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This is basically a "hot-or-not" ranking system based on a picture of potential matches in nearby locations but protects against unwanted contacts.

With almost four out of five singles in America having tried online dating at some point, it's no wonder that the industry is booming.

Of course, its popularity is buoyed by the prevalence of free and cheap online dating sites, increasingly with their own specialized approach to matchmaking.

Some offer helpful dating tools and others, not so much.

We've identified the best bargain dating sites that may be worth exploring -- at least once, anyway.

OK Cupid is a high-traffic site with insightful questions whose answers can be ranked for importance in finding a match.

Users can search for compatibility scores as well as for geography. Plenty of Fish is fully functional when free, but paid memberships starting at .78 a month (for 12 months) garner higher listings in searches.Inactive accounts are purged every few months, and match questions focus on personality.Tinder is a free mobile dating app that builds profiles out of users' Facebook profiles.OK Cupid, with its smooth, eye-friendly interface and unique questions, is an obvious first choice for anyone considering online dating. The site offers full functionality for free and lets users browse for potential love interests almost immediately.Several thousand personality questions range from raunchy to insightful, and users can indicate their importance for matching purposes.Our second-place pick is the free online dating site Plenty of Fish, which offers additional features that aren't really necessary for a small monthly fee.