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If dating is a game, online dating is a game of strategy. Message someone “hey,” and you’ll probably be ignored. Send the wrong emoji — or apparently any at all if you’re male — and you’re as good as gone.

The protocol can be daunting, especially to someone new to the game. With Jan. 3 expected to be the busiest day of the year for online dating, we figured there’s no better time to ask experts to share their tips for success.

Your odds are good during the winter: According to Lauren O’Reilly of OkCupid, people tend to end relationships going into the holidays and want to start fresh in the new year.

“Everybody starts their New Year’s resolution, and a lot of times it’s: Get online or go out more, proactive stuff to really meet somebody,” said Jess McCann, author of “You Lost Him at Hello: From Dating to ‘I Do’ — Secrets from One of America’s Top Dating Coaches.”

Pressure from family members during the holidays or wishing they had someone to spend the holidays with encourages people. The weather also plays a factor: It is “cuffing season,” after all, the time of year when humans are more apt to want to stay in and cuddle up.

Your odds are even better on Sundays: Add perusing dating apps into your “easing into the week day” Sunday night routine. According to O’Reilly, 7 p.m. on Sunday night is the average peak of traffic for OkCupid, a.k.a. your best chance of striking up a conversation with a potential suitor.

Don’t procrastinate: “Messages sent within the first 24 hours are twice as likely to receive a response,” said Jean-Marie McGrath of Hinge. The majority of users take up to 2.5 days to start a conversation, however.

Be genuine: Look at a dater’s profile and write to them about something specific, so they know that you’re not just randomly throwing out opening lines to every single person that is on the app, McCann suggests. “If they say they’re a foodie, hit them with ‘so I see you’re a foodie, what’s the best Mexican restaurant in town?’ ” McCann said.

[Three months without dating apps: It was harder than I thought]

Give them something to work with: Starting a conversation with a question works best. But say more than, “Hey, what’s up?,” which puts the pressure on the other person to come up with something to talk about. Encourage a match to answer by feeding them material.

“You can say something like ‘Katy Perry or Taylor Swift?’ or a cute opening line with two choices that kind of gives you a little idea of who they are,” McCann said.

Play it cool: People tend to word-vomit exactly what they’re looking for in their bios: a life partner or someone to cuddle with at night. Less is more, warns Laurie Davis, chief executive of eFlirt, an online dating consultancy.

“You would never say that to somebody when you first meet them at a bar, so don’t say that online either,” she said. Keep it light and simple, and never be negative. Listing what you don’t want in a relationship is “just going to make you look cold,” she adds.

Get offline ASAP: Many people like the idea of online dating in theory but don’t find success because they never meet people face-to-face. Which is why McCann likes the sense of urgency that location-based apps like Tinder present to users. “You’re only going to be in the same place and time for a very short finite period,” she says.

Try to keep virtual chatting to a minimum. Davis’s rules of thumb are six messages back and forth on dating sites, 20 to 30 text exchanges if you’re on a dating app. If by two weeks of messaging, you haven’t met up, someone’s got to pull the trigger and suggest a date.

“You really want to get to meeting each other and make sure that there really is some sort of real connection before you develop a virtual fantasy of the relationship in your head,” McCann said.

Hit them with your best shots: When it comes to your photos, “you need to look like you’re ready to walk out the door and go on a great first date,” McCann said.

That means avoiding group photos, wearing sunglasses or only including pictures of your face.

[No tigers. No groups. Not too much skin. How to choose the best photos for your dating profile.]

“You’re 203 percent more likely to get messages when you have one full body shot,” Davis advises.

Be sure to include pictures that show what your life is like when you’re not just sitting around your living room taking selfies. Active lifestyle shots make for great conversation starters.

Emoji are your friend, but only if you’re a woman: “Men shouldn’t be using emoji at all,” Davis said. “If they use a smiley face in a message, their response rate drops 66 percent.” Ouch, what gives? According to Davis, women look for confidence in a man, and relying on emoji to show emotions doesn’t exude confidence.

But for women the opposite is true. According to Davis, when women use a smiley face in their profile, it will increase messages by 60 percent. “For women, when they use emoji, it comes across as being warmer.”

Davis, however, warns women to avoid use of flowers, hearts or any emoji that seem lovey-dovey. “It’s like the text version of too much too soon.”

Momentum is important. “If there’s going to be things that are barriers to the momentum, you want to make that clear up front,” Davis said. If you’re going away, make a plan to meet up when you get back — having something to look forward to could keep a fledgling relationship from fizzling out.

 

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