Research: Why your match.com email doesn’t lead to dates

okcupid logoI know I’m a research geek with lots of academic background and even a stint as a research scientist at an R&D lab, but still, this kind of data really fascinates me to no end: Online dating site OK Cupid has released the result of some semantic analysis that it did of the aggregate emails that people on the site sent each other, comparing what they wrote against whether or not they actually went on a date with the other person.
Now anyone with a research background will immediately glom onto the fact that they have committed the cardinal sin of assuming causality from correlational data, but it’s so darn interesting that I’ll let it slide anyway 🙂 In a nutshell, the problem can be explained thusly: poor people have above-ground pools, while rich people have in-ground pools, therefore getting an in-ground pool must make you rich.” See the problem?
Anyway, we’re not interested in pools or money, we’re interested in picking up that sexy possibility on an online dating service like Match or eHarmony or… etc. That’s what they looked at, and if we can even just look at the correlational data and if we can make the assumption that the people that use OK Cupid are sufficiently similar to those that use the more mainstream sites, well, let’s look at what they found…


The first data point is one that I found the most interesting: on average, only 32% of first contact email messages sent on the dating site had a response of any sort. That means that approximately only one of three initial email messages garners any sort of answer. One reason why an email a week just doesn’t cut it on dating sites if you’re serious.
First things first: if you’re going to email someone on a dating site, don’t use the same abbreviations you’d use if you were sending a text message to them.
The graphical version of this — comparing occurrences of a specific word against the likelihood that a response would be received — looks thusly:

okcupid graph netspeak

(read this by seeing what word they analyzed and, on the left side, the percentage of messages containing that particular word that generated a response. In other words, if you use “ur” instead of “your”, you should see about 7% response, or not even one response for every ten messages u snd.
Since most people using these dating sites aren’t 15 (just a wild guess on my part, but still, do you disagree?) it’s obviously smart to take the time to use good grammar and spelling in your message. Skip the “ur” and “r” and “luv”. Oh, and skip those in your text messages too, for that matter, but that’s another story.
Maybe instead of lame abbreviations you should use a compliment or two? Well, maybe not:
okcupid graph compliments

The conclusion here is that you’re not likely to get a response if you talk about the other person being “sexy” or “hot”, which makes sense given that it’s the very first message you’re sending the other person. How could you know that they’re hot and sexy? And if you’re talking about yourself, well, yow, that’s a scary concept and I’d autodelete those messages too!
One more interesting graph: should you talk about your religion, and if you do, does it increase or decrease the chance of getting a response?
okcupid graph religion

I find this particular result a bit inexplicable, though perhaps if we had a sense of the frequency of these words occurring and whether they’re included in profiles where the sender or receiver has already identified themselves as being a part of a specific religious belief, it’d be more understandable.
There’s more data presented in the original research, but I’ll just say that to some extent everything that they found makes complete sense when you think about the fact that OK Cupid tells customers “Tell us about yourself and we’ll help you find your perfect match. With over a million quality singles from all around the world…”
So if you had a community of “quality singles” where the goal was to find your perfect match, you can easily figure that messages like “hey hottie, wanna get together and split a bottle of Bacardi?” are less likely to be successful than “I see from your profile that you work at a brokerage account? I did too…”
Nonetheless, it is interesting to try and correlate occurrences of unusual words against likelihood that a message containing those words will produce a response from the other person. Go through the research, think about it, and then answer the question: would messages containing these words work with you, or not?

5 comments on “Research: Why your match.com email doesn’t lead to dates

  1. Such an interesting and thought provoking article thanks! Its obviously so important to use the correct language when you are first correponding with someone you don’t know very well on e-mail.

  2. I think that I was more surprised that online dating has been around for so long than I was about the number of people meeting online. I referenced your study in a recent post. My audience is used to people meeting online, but they were quite interested in the number of couples who actually marry after meeting online.
    By a certain age, people are fairly set in their ways, and online dating does provide the biggest opportunity to reach beyond their normal circle of acquaintances to meet someone that they wouldn’t have met otherwise.

  3. I actually met my husband on okcupid.com because the site collects data and gives the user a compatibility percentage– He was my highest match% user on the site. I’m going to have to agree with any and all of their research data, even if it’s corny and unscientific. We have a great marriage and child.

  4. Ugh – I’ve tried internet dating and I did find a few goodies (just none that were right for *me* specifically) but most of the messages I received definitely went unanswered. Txt speak, really short nondescript sentences and suggestions that were just way too forward… People who are textual, good readers and writers, do have an edge in internet dating but that’s just as well for me since that’s the type I prefer!
    My father married his online date, they’ve been together for nine years now, married for four. My sister is building a home with and recently engaged to her online-find, they have 1,5 years behind them. Everyone’s online these days…

  5. I’ve been on OkCupid for several years, and all I can say for it is at least sometimes the people I send e-mails to actually look at my profile before they don’t respond to the e-mail (approximately 0% actually respond). On match.com, I get neither responses or profile views. I had the same issue with PlentyofFish. Either I’m a disgusting toad that whenever somebody gets an e-mail from me, even though they don’t know me they cringe; or online dating is a scam.

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