Online Dating Statistics: Ideal First Messages

After looking at race and religion, the online dating site OkCupid turns its statistical eye toward the actual content of the messages sent between participants.

It’s worth noting that the average response/reply rate is 32%.

First up, what to say in a first message:

  1. Be literate. Netspeak, bad grammar, and bad spelling are huge turn-offs. The worst six words to use in a first message: ur, r, u, ya, cant and hit. Casual laughing is OK, however: haha, lol and, to a lesser extent, hehe appear to increase the response rate.
  2. Avoid physical compliments. Sexy, beautiful, hot and cutie give reply rates from 5–14% less than the average. An example to show this is in how the word pretty is used: as an adjective it results in a response rate 2–7% less than the average, while if it’s used as an adverb it results in an above average rate of response.
  3. Use an unusual greeting. Hi, hey, hello and holla all produced well below average replies. Yo, hola, howdy, what’s up and how’s it going fared much better. In fact, not even using a salutation was better than saying hi.
  4. Don’t try to take it outside. Attempting to move the conversation away from the relative anonymity of the site in a first message decreased the chances of a response (e.g. by providing phone numbers, email addresses, etc.).
  5. Bring up specific interests. Mentioning a specific passion of yours—anything from literature to video games, zombies to vegetarianism—increased the chances of receiving a reply. An especially good thing to do (obviously) is to mention one or more of the other person’s interests (i.e. read their profile and mention something from it).
  6. If you’re a guy, be self-effacing. Exuding confidence in initial messages didn’t seem to improve response rates. Instead, humbleness was what worked best. Although “be careful not to let the appearance of vulnerability become the appearance of sweaty desperation: please is on the negative list (22% reply rate), and in fact it is the only word that is actually worse for you than its netspeak equivalent (pls, 23%)!”
  7. Consider becoming an atheist. Mentioning religion improved response rates in almost all cases (apart from when one uses the generic term god), but mentioning you’re an atheist was the best of all; it correlated with a 10% increase in responses.

Almost 16% of first messages are over 2000 characters (roughly 400 words) with the average lying around 740 characters. But what was the optimum message length?

Now, our [data clearly show] that in raw terms, it helps guys to write longer messages. But when we factor in the actual time it takes to compose a given message, it becomes clear that in terms of time put in vs. likelihood of starting actually having a conversation, shorter is actually better.

[…] the ideal first message length is 200 characters, or 1 minute’s worth of typing for the average writer.

If you’re the kind of person who spends a little more time reading a profile and thinking about your message, say, 10 minutes, then the optimal length goes up a few words (to 270 characters), but, still, short is better.

Incredibly enough, the optimal first outreach from a woman to a man is just 50 characters long!

After reading these posts I’ve become somewhat enamoured with OkCupid and now want to join just so that I can get my very own flowchart to my heart. Probably best to run this past my girlfriend first, though.

1 thought on “Online Dating Statistics: Ideal First Messages

  1. russruggles

    Nice summary. Yeah, run it by the GF, but there are plenty of people listed as “in a relationship” on OkCupid. I think lots of them are there just to take the quizzes because they think they’re fun.

    I think I missed the part about optimal number of characters the first time I read the post, but that’s very interesting. It reinforces my One-Line Hook theory.

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