Whether it’s hitting the gym or brushing up on 19th century French poetry, almost everyone is doing something to make themselves more attractive to that special someone — especially with Valentine’s Day right around the corner. But as countless relationship experts say, in the end you’ve just got to be yourself.
Besides, the era of big dating data has plenty of other ways to put your best face forward. “We have a vast number of data points that our engine is constantly analyzing automatically to do behavioral matchmaking,” says Allison Braley, vice president of marketing and communications at Zoosk, an online matchmaking service with more than 30 million users.
“We’re able to look at that data in aggregate — always anonymized with our users’ safety always top of mind — and make some predictions as well as some analysis in terms of what’s going to work to attract a partner for you.”
Here are some statistic-backed hacks Zoosk has learned by studying its users’ interactions:
Outdoor photos: great or bait?
Zoosk predicts “Lumbersexual” with be among 2015’s buzz words, replacing “basic.” But if you’re a guy, you’re going to want to walk the talk, because men with outdoor photos on their profiles received 19% more messages than those who didn’t.
“We do see a lot of men’s profiles that have been quickly put together,” says Braley. “Women really reward the guys who take the time to get outside, get a friend to take a picture of them, and put in a little bit of extra effort.” Women, on the other hand, are advised to keep it inside, because outdoor photos decreased their messages received by 40%.
Selfies: Master the art
Whether or not you think selfies are embarrassing, they do impact online dating profiles, for better or worse. Female profiles with selfies get 4% more messages, while guys took an 8% hit.
“People who want to date women, whether that’s men or women, seem to be more concerned about authenticity and is this person heavily filtering this picture,” says Braley. But for men, she wonders if they are lacking skills in the art of the selfie. But get this — full-body photos net users (either men or women) 203% more pick-ups on the site. So, invest in a selfie stick, and start working on your technique!
Forget your friends
Including your besties in your profile pics is also a big no-no. First off, would they approve of being outed as your sidekick? And secondly, isn’t there some sort of waiver they should sign? But the hard fact is that people who use group shots including themselves see 42% fewer messages than those who fly solo.
“So many dating products today, including our Carousel product, are heavily reliant on first impressions,” says Braley. “Certainly as your main profile photo you really want to avoid it.” And if you’re a cat person, or you happen to roll with man’s best friend, it’s even worse. Posing with your four-legged friend will result in 53% fewer messages.
There are no secret passwords in dating (online or off), but according to some late 2013 research by Zoosk, there are some terms that can give you a bump. For instance, honesty increases guys’ odds in online dating, with the terms “divorce,” “separate,” and “my ex” netting 52% more messages, while “son,” “daughter,” and “children,” up their response rate by 7%. For women, it’s a different (and very unfair) story — if they use those words, they get 4% fewer messages. But they can take control of the dates by saying “dinner,” “drinks,” or “lunch” and see 73% more replies to their profiles.
Regardless of your gender, spelling counts, with “teh,” “ur,” “cuz,” “im” and “u” dinging daters with 13% fewer replies. Be sure to “lmfao” (up 193%) and not “rofl” (down 13%), and if you’re going to put a smiley face in your message, go with “:-)” instead of “:)”. Nosey smilers get 13% more responses, while those sans-sinuses receive 66% fewer replies.
Timing is (almost) everything
Remember Vince Vaughn’s three-no-five-day advice in Swingers? Great—now forget it. With online dating it’s all about getting their attention when they’re online. According to 2014 data, Zoosk says women are most active between 10 and 11 p.m., while men hit their inbox between 9 and 10 a.m. And no one is on it around between 2 and 3 p.m.—so get back to work.
But if your online dating profile is currently inactive, you’re actually in luck. “Valentine’s Day itself is not a big day for people to do a lot of outreach on online dating sites, or even sign up,” says Braley. Instead, things heat up before Feb. 9, she says. “People are happy to set that profile but they don’t necessarily want to make their first date with someone Valentine’s Day—it has a lot of pressure attached to it for a first date.”
When do things heat back up again? Typically, it’s the Sunday after Valentine’s Day — so that gives you some time run a spellcheck and snap some new photos.