How well do online personal ads work?

I’m a single guy in a small town. Since there aren’t that many places to meet single women, I’ve decided to try online personal ads. I’d heard a lot of hype about them - not just the testimonials (which say nothing about the odds of my having the sort of success stories those people had) but a handful of news articles about them, saying they’ve gone pretty mainstream now. So I set up a profile, registered, found some profiles of women who looked like they might be good date material, and sent off a few emails.

However, the response rate I’ve got has not been particularly encouraging. I’ve emailed 25 different women. One got as far as a phone call, but from that it didn’t look like things had much promise. That’s a result I can live with - if that happens often enough, sooner or later one will be interesting enough to take things further. I’ll list the next results in order of increasing weirdness. There was one who replied but turned out to be currently going to college about 100 miles from the home town she listed in the profile. Then there was one woman who might have been interested, but it turned out she was in the military and her unit was going to the Middle East next week! Lastly, one woman who had claimed to be in a town near me in her profile actually turned out to be in Nigeria… and didn’t take then news that I was not interested in a long distance relationship very well. I’m not sure if she was the latest wrinkle in the infamous Nigerian internet scam or just looking for someone to pay her way out of the country, but that’s just plain wierd.

And the other 21 out of the 25 I emailed, just didn’t respond at all. The site I was using lets me see if they have viewed my online profile, and most of them did not even check that, so at least I can tell that if something went wrong with my approach it was in the email and not my profile. 25 emails and only one who was in the area and able to talk to me is not encouraging results. I’m trying to figure out if I’m doing something wrong and could improve my response rate, whether this is typical and I should just keep trying longer, or whether I should just start looking for a new approach.

In case you are wondering about the emails I have been sending, no, I don’t announce that I am a mad scientist seeking a lab assistant to help in my grandiose plans to take over the world. I usually send an email with a couple paragraphs explaining what encouraged me to contact them and a few questions about their interests. I don’t usually suggest any particular date activities.

I’m trying to figure out if my experience is normal or what.

I thought of more eloquent responses, but decided to simply say, They suck.

I’ve had both good and mediocre experiences with them…as have several friends. A lot depends on a) which personal ads (I’m a fan of the *Reader, * but know several fans of, and how well you write your ad. Mine listed some pretty damn esoteric stuff, and nothing at all about my physical appearance; I got a darn decent response, mostly from guys I actually had something in common with. Another friend listed some more mainstream hobbies, but mentioned that she’s blonde; she got a fair number of weirdos. YMMV.

I’ve had both good and bad experience with them. First, I would suggest that you sign yourself up for more than one service. Almost all allow you to have a profile up no charge, and you have to pay if you want to respond to someone. Some give you a free grace period where you get all the access for a month or more, and pay if you want to continue. It’s marketing after all, so get yourself out there. I would also suggest using a different picture in all of the ads and routinely changing them for each profile. This seems to get the most attention. You MUST have a picture if you want to get any valid response. No picture = something to be ashamed of. I know it’s not right, but that seems to be the psychology. Besides, you aren’t really going to suddenly impress someone on the first date who wouldn’t have gone out with you if they already knew what you looked like. This is a good way to weed out those people.

Also never use cliches in your title or profile. Women should steer clear of “Looking for Prince Charming” or “Is Mr. Right Out There?”. Nothing screams desperation more than that. Men should avoid “Looking for a Classy Lady”, “Still Looking”, or “Do Nice Guys Finish Last?”. Go with something a little clever and a lot about who you are. It’s like a chance to throw out a subtle code that only the kind of person you actually would like to meet would get. Be creative.

As far as your profile, talk about the things that make you unique. Everyone likes romantic dinners and walks in the park. Don’t waste your space with stuff that is just assumed. Talk about the fact that you actually went to the north pole (if you actually did, that is). That you think Ho-Hos are better than Big Wheels, or Eartha Kitt made the best Cat Women. You get the idea. This allows people with your same sensibility to zero in on you quick. As with using a different image with each different service, you should also keep your profiles from being too redundant. Believe me, people will be seeing all of the ones out there and together they make one hell of a profile. You have just one-upped your competition.

When you decide to contact someone, self deprecation rarely works. So don’t pull your punches and give the impression that you are unsure, needy or too shy. It’s the internet for god’s sake. You can be any part of your personality you want. Go with the good stuff. I have had the most success with introductions along the lines of “I read your profile on and your description of your trip to the Mayan temples was great. Do you have any other great stories to tell?” You get the idea. Short, sweet, and it tells them that you are interested in what they are about. Link to your profile and say you would love to chat. That’s it. If they like what they see with all the groundwork you have already laid out, you will get a reply. Where it goes from there is your problem - or opportunity. Like I said, if you have done all the other stuff they have already seen you, read about you, and have started forming opinions about you. A quick “hello” is all that is needed to get the ball rolling and show that you are interested in them.

Also, I found that I get a lot more unsolicited responses when I have “marketed” myself like this. Probably on the average on 5 people contacting me for every 1 that I initiate. YMMV.

I hope that helps, but stick with it. It’s a good way to meet the people that you actually want to meet. And if you are a self respecting and interesting person, then you are going to be discriminating about who you want to meet. My guess is that the ration of people you would like to people who are in the world is wide. Give it time and don’t settle for “OK”. Now get crackin’ on those profiles!

Best of luck,

They don’t. Sorry, don’t shoot the messenger. And the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist either.

Put another way, I’d be surprised if more than 1 person in 100,000 actually gets the kind of result they were hoping for. Now, you’re entitled to hope you muight be that one person, but quite frankly, if you are that lucky then you don’t need to run the personal ads. Why not? Because any day now Claudia Schiffer’s better-looking sister is going to move in aross the hall, run out of coffee, knock on your door, and within the hour she’ll be explaining that she’s got this terrible problem where she’s afraid to take a shower by herself, and could you be so kind as to help?

I’ve been with my wife for 13+ years now so I have no first hand experience with this but many of my single friends have had lots of success. vertigo’s advice is outstanding but I’ll add/emphesize a few things that my friends who are in the game have told me.

You have to have a picture on your profile. You’ll get something like 10 times the number of responses that way. Make your text interesting and make sure there are no typos or poor grammar. If you can, see when the the person to whom you are writting logged in. You may well have written a nice letter to someone who set up an account a year ago and stopped checking it after two weeks.

Even if the odds are low, the effort isn’t all that much either. Keep it up, what do you have to lose?


They can work, but you have to be willing to spend time on it. Your result sounds about typical from my experience. Women tend to get a LOT more responses to their ads than men, so your not getting answers to your emails is, unfortunately, normal. When I had an ad up, I got so many emails that I couldn’t answer all of them. It would be nice if people would take the time to respond, even if it’s a “Thanks but no thanks,” when someone answers their ad, but it doesn’t happen often. You have to develop a bit of a tough skin if you’re going to stick it out.

vertigo’s suggestions are good; you do have to make your profile interesting in order to make yourself stand out from the other 1000 guys they’ve gotten responses from. In your emails, tell them what made them interesting to you, and give them a reason to go check out your profile. I got too many responses that were little more than, “Hi, I read your ad, go read mine.” That didn’t do a lot to make me interested.

Cool, thanks for all the responses so far. Hearing that this isn’t too uncommon is somewhat encouraging in “Ok, it’s not just my fault” way. I do have a picture on my profile, but it seems many of the people I’ve emailed do not go and look at my profile (the site where I’ve sent the emails from keeps track, but I also have my profile on a few others, just not a subscription there).

There are some things that I probably ought to change, based on the posts here. First, I ought to be a bit more careful about checking when people last logged on. Second, I may want to consider moving to another site after my month’s subscription is up - it seems like may have a larger number of people in the area than the one I’ve tried so far, and the site I’ve been using doesn’t sort results by who was last to log on so it’s hard to sift through search results for recent subscribers. And lastly, it looks like it could have been many of the emails I’ve sent may have been a bit too long (thanks for that comment on what’s working for you, vertigo!).

Worked for me. Mrs. RickJay and I met thru one.

I was getting a lot of responses, too. You just have to know how to write your letters. Make them funny. And try out many different sites. and, lavalife, the whole lot of them.

I have met 5 men through personal ads: 3 who sounded great on paper, but ultimately were non-starters, 1 who was really great but we just didn’t click (and he has since died in a rather bizarre manner, poor soul…hope he found someone first and didn’t die lonely) and one really wonderful guy I have been dating for over a year.

Neither of us had posted a picture, and I don’t find that to be a problem…we don’t have scanners, or digital cameras, or like posing for a picture. I find that I tended to eliminate people based on the picture alone, which isn’t really fair, since I wouldn’t want to be eliminated based on my face alone.

Would we have found each other on our own, as ianzin seems to imply? Maybe…it turned out that our kids worked together, but we are both too shy. Writing to each other, then calling, then meeting worked great for us. And the computer selected us for each other…thru and…and then he broke the ice by emailing me. I received match-ups with three other guys at that time, and only his profile interested me. and oddly enough, he hasn’t received any more responses, and neither have I.

Think of it as just one more way to meet people…not the only way. Be funny, be well-spoken, and be honest…and don’t be a jerk.

The subject in my online personal ad at was “Female: Mostly Harmless”. I got lots of respondents, but the one that I ended up married to said that he got interested in my ad because of my subject line (he is also a huge Douglas Adams fan). My suggestion would be to try to think up a little hook like this that would snag the interest of someone who would also be interesting to you. Be yourself in your ads and emails, but the best yourself you can be, ya know?

(Could you link us to your ads, Mr. Mad Scientist Guy? I would love to critique your ad for you, having read about a thousand of them when I was looking. Also, there are lots of Dopers match-ups going on around here. Maybe we should start calling this place :D)

It’s true! I was saying to my husband (who I met at a Dopefest) just this weekend, “For a site that wasn’t intended as a dating service, it sure turned out to be a good one!” This was in response to news of yet another Doper engagement. This is a good place to find like-minded people.

Turned out my ad looked at like it could have used a tune-up; I’d put it there while getting started, and also realized that some of my information had not properly been saved last time I was there (or worse, had somehow accidently been set to something completely wrong!). The previous (but not shown) version had 34 views in about a month. I’d kind of chalked that up to the small number of single women I’d expect to be searching in the area, but now that I’ve fixed the ad it may attract more. Even so, that’s more (presumably) unattached single woman having seen it than I could find in the bars here in a month.

Let’s see if this link works:

I answered Drachillix’s Yahoo personal ad, started dating him almost immediately and married him not quite 2 years later.

Well… for me, they seemed/seem to work just fine. I originally put my profile up on in June, and between then and early October, probably got something like 50 women emailing me. I went out with 6 or 7, and ended up dating one from Oct-December.

The weird thing was that I probably sent out emails to 25-30 women, and didn’t get a SINGLE response. Funny.

One thing you have to do is engineer your profile to appeal to the type of women you’ll likely run across. My guess was that many of them are sitting at home not doing much, and really want to go out and do things- dance, hang out, etc… which are things I like to do as well. So I played that part of the profile up.

I also decided what kind of girl I wanted- assertive ones. I put that on there.

One way to look at the profile creation is as a sort of resume- put a clear objective and things to back that up. Don’t come across wishy-washy, and don’t come across as a stick in the mud, and you’ll probably do fine.

My only suggestion would be to up your geographical radius a little – 10 miles isn’t very much (I do 11 miles to work every day). If you’re really in small-townsville, 25 might be a better distance.

I know some folks that have had success with online personals.

I’m an ol’ married lady, but sometimes I look at personals for fun. It’s fun to think about whether I would respond or not.

I would definitely not respond to your ad, Matt, because I’m not a Christian. But it seems like a good ad otherwise. I’d put in a full face shot, though. Looks like you’re pretty good-looking, so you might as well take advantage of it. I’d be a bit put off by the fact that you put your income on public display. I like how you mentioned your Dodge Dart. I’d put in more details like that and fewer abstract statements about “what you are.” I don’t know that I’d be overly excited about meeting a “riddle in search of an answer,” but I know I’d like to take a ride in a '66 Dodge Dart.

If your problem is not getting a response after sending an email, I suggest you talk about yourself in the email, not what you are looking for or just requesting more info. I had ads once and got lots of responses. Responses that just said “hey, write me back” did not get my attention - I got a ton of them and they were promptly ignored. I also didn’t care for responses that talked about what THEY were looking for. How do I know that you are what I am looking for, therefore that I care if I am what you want? It made it seem like they were testing me and not vice versa. Like, don’t waste my time if you aren’t like this. When I was the one sending responses, I followed my own rules.

I responded best to men who realized this was their chance to make them stand out from the crowd. This is a sales pitch when you get down to brass tacks - you have to say something that makes them want to find out more so they actually pull your profile. The buyer has the right to be picky. It is up to the sales person to make the product attractive. I am not walking into the store if your sales pitch only says you like buyers with good credit and tells me nothing about your product.

It does take a lot of effort, which is obvious in the reply you send, and therefore impossible not to respond to. Works very well…

Hey, Matt, your link isn’t working for me. I just get a screen saying “We’ve closed your session.” Any other way to get at it?

Thanks for the responses. In response to some of the points raised:

If you are having trouble seeing the ad and do have a membership at, you could try finding it by searching for my screen name: ThursdayPoet.

Twickster47: D’oh! I thought I had set it to 25 miles, not 10. I’ll fix that right now.

Green Bean: Ok, maybe the abstract statements are a bit overdone - some earlier drafts had cut that a bit short. I’ll go back to more concrete things, but leave a few of them in. I hadn’t realized that specifying my income could be considered off-putting; I was instead assuming that some women would specify income on their search. I’ll have to think that one over. I’m interested to hear that you found the mention of a Dodge Dart to be something that sparked further interest; I was worried some women might find that one a bit off-putting. Some might, but I suppose if things got serious they’d find out about it anyway. :slight_smile: And thanks for the comments about the photo. :slight_smile: I do have a full face shot that appears on one other site, and will bring it over to Match shortly.

I know mentioning religion might be limiting, but I felt that was an important thing I should be up front about. Arguements about religion can be pretty destructive to a relationship.

Bump: Thanks for mentioning dancing. There isn’t much of a club scene here, but I can dance up a storm if given the chance. I might as well add that to my profile.

Chrisk72: That tip on email might really help. I’m not normally given to talking about myself, so I usually mention what about a potential match attracted me and try to get them to talk more about themselves - maybe I should do a bit more of introducing myself in my emails. Wait, that’s not a maybe - that’s a definitely.

Thanks for the advice, everyone.