Faces, bodies, status and humour are all important in Internet dating, but the biggest success factor of all could be your name.
So say scientists who found that people whose online name began with a letter in the top half of the alphabet -- A to M -- get the most "looks" from others. "Several factors make a difference when looking for love in a digital setting," said Khalid Khan, a professor at Queen Mary University of London.
"Starting with a screen name with a letter in the top half of the alphabet is surprisingly important -- because several measures of success, such as educational attainment and income, are linked to names higher up the alphabet. "Add to this the fact that search engines sort names alphabetically."
Khan and Sameer Chaudhry at Barts and the London School of Medicine sought objective data on how people conveyed their attractiveness on dating sites, and whether others responded to it. They trawled through 3,938 studies into online dating, published in psychology, sociology and behavioural science journals.
Eighty-six of these met their criteria. The numbers were crunched, resulting in what could be termed a Statisticians' Guide to Online Courtship. It appears, coincidentally in the runup to St. Valentine's Day, in a specialised journal, Evidence Based Medicine.
Do's and don'ts
Here are other things the pair discovered:
* Men prefer profile names that indicate physical attractiveness, such as "Blondie" or "Cutie," while women prefer monickers for men that point to intelligence, such as "Cultured."
* Names with negative associations such as "Bugg" or "Little" should be avoided in favour something playful, such as "Fun2bwith."
* For an attractive profile photo, go for a genuine smile (one that crinkles up the eyes), and tilt your head, a sign of interest.
* Don't limit your photos to selfies. A strong bet is a picture of you in the middle of a group having a good time. You should touch someone else... but only on the upper arm. This will show you have friends and are good company but are not grabby or lecherous.
* Women find a man more attractive when they see other women smiling at him. And women can help their own pitch by wearing red, a colour linked to primal male drive.
* Couch your headline message in simple language (complex terms are a turnoff in the initial encounter), use some humour and don't lie. Discovering a falsehood can wreck whatever follows afterwards.
* In your first communication, do not send a "wink," meaning a signal to attract the attention of the other user. Instead, you should send a short personalised message focussing on one of the traits of your potential date.
* As your contact develops, your messages can get longer but you should avoid "long, scholarly theses" until you know your correspondent actually likes this sort of stuff. "If you can get the potential date to stop and think about your headline message, increasing the exposure time to your primary photo, this will increase their liking of you," said Khan. "Steer clear of fiction in your profile -- written information could come back to bite you. And provide a 70:30 mix of who you are and what you are looking for."
In the all-important blink-of-an-eye first encounter, people who seem eager to flash their qualifications could end up lonely, he warned. "Bear in mind that likeability is more attractive than academic achievement," said Khan. "A profile that appears genuine is more likely to generate interest."
Khan and Chaudhry admit their investigation has limitations. The methods used to collect data were not standard across all of the studies. This made it difficult in some respects to get a clear picture. Nor did they know whether any real-life dates blossomed into long-term relationships.
Despite this, the implications of the probe "are many," they say. "Online daters focus too much on details without realising that likeability springs from subconscious initial impressions."