a handy way to verify people’s identities. By connecting with an existing social media account, the dating app can automatically access relevant information such as the person’s birthday, location, and previous profile photos. The dating network then puts together a suggested dating profile using that information.

“We are trying to make the process of online dating radically more simple,” Zoosk said in a 2009 press release announcing its integration with Facebook. “Using Facebook Connect to log into Zoosk not only makes the entire login process easier for you, but it also makes it quicker for you — savvy users of the world wide web — to have online dating right at your fingertips.”

Screenshot of the Zoosk homepage

Zoosk is one of many dating sites that allows users to sign up via a social media network like Facebook, Google+, or Instagram.

By connecting with a social media platform, singles speed up to the signup process. And doing so means they must use their real names and pictures, which adds a level of trust and security to dating sites and apps.

If you’d rather keep your social life well away from your dating experience, you can join a dating site or app that doesn’t link to Facebook or any other social media site.

4. Photos & Videos Appear Prominently in Profiles

Most legit dating sites require you to add at least one photo to your profile, and some have full-time moderators making sure all uploaded photos are appropriate for the site. Guidelines will vary. Some platforms won’t allow videos, while others encourage members to upload a flirty clip of themselves. Adult dating sites generally don’t restrict members from posting revealing photos, but mainstream dating sites will swiftly remove nude photos from all profiles and revoke the membership of the person who posted them. This restriction keeps everything clean and family-friendly.

Zoosk moderators can verify photos upon request and post a Photo Verified badge on the profiles of members who want to show everyone that they’re the real deal. All you have to do is record a selfie or video of yourself and send it along to the team.

Match.com will reject photos showing nudity, identifying information, minors, illegal acts, or violence. A Match user’s primary photo cannot be a group photo and must show his or her unobscured face (no sunglasses or masks).

5. Safety Features — Blocking Members & Photo Verification

Safety is often a top concern for singles joining a dating site, and with good reason. A CBS News segment reported that romance scams cost Americans more than $86 million in 2014. Some criminals use the anonymity of a dating site to take advantage of unsuspecting and lonely singles.

According to the FBI’s assessment of online dating scams, “the group targeted the most appears to be people aged 40 years and older, divorced, widowed, disabled, and often elderly.”

Screenshot of the block button on Match

A good dating site will provide users with blocking and reporting options, so they can stay safe and alert the team of suspicious members.

However, dating platforms can fight back by adding safety features to protect users from unsavory characters on the web. By verifying the identities of new users and monitoring online activity, dating companies can reduce the number of spammers and scammers on the site or app. Most dating platforms also encourage users to moderate the site by reporting or blocking anyone behaving in a suspicious, threatening, or harmful way.

“Be wary of emotional requests for money,” the Online Dating Association recommends. “Break off communication if it doesn’t feel right.”

If someone harasses you online, you need to have tools to help you deal with the situation. By reporting users, you can police your chosen dating site and make it a safer place for everyone to meet and mingle.

6. A Straightforward Matching System Leads You to Compatible People

Different sites take different approaches to matching. Some place a lot of weight on personality traits, while others focus more on distance and membership status. You should do some research to find out how the dating site you’re interested in will pair you up with people. Is it randomized? Or does it learn from your stated preferences and online activity?

Elite Singles uses an intelligent matching system to recommend active singles to each other based on their previous searches. Zoosk also takes note of what users do on the site and uses that information to curate its SmartPick™ matches. This innovative Behavioral Matchmaking™ system learns from every click you make on the site.

According to a Zoosk Fact Sheet, “You won’t have to go through hundreds of profiles to find a connection because Zoosk is constantly updating matches to fit your romantic preferences.”

An effective matching system can accelerate your search for a dream date and help you build mutual matches by liking, favoriting, winking, or messaging someone in your recommendation lists.

7. Search Tools Include What’s Important to You

The search tools are another important factor of a dating site — because it’s how you find people. Some dating apps and sites don’t have search features at all. Dating sites, like eHarmony, and dating apps, like Tinder, use complex matching algorithms to recommend compatible dates to you. That may satisfy some singles who are happy to let folks come to them, but other singles know exactly what they want and don’t want to have to swipe a dozen times to find it.

Search tools provide a more proactive way to hunt down a person who meets your standards. Basic search functions let users narrow the user base by age, distance, and gender. Some platforms allow for even more curated searches by religion, ethnicity, eye color, occupation, income, height, and other relevant details. Sometimes you can even search by keyword. So if you really want a date who enjoys listening to the Beatles or watching “South Park,” you can type it in and find profiles that include those key phrases.

Screenshot of EliteSingles

Age, appearance, location, lifestyle habits, gender, sexual orientation, education, ethnicity, religion — these are the kinds of search filters you want to have on a dating site.

If you’re a take-charge sort of person, you probably want a dating site with search tools that will let you hunt down your own date prospects instead of waiting for them to find you.

ConsumerRankings.com praised Match.com’s advanced search functions, saying, “If you have very specific criteria for a partner, Match.com is where it’s at.”

8. Messaging Features Allow Free Communication

Communication features are arguably the most important aspect of a dating site. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how top-notch and fast-working the matching system is — if you can’t easily start a conversation with the people the dating site introduces you to, then it’s not doing its job.

Some dating sites or apps allow unlimited free communication between all members, and that’s great for anyone hoping to just dive into the dating scene and see what it’s all about. OkCupid is the most prominent dating site to offer free chatting for as long as you like. No limits on word count, no expiration dates on conversations, and no restrictions on who can chat. Young, budget-conscious singles can’t get enough of this site. According to its internal stats, users send 7.3 million messages a day.

Other dating platforms, such as Tinder and Hinge, take a more nuanced approach to chat features and only allow members who have liked one another to send messages. That’s a good way to filter out people you’re not interested in as well as people who aren’t interested in you. OkCupid has recently been tweaking its system to put a greater emphasis on mutual matches and use swiping-esque features to drive communication on the site.

Lastly, paid communication features are common for dating sites that want to ensure only quality individuals sign up and contact one another. The fact that everyone who sends a message paid a monthly or yearly subscription fee makes members feel more confident that their love interests are as invested in finding someone as they are. If you have some wiggle room in your budget, making an investment in a premium site, like eHarmony or Match.com, could yield high returns in your love life. It all depends on what you’re looking for and how much time or money you’re willing to put into your search for a date.

9. Filters Allow You to Weed Out the Riffraff

Some dating sites encourage users to direct their own online dating experiences by setting personalized filters on their inboxes or searches. You can sometimes limit who sees your photos or profile. Sometimes you only receive communications or match suggestions from users who meet your standards. Sometimes the conversations disappear or expire after a certain time period.

Coffee Meets Bagel, for instance, only shows women the profiles of single guys who have liked their profiles. These potential matches are referred to as Bagels on the app. The filtering system encourages users to be selective in their search for that ideal date.

Screenshot of Coffee Meets Bagel

Coffee Meets Bagel and numerous other dating sites and apps provide filters, so you’ll only receive messages from the types of people you say you’re interested in.

Mesh, a dating site active in New York City, went a step further and restricts messages from users who don’t meet certain user preferences for things like vulgarity, text speak, drinking habits, and other dealbreakers. You won’t have to wade through unwanted “sups” and “hey babes” on this female-friendly dating network.

“People really love the Dealbreakers,” said Mesh Founder Asher Snyder. “Just the notion of Dealbreakers — what you want is what you want — that’s very powerful

10. Premium Features Add Value to the Experience

Once you’ve gotten a handle on the free search and communication features on your dating site or app of choice, you may want to consider upgrading to get even more bang for your buck. Most platforms tempt singles with premium features, including the ability to see who has liked or favorited you or to receive a notification when someone has read your message.

Zoosk has an extensive library of premium features available to subscribed members. Members can choose to pay a monthly subscription (a six-month subscription costs $12.49 a month) to increase their chances of making a connection. Subscribed members appear higher in search results and gain unlimited access to live chat features and connect via SmartPick™ introductions. You can also use Zoosk coins to buy virtual gifts for your crush. Many users take advantage of the free and paid features on the dating site. According to Zoosk’s internal statistics, over 40 million singles send over 3 million messages every day on the site.

You should definitely look into what premium features are available on the site you’re interested in, so you know how you can scale up your efforts to meet someone over time.

11. Responsive Customer Service to Guide You Along the Way

Sometimes online daters need a little extra help, attention, or assurance as they navigate a dating site or app. Questions are bound to come up, and that’s why dating companies employ customer service teams to be there for users.

Screenshot of the Christian Mingle live chat

Christian Mingle offers live chat, as do many other dating sites and apps, so you can reach them no matter the day or time.

Most dating sites or apps should have an email address or phone number to help users get in touch with the customer service team.

Match has a contact form for users experiencing technical issues, wondering about events, reporting a member, making a billing inquiry, or giving general feedback.

Luxy, a millionaire matchmaking service, boasts 24/7 customer service. According to the site, “Members can reach us at any time.

Whether you are looking for dating advice or giving us feedback, our customer service team will assist you with your questions and suggestions.”

Before you choose a dating site, make sure someone is going to be there for you from start to finish to address any problems that arise.

Make a Decision Based on What Matters Most to You

We all have different priorities when shopping for a car — some people really care about gas mileage while others are more concerned with having a spacious interior. You need to decide what’s important to you so you can select the right vehicle to get you where you want to go.

When you’re sorting through dating sites and apps in search of the one, you probably have a lot on your mind. We hope our breakdown of the most important features for a dating site have helped you decide what matters most to you so you can choose the right dating platform for your needs.