Very shortly after listing your profile, you may start to receive responses from other online daters. The sites have differences in how the process works, but there are general principles that are useful in considering how to respond.
Are you interested? Read the profile thoroughly and determine your interest. Refer to dealbreakers vs nice-to-haves for help in identifying what is important.
Do you want to know more? Is there something you read in their profile or contact email that you want explore further?
The tools are fairly simple if the answer is yes to these questions. If you have multiple respondents that are of interest, its useful to focus on one or two at a time rather than pursuing many in parallel.
If you are responding by an email rather than a generic tool-generated response, see email communication in the online dating world for tips.
If you are receiving contact from people that are not of interest to you, try to respond to them all anyway. Most sites give you a quick painless way to respond to those that are not of interest. Aim to respond to all of them. There are online daters who send out many contact requests generically, casting a wide net to improve their chances without even reading profiles, as well as that person who has actually read and considered your profile and is now keenly awaiting your response. You can’t know which type you are dealing with. You would not appreciate being ignored if you were the one waiting for a response so try to respond quickly to all. If you are inundated with requests check if the site allows you to hide your profile for a short period to give you some breathing space.
Look at the volume of unsuitable responses. Too many? Again, due to some people generically responding, particularly if you are a new listing on the site, you may have a number that don’t meet your criteria and can be quickly excluded. It will be clear from looking at their basic profile detail that they don’t meet your requirements and you can quickly respond. Rule out these then look at the remainder. Are there any trends in the responses that indicate criteria you may need to tighten in your profile? If your geographic spread is too wide, if you are getting too many people older than your desired age range, consider altering your criteria. Some sites provide tools or a premium service to prevent people contacting you if they don’t meet your criteria in order to save you time.
Consider adding some more wording in your profile to give respondents a clearer view of what is suitable for you. Review what it is that you are looking for and ensure all that is important is overtly described somewhere in your profile rather than being in your mental checklist that you apply when you receive a response.
The sites generally have great tools to respond to those who make first contact either in the negative or positive, its useful to do this as quickly and efficiently as possible to move past this key first step in the process.