Sending the First Message

Your first message determines the initial impression you make, and only about one-third of first messages even receive a reply. A common theme of success in sending your message is to be intelligently casual. In this article, we walk you through everything you need to know to successfully make contact at your dating website. [If you are not a member at a dating site, you can try eHarmony for free.] The first three sections include general principles for the entire process, followed by a series of specific how-to's for writing the message, concluded with examples illustrating the information provided.

We have combined our own research with a 2009 OkTrends study to develop comprehensive advice for sending your first message. In the study, OkCupid analyzed 500,000 first messages on their website to determine which ones had the best response rates. The results are incorporated below.

Use Proper Spelling and Grammar

First and foremost we would like to stress the importance of proper spelling and grammar. Not only do misspellings and grammatical errors create a poor image, they have been shown to significantly decrease the chances of getting a reply to your first message. The same holds true for netspeak, such as ur, r, u, and ya. The study conducted by OkCupid showed that messages containing netspeak were responded to up to 26% less than those written with proper spelling and grammar.

The one exception to this rule was found with terms of laughter, such as haha or lol, which have actually been shown to increase your chances of receiving a response. Expressing amusement shows you have a sense of humor, and the casual nature of these terms allows you to "lower your guard," in a sense. To summarize: Be funny. Be casual. Use spell-check.

Be Brief

First messages should be conversation starters and nothing more. Some people, particularly women, are contacted constantly and may not take the time to read through a lengthy message. You should also avoid writing a boring autobiography explaining who you are; if people are interested they can read your profile or ask. And do not suggest the two of you meet up, or even exchange numbers or email addresses. Stick with a short, concise first message; you can write longer, detailed messages later once you have communicated back and forth a little.

Convey the Right Tone

Your first message should be written in the same tone you would use in person. The reader should be able to tell you are friendly; just keep it casual and polite. If you have a sense of humor, laughter almost always works in your favor. Men may also want to consider a rather strange approach that was uncovered by OkCupid:

This dating website found that men who appeared vulnerable actually received more replies than those appearing too confident, quite the opposite of the real-world dating experience. OkCupid's results showed that words like sorry, apologize, and awkward increased response rates. This was further supported by the success of words that make the writer appear unsure, such as pretty, probably, and kinda. The thought is that these words create uncertainty, leading to a sense of vulnerability, and ultimately make you seem less threatening. Many people using online dating websites are shy, which may explain this. Take care, however, not to let your vulnerability give way to desperation; this will not work in your favor.

Pick the Right Greeting

We were shocked by which greetings led to the most responses. Once again, we turned to OkCupid: Generic greetings of hi, hello, and hey actually hurt your chances of a response, while less traditional greetings produced above average reply rates. Don't worry; you do not have to spend all day thinking of the perfect greeting for your first message. Standard greetings did very well when they were informal, with phrases like how’s it going, what’s up, and howdy performing the best. These greetings tend to set a casual tone, which seems to be a recurring cause of success at online dating sites.

Personalize Your Message

With the anonymous nature of online dating, personalizing your first message is especially important. Bring up common interests that prove you have read their profile. OkCupid found that first messages containing the phrase "you mention" were replied to 48% of the time. Reference something important to both you and the recipient to make your message personal and form a connection. A good approach is to read their profile and indicate what appealed to you about them in particular. Each message you send should be carefully thought out and unique to the person who will receive it.

Compliment Correctly

Warm compliments work well in first messages, but superficial compliments can have the reverse effect. In general, everyone enjoys a compliment; however, when compliments are used to hit on someone, before you have even met the person, they're just creepy. Stick with something that actually impresses you about the person. Paying a compliment can also help make your message personal if you compliment something specific in their profile.

Invite a Response

Finally, make sure your first message leaves the door open for a response. You should ask yourself how you would respond if you were receiving the message. Two common approaches to invite a response are either asking a question or making a joke the person can expand upon. Furthermore, do not "wink," "poke," or "heart" if your dating website has the option; this gives off the impression that although you are interested, they will have to do all the work. In the last section, we go over a few examples to illustrate the principles outlined in this article.

Examples of Good and Bad First Messages

The following examples are hypothetical first messages sent from a man to a woman.

Example #1

A good first message might look something like the following: "What?! You run marathons but 'movie marathons' is your favorite activity… I have spent an awful lot of time watching movies and still can't run a marathon. What's your secret?" This is a brief message with an unconventional greeting; it is casual and references an impressive feat mentioned in her dating profile with an implied compliment. Furthermore, it jokingly invites a response.

The same person would not be as inclined to answer a first message that looked like this: "Hello, I am very active and i like to stay in shape. U said ur a runner and i can tell by ur pic. We should meet up sometime, whats ur email?" A generic greeting, improper grammar, and a shallow pick-up attempt all make this a terrible first message.

Example #2

Good: "Now I was doing just fine until I stumbled upon a girl who claims Toy Story 2 is the best movie in the trilogy! Care to explain yourself?" Similar to example #1, this message is short and sweet; it suggests interest in her dating profile and accomplishes its primary goal, which is to initiate conversation.

Bad: "Hi! My perfect night is dinner, a movie, and possibly some dessert at my place *wink*. Do you like movies? If you do, I think we should catch a flick sometime. Hit me up." This message is rude and impersonal. The sender is probably using a prewritten first message for everyone he contacts.

Example #3

Good: "I noticed you like Christmas and I need you to settle something for me: Can someone make it through the entire Christmas season without watching Home Alone and still claim to love the holiday?"

Bad: "Happy Holidays. Your profile picture is super sexy, I love a girl in a Santa hat. I make the best eggnog and know of a great restaurant in the area if you're interested." By now, you probably get the point.

If you are interested in more online dating advice we offer a wide range of articles to guide you through the entire process. Once you successfully ask for a first date, our dating advice will answer all of your important questions, like where to go for the date, how to make the best first impression, and what to wear when you finally do meet in person.