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The Definitive
Guide to Online
Dating Profiles

According to Pew Research, one out of every five online daters has asked someone for help with their profile. Whether this is because they are overwhelmed with information or simply want a trusted friend to help them create a more engaging profile, it is clear that many daters need a little boost when it comes to creating a better profile.

If you find yourself in need of profile advice, then look no further. Here are five crucial themes you need to address in order to create a compelling online dating profile.

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Mastering the Basics of a Masterful Online Profile

Mastering the basics of an online profile requires mastering the first impression. The first two things any match will notice about your profile are your username, your dating headline and your profile picture (but not necessarily in that order). Your online dating username, also known as your handle, is how you identify yourself online. Think of it as a nickname of sorts—something that identifies you without divulging your actual name. Avoid a lazy first name and series of numbers type of username (JohnG2324, for instance). Instead, guys should opt for something that expresses their intellectual nature or their hobbies. Similarly, women should strive to create a profile username that is fun and flirtacious. In short, choose a username that showcases some aspect of your authentic personality.

Second, take the time to create a compelling dating headline, if your chosen app or website makes use of them. Not every online dating profile will have a headline, however. When it is an option, it provides an opportunity to give a potential reader a sneak peek at your personality. Don’t waste the opportunity! Clichés are killer here, so steer clear of the trite “Looking for my best friend” and “Want to be my last first kiss?” and aim instead for something that hints at what makes you tick. When all else fails, go for funny: it’s one characteristic that both men and women list as the most attractive quality in a partner (21% when used by women, 38% when used by men).

Lastly, where the basics are concerned, focus on showing off your best self via your profile picture. Yes, it’s true: a picture is worth a thousand words. If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s usually a potential match’s picture that determines whether or not we’ll invest the time it takes to read a profile. Snap judgments might not be fair, but they’re a part of online dating. So make the most of yours!

If you have a mediocre or worse profile picture, the greatest profile in the world may well be ignored and never read. Avoid this by taking a current picture that authentically demonstrates your personality and day-to-day life. For example, if you are something of a bookworm, avoid that one picture of you in the club trying to look cool. Likely, it will come off as forced, and worse, you will get paired with matches that are not the best fit for your lifestyle.

And, for men especially, avoid the selfie. Have a friend take a pic instead, giving you the chance to take a quality photo in good lighting. Preferably, the majority of your profile pictures will show you being social and out with friends. For ladies, there is a bit more grace for the selfie, but still avoid including a bathroom selfie at all costs.

Finally, include both headshots and full-body shots throughout your profile pictures, allowing matches to get an honest assessment of your overall appearance. Dishonesty will only lead to unmet expectations and, in all likelihood, jaded daters when you meet in person. It is far better to be honest and authentic with the most important parts of your profile to ensure expectations are fulfilled when it comes time to meet.

Know the Message You Want to Convey to a Potential Match

Before you even begin drafting an online profile, know what you want to say to your readers. Keeping your intentions hidden does no good for your readers (or your dating results). Whether you are looking for something casual or long-term, convey your ultimate relationship desires to screen out anyone who is not a right fit for your dating aspirations.

Similarly, think about what truly inspires you and show the reader your passions rather than merely "telling" them about it. For example, avoid using generalities like "I enjoy cooking." Truly show them you enjoy cooking by painting a picture, such as: Enjoying great food and great company are two of the many reasons I enjoy cooking sumptuous feasts." Obviously, put your own spin on whatever makes you passionate, but paint a picture in the readers' minds, allowing them to imagine what it would be like to date you.

It’s easy to fall into the thesaurus trap: “I’m loyal, outgoing, adventuresome, and thoughtful.” Think about what that really tells a potential date: nothing! Because our own definitions of words like “loyal” and “adventuresome” can vary from somebody else’s definitions, using a list of words like this tells someone, who’s never met you, nothing at all about who you are or what you value in a relationship. So instead of telling, show: “I’m the guy who grabs an umbrella and a tire jack at 2:00 a.m. when a friend calls,” or “My passport has six stamps—ask me which ones—but is still missing France and Barbados.”

Making the Profile Memorable

How many songs stick in your head if the hook is not memorable? Probably not too many. So it goes for online dating. Your potential match is browsing countless photos and will, in all likelihood, skim profiles quickly. You need a profile that instantly resonates and stands out from the pack. The best way to stand out in a crowded online dating world is via humor.

Plenty of people find it difficult to be funny. To simplify the process, think about what it is you do and make a clever joke out of it. For example, if you are in graduate school, fill out a "What You Do" section with something like "Going to grad school and defeating my arch-nemesis by the name of Student Loans." This little touch of humor will go a long way to help you stand out from matches who are tired of reading dry online dating profiles devoid of life and sparks of creativity.

And, when making your profile memorable, don't make it memorable for the wrong reasons. Simply put, pay attention to your word choice, spelling and grammar. I know—it’s boring to make sure participles don’t dangle and sentences are complete. But don’t worry: you don’t have to be a grammar purist to write a successful profile. A good place to start is by checking to be sure that subjects agree (singular vs. plural) and that sentences are complete (they have a noun and a verb). And—this is important—opt for real words rather than text-speak: you are instead of ur, love instead of luv, etc. One caveat: netspeak that conveys amusement seems to work: haha and lol both get positive results.

Remember, the more memorable your profile, the more likely it is you will get messaged and receive responses to your initial responses. For example, you'd likely be amazed at the number of messages you could receive with the simple aforementioned joke, a la "I'm battling the same arch-nemesis too!" This is precisely the kind of interaction you want to achieve with your profile.

Who Are You, Really?

All the wit in the world does little good if you say zero about who and what you are all about as a person. If your profile is only jokes, for example, you may create a lot of laughs, but your readers still aren't getting to know the real you. Jokes are good, but be sure to pair them with an authentic glimpse into your true self. This is why it's great to combine humor with authentic information about what you are doing with your life, such as the grad school joke example.

Make a Profile With Intent

For most, an online dating profile does not exist so you can be an endless pen pal with random strangers online. No, the purpose is to meet in person. You can prime potential matches for this expectation to meet in the real-world with subtle calls to action. This is particularly valuable for men. Timid outreach will do you no favors, so create a dating profile that is both assertive and confident.

Your real-world meet up "call to action" should be included near the end of the profile. Consider adding something like "If you like what you've read, send me a message and let's grab a drink (or, insert favorite dating activity here) and see where life takes us." This will cue readers in — even if subconsciously — that you intend to meet in person.

Following these essential pieces of profile advice will provide a significant overhaul to your dating profile, which ought to lead to more targeted matches that are a better fit for you as a result. And, remember, one in five daters needs help with their profile. So pay it forward and help a friend's profile improve with the advice in this guide.