Profile photos: good or bad?

I just finished a fascinating book:  Data, A Love Story: How I Cracked the Online Dating Code to Meet My Match, by Amy Webb.

Webb was 30 and looking for a mate, but found her on-line dating experience disappointing.  She loves data, so she decided to game the system:  first, she created a matrix of qualities she was looking for in a mate, along with a scoring system.  Next, she created 10 fake male profiles on JDate, and checked out the competition.  What were women with successful profiles doing differently?

Amongst other things, their profile photos.  She found the most successful profile photos had several things in common:  the subject is by herself; good lighting; a genuine smile; show some skin.  After a month of research, she took new photos, created a new profile, and set to work.  She started scoring potential matches against her matrix (they had to have a minimum score before she’d go on an in-person date) and after not too long… she found her match.  Who turned into her husband.  Her strategy worked.

Dating site Zoosk (third most popular dating site after / eHarmony) recently outlined some tips for creating the best profile pictures, based on their data, and say it’s important to take some photos outdoor, and have at least one that is a full body shot.  According to Wired , selfies for women’s profiles are fine, but not for men.  And don’t post photos of yourself with an animal–it’ll reduce your chances 53%.

Sometimes it seems like people ONLY look at profile photos.  Alli Reed decided to try an experiment.  She created a profile of a horrible woman who said she’s really good at “convincing people I’m pregnant lol” and one of the things she could never do without is “keeping america american”.  BUT. For her profile, she used a picture of a friend who is a hot model.

Not surprisingly, she got a thousand replies.  Initially, she figured, again, that the men simply weren’t reading her profile, just going by the photo.  Then she started chatting with them.  And it turns out they didn’t seem to care if she was a horrible person–they still wanted a date.

All this leads me to wonder if we’re doing it all wrong.  Maybe profile pictures should not appear initially on on-line dating sites.  Instead, you have to establish a rapport with someone, and when you’re sufficiently interested, THEN you get the photo.  I’m not going to claim that appearance doesn’t matter–you have to be attracted to your partner.  But it might weed out someone you’re clearly incompatible with first.

I suspect a lot of people don’t want to do this, and they’d be suspicious of profiles with no photos.  The other issue is that when you see that person’s photos for the first time, and you decide you’re NOT attracted to them…. there has to be a way to let the person down easy!  Some kind of automated “Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me” letdown button.   Anyone want to work on that UI?


4 thoughts on “Profile photos: good or bad?

  1. Animal cuts it down about 50%? I bet that’s because if you choose a cat you alienate the dog people and vice-versa? But – are those the people they really wanted anyhow?

  2. One of Webb’s main findings is not to get into too much detail up front, because it turns people off. So you don’t get too into your work or your hobbies. She isn’t suggesting you hide yourself, but just to wait a bit before you reveal more. Regarding the animal photos, it’s possible that someone could like cats just fine, but subconsciously when they see someone with a cat photo they think “Oh no, I bet they’re a crazy cat person!” Whereas if you went on a date and they mentioned they had a cat you might be fine with it.

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