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How to win at online dating

You are single. Your friends aren't. You'd like to meet a guy, but all the good men have been snapped up by your friends, and all that's left are the weird ones. You have heard that internet dating has become the de rigueur way for people to hook up, but you are also terrified of being plagued by freaks or worse, not getting any responses at all.

Internet dating has taken off as the way for couples to find each other in today's increasingly digitised world. But as with most things in life, what you put in is what you get out. With that in mind, here is a list of the essential ingredients for a successful online dating experience.

A great photo
If you look at online dating sites, the profiles that you notice are the ones with photos. Don't be coy or shy if you are putting yourself out there, do it properly. The best photos are ones with a smile (not a disdainful duck face) that looks natural rather than posed. But even if you are a fun-lovin' outdoors kind of girl, don't post the picture of you with a sweaty forehead in a climbing harness. Also, don't show too much flesh, because you could well end up attracting exactly the type of interest you would like to avoid. Get a friend to take some photos and ask a few friends which they think are the best ones.

Fill in the whole profile
Put all your information out there. Nice guys who are serious about online dating are going to read your profile carefully to look for things that you have in common. If you aren't giving them information to go on, then you are asking to be contacted by random guys looking for a quick fling.

General is better than specific
Although you should share a lot of personal information, don't make it too specific. For instance, it's better to say that you enjoy romantic comedies than to say, I absolutely loved The Notebook'. If your potential date hated The Notebook', he might move on, but he wouldn't have as much of a problem with the broader category and one movie does not a marriage make.

Think carefully about what you say
While it's important to be honest, it's also always a good idea to look at how information will be perceived to people who don't know you. For instance, if you are a vegetarian for health reasons but could happily date a meat eater, be aware that saying you don't eat meat will trigger certain warning bells. If you support a rugby team, but don't absolutely have to be at the pub for every match, don't say that you are an avid Sharks supporter.

Work out what you want in a guy
Have a long, hard think about what's important to you. Write down the relevant criteria in deal breakers, essentials and nice to have columns. This is important when you are checking your responses don't be distracted by one great characteristic (and a nice photo), when you know that you couldn't possibly date someone from a different religion or who doesn't want kids.

Filter your responses
If some guy writes to you to say that he thinks you're hot and he would like to hook up, chances are that he's not responding to something in your profile. Politely decline all messages that seem to want casual hook-ups and put your energy into pursuing those that are looking for a meaningful connection (if that's what you want).

Meeting up
The trick to meeting up is to go for coffee, not dinner. That way, if you are having a dreadful time, it's easy to extricate yourself after one round. And if you are having a great time, you can extend the date into a meal or movie. But remember, it's always a good idea to let a friend know where you are going and who you are going to be with.

Dating in the real world
Once you have graduated from cyberspace into the real world, you can proceed exactly as you would with any other date meet each other's friends, meet each other's parents, and all the other steps until happily ever after!

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