How to supercharge your online dating

Dating services gather tons of data about their users, so we asked: What's the best way to get a date? Here's what they said.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
Expertise Erin has been a tech reporter for almost 10 years. Her reporting has taken her from the Johnson Space Center to San Diego Comic-Con's famous Hall H. Credentials
  • She has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.
Erin Carson
6 min read

This is part of CNET's "It's Complicated" series about the role technology plays in our relationships.

There's a guy in a banana suit holding a startlingly obese cat. He's looking for love. And he's on Tinder.

Swipe left and find a guy holding a dead deer by the antlers. Perhaps you'll be entranced by the creature's lifeless eyes.

Swipe again: a picture of a rusted-out, blue Jeep.

There's something that banana man, Bambi-killer and the Jeep fan have in common: They're all hoping you see something in their photos that pulls you in, that you'll want to find out what's beneath the banana suit, if you will.

But it's not going to work.


Because the photos are terrible.

That's what I learned after talking with dating services for tips about what works and, more important, doesn't work when you're trying to attract a date. A good place to start is with these three guys. Data shows that profile pictures like these -- extremes that forget the point is to present an attractive self-- ultimately don't work.

You should keep this in mind because Cupid has traded in his arrows for a swipe-right on his phone. More than 90 percent of America's 54.3 million singles have tried online dating, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute. And being good at online dating isn't just about the hookup culture, it's about potentially finding your life (or next) partner.

So what are the best ways to boost the odds of finding that special someone with whom to share your heart and Wi-Fi password? Here's what I learned.


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Put some thought into those photos

Online dating service OkCupid looked at the data of various sexual orientations, and the pattern was obvious. Tip: If you upload more than one photo, you get at least twice as many likes.

But what are these photos of, exactly?

Well, you've got a leg up if you're a pet owner with frequent flier miles. OkCupid found profile pictures that involve doing something interesting (but leave a little to the imagination, OK?) resulted in a 40 percent chance that a message would lead to a conversation. Photos with an animal came in just shy of 40 percent. (Good news for banana suit guy!)

In fact, PhotoFeeler, a site that gives people feedback on how their photos come across online -- whether it's on Linkedin, Twitter or Match.com -- found that when men have a dog in their picture in that "oh gosh, how cute" way, they're rated as smarter, more attractive and more trustworthy.

A smile goes a long way

They say a smile is a universal welcome. Apparently that's only half true. OkCupid crunched data from more than 7,000 member photos and found that women's profile pictures were more popular when they smiled flirtatiously at the camera. But according to a 2013 study published in BMJ journal Evidence-Based Medicine, that smile must look genuine. It must reach your eyes and make them crinkle at the corners.

Men's profile pictures were more popular when the man looked away from the camera and didn't smile. In other words, far less work. (No one said life was fair when it comes to dating.)

People love travel

Another winner is travel. Show yourself in an exotic location and your message is 30 percent more likely to lead to a conversation.

"The more clearly you can show your life through the images and the text that you write, the easier it's going to be for someone to start that conversation," said Laurie Davis, an online dating coach and author of the book "Love @ First Click."

Show that face

You'd think online daters would have figured this out by now: Make sure your face is clearly visible in at least one photo. People are looking for dates, not knock-off Ray-Bans.

But don't just take photos of your face. For both men and women, online dating service Zoosk found full body photos get 203 percent more messages.

Context matters too. Selfies, for example, work better for some people than others. Zoosk found that men who posted selfies received 8 percent fewer messages. But women received 4 percent more.

That matches up with Davis' experiences of sitting down with clients and watching them weed through profiles. Women just aren't into men's selfies. (Sorry.)

If you really want to show a selfie, consider the location. One of my dear friends was clearly not impressed with one selfie she saw of a man in a parked car. "My God, at least unbuckle the seat belt," she said.

Also, be careful not to use too many selfies. Apparently, one study found that they can make you come across as narcissistic and self-objectifying.

Not all selfies are made equal

Oh, and everyone agrees: Bathroom mirror selfies are the worst. "I don't think it looks like you're looking for a relationship" said Alex Williamson, vice president of branded content for dating app Bumble.

These photos are so despised that Bumble decided to ban them outright in October, saying people tended to pass most frequently on profiles with those pics. So, if you try to post a bathroom mirror selfie, one of Bumble's human moderators will spike it in real time.

Bumble didn't just ban the photos for aesthetic reasons. Eighty-six percent of profiles reported to Bumble for bad behavior had the dreaded photo.

Tell, don't just show

Granted, if you hop on a dating app like Tinder or Bumble, you'll run across profiles with nary a word written in their bio or interests. You can probably figure out, ahem, what those people are looking for.

"You've got a lot of people on there who have an agenda, and the agenda is not romance," said Marcia King-Gamble, a longtime online dater and romance novelist.

But if you're into more than a wham-bam-thank-you-whoever, experts say details matter. Don't write vague statements about being fun, easy-going and enjoying long walks.

"We want to create visual images," said Kim Vergez, senior writer at e-Cyrano, a service that helps online daters craft their profiles. "It's like a screenplay -- you don't want to have Bruce Willis turn to the camera and say, 'I'm tough but I'm tender.'"

Vacation talk is good, family talk isn't

Predictably, there's a catch. Dating app Hinge found there are certain topics that attract people better than others. For example, profiles that smack of spontaneity, including those that mention bucket list items or vacation plans, are more than twice as likely to spark a conversation.

Silliness works, too. Profiles with confessions, like a riff on the Two Truths and a Lie game, or a reveal about the worst date you've ever had, are 59 percent more likely to lead to conversations.

Subjects that don't go over so well may surprise you. Talking about family is 44 percent less likely to lead to a conversation, and specific date ideas are 46 percent less likely.

So, if your ideal date is bringing along your niece to see that new Marvel movie, keep it to yourself. And definitely leave your mom out of this.

Bottom line: A study from Evidence-Based Medicine found the best approach to a profile is to spend 70 percent of it discussing yourself and 30 percent about who you're looking for.

First impressions matter

OkCupid found that you have an 84 percent chance of being ignored if you send a message that just says "hey."

Instead, try something visual (no, not like Anthony Weiner). Tinder found that messages using emojis or animated GIFs are 30 percent more likely to get a response. Conversations that include either of those graphical elements go on twice as long.

My two cents: There are hundreds of emoji aside from the eggplant. You're better than that.

CNET contributor Sarah Jacobssen Purewal assisted with this story.

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