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Some sites are completely free and depend on advertising for revenue.
Others utilize the freemium revenue model, offering free registration and use, with optional, paid, premium services.
That is, online dating sites use the conceptual framework of a "marketplace metaphor" to help people find potential matches, with layouts and functionalities that make it easy to quickly browse and select profiles in a manner similar to how one might browse an online store.
Under this metaphor, members of a given service can both "shop" for potential relationship partners and "sell" themselves in hopes of finding a successful match.
Profiles created by real humans also have the potential to be problematic.
For example, online dating sites may expose more female members in particular to stalking, fraud, and sexual violence by online predators.
A 2005 study of data collected by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that individuals are more likely to use an online dating service if they use the Internet for a greater number of tasks, and less likely to use such a service if they are trusting of others.
Further, during this period, the usage among 18- to 24-year-olds tripled, while that among 55- to 65-year-olds doubled.
Such sites earn revenue from a mix of advertising and sale of additional options.
This model also allows users to switch between free and paying status at will, with sites accepting a variety of online currencies and payment options.
Other sites target highly specific demographics based on features like shared interests, location, religion, or relationship type.
Online dating services also differ widely in their revenue streams.