Don’t Be Fooled By Attractive ModelsSo you’ve decided to take the plunge and upgrade to a premium online dating service. The main value of a paid dating site is that you’re meeting people who are financially motivated (by membership costs) to find a serious relationship, or at least date. There are also other features like compatibility matching or safety features. Here’s how to get the most bang for your buck.

Do the research. Check with the Better Business Bureau and read complaints if you can find them. You can also email the sites about their success rate, though be prepared to take their answers with a grain of salt. Alexa traffic is another great resource that lest you see how many hits a particular site gets. There are a lot of sites for gay dating out there that just don’t get much traffic. Primarily straight dating sites may do well on traffic but have very few gay subscribers, so make sure there’s enough singles for you to date. If you can’t tell with a basic search, email their customer service.

Shop before you buy. I’d recommend having at least five members you’d like to email off the top, before you even submit a credit card. Don’t be dazzled images of happy couples and stunning singles on the site’s marketing and graphic elements. Only the people who come up in your searches are actual members.

Many sites try to pitch several month memberships for a lower cost. But do you really want to still be looking a year from now? Having pre-set goals about how much time and money you’re willing to invest is critical. Where they allow it I prefer to make one-time payments—that way it doesn’t auto renew when my time runs out and I don’t get stuck with charges because I’m too busy with other things.

Be Active. You’ll get much better results by initiating conversations than you will by waiting for inquiries. Some cool people may hit you up, but for the most part I’ve found I prefer the quality of men I find over those who find me.

Focus on new or active members. These profiles have been updated, logged in or are just starting the service. You know they’re active so that your messages won’t just go into a spam box somewhere. After a while new members will be your primary source of “leads”.

Once the contacts taper off, cut your membership. One of the things I find depressing about online dating is seeing the same guys’ profiles week after week, site after site, for years. No one wants to be a “lifetime customer” for a dating site… and after a while people will start to look familiar.

Promote your profile. That means changing your pictures profile and headline periodically. Recently updated members get preferential placement on some sites so play around. Whenever you restart your account, change things up. People notice these things and it conveys the message that you’re an active subscriber with current pictures. And make sure they’re good pictures that look intriguing in thumbnail sizes.

Remember, when you pay for a site you’re paying to speak to members. Make sure it’s worth it. Divide the cost of the service monthly by the number of contacts you make and the number of dates gotten. If you’re paying thirty bucks to say hello to someone, you might be better off just going to a bar. If you’re not making a lot of contacts then it may be time to pursue other alternatives.

If you don’t have the time or money to make the most of a paid dating site, why not consider some free alternatives like gay social networks? They offer some of the same kinds of profiles without the extra expense.

When not writing about dating sites, Mike likes to write about other aspects of dating over at Broken Cupid, a dating blog for single gay guys.