Secrets of Successful Online Daters

Melissa Golden for the Wall Street JournalAt age 30, single writer Amy Webb was coming off a long-term relationship when her friends and family convinced her to try online dating. But after joining Match.com and JDate, a website for Jewish singles, she was horrified by the caliber of dates she was going on—tacky sexual innuendos, drunken sloppy moves, even married men.

Also see: Sign your parents up for love with new dating site

Fed up, Webb vowed to do things different. She leaned on her background in data analysis and created profiles for ten male archetypes, then went undercover, interacting with 96 women online, observing their flirting techniques and gathering information such as the types of language they used and the amount of time they waited to reply to her messages. Webb then scrutinized the female profiles that were ranked as most popular. After, she turned her findings into a book Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match (January 31, Dutton).         

 Also see: OK Cupid’s new app ‘Crazy Blind Date’ perfect for the lazy dater  

Here's what she uncovered about successful online daters: 

—They speak in code: Using aspirational language such as, "I want to travel" or "a big ambition of mine is…" is key to reeling in a potential date. When you sound like you have big plans others will want in.

—They're short and sweet: It's dating, not a dissertation. So penning a short concise profile, roughly 500 words, is more likely to resonate with dudes than a text-heavy monologue which sounds like you're pleading your case for a date.

—They're bold: Conventional wisdom dictates that women should play hard to get. But in the virtual world, there are no hard and fast rules. In fact, popular female online daters were more likely to reach out, sending Webb breezy messages like a simple, "Hey" or "Hi there" instead of a stuffier, "Hello, my name is…." Followed by "I like that you [detail from profile]. I'm interested in [detail] too."

—They shrink themselves: Despite the fact that the average height of a woman in America is 5-foot-4, Webb curiously found that every one of the 96 women she interacted with rounded down their height to 5-foot-1 or 5-foot-3. Is it possible that women of this height happened to interact with Webb? Sure, but the likelier explanation is that women assume men want shorter, more petite dates.

—They don't post many photos: Remember, online dating isn't Facebook so when posting photos, limit your selection to between three and five photos. That's more than enough to give daters a sense of what you look like.

—They list universal hobbies: Love medal detecting? No judgments. But it's best to list your interests which don't require a whole lot of explanation. Think tennis, swimming or basketball. 

—They save the sarcasm: We've all been the recipient of an email that's meant to be funny but instead rubbed us the wrong way. So don't write anything on a profile that can be misinterpreted or even turn people off.

—They have straight hair: Okay, this one's controversial. Webb found that women with curly hair are at a dating disadvantage. Why? It's possible wild locks signify chaos and to someone who is looking to settle down, that can be a turn off. If you own a straightener, you may want to give it a whirl. But a better plan may just be to embrace yourself, curls and all.

—They don't talk shop: Love your job? That's a good thing! But save the corporate talk for after-work events, not after-dark cocktails. Besides being plain unsexy, according to Webb's research, by and large, men tend to be attracted to women with lower profile jobs.

—They maintain a sense of mystery: With the exception of the speedy nature of Instant Messaging, popular online daters waited 20 to 23 hours, on average, before replying to the first few emails.

Webb's experiment required a ton of work but in the end, it paid off: She created a "Super profile" based off her research and attracted 60 new potential dates, including a cute and funny man named Brian, her last first date ever. 

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