Online dating can be an annoying, frustrating experience at times.
For something that’s frequently hailed as the dating salvation for the introverted, the socially awkward, and the shy, sometimes all that happens is… nothing. Your winks and messages get sent out and all you get for your trouble is deafening silence. You see people checking out your profile and disappearing into the digital ether and the people you know should be just your type don’t pay any attention to you at all.
It’s enough to make many men shut down their accounts and give up on online dating entirely. After all, who wants to have yet another reminder that you’re alone and at home on a Friday night?
The problem however, is that often you’re focusing on the wrong areas. There’s no profit in expending valuable time and brain-cycles on the people who aren’t responding to you. You need to direct your attention to where it does the most good: the people who are already checking you out. Your messages can be awesome, but unless you have a profile that makes them stop and pay attention… well, you’re going to lose them.
So I’m about to impart to you the secret to online dating success: you need to quit thinking like a lover. You need to think like a marketer.
The Commerce of Online Dating
OK, stick with me here.
Treating online dating like an exercise in commerce and marketing can seem antithetical to the process of trying to find a date, a sex partner, or a long-term relationship. After all, dating is all about putting your best, most authentic self forward and we associate marketing with an attractive line of bullshit that’s intended to lure in a bunch of suckers eager to be separated from their hard-earned money.
Worse, when you bring “marketing” and “internet” together, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
So it’s understandable that you might be a little turned off to the idea and wondering what the hell is wrong with me for suggesting it.
Here’s the twist though: online dating is all about the marketing. Yes you may be looking for your one true soulmate1 but dating is, at its core, a numbers game. You want as many people as possible coming to see your profile and you want to keep those people around long enough to dazzle them with your brilliance (or at least baffle them with your bullshit) and make them decide that yes, they would like to get to know you better. So you need to be able to get their attention and hold it. Attention is the currency of online dating – the more you have, the more likely you are to get what you want (that is, more dates).
Of course, it’s easy to get shitty attention, the kind you don’t want. Women just have to click “Looking for: Casual Sex” and they will be bombarded with more attention than they know what to do with. Men can write something truly misogynistic or insulting to women and look forward to being featured on the many Tumblrs devoted to people who make asses out of themselves on OKCupid and revel in the many people coming by to gawk at the train wreck.
What you want is targeted attention. You don’t want everybody, you want the people whom you’re hoping to date… so you have to know how they think, what they’re looking for and, critically, how to grab them by the eyeballs.
Packaging The Product
The first step is to think like a marketer: you have a product (you) that you’re trying to move (i.e. get laid, get dates, what-have-you)… so you start off with how you package the product. Your profile – your screen name, your photos, your vital statistics and your words – are your packaging and even slight flaws can make potential customers (dates) go off in search of products that strike them as more appealing.
In online dating as in off, first impressions are everything. If you don’t snag those eyeballs right from the get-go, you’ve already lost them.
This means you need to put your best face forward… literally. The very first thing that people look at when they get your message in their inbox and are trying to decide whether or not they’re intrigued enough to write back is your profile photo in the thumbnail. You need your first photo to be one that impresses. This means that your primary photo, the one that appears next to your screen-name in your online dating profile, needs to be a clear shot of your head and shoulders. Not a full body shot. Not something awkwardly cropped from your vacation snaps. Not a moody, arty, Instagram-filtered selfie. Not a picture of you and your bros. Just your smiling face, possibly with a splash of color somewhere to help stand out from the other sea of photos.
Not sure which one is best? OKCupid has a feature called “My Best Face,” which can help you determine which of your photos will help get people’s attention.
Save your other photos – the ones of you doing cool stuff, hanging out with your friends, and otherwise being awesome – for the extra photos. And for the love of all that is holy: no selfies in the mirror. No “check out my abs… ladies” shirtless photos; all it does is make women think of The Jersey Shore – and not in a good way. If you don’t have enough imagination to figure out how to get a photo from your time at the beach or waterpark to show that you’ve got more cuts than Tiesto then you really shouldn’t be worried about online dating in the first place.
The other aspects of your dating profile in descending order of importance:
- Your screenname – People pay attention to this because it says more than you’d think. Names like “Bushmaster”, “GladHeAteHer”, “Smokedup420” and anything using the number “69,” are nature’s way of saying “do not touch.” Also: avoid “88” in your screen name, even if you were born in 1988. Thanks to one date gone horribly wrong, I’ve discovered that this is frequently Aryan Nation code. Avoid.
- Your Vital Statistics – Height, weight, age, hair color, etc. These are the next thing to be checked out. Some people have firm opinions about the height, weight and ages that they’re willing to accept from a potential date. If these don’t line up with your photo (and many dudes have tried to get away with saying they had an ‘athletic’ or ‘muscular’ build when they clearly didn’t), people won’t bother sticking around to read your brilliant prose.
- Your Actual Profile – This is, 90% of the time, the last thing that people read. Once you’ve cleared the other hurdles, only then will potentially interested singles get around to seeing what you have to say for yourself. This is where you get to make your pitch. Anyone who gets this far is already more than a little interested in you… so you better know how to craft your profile.
Practice Good Dating SEO
Online dating is more than just finding people you like and sending them messages. You want the people who should be interested in you to be able to find you with ease. Much like with online storefronts or blogs2, you can’t just toss your profile out into the great digital sea and hope that somebody stumbles across you by accident. You want to send up signs and search lights that lets the right people know: YOU ARE HERE.
In online marketing, this is known as SEO or Search Engine Optimization: the art3 of ensuring that you show up more prominently in search engine results than your competition. The idea applies to online dating as much as it does trying to get your blog to the first page of Google search results.
Most dating sites allow you to narrow your search to specific parameters. OKCupid and Match, for example, will cheerfully help you find the 6-foot tall, blonde Estonian PhD candidate of your dreams. OKCupid takes it a step farther with their match percentage heuristics; you can search by compatibility, personality traits, questions answered and most importantly: keywords. Keywords are incredibly important when it comes to raising your visibility and attracting the right attention in online dating sites. People can be very particular about what they’re looking for in a potential date… and if you don’t make it easy for them to tell that you’ve got the x-factor they’re looking for, they’re going to skim right past you like you weren’t even there.
This is where the SEO comes in.
Part of marketing is getting into the head of the people you want to have as customers: what do they want and – more importantly – how are they going to describe what they’re looking for? Is a Doctor Who fan going to look for phrases like “Whovian” or is she more likely to search for “Tardis,” “Tennant,” or “Smith,” or “Donna Noble was the best companion?” You have to think like the people you are hoping to attract4: what are they going to be interested in and what qualities are they going to be looking for in a potential date? Do some research; examine the profiles of people you’d want to date and see how they talk about interests and hobbies that you share. These phrases are your keywords. You need to make sure that these feature prominently in your profile. This is one of those times where it is better to show, not tell; if you’re a geek looking for a geek, you don’t want to just state “Yup, I’m a nerd.” Drop some very specific keywords, whether it’s watching Game of Thrones or having a Green Lantern ring. If you have a unique feature that others would be interested in – tattoos, say, or an interesting hobby – make sure those figure prominently as well so that potential matches can find it. Some systems let you tag specific keywords in your profile; others use the Google search API. Even if a particular site doesn’t have the option to search by keywords, make sure that the words appear in such a way that they’re hard to miss; you want someone skimming your profile to see those keywords and pause long enough for you to capture their interest.
Another key to successful marketing is to maintain your visibility in a crowded market. Online dating sites like OKCupid and Plenty of Fish get thousands of new dating profiles daily; if you live in a large-ish city, then it’s very easy for your profile to get lost in the influx of new users. Fortunately, many sites have ways of highlighting profiles and attracting extra attention. Most online dating sites automatically sort search results by activity level, helping users filter out inactive or zombie dating profiles in favor of people who’re more likely to respond.
Other dating sites have different ways of keeping more active members in the forefront. OKCupid highlights new uploaded profile photos and gives a noted preference to people who answer more of their questions and quizzes. Regularly adding new photos to your profile – and rotating out older ones – will help keep your dating profile fresh and attract more attention; in fact, a new primary profile photo can bring back people who’ve skimmed over you before. It’s also a good idea to regularly review and update your profile. It’s all too tempting to craft your profile and let it lie fallow; the last thing you want is for others to judge you on outdated information. You also want to take part in the site’s community. OKCupid for example, has forums to stimulate conversation amongst its members and encourages users to create quizzes of their own, featuring the more popular ones on the front page.
The more you participate in an online dating site – not just in messaging others but by taking part in its community, the more attention you bring to yourself and keep your profile in the forefront.
Remember Your Brand
Branding is an important part of marketing; it cements the traits and emotions you associate with a particular product. When you think of Apple, you think of clean design, ease of use, and the iPhone. When you think of Tee Fury, you think of cute tees and clever pop-culture references.
So what do people think of when they think of you? What traits and emotions are going to be associated with your profile? Think carefully, because the answer is incredibly important. Many men who use online dating come across as… well, frankly, more than a little bitter and entitled. Any number of Tumblrs feature the many, many winning personalities of OKCupid users, highlighting the cranky, the resentful, the desperate, and the hopelessly self-deluded. It doesn’t take very much to derail an otherwise attractive dating profile. That little comment about not wanting to play games, or how hard it is to meet women, or why women don’t appreciate you is all it takes to make people decide that you’re another Nice Guy of OKCupid. You want to project an aura of confidence, positivity, and self-assurance, not anger or resentment at being single. Nobody is going to have any compassion for your tales of woe. Complaining about having been wronged before isn’t going to get you the sympathy pussy you’re hoping for and whinging about how shitty women are because they don’t recognize your wonderfulness, or how they’re hypergamous, game-playing bitches won’t help you find the one Nice Girl out there who’s Different From The Rest.
Similarly, you need to nix any references to sex or seduction from your profile. If I had a dollar for every guy I’ve seen who has made a reference to how good he is in bed, his dick size, or his mastery of cunnilingus in his online dating profile, I’d be swimming through my money bin like Scrooge McDuck.
Pro tip: not only is nobody going to believe you, but it’s also going to actively creep people out. The best you will be able to hope for is that you won’t have people cruising by to point and laugh. If you have to advertise that you’re good in bed… well, let’s just say there’s a reason why the confident don’t feel the need to tell others.Even self-deprecating jokes or attempts at “edgy” humor can and will be misunderstood; avoid them at all costs.
You also need to be aware of trends in dating profiles – especially ones to avoid, so as to not send the wrong message by mistake. Like it or not, fedoras, for example, have become synonymous with douchebags in online dating. No, it isn’t fair that a handful of idiots have functionally turned a hat into the 2013 equivalent to an Ed Hardy tee, but there’s no point in protesting or complaining. If you wear a fedora in your online dating photo, people are going to judge you for it, no matter how much you protest that you’re trying to reclaim it.
Online dating isn’t all that difficult, once you understand that you are ultimately trying to sell a product. Learn how to market yourself – including avoiding those all-too-common pitfalls – and you will find greater success than you ever would have believed.