Showing posts with label psychology of SEO. Show all posts
Showing posts with label psychology of SEO. Show all posts

Thursday, 9 April 2020

6 Lessons SEOs Can Learn from the Coronavirus Crisis

We, SEOs are faced with a lot of challenges on a daily basis whether internally trying to convince teammates and other managers about the importance of certain SEO projects, or externally from all the uncertainties surrounding SEO.
With the coronavirus crisis I noticed 6 similarities between what the world is facing from this pandemic and what SEOs deal with as part of their job. I also noticed some lessons that SEOs can learn from what the smartest minds who are leading the world out of this crisis are doing.

1- Certainty is impossible but signals are everything

The world is now busy creating projections models for how many people will be infected and die from covid-19 putting different scenarios based on how people will respect the social-distancing orders. But public health officials made it very clear that these projections are very sensitive and can change rapidly with the change of human behaviour, and other factors too that cannot be controlled or predicted like the nature of the virus, the weather, etc. They also rely a lot on looking at historical data from other countries (and even previous pandemics to have a feel of what to expect to build their models accordingly)
Same with SEO, unlike most marketing activities, SEO decisions are based on signals, historical data, case studies from similar websites, and a delicate sense that is developed over time and with experience. It is never an exact formula or an equation. And like with public health projection numbers, it is very sensitive to algorithm changes.
So, as an SEO Manager myself, I totally feel the pressure that the Public Health Officials are having now trying to convince everyone to stay home to flatten the curve, costing countries billions (or even trillions) of dollars based on some back of envelope estimates and theoretical models that may or may not be relevant. But what if they haven’t!!!
The lesson here is that as an SEO, be confident to launch big projects based on signals, historical data, and theoretical models. And remember that if they were enough to take extreme actions to save lives, they should be just fine to make SEO-centric decisions.

2- Act fast, time is of the essence

In a pandemic, everyday a lot of people die. So time is of the essence, and the faster we act the more lives we get to save.
CureVac, a vaccine manufacturer, which is hoping to advance its own vaccine candidates to human testing soon, told the Financial Times that regulators would need to “abbreviate” the regulatory process for vaccine testing and speed up the vaccine approval process or face the consequences.
Same thing for SEO, everyday people search online for content whether it is informational, transactional, or navigational. If you don’t show up on the results page at all when people search for what you can show them, or you show with very poor or irrelevant content, you lose those people, and there is not a time back machine that can bring them back to you.
Of course there are technical and security constraints that will slow you down, content and brand guidelines that require approvals, revisions, more approvals, and more revisions. But if we want to learn something from the coronavirus crisis, we need to be more agile and find better ways to be fast without causing any harm. It is possible if the intention is there!

3- Act with everything you got

A couple of days ago, I found a post circulating among the SEO community on twitter about Bill Gates’ decision to fund the construction of factories that will manufacture seven promising coronavirus vaccines even before knowing which one will be the chosen one.
“Even though we’ll end up picking at most two [vaccines], we’re going to fund factories for all seven just so we don’t waste time in serially saying ‘ok which vaccine works’ and then building the factory…It’ll be a few billion dollars we’ll waste on manufacturing for the constructs that don’t get picked because something else is better. But a few billion in this situation we’re in, where there’s trillions of dollars…being lost economically, it is worth it,”
It may sound like gambling at the beginning, but if you look deeper, Gates’ foundation is not manufacturing 7 random vaccine candidates, they know that one of them will be the one that people will benefit from and are acting with all what they have to make sure when that working vaccine is known it is already manufactured and ready for distribution.
So again, we act fast and act with whatever data we got, but also we act with all our might.
How can that be a lesson for SEO? Simple, you present your SEO audit to your engineering team with 7 technical issues that need to be fixed with a certain way that ensures SEO best practices. Your engineering team will not gladly take your list and fix everything exactly as you asked for. There will be a lot of resistance and negotiation trying to get the minimal possible work with a lot of technical workarounds and band aid solutions so that the list is checked but not in the right way. That is when you need to be more persistent and tenacious, while remaining professional and friendly, and do your best to ensure that the SEO asks are being taken more seriously even though it may be hard to quantify each ask separately.

4- Some effective solutions are free

Governments racing with time to mass produce face masks, PPEs, sanitizers, and ventilators to save the lives of as many of their citizens as possible which is costing hundreds of millions of dollars. But a free, and I think an even more effective life-saving measure is social-distancing when people are well educated (with good content) about its importance to save lives.
In parallel, with businesses being on pause, most brands now are pausing their paid search campaigns and those who have invested in organic content are the ones harvesting the fruits of their labor.
Yes SEO is hard to quantify and is surrounded by a lot of uncertainties, and is faced with a lot of opposition and denial in good times, but it is the last castle that can defend your whole organization during trying times, because good content is what remains on the SERP when there are no ads.

5- Use fear to change a behavior

Psychological and Behavioural Economics studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains, as a factor for moving people from their status quo. In his paper, “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk”, Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman wrote that “People tend to be risk seeking in the domain of losses and risk-averse in the domain of gains”.
“People tend to be risk seeking in the domain of losses and risk-averse in the domain of gains”
Look how governments are reacting (or even over-reacting) towards the coronavirus pandemic; schools are closing, businesses are going bankrupt, massive layoffs, and hundreds of millions of people are not shaking hands or hugging anymore. Why all of that? Because of fear!
Economies are taking a very hard hit and all these social-distancing measures are costing a fortune but it will also save millions of lives. The thing is, no one will ever know how many lives will be saved when all of this is over.
Another good example is the 90s Y2K bug when computer experts warned the governments that the computer systems are not prepared to handle the year suffix changing from 99 to 00. Although it was not very clear what exactly could have happened if this bug wasn’t fixed, a big monetary investment was made to hire the right resources to fix this issue “just in case” it might prove to be necessary.
A lot of companies unfortunately look at SEO either as a growth only channel or when it gets hit because of a penalty or an algorithm change. Rarely do companies treat SEO as an asset that needs to be guarded. But if there is another thing we can learn from the covid-19 crisis, it is that SEO Managers should start educating their companies (or clients) that if websites take SEO for granted they may come a time when they LOSE whatever organic traffic they take for granted. And we have seen a lot of big brands losing millions of their traffic because of unintentionally blocking search engines, not paying attention to their content quality or implementing a technology stack that is not SEO-friendly.

6- Back to the basics, It’s all about humanity

SEO, like any ethical marketing practices, should be about driving value and listening to people’s pain and needs and using all the available resources to educate and delight them.
With an unprecedented amount of people using the internet like never before because of all the lockdown measures, that Netflix had to lower their streaming quality in some countries to avoid crashing the service, we know that people are consuming more content than ever before, and it is up to companies to react fast to present to their customers, or to a completely new target groups, content that is relevant, reassuring, and adds some value, and hope!
I have seen a lot of great examples of companies offering free subscriptions, support to businesses that got hit, tools, whitepapers, dashboards, trackers, support groups, free accommodation, free food, free rides, and you name it with no return on their invested time and resources, only. because it adds value and shows how the community matters to these brands not just profits.

My final thoughts

This crisis will be behind us, hopefully very soon, and we will stand up again. But life will never be the same. For those who acted for humanity and showed empathy and support whether to their employees, their customers, or to their community, will be remembered for ever. But for those who only understand shortsighted profits, and marketing for them is only a commercial faceless relationship, will always be vulnerable every time life happens because their bubble is not meant to last!

Monday, 16 March 2015

CBT for SEM | Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Search Engine Marketing

Gone is that age when online marketing was all about generating traffic, backlinks, or even rankings. 
Now the game has changed drastically. There is only one KPI for a successful Digital Marketing Strategy. Conversions. 

A conversion could be a new purchase, a new lead, a new newsletter subscriber, you name it. But people need to convert from a state of being strangers to relatives. 

SEM needs cognitive behavioral therapy

Psychology plays a big role in the engagement process. Psychologists believe that psychotherapy is about change, some aspect of oneself or one's life. People make valuable changes everyday in major ways but change will not happen on its own. It requires that they make a conscious choice to examine patterns in their lives, question old assumptions, and take action towards intentional and meaningful changes. 

Therapy is not just about understanding, it's about turning understanding into real change that lasts.

Most therapists working with patients dealing with anxiety and depression use a blend of cognitive and behavioral therapy. This technique acknowledges that there may be behaviors that cannot be controlled through rational thought, but rather emerge based on prior conditioning from the environment and other external and/or internal stimuli. CBT is "problem focused" (undertaken for specific problems) and "action oriented" (therapist tries to assist the client in selecting specific strategies to help address those problems), or directive in its therapeutic approach.

So, in simple words, CBT is about understanding the stimuli of specific behaviors and when we know the triggers, we can control the action. 

Scientia potentia est

Each day, we make hundreds - sometimes thousands - of decisions, without even realizing it. People are surrounded by persuasive messages all day long, from verbal suggestions by co-workers, to signs and flyers in the street, to more blatant advertisements on TV, radio, the Internet and in other media.

Most of these messages are fairly low-stakes; we see and hear them as we go about our business. We’re able to ignore them, or may be biased in a small way, but probably won’t be inspired to take action that very minute.

When a person visits your ecommerce store, however, they’ve already demonstrated a very important characteristic just by being there: they have some kind of commercial intent.

Are your offers and messages taking advantage of that and persuading visitors to become buyers?

Let’s have a look at the science behind persuasion and its impact on your ecommerce conversion rates.
Six Ways Shoppers are Influenced & Persuaded

Dr. Robert B. Cialdini described six ways in which consumers are persuaded to make purchasing decisions, in his popular 1984 book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

According to Dr. Cialdini, these six subtle psychological pressures can influence customers in the moments that matter, inspiring them to say yes to whatever it is that’s being asked of them:

  • Reciprocation
  • Consistency
  • Social validation
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity

Yes, we've talked about these before, but they're so important that it's worth examining them again to see how they can apply to your ecommerce environment. 

1. Using Reciprocity to Drive More Small Conversions

This principle requires that you give something back in exchange for whatever it is you’ve received. One example of this is a free gift with a purchase, though it also applies to concessions people make to one another.

If you visit a small town ice cream shop, you’ll probably be offered a small sample of the different flavors of ice cream you’re considering. Accepting this small token makes a persuasive argument for you to go ahead and buy, because you feel like you should return the favor! You’re highly unlikely after accepting the sample to leave without buying an ice cream.

Ecommerce stores obviously can’t reach out and let you try their products in the moment of consideration.

What’s an online retailer to do?

Consider the size of your ask and what you can offer in return, or what concession you can make, to that customer for making such a big commitment to your brand. Often, consumers are more likely to accept a series of small requests than one large one.

Take retail Goliath Amazon, for example. They have some seriously big ticket items available for purchase online. Yet if you’ve ever bought new furniture for your house, you probably wanted to try it out first - to sit on the couch you’re considering, or feel the grain of the wooden bed frame.

How do you overcome that desire (which becomes an objection to buying online) and persuade the customer to convert? By offering something of value to the customer before you ask them to buy.

In Amazon’s case, this often means making a concession like offering free shipping, as in this example:

Reciprocity and Microconversions

Amazon Prime is another great example of reciprocity in ecommerce. In addition to Free two day shipping, they offer customers a number of “gifts” like early access to sales, free photo storage, and tons of movies and television shows on demand, simply for joining Prime for $99. All things considered, the price tag is a relatively small ask.

Once a customer enrolls in the program, Amazon can continue marketing to them and step it up with personalized offers based on that customer’s preferences.

The reciprocity is ongoing with the free two day shipping.

As Amazon continues to ask for more - convert and join Prime, convert and make a small purchase, convert and make a larger purchase - they continue to offer something of value. Since the customer has already said yes to the smaller offers, they feel invested and are more comfortable saying yes to the bigger ones.

Reciprocity isn’t only a sales tool; it can help you build your social audience, as well.

Offer a small discount or a free gift on checkout, then ask on the Thank You page that the customer follow your brand on Facebook. You’ve just given them something and they’re more likely to complete that action. You could also take this opportunity to ask for a review or social shares, which takes us right into the next principle that can help you persuade and convert.

2. Social Proof Made More Powerful with Personalization

Social proof is the psychological phenomenon whereby your online store visitors are influenced by the actions of others and are more likely to take the same action. It can be massively influential in an ecommerce environment and you have plenty of tools at your disposal!

One popular way to demonstrate social proof is to integrate your store with Facebook. Showing visitors which products other people bought most often or Like the most can be incredibly persuasive.

Check out all of the social proof in this hotel listing:

The little heart icon tells visitors that 4857 people have added this property to their Wish List. almost 4,500 people have left review. Forty-seven people are looking at the property right now and someone just booked 2 minutes ago! All of this social proof is highly persuasive to the buyer, who wants reassurance that they’re making a good choice.

Personalizing social proof kicks it up even further. Try letting visitors log in on your website using their Facebook credentials, so they can see reviews and products purchased by their friends. Check out Facebook integration apps in the Shopify’s Resources App Store.

3. Ensuring Commitment and Consistency

People are more likely to take action on things they’ve already thought over or discussed with others. This is thanks, in part, to our desire to be consistent and stay committed to our ideas.

In an ecommerce environment, we want customers to stay committed to the idea of purchasing this product in front of them. We don’t want them to question or overthink it too much, or they’ll start objecting.

One great way to combat this is to use rhetorical questions as a way of driving commitment. In a 2006Journal of Language and Social Psychology article, social scientists point out that “rhetorical questions can increase persuasion and message processing, creating a relatively strong, resistant attitude.”

Rhetorical questions don’t require an answer; the answer is either obvious, or doesn’t exist. They’re used to make a point, not elicit a response. Some ecommerce examples could include:
“If you could save 15 minutes a day, would you?”
“What if you never had to sharpen a kitchen knife again?”
“How would your family enjoy a week at the beach?”

You can even A/B test these different persuasive questions and see which are most effective ones by targeting first time visitors with a slide-out message or with an overlay.

4. Being Likable

We’re more likely to be influenced by people we like, but what is likability in ecommerce?

Being communicative, responding promptly and politely to inquiries and focusing on great user experience can all help. I’m more apt to like your brand if you make my shopping experience simple, intuitive or even fun.
Humanizing Your ecommerce Brand

Another way your business can be likable is to take care to humanize your brand in your communications and marketing material.

Generic business material is boring. Spice it up and give customers someone to actually like by sending messages out from your personnel, instead, like this:

Our internal data at Commerce Sciences shows that quality assurance and satisfaction messages are great applications of this personalized messaging tactic. However, it’s less effective with company policy messaging. People tend to see policies and restrictions (eg.: a 30-day return policy) as arbitrary rules; it’s easier to relate to a policy that was defined by an organization than a specific person.

Other promises are more effective coming from an individual. Testimonials on your ecommerce site are a great example of this - they’re far more compelling, with the name and picture of the author, than brand messaging saying the same. In fact, customer testimonials are the most effective form of content marketing (AdWeek SocialTimes).

5. Building Your Ecommerce Brand’s Authority

There are two distinct but equally important types of authority online: your authority with your audience and customers, and the authority your ecommerce site demonstrates to search engines.
Industry & Topic Authority

As an authority in your industry, your brand is a go-to source for accurate information, expert advice and in-depth insight. Within your brand, you may also have one or several public-facing people building their professional authority, which furthers your brand image and authority as a whole.

Image source: Twitter

Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall is a great example of the power of building authorities within your brand. Formerly the VP of Global Advertising Strategy and Creative Excellence at Coca-Cola, Mildenhall is a keynote speaker on the international stage and has graced the cover of AdAge. He helped Coca-Cola win 20 Cannes Lions in a single year (2013) and has amassed an impressive audience on Twitter and Tumblr.

Encouraging and empowering employees to speak at industry events, write for relevant publications, and use social networking ensures a steady flow of positive brand content that reflects well on the entire company. It shows the world your brand is passionate and involved in your industry.
Web Authority

Your ecommerce site’s authority is a different animal, though many of the same tactics are effective for brand authority building. Google and other search engines consider hundreds of factors in their ranking algorithms, including the perceived authority of the site.

How can you demonstrate authority?

While we don’t know exactly what it is search engines are considering (it would make it too easy to game the system), we can safely assume there are several authority signals in play. The best known and most talked (and speculated) about authority signal, of course, is the volume and quality of backlinks to your site.

Links tell search engines that other sites found your website and content reputable, relevant and informative enough to send traffic from their site to yours. Be cautious of SEO strategists who promise to build links for you; search engines crack down hard on links that appear reciprocal or otherwise spammy. Links should be earned through the publication of great content that compels people to naturally recommend your site to their audience.

Blogging is a fantastic way to build both topic and web authority, yet it’s a strategy underused by ecommerce brands, as demonstrated in Tommy Walker’s recent post The Curious Case of the Underwhelming Ecommerce Blog. Blogging brings huge traffic opportunities, keeps user on site longer and helps nurture and convert leads; if you commit to blogging and do it right, the payoff can be huge.

You’ll find some great blogging and linking tips in this Shopify SEO Strategy post.

6. Creating Scarcity

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a powerful motivator. Customers can be compelled to take action immediately when offered free shipping for a limited time only, time-sensitive discounts, the last of a remaining product, etc.

Stock Scarcity

Smart ecommerce marketers use a variety of tactics to create scarcity, such as showing a limited number of items left as in the example from Francesca’s, above. You can also show scarcity by size, by showing the unavailable sizes crossed out or in a different colored font. Or, use a tactic employed by many travel booking sites and display the number of current page viewers as buyers competing against one another.

Urgency and Timing

In the example above, Bath & Body Works really taps into the FOMO with limited time offers. You can also use coupons with a time limit, even going so far as a to include a countdown to expiry. Flash sales are another popular tactic for creating scarcity via urgency. If you don’t buy now, you’re going to pay more/miss out/not be happy. It’s super effective for converting buyers who are on the fence.

Persuasion isn’t the result of a single optimized message, or even an offer that matches your visitor’s intent. For ecommerce retailers, it means appealing on an emotional level to your customer using each of the tools and technologies at your disposal.

It means persuading each customer to take the next small step… and the next… and the next, until they ultimately convert and complete your desired action. And if you get your customer all the way to the cart but don’t seal the deal? Check out these 13 amazing abandoned cart emails for persuasive recovery messaging.


  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - WikiPedia
  • A guest post by Omri Yacubovich on Shopify