Moneyism: Nobel Prize-winning ‘search theory’ is as relevant to online dating as shopping
Match.com and OKCupid are the Amazon AMZN, +2.04% of courtship. And for single Americans who have signed up to dating sites, this is the busiest time of year.
It’s the peak season for Match.com, the subscription-based dating site that’s a subsidiary of InterActiveCorp. IAC, +2.43% which spans from Dec. 26 to Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. During this period, more than 50 million messages are sent, 5 million photos are uploaded, and an estimated 1 million dates will take place.
“This is the time of year when memberships spike,” Bela Gandhi, founder of the Chicago-based Smart Dating Academy, which coaches single people in the art of courtship, said in a statement. There are an estimated 107 million single adults in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (Sign-ups for dating apps like OKCupid, which is also owned by IAC, and Grindr rise by 30%-plus around this time of year.)
Also see: Even during a snow storm, this is the hottest time of year for online dating
‘The story of dating began when women left their homes and the homes of others where they had toiled as slaves and maids to cities where they took jobs and let them mix with me.’
Researchers and social scientists argue that dating and economics have evolved in tandem. “The story of dating began when women left their homes and the homes of others where they had toiled as slaves and maids to cities where they took jobs and let them mix with men,” writes Moira Weigel, author of “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating,” (MacMillan).
Even “picking up” someone made dating sound like some kind of consumer transaction, she adds, as do common dating terms like “on the market” and “off the market” (or meat market). “The way we think about online dating has completely permeated the concepts of economics,” Weigel says.
By that logic, lovelorn singletons should apply the same principles to their dating profiles as advertisers apply to a bottle of shampoo competing or suntan lotion on Amazon, according to this study published by Sameer Chaudhry, assistant professor at University Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and his colleague Khalid Khan, professor of women’s health and clinical epidemiology at Queen Mary University of London.
Chaudhry had good reason to choose this as a research topic. “I was having trouble Internet dating,” he says. By employing the study’s findings in his own search for a partner, Chaudhry says he finally found the right match.
Browsing online dating profiles and products online are not so different. Online dating is like shopping at Amazon or searching for a movie on Netflix rather than going to a bar or a store.
Have you ever walked into Trader Joe’s become overwhelmed by the choices?
“When people are faced with too many shampoos they end up choosing none. On the Internet there are thousands of potential partners, so people get paralyzed,” Chaudhry says. “We decided to look into the literature and see if we can see studies on human behavior and improve the odds for everyone. Browsing online dating profiles and products online are not so different, the researchers concluded in their study, which was published online in the journal Evidence Based Medicine. “A lot of things we found were related to consumer behavior,” he adds.
Don’t miss: Marketing yourself as a product online
Which bolsters the argument that online dating is like shopping at Amazon AMZN, +2.04% or choosing a movie on Netflix NFLX, +0.12% rather than going to a store or a bar, Chaudry says. But the vast array of options becomes a problem when searching for a partner.
‘Market friction’ keeps people swiping on Tinder instead of meeting people
The Nobel Prize-winning “search theory” is as relevant to online dating as it is with online shopping, says Paul Oyer, professor of economics at the Stanford School of Business and author of “Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Economics I Learned from Online Dating.” This creates “market friction” where buyers and sellers cannot find a market. On dating sites, this keeps people swiping left and right (good for the apps, bad for the customers).
For premium dating apps that charge fees, all that swiping costs money. In fact, around 57% of those surveyed who earned more than $ 75,000 per year said they knew someone who was looking for love online versus just 31% of those earning less than $ 30,000 per year, according to previous survey of more than 2,250 adults published by the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.
“People who are working all the time are the ones who use them,” Weigel says. In fact, she’s heard of Wall Street and Silicon Valley singletons who use “virtual dating assistants” in the same way the maker of a detergent uses a marketing agency.
Here are five ways you can make you can fly off the shelf along with that proverbial bottle of suntan lotion or shampoo:
1. Know your target market
There are no rules to modern dating, according to Weigel, author of “Labor of Love,” but it does help to know your target demographic. “You must learn to brand yourself so that you will be searchable by the right people, too,” Weigel writes. “The dating website HowAboutWe relies on the idea that you will get along with someone to whom your spontaneous flights of fancy appeal.” But they must walk a fine line between quirkiness (selling your unique qualities) and conformity (not becoming too niche), she says. “How about we go to a movie?” is too general. The content of an online profile should have a 70:30 ratio of who you are and what you are looking for, Chaudhry adds.
2. Register a catchy profile name
Take a leaf out of “Real Housewives of New York” star Bethenny Frankel’s playbook: Pick a name that (a) encapsulates your personality (and physique) and (b) mission. Frankel called her products SkinnyGirl, and has rolled out cocktails, teas, protein bars and shakes, and chocolate. “Men are more attracted to screen names that indicate physical attractiveness, whereas women are more attracted to screen names that indicate intelligence,” Chaudhry and Khan’s study found. Like products, screen names are hard to change when registered (unless, in some cases, you have a premium account). There is a time to be humble and self-deprecating, this is not that time.
3. Treat your photo like a billboard
Would you buy a razor, deodorant, cologne or perfume if the model selling it was taking a selfie? That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the consumer (or potential dater. Action shots work best: Smiling, hanging out with friends and having a good time. “Women find a man more attractive when they see other women smiling at him,” Khan’s study concluded. “Capitalizing on the center-stage effect by selecting photos where you are in the middle creates a sense of importance.” Touching another person shows confidence and higher status, the study adds. When online dating, it’s critical to make clear who you are and avoid air-brushing and raucous party photos.
4. Use the soft sell and avoid spam
No one wants to be bombarded with spam imploring you to buy that suntan lotion or pair of shoes you just Googled. The same goes for people messages on dating sites like Tinder, Grindr, Match.com or OKCupid. Don’t relegate yourself to the proverbial bottom shelf or top shelves where you are out of reach: Tweaking the text on your profile — even something as minor as a word here, a comma there — catches the attention of the algorithms on many sites, which alerts other users to your profile and can result in a dozen more visitors within an hour. (OKCupid offers a $ 1 boost for 15 minutes to reach many more users, the equivalent of being a tabloid magazine at a supermarket.)
5. Think about subliminal advertising
Show, don’t tell, Khan says, it’s smart advertising. A witty one-liner is better than writing ‘I am hilarious.’” Or a photo of at your Ivy League alma mater is more effective than, “I am a very smart person.” Studies show that red is a sign of fertility and vitality, Khan says, and used frequently in advertising. Bad spelling on a product’s website or packaging will act as a warning to the consumer; the same is true for a dating site. “I’m very independant” (sic) could be a death knell for your dating prospects. Some 43% of online daters said bad spelling is a “major turnoff,” according to a 2013 survey of 1,700 adults by Kibin, a proofreading and editing service.
(This story was updated on Feb. 13, 2018.)