How Matching Systems Work

Online Dating

How Do Matching Systems Work in Online Dating?

Karen Belz

Written by: Karen Belz

Karen Belz

Over the last 10 years, Karen Belz has written for dating and lifestyle sites such as Zoosk, Bolde, and Elite Singles. She started her career as a professional writer by helping launch HelloGiggles in 2011. Karen graduated from Millersville University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Broadcasting with a minor in Print Media Studies. She is now happily married and believes that healthy communication is the key to all successful relationships. You can follow her on Threads @karenbelz.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Reviewed by: Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks is the Editor-in-Chief at DatingAdvice.com. When she was growing up, her family teased her for being "boy crazy," but she preferred to think of herself as a budding dating and relationship expert. As an English major at the University of Florida, Amber honed her communication skills to write clearly, knowledgeably, and passionately about a variety of subjects. Now with over 1,800 lifestyle articles to her name, Amber brings her tireless wit and relatable experiences to DatingAdvice.com.

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Online dating has always involved a few learning curves. Daters today are becoming a little more strategic when it comes to building their profiles — and you can thank algorithms for that. 

Online matching systems determine which profiles you see in which order, and they can dictate your online dating future in important ways.

Algorithms were created to push the most important news (or most important faces, as it pertains to dating) to a more visible spot on your screen. User behavior can change the landscape, and that’s why many singles adopt strategies to improve their standing and get better results.

If you’re currently coming up empty on your online quest for love, here are some good suggestions to keep in mind. 

The Basics | Criteria for Matches | Limitations | Tips

The Basics of Matching Algorithms

Before diving into the mystifying world of algorithms, let’s go over the basics. Right now, online dating has become the most popular way to meet a future partner or spouse. 

Algorithms can offer a helpful way for sites to match people based on mutual interests. At times, AI technology may do a better job of finding compatibility than humans can do on their own. 

These systems were initially developed in the early 2000s — while online dating existed prior, users were left to their own devices to seek out local profiles and message individuals who looked interesting. Here’s how algorithms changed the game.

Data Collection

It may send a shiver down your spine, but yes, the information you give online can be used for marketing and matchmaking. In the context of online dating, data collection works for you, not against you. 

OkCupid is a popular dating app that offers fun quiz questions to determine what you’re looking for in a partner. The algorithm aims to show you the most compatible profiles first. 

Data collection

Instead of saying “data collection,” a lot of sites that utilize quizzes or prompts will refer to it as scientific matching. 

They’re not wrong, nor are their methods malicious. After all, the main goal is to help spark romance. 

eharmony is famous for its compatibility questionnaire. Psychological experts came up with the system to ensure a long-term match and slow the number of divorces by asking important questions that impact courtship.

Compatibility Metrics

The algorithm figures out your “compatibility score” with other singles. In the example of OkCupid, they use a percentage to tell their user base how well they’d fit with another user based on the answers they provided. 

Matching metrics

That metric could be useful if both people were honest in answering these questions. In a way, it’s like pre-screening someone before you even have your first date

Algorithms also factor in location, making sure the matches they make are within a fair radius of you. While algorithms are very popular today, different sites often use different algorithms.

That’s why many singles sign up for more than one dating service and experiment with different swiping strategies. 

For example, Hinge uses the Gale-Shapley algorithm, which is often used by employers and those working at college admissions offices. This algorithm works to help foster stable and equal connections between all participants. 

Machine Learning

One thing about AI is that it’s always evolving. Algorithms are no different — as the years go by and more people test them out, the kinks get worked out, and the algorithm becomes more successful. 

Machine learning

While it could feel strange to witness social media algorithms feed us ads based on things we’re interested in, it often saves time while seeking new products. 

And that rings true for online dating. There could be a good reason why someone keeps popping into your feed.

Maybe the profile doesn’t stand out to you at first glance, but consider why the algorithm chose it out of thousands of options. Perhaps the algorithm notices a strong compatibility before you do.

Match Criteria

Now that you know how your quiz and question responses can affect your search results, here are the match criteria your dating profile that most algorithms take into account.

  1. Age and Location

These are some of the most vital questions that are taken into account. While many believe that age is just a number and that love can occur all over the globe, most successful romantic pairings share a similar age range and location. 

Grindr logo

Grindr is the first dating app that put geolocation on the map, so to speak. This gay dating app offers gay men the opportunity to find dates “zero feet away,” and that’s proven successful for immediate chats and same-night hookups.

Only paid subscribers of Grindr Xtra can swipe outside their city limits.

Some dating apps have options for international matchmaking, travel swiping, or age-gap dating, but the mainstream algorithm will put singles with neighbors who belong to the same generation.

After all, it’s fair to assume that most 20-somethings would like to settle with other 20-somethings who aren’t a large commute away. 

  1. Education and Lifestyle 

Do you skip those questions about smokers and nonsmokers that many dating apps feed you? Maybe you shouldn’t. The algorithm takes lifestyle and education into account to determine who’s a good fit for a relationship.

Elite Singles logo

Elite Singles is a premium dating service that capitalizes on high standards and specific date preferences. It unites well-educated professionals who are looking for a serious partnership.

No matter what your lifestyle looks like, you deserve to feel comfortable during a first date.

It’s natural for educated singles to want to date one another. And it makes sense for a smoker to prefer dates who will share a bud.

It may help both partners feel equal if they come from similar backgrounds, although that may vary between circumstances. 

  1. Date Preferences and Like History 

How you interact on the site can affect your match quality. Online dating coach Eric Resnick noted on Quora, “Some sites […] have an aspect of their algorithm that will focus on your behavior as much as your preferences. So, if you click on a lot of redheads, the algorithm will start showing you more redheads.” 

A matching algorithm can learn about what you’re looking for based on how and what you click. Knowing this can help you gain a little more control over who you see.

“In the end, the best tool is to make sure that you set your preferences based on just your non-negotiables.” — Eric Resnick, dating coach

If the criterion isn’t an absolute dealbreaker, don’t let it limit your dating potentials.

The dating profile isn’t the only thing being judged. The matching algorithm may also depend on data from other social media sites.

For example, Tinder will know the Instagram posts you like if you’ve linked accounts or shared login information. All of these clicks can become part of your digital footprint, and they can all affect which profiles you see and who swipes on yours.

  1. Popularity Can Matter Too

If your dating profile receives a lot of clicks or right swipes, the algorithm will take notice and take action. OkCupid has been known to identify its most popular profiles and compile them in a list for easy viewing.

OkCupid logo

Dating apps and sites put popular profiles at the top of other people’s searches for good reason. It’s a marketing tactic — if you start using a site and see more attractive matches top your list, you’re likely to keep using it. 

While sites do care about finding you a good romantic match, it’s also key to remember that these sites need users to make money. 

The more a site thinks your profile might gain some traction, the more they’ll show it.

Challenges and Limitations

While the algorithm has made plenty of successful matches in its time, it’s not always correct. 

As mentioned previously, the matching algorithm learns with time, so there’s always a chance that it’s initially thrown off by your responses. It can also work against you if you share your accounts or log in from a device that’s not your own. 

“Everything you click and interact with when logged into the app is detected, tracked, and stored,” writes Rewire Magazine on the topic of algorithms. “Dating apps even read your in-app messages, boosting your profile if you, say, score more Whatsapp numbers in the chat.” 

“It’s not a perfect system, and there’s plenty of room for error.”

Online dating algorithms can easily create a bias. If you happened to swipe right on three people who have the same physical characteristics — maybe they’re blonde and blue-eyed, or maybe they have dark skin tones — the algorithm may show preference for matches with those physical criteria. 

Let’s talk about some of the other matchmaking limitations that singles may encounter online.

Data Privacy Concerns 

Since algorithms can pull information from your internet activity, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re comfortable permitting these sites to store and analyze your data.

That, in itself, can be a bit of a daunting task, especially since people have information online that they might not want to share. 

Your data is their asset

Privacy is crucial in safeguarding yourself from hackers and scams. Before clicking “yes” on any pop-up boxes, ask yourself if you’re well-versed on how this information will be used. 

Don’t click unless you trust the sites that are asking for permission.

Implicit Biases 

Algorithm matching can unintentionally discriminate against certain races and minorities. Studies have shown, for example, that Black women have a harder time making connections in the online world. 

The typical match algorithm studies user behavior and gives users more of what they want. In that way, it can inadvertently amplify racial biases.

Discrimination is encoded

That means that you might want to think twice before making a swiping judgment. Perhaps read their profile in full before dismissing them from your candidate pool. 

Research shows that when it comes to popular profiles, white men and Asian women often have an advantage over other races. Black women have it toughest.

User Engagement 

The novelty of swiping can be appealing at first, but users who’ve been active on apps for a few months (or a few years) may start feeling some swiping fatigue

The algorithm is all about keeping user interest up, and that can mean throwing profile after profile into the swiping arena.

If going on apps is becoming more of a chore, you may not be giving your best, and the matching algorithm won’t have the information it needs to suggest good profiles. 

Active users are the goal

One user performed a study that found “the bottom 80% of men (in terms of attractiveness) are competing for the bottom 22% of women, and the top 78% of women are competing for the top 20% of men.” 

If the algorithm isn’t turning up winners, users may feel frustrated and delete the apps altogether. 

4 Tips for Gaming the System

So, what’s an online dater to do to make a match in the online world? Experimentation is key. You need to put in the work and see what works best.

Find a friend to take pictures of you in proper lighting. Swipe on profiles that are compatible with your interests. In other words, be deliberate in your online dating behavior, and you’ll get good results. Here are some tips for swiping successfully.

  1. Choose a Trusted Platform With Proven Success 

If an online dating site looks sketchy or a little too niche, its user base may be full of fake profiles or inactive accounts. The more trustworthy apps are names you’ve likely heard of before. Think of Match, Hinge, eharmony, or OkCupid.

eharmony logo

Of course, Tinder is the biggest online dating app there is, but it’s not the best app if you’re seeking a long-term relationship. You’ll want to cast your net where the fish are, but make sure the fish are the ones you’re interested in. 

If you have friends who’ve tried online dating, ask them which platforms worked for them. They may have some tips and tricks when it comes to navigating a particular dating website.

  1. Feed It All the Info 

Online dating is a fast way to meet new people. But you need to put your authentic self forward to get real results. 

Don’t just tell the app what you think others will want to hear. And don’t leave a lot of sections blank because you’re in a hurry to get to the swipe list.

Take the time to complete your dating profile with honest and original responses. Be your true self, and see what happens.

  1. Be Active And Rate a Lot Of Profiles 

Don’t just set up your profile and walk away. Engage with other members and let the apps learn more about your preferences and tastes. The more you interact online, the more curated matches you’ll receive. 

Make swiping part of your daily routine to help the algorithm work as it should. 

  1. Have Patience And Be Resilient

If you don’t start with a ton of matches or profile views, don’t get discouraged. Your luck can change with time. Losing patience with an app and uninstalling it will guarantee that online dating won’t work for you. 

Persistence will win out

Instead of quitting, bulk up your profile, change your photos, and keep things fresh. When the right people slide into your DMs, you’ll be glad you stuck with it. 

Decoding the Algorithms to Maximize Success

Algorithms can be tough to decode since online dating companies are tight-lipped about how exactly they work. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t try to use the match formulas to your benefit. 

Online match algorithms are always evolving, and the more we interact with them, the smarter they can get.

Don’t be afraid to experiment on your own and see what works. Always be truthful on your profile, but try switching up your photos or dating profile information. When swiping, try not to make snap judgments based on looks. Take the time to read profiles and make an informed choice.

With time and practice, you might notice your swipe results looking a little different and, perhaps, a little more in tune with what you want.