"The purpose of psychology is to give us a completely different idea of the things we know best." -Paul Valery
Considering you’re doing basic SEO and branding right, it is safe to assume that a visitor on your blog — who goes on to convert to a regular reader — is basically looking to stay. Now it’s your job as a marketer to understand and anticipate that reason and provide value that encourages them to hang around.
For some it might be increasing website traffic, for others it might be gaining marketing insight on their competitors. The reasons and motivations vary. What does not vary is the basic functioning of the human mind, which is why marketers have searched for ways through which they can strike an emotional chord with readers and eventually build a mutually beneficial relationship.
In this post I discuss four psychological insights and how they can help you increase your blog readership. The list expands on:
- How fonts affect your users;
- 2. How you can use scare tactics positively to boost readership;
- 3. How readers actually judge the credibility of your website; and
- 4. How being an authority is a necessity.
So, let’s dive right in.
4 Psychological Insights & How They Can Help You
1. Your Choice of Font Affects Readers More Than You Think
In a fascinating experiment from 2012, Errol Morris, writer, director and contributor to The New York Times, ran a proactive test on NYT readers under the guise of a quiz (title: “Are you an Optimist or a Pessimist?”). His hypothesis was that typography can and does influence readers’ choices and emotional state.
His method? Six different fonts on the same one section of text on the quiz. He used the following fonts: Baskerville, Comic Sans, Computer Modern, Helvetica, Georgia and Trebuchet.
The result? Readers were more inclined to agree with the passages that had the typeface Baskerville. Now, although this cannot technically be called “proof” because of the uncontrolled environment of the experiment, web design experts universally agree that typography does affect readers.
CrazyEgg put together this incredible infographic for one of their posts showing which fonts affect which emotions:
And this is why you should be very careful while selecting fonts for your website. For those who are clueless, you can start by reading Brian Gardner’s small and very effective roundup of various font pairings that look good for all content.
2. Evoke Doubt and Uncertainty in Your Readers, and Then Eliminate It
Scare tactics are an infamous but common technique used during political campaigns to change public opinion for or against a candidate. It has also been used by large media houses to rake in numbers and eyeballs. Needless to say, scare tactics are looked down upon.
However, you can implement them positively into your content and boost readership.
In her research titled “Do Scare Tactics Work? A Meta-Analytic Test of Fear Appeal Theories” Melanie B. Tannenbaum, concluded that an appeal to fear, doubt and uncertainty actually works as long as there is a moderator involved like “efficacy" — “something that people can do to help eradicate the fear.”
What does this mean, and what’s your takeaway? It means this phenomena works positively only if the reader wins in the end or they get a desired result in their favor.
For a step by step detailed breakdown of the process, see image below.
3. Your Audience is Judging You by the Quality of Your Website’s Design, Not on its Creativity (or the Usefulness of the Content)
The next time you decide to build a new website or hire someone to do it, remember to concentrate on the quality of the design as much as the functionality and usability.
If you’re observant, you’ll note that quite a large number of web publications and blogs overhauled their website’s design this year with the primary focus on page layout, quality of images, distinguishable headlines and links, breaking walls of text into smaller parts, and clear differentiation of page sections.
The psychology behind this particular aspect of user behavior was found by Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab (founded by B.J. Fogg) in their study titled “What Makes A WebSite Credible? A Report on a Large Quantitative Study:”
“When evaluating the credibility of a Web site, participants commented on the design look of the site more often than any other Web site feature, with 46.1% of the comments addressing the design look in some way. When coding for comments on “design look,” researchers included comments on many elements of the visual design, including layout, typography, white space, images, color schemes, and so on.”
So basically, your readers are judging the credibility of your writing and information based on how well it is visually presented. If the layout is cluttered and messy, the font is too small, and the headline and text color mismatch ... readers willbounce.
4. Be an Authority on What You’re Writing
In social psychology, "authority" differs from power because the latter exerts influence by the application of violence or force, whereas the former commands respect through demonstration of extraordinary personal abilities, which in turn inspires acceptance and obedience.
The groundbreaking (albeit controversial) Milgram Experiment essentially propounds that human beings are psychologically predisposed to follow authority figures. Robert Cialdini included this predisposition as one of the six key principles of influence in his book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion."
Takeaway for you (in context to an online reader/user): a reader who neither has the ability or expertise to make decisions to solve a pain point, will look for an authority figure to transfer this decision to. Once they see you as an authority they will transfer the decision making to you and, thereafter, follow your advice above others.
Note: This is not as diabolical as it might be sounding. I personally find Brian Clark of CopyBlogger and Jon Morrow of BoostBlogTraffic to be authority figures. It basically means that when given a choice of solutions, I’ll pick the one that they recommend in their posts.
Does this mean I’m blind? Hell, no. It means I have accepted they are experts in their field (blogging) and are providing the most useful information.
How to Be an Authority Figure as a Writer
Here are 5 things you need to do:
- Give the best possible actionable value, consistently and regularly. Actionable = something that shows a practical step-by-step procedure that enables users to act on it.
- Don’t hold out on the good stuff. You don't have to share your trade secrets, but give the next best thing. For example, if you’re using an email marketing tool like GetResponse or MailChimp, how do you increase the odds that your newsletter will land in the primary tab? Send text-only emails. No images and graphics.
- Constantly hone your skills. Keep abreast of the industry you’re operating in.
- Interact with people.
- Be humble.
Don’t worry about not knowing everything. But that also does not mean you’re absolved of the responsibility of answering or helping your readers. Research the problem and share the best option that sufficiently answers it.
If you have any thoughts or questions for me, feel free to drop a comment below.
P.S. Ain’t psychology great?!