Category Archives: Behavioural Economics

Why Is SEO The Biggest Scam On The Internet?

False Promises Made By SEO Agencies:

On an almost daily basis I receive emails from companies offering to “optimise” my site. This often includes a guarantee to get my site on the first page of Google (even though I have already achieved that), to send more visitors to my site, to fix broken links, provide site analytics and get more authoritative links to my site.

Image of email from SEO scam agency offering guaranteed top of Google

What the hell is an “optimised site”?

I’m sorry to tell you that anyone who claims to have “fully optimised” your site for SEO or any other purpose is a fraud and is probably charging you a lot of money for little, if any benefit. There is no such thing as a “fully optimised” site as it’s like repairing the roads, the job is never done.

For example if you want to improve your conversion rate listening to the advice of a so called “expert” will have limited impact and needs to be validated through A/B and multivariate testing. Every site is unique and so a best practice may work on one site but there is no guarantee that it will work on your site.

80% of SEO is pure hype:

 

Since 24th April 2012 when Google released their “Penguin” update most of what SEO agencies do has become irrelevant. Even more worrying though is that a lot of what some of these agencies do may actually harm your ranking and they certainly can’t guarantee to put you on the first page of Google.

 

The old tricks don’t work anymore:

Stuffing your site with keywords, content cloaking and blasting blog sites with links to your site don’t work and are more likely to get you penalised. Even keywords are much less important than before as there is evidence that Google now evaluates the content on the pages that link to your site to identify what searches you rank for rather than relying on the keywords that are on your page.

Search engine algorithms are much better than before at spotting attempts to play the system and conversely are more adept at identifying good quality and relevant content. There are still SEO best practices, but these are more about avoiding mistakes than using any tricks of the trade.

 

What drives SEO rankings?

Part of the problem with SEO and why so many SEO scams are circulating is that Google and the other search engines don’t publish exactly what gets you a high page ranking. However, from what the search engines do publish and research carried out by genuine SEO agencies it is clear that it is a combination of quality external links to your site, social indicators (likes, shares, tweets etc.) and good content. As Google can differentiate between legitimate links and the spam that many SEO agencies create it really comes down to good content. So maybe SEO should be re-named content marketing?

Most basic tools are free:

For many of the genuine aspects of SEO there are free tools available that you can easily access. I’ve previously written a post on how to use Google’s Search Console. This is a great free tool that will answer most of the questions you may have about the performance of your site including; crawl errors (e.g. page not found – 404s), external links to your content, average page rank, clicks,  impressions and structured data errors.

Google Analytics is also free and allows you to identify your most popular content and track page speed and conversion goals. If you have the time and resource there is no need to pay SEO agencies lots of money to identify where your problems exist.

 

Why don’t SEO agencies tell you this?

People have a made a lot of money out of SEO and continue to do so and so why would they admit they add little, if any, value? There may also be an illusion of skill for some SEO agencies that psychologist Daniel Kahneman sums it up nicely:

“Facts that challenge such basic assumptions – and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and self-esteem – are simply not absorbed.” Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, fast and slow

This is not only a waste of money it is quite dangerous for companies. By measuring metrics that don’t influence your bottom line (e.g. Likes and Shares), people can’t stop themselves optimising campaigns using such meaningless targets (see Cobra Effect).

A lot of investment has also been made into SEO and optimisation. Due to our tendency not to want to admit when we have made bad decisions (see Sunk Cost Fallacy), people often carry on with behaviour even when there is no evidence to support it.

12 SEO scams and how to spot them:

  1. Guaranteed Rankings:

It is not possible to guarantee a #1 ranking on Google as their algorithms are far too complex for any SEO agency to play the system and definitely deliver a sustainable first place on Google.

  1. They don’t detail how the will improve your organic traffic:

Many SEO “experts” claim they have “secret” SEO strategies and don’t detail what exactly they are going to do to improve your ranking or traffic levels.  Any legitimate agency should outline in detail tasks they will undertake and agree some targets to measure their level of success.

Image of how I more than doubled organic traffic using content marketing strategy

For example in October 2016 I implemented a new content marketing strategy and by the beginning of 2017 my organic traffic had more than doubled. I knew exactly what my plan was and also had the analytics in place to measure the impact of my new strategy. Anyone who can’t tell you what they plan to do is probably thinking of using black hat SEO techniques that will get you penalised or banned by the major search engines.

Here are a few of the SEO scams that try to leave back links on my site on a daily basis. They don’t even have the intelligence to hide their intent.

Image of comments on blog from SEO scam companies

 

  1. Offer free trial SEO services:

Genuine SEO work is time consuming and takes days, if not weeks, to deliver results. No genuine SEO company is going to offer this for free and if they also ask for access to your admin area or hosting account I would be very concerned about their motives.

Image of SEO audit
Image Source:

 

  1. They have a special relationship with Google or an employee at Google.

This is definitely a scam as Google can’t be seen to have a “special relationship” with any SEO agency and so this will be a simple lie.

  1. Offer to submit your site to hundreds of search engines.

In the UK Google, Bing, Yahoo and AOL account for over 95% of searches and so why waste time worrying about other niche search engines?

  1. Low priced SEO:

As I have already mentioned genuine SEO is time consuming and labour intensive and so anyone who offers to do it at a very low cost is either having you on or they won’t do a very good job for you. Concentrate on learning how to use Google Search Console and Google Analytics for free and you will save yourself a lot of money.

  1. We understand Google Algorithms and are algorithm experts:

Search engine algorithms are very complex, dynamic and are frequently updated and so it is virtually impossible to understand for certain how they will rank your site for a specific search query.

  1. We can submit your site to well-known directories:

Some SEO agencies offer to manually submit your site to various directories. This is another scam as this is the internet; the vast majority of people use Google not directories to find a service or a product they are looking for.

  1. We can submit new content to search engines:

Continuously submitting your site to Google is a complete waste of time as it won’t influence your ranking. If you have new content you can submit it to Google for instance using their free Search Console.

Image of Fetch as Google from Search Console

  1. We are partners with Google or work with someone at Google:

Google can’t be seen to partner with any SEO company and nor would any employee want to risk their jobs by illegally working with any such firms.

  1. SEO companies that want ownership of your content:

You should never give up ownership of your content to an SEO agency as you should retain ownership of anything you pay for.

  1. You pay for a monthly SEO package:

Monthly SEO packages can be a great money spinner for unscrupulous agencies. Before signing up ensure you have agreed a suitable number of hours per month that the agency will work on your site and get them to specify in detail the tasks they will undertake for you. Further, agree some targets for quality links and an increase in traffic to ensure you get value for money. Any agency that is not willing to comply with these requests is not worth dealing with.

Conclusion:

OK, so genuine SEO work can be valuable for a site. However, the key here is to agree objectives that have clear benefits  and set performance targets to ensure you get value for money. Avoid signing up with any agencies that use any of the above tactics as they are likely to be poor value for money and could actually damage your search engine rankings.

If you can, educate yourself about SEO practices to allow you to take greater control over organic traffic generation. Further, remember that what your visitors and Google want is great content and that should be your priority. Everything else, including SEO, should be secondary to the content. If you focus on quality content in the first place then SEO may largely take care of itself as good content will attract external links and social media mentions and shares.

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

What is the most powerful weapon of persuasion?

The Power of Commitment & Consistency!

We have all heard stories of how people are often unwilling to intervene when they see a crime committed in broad daylight. Why would people put themselves at risk to assist a complete stranger? Well, in 1972 the psychologist Thomas Moriarty conducted a study to  see if he could use a simple psychological weapon to persuade people  to put themselves at risk of personal harm for a person they had never met before. The research involved the staging of a number of thefts on a New York City beach.

For the experiment a researcher would place a beach blanket within 5 feet of a randomly selected individual. After about two minutes on the blanket relaxing and listening to a portable radio the person would stand up and leave the blanket to walk down the beach.  Within a few minutes a second researcher would walk by and grab the portable radio before trying to make a get-away.

In the control (i.e. no intervention was made) only four people out of twenty tried to prevent the theft. However, the number of people who were prepared to challenge the thief increased dramatically when the researcher asked the individual next to them to please “watch my things” before walking away. In this scenario nineteen out of twenty people challenged the thief.

The experiment confirms that people have a strong desire to appear consistent with commitments they have previously made. Indeed, in his book Influence, the psychologist Robert Cialdini argues that commitment and consistency is one of the most powerful weapons of social influence available to people wanting to change our behaviour.

Why is consistency so important to people?

Consistency is generally regarded as a highly desirable personality trait in our culture. When people don’t appear consistent they are often seen as indecisive and two-faced. The negative perception of inconsistency reinforces the belief that consistency is a valuable characteristic to portray.

However, Cialdini also noted that such is our desire to be consistent that people sometimes act without thinking and abandon strongly held beliefs in order to stubbornly follow a consistent path. He argues that a commitment can change our self-image and force us to act contrary to our own best interests.

“When it occurs unthinkingly, consistency can be disastrous. Nonetheless, even blind consistency has its attractions” – Robert Cialdini, Influence.

Why does consistency become a habit?

Due to our motivation to be consistent we will often automatically make decisions based purely upon achieving this consistency. This of course saves mental energy as it avoids complex decisions. But it can also shield us from the negative and unpleasant consequences of our actions.

“Sealed within the fortress walls of rigid consistency, we can be impervious to the sieges of reason.” – Robert Cialdini, Influence.

Why is commitment so important?

Psychologists believe that stubborn and ill-considered consistency is often the result of people making a public stand or commitment to something.   Once such a commitment has been made people have a tendency to try to ensure consistency at almost all cost even though  it may go against their inner beliefs.

Just look at how UK MPs have supported Brexit since the EU referendum. According to a poll by the Press Association over two thirds of MPs voted to remain in the EU in the referendum. But as the Prime Minister and many MPs made a public declaration to abide by the result the vast majority of MPs voted to support the Bill to trigger Article 50 to take Britain out of the EU.  This is despite the fact that only 52% of voters supported Brexit and many MPs still believe Brexit will seriously harm the economy and the UK’s standing in the world. That is quite extraordinary behaviour.

What kind of commitment?

The psychologist Steven J Sherman arranged for a sample of residents in Bloomington, Indiana, to be telephoned for a survey. Participants were asked to predict what they would say if they were asked to give up 3 hours of their time to collect money for the American Cancer Society.

Not wishing to appear selfish many of the people called indicated they would volunteer. This resulted in a 700% increase in the proportion of people volunteering when they were contacted a few days later by an operator from the American Cancer Society.

Another strategy used by charity call centres involves asking people about their current well-being. The operator asks something like “How are you feeling this evening?” Once a person confirms publicly they are in good health it is much harder for the individual to refuse to help people where all is not well. The theory here is that people who have just indicated that they are doing well find it awkward to appear uncaring by not donating money to the needy in this context.

Start small to aim big!

There is also the foot-in-the-door technique which means that by starting with a small request we can often get compliance later on for a much larger request. This can work in two ways.

Firstly it establishes a commitment to a cause which means we are more willing comply with much larger additional requests. Secondly it can change our self-image from a prospect to a customer or a citizen to a supporter of a cause. This latter effect can result in people agreeing to requests that are only remotely connected to the original small favour they complied with.

Deeds are more influential than words!

To understand a person’s attitudes and beliefs we tend to observe their behaviour. Psychologists have discovered that we also look at our own behaviour to guide our feelings and attitudes. Our deeds are much more influential than words when it comes to our inner beliefs.  And writing our thoughts on paper is one way of showing our commitment to a cause.

Writing our ideas on paper is more effective than a verbal commitment because research indicates that the greater the effort we put into a commitment, the more effective it is at influencing our attitudes and behaviour.

Further, a written commitment also acts as physical evidence of our support for a cause and it reduces the likelihood that we might forget or deny the act. In may also be used to persuade other people because we have a natural tendency to believe that written statements accurately reflect the beliefs of the person who made them.

Strategies for conversion:

This is one reason why salespeople will often ask prospects to complete sales agreements as it is one way of getting them to make a small commitment to the purchase. Many organisations also get staff to set their own sales targets and commit to them by writing them down on paper.

Image of testimonials from winkbingo.com and Google Analytics

Testimonial competitions are another commonly used approach to benefit from the commitment phenomena as to have a chance of winning people know they have to be complementary about the product or service in some way. What they don’t realise is that such glowing statements help change their own attitudes towards the product as they begin to believe what they have written.

“We are truest to our decisions if we have bound ourselves to them publically” – Robert Cialdini, Influence

People can be extremely stubborn with their commitment even in situations where accuracy rather than consistency should be the priority. Indeed, research involving the criminal justice system found that hung juries were significantly more common if jurors had to initially indicate their position with a physical show of hands rather than a secret ballot. The act of publicly sharing their initial opinion appeared to make them more reluctant to change their decision later on.

This can be used to good use where we are trying to encourage people to give up a harmful habit such as smoking, over-eating or gambling.  Many weight reduction programs understand that a person’s private commitment is not strong enough to withstand the many temptations that we come across every day. For this reason such programs ask clients to write down their weight targets and share them publicly with other members and family/friends.

Can a commitment change self-mage?

Studies suggest that commitments have most impact upon a person’s self-image and behaviour when they are active, public and effortful acts. In addition the change is most likely to be long lasting if the person own what they have done.

Psychologists found that people are most likely to take ownership of behaviour if they feel they decided to undertake the action without any strong outside pressure. This means that using a large incentive, such as a cash prize, can be counter-productive as the individual may not accept inner responsibility for the act. Thus for people to take ownership of an act it is best to keep any incentives as small as possible.

Here is a summary of the main approaches to obtaining commitment and consistency:

Commitment and consistency is one of the most powerful methods of social influence

 

Implications for conversion rate optimisation:

As Cialdini points out commitment is key. Get visitors to commit to something small, such as giving their email address for access to a white paper or your website and this increases the likelihood that they will perceive themselves as customers. Once they see themselves as customers this increases the chance they may purchase products or services from you.

Ask a simple question:

Lifehack.org is a leading wellbeing and lifestyle blog that publishes tips on how to improve many aspects of your life. When I was researching one of my posts I landed on the site and came across a great example of how to use a small commitment to improve sign-ups.

After about 10 seconds on the site a pop-up is displayed which asks a seemingly innocuous question about self-improvement; “try something different today. Don’t stay stuck. Do better.” If you click on the  “I agree” CTA you are then immediately served an email capture form with the heading “We think so, too!”

Example of how to ask a question to get commitment for improving blog sign-ups

Because you have just agreed that you would like to try something different you feel almost compelled to sign-up to act consistently with how you replied to the first pop-up.  This is a really clever way of using the psychology of commitment to improve sign-up rates.

Become a customer for free!

Whilst working for an insurance company we offered prospects the opportunity to sign-up for a year’s free accidental death cover in return for providing their email address and name and address. Due to the low level of cover and the fact that the probability of an accident causing death are quite small this cost the company relatively little money.

However, we managed to sign up many thousands of new customers from the campaign. We could then  target them with other products that they were now more likely to buy as they were no longer prospects, but customers.

Ask for a review!

For apps get a high rating and a positive review of the user experience by targeting loyal customers. Make sure you then email these users to thank them for their efforts and confirm that their review will be publicly available for all users to see.

Run competitions for slogans, strap lines and testimonials with a promise to display the best ones on your website. Once people have written a positive statement about your brand they are more likely to become a brand advocate and will be a positive influence on other potential customers.

Offer a dream!

JohnChow.com offers advice on how to monetise your blog site. On the homepage there is a great heading in the form of a question – “Do You Dare to Dream?” The very prominent single call to action offers you the chance to download John Chow’s free eBook and “achieve your freedom”. This is a form of commitment as the heading is asking visitors a question and the eBook is a possible solution.

Once you click on the CTA you are served a very simple form asking you to enter your name and email address. As visitors have clicked on the CTA which promises “achieve your freedom” they are likely to feel compelled to complete the form to be consistent with their previous commitment.

In addition, as they will now perceive themselves as customers this should increase the likelihood that they will be prepared to buy one of JohnChow’s  services at some point in the future.

Image of JohnChow.com's email capture form
Image Source:

Consistency for consistency’s sake!

Digital marketers can also fall into the trap of commitment and consistency. Brand guidelines create a strong commitment that most people feel obliged to adhere to. However, applying consistency without thought can harm the user experience and reduce conversion.

I often come across copy that is low contrast and unreadable or the CTA is not prominent because designers have blindly followed brand guidelines. Brand guidelines should not be used as a reason not to think about the design and how it appears to the user. Because brand guidelines cover the whole site there are often instances where they just don’t make sense because guidelines are just that. They should guide, but not be applied automatically without thought.

Below is an example from partycasino.com which uses a  grey font on a black background. The contrast is really poor and the use of pink for hyperlinks is especially distracting.

Image of partycasino.com homepage where the colour pink is used for links

Displaying identical navigation elements in the header across the whole site can result in redundant and distracting navigation tabs on certain pages (e.g. Join Now link shown on a sign-up form). This can also lead to situations where certain navigation elements (e.g. an Options tab) only have one menu item on some pages because of the site structure.

Consistency in design is seen as beneficial because the user becomes accustomed to what to expect from a site. However, this begs the question should we never surprise visitors? The answer to this depends on the context, purpose and quality of the surprise. What is the cost of not surprising visitors compared to the benefits of delivering something unexpected?

Consistency is only one of a number of design principles and sometimes they conflict with one another. If we want to optimise conversion this may sometimes mean making compromises with consistency to give priority to more important elements of the user experience.

Conclusion:

Consistency is a powerful force in social influence that can be employed to nudge users towards desired actions. Remember commitment is the main driver of consistency and it is one of the few persuasive weapons that can also change a person’s self-image. Consistency is such a strong motivator that it can even create habits that will sustain long-term behavioural change. Use it with care and also avoid falling into the trap of consistency for consistency’s sake when making design decisions.

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

Why are the habits of successful people a myth?

What is a narrative fallacy?

Have you noticed social media’s obsession with the habits of successful people, how politicians suggest simple solutions to complex problems and the appeal of magical ‘silver bullet’ fixes? People like to simplify things as we have a natural desire to understand what causes events and we hate uncertainty. In the book The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb describes how people can’t help but create narratives that do not exist, particularly when those stories confirm our existing beliefs.

Nassim Taleb coined the term narrative fallacy to describe; “our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them.” We can see this all the time as people create stories to explain random and unpredictable events as this makes us feel smarter and more in control of our destiny.

“Once your mind is inhabited with a certain view of the world, you will tend to only consider instances proving you to be right. Paradoxically, the more information you have, the more justified you will feel in your views,” – Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan.

Posts describing the habits of highly successful people are a classic example of the narrative fallacy because writers mistake random attributes as causal relationships. There is no one-size fits all answer for how to become successful,  it’s a myth created by bad science.

Image of traits of successful and unsuccessful people
Image Source:

Take this post I saw on LinkedIn which shows the characteristics of successful and unsuccessful people. For each of the attributes shown for successful people I can think of many examples of people at the top of their profession who do not demonstrate these characteristics.

Zappos vs Amazon!

Image of Tony Hsieh and Jeff Bezos

If we look at major e-commerce retailers in the US, Tony Hsieh of Zappos published a best-selling book on the “happy place” culture he created at Zappos. He managed to build a billion dollar company, but so did Jeff Bezos at Amazon and yet he has a completely different approach to corporate culture. Bezos runs a very tight ship in terms of costs and has a “take it or leave it” attitude towards employees. It is not uncommon to hear complaints about the working environment at Amazon from ex-employees.  So, for every Hsieh you are likely to get a Bezos with a successful company doing the very opposite.

Another great example is Donald Trump. He managed to sell a convincing narrative to become the US President, but he doesn’t accept responsibility for his failures. He argues that anything negative is likely to be fake news made up by the media. Further, within the first month after becoming president Trump tried to take credit for immigration and job-creation initiatives that started before he took office. He’s not alone in his approach either as there are lots of successful business people who have succeeded partly because of their arrogant, overconfident attitude as people often mistake confidence with competence.

Trump’s use of fake news is also clearly a strategy to create a narrative fallacy in the minds of his supporters. He wants them to believe that the media are spreading lies about him to convince them that he is the one telling the truth. When it all goes wrong, which I think is inevitable, he will blame everyone but himself for his failure.

Businesses change and so do people!

A further reason why habits of successful people are a narrative fallacy relates to the fact they are usually based upon the characteristics of the individual after they have become successful. For these habits to be indicative of why they became successful they would have had to remained constant throughout their rise from office junior or  start-up founder to being CEO of a billion dollar corporation.

We all know this is complete rubbish as one can’t manage a small start-up in the same way you do a billion dollar business. For a start the complexity of a large corporation requires a very different approach than you would take with a tiny start-up, both in terms of management style and cultural values.

Hard work and luck matter!

Successful people can teach us lessons, but rather than looking at their behaviours, often it is how they approach challenges and define a problem that is more enlightening. Their experience often gives them great insights into how to deal with challenges, but don’t link an ability to be a good business person with how they live their life. What people often forget is that luck and hard work play a significant role in how successful we become in our professional lives.

Implications for Digital Marketing:

Storytelling can be especially dangerous for optimisers as it encourages us to rely on our existing mental models to generate new solutions. This is because we automatically restrict our testing and learning to those ideas consistent with those same mental models and may fail to consider alternatives that don’t fit with our narrative fallacy. As a result you can damage the efficiency of your program by limiting its scope.

When A/B testing it’s also easy to fall into the trap of trying to explain the psychological reasons why the challenger variant beat the default. We can never really be certain why users behave differently when faced with one design compared to another as we don’t have access to the non-conscious brain which makes most decisions. Further, confirmation bias means that our minds automatically focus on reasons that fit in with our existing beliefs and so we are prone to jumping to conclusions that align with our belief system.

Similar to this is the Causation Bias which is our tendency to see a cause and effect relationship in a situation where none exists. This is especially the case where we find a correlation and assume a causation even though there is no known reason or there to be causation.

How to counter the narrative fallacy?

Establishing a strong hypothesis for an experiment based upon scientific evidence before you proceed is an important strategy as this helps us avoid hypothesizing after the results are known (HARKing). Further, be disciplined with data collection and the length of your experiment to avoid cherry picking data points. When deciding how long to run your test ensure you factor in the length of the business cycle and avoid stopping the experiment before you have both a  high level of statistical confidence and a low error rate (usually below 5%).

Avoid communicating changes in conversion rates for tests that don’t reach full statistical confidence. This just encourages people to create narratives that are not based upon reliable data. Unfortunately some marketers who do not understand statistics will put optimisers under pressure to this, but it should be refused on the basis that it will result in narrative fallacies.

Finally, focus on what action you are going to take as a result of the experiment, rather than thinking about why the result happened.

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

Is LinkedIn The New Facebook?

The First Rule of Social Media Marketing:

I recently saw this post on LinkedIn and wondered why some users were surprised by the negative comments it received.

Image of post on LinkedIn timeline

The post reads; “Last weekend I had the pleasure of travelling to Berlin on a private chartered plane. After being escorted through security ‘VIP’ , we were met with Prosecco before heading onto the plane. If 2017 carries on like this, I’m going to have a pretty great year.”

One user posted this comment in response to the negative feedback:

“Great stuff Tim. What I fail to understand is all the negatively here, get a grip people & if you don’t like it scroll on by & enjoy your day. It’s quite simple really.”

Well, are you guys trying to turn LinkedIn into the new Facebook or are you just submitting the same posts to all your social media platforms? Whichever it is you need to stop doing it because the first rule of social media is to tailor your message to your audience.

LinkedIn is a professional networking site for making contacts and sharing useful content. It is not for boasting about how lucky you are to have been on a private jet. Enjoying yourself at work is important, but LinkedIn is not the platform to distribute this kind of self-congratulating twaddle. It’s unprofessional and annoying to other users.

Indeed, if I was a potential client of the agency concerned I would question their fees if they can afford to send employees on a private charter plane. Maybe the charter plane was paid for by a client or someone else, but that’s not the point. It creates that thought in your brain that is how my fees are being spent.

These types of posts also dilute the effectiveness of the LinkedIn timeline and put off users browsing their homepage. As the comment above suggests you can; “scroll on by” but just don’t expect me to scroll for very long as I can go to Facebook to read this kind of bragging content.

The power of LinkedIn:

LinkedIn is still a very effective social media platform though. Whilst the time line is getting clogged up with mediocre stuff the special interest groups are fantastic for sharing quality content with like-minded people. LinkedIn is currently my number one source of social media traffic because I spent time finding interest groups that closely match the target audience for my blog posts. The content is therefore relevant to users and I get constructive comments and good click through to my website.

Finally:

So I’m not against people having fun at work, but just make sure you think before you post on your LinkedIn timeline. Otherwise LinkedIn will turn into a version of Facebook that will damage its effectiveness as a networking tool. Ask yourself a few questions.  How relevant and appropriate is the content to my LinkedIn contacts. Also, what will it say about me and my company to other users on LinkedIn? The latter is the main point really. As unlike on Facebook where most people don’t give a toss where you work on LinkedIn your job title and company is very visible.

Thank you for reading my post. If you found it interesting please share using the social media icons below.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

Why Do Some Ideas Go Viral?

What is the Bandwagon Effect?

For an idea to go viral people have to copy and share it with other people they interact with.  But what makes this process continue to build up momentum for an idea to spread throughout our social networks? Many marketers focus on targeting “influencers” but is this the right approach? Analysis of the bandwagon effect may provide answers to these questions.

The bandwagon effect is a psychological tendency where the adoption of ideas, products or behaviour increases with the uptake (or perceived uptake) by others. This means that the propensity to take-up something rises as more people decide to follow the trend (i.e. jump on the bandwagon).

When people seek to align their beliefs and behaviour with a specific group this is also called herd instinct. For example, people may purchase a new electronic gadget due to its popularity within their peer group, not because they necessarily need it.

The bandwagon effect is an important driver of behaviour as people align their beliefs and actions with others as they prefer to conform or they derive information from others. Indeed, research indicates that many purchase decisions and behaviours are the result of social influence. For this reason displaying evidence of social proof can be a very effective strategy for establishing trust and credibility for an online brand.

Copy, Copy, Copy:

Mark Earls, author of Herd, suggests that because people are “super social” we naturally copy the behaviour of others, often without even being conscious of it. Few ideas are new and so rather than reinvent the wheel people naturally copy others when they believe it will be beneficial.

Earls argues that social learning as he calls it helps to spread ideas, products and behaviour through our social networks. It is also a major reason for the success of the human race because it allows people to pass ideas and knowledge onto future generations without the need for them to be reinvented. Further, because people often makes mistakes when copying an idea or behaviour this can sometimes lead to improvements that are then copied by other people and become adopted as a new idea.

Asset bubbles:

This bandwagon effect is also seen during stock market and asset bubbles where people stop using their own judgement and rely on the wisdom of the crowd. People wrongly assume that other investors must have knowledge they don’t and also they seek to avoid regret (which they might feel if they don’t follow the crowd).

There is also some evidence in politics of the bandwagon effect with undecided voters choosing to support the party with most popular candidate because they wish to be associated with the biggest party.

Evolutionary Advantage?

Some psychologists also believe that the bandwagon effect may be an evolutionary strategy for reducing the risk of making a poor decision. Being part of a large crowd can certainly provide protection in dangerous environments. Merchants also risk losing reputational capital if they sell sub-standard goods or services to a member of a large group. People understand this and so assume that they are less likely to be ripped-off if they buy from a well-known supplier who is known to other members of their social network.

What conditions make it go viral?

In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that for something to spread widely through a population there need to be three types of agents involved. These are connectors, mavens and salespeople.

  1.  Connectors are people with an innate ability to form and maintain long-term relationships with a diverse range of individuals.
  2. Mavens are people who love collecting and sharing specialist knowledge, and have the necessary social skills to pass the information onto others.
  3. Salespeople are very expressive and adept at persuading people through both non-verbal and verbal cues. Indeed, Gladwell suggests these people are much more emotionally contagious than the average person.

However, even with all these agents being aware of an idea or behaviour it will only spread effectively if it is what Gladwell calls “sticky”. This means that the message is memorable in a way that engages and motivates people to share it. Only when this condition is met are we likely to get the kind of behaviour needed to result in a geometric progression which characterises a viral episode.

This may explain why companies with a strong customer-related purpose or personal crusade tend to perform better than the average. This is because people who hold the same passion and beliefs are more motivated to share a brand that embodies these goals with others. The insight here is not to focus on influencing a particular type of individual, but instead find your purpose idea and live it.

When an idea or trend gets to a certain point in popularity (known as the tipping point) an availability cascade forms which results in a sudden and huge increase in the adoption of the item. Gladwell suggests that what triggers a cascade are not large changes in behaviour or circumstances, but lots of small changes that amplify the trend. So don’t look to create a large splash, but instead work on generating lots of small ripples and hope they may trigger something bigger later on.

The bandwagon effect & conversion optimisation:

Developing a compelling purpose-led value proposition is an important first step in using the bandwagon effect to improve conversions. It is not what you say about your brand that matters, it is what your customers and staff say that determines what your brand stands for. By having a clear purpose and aligning your businesses’ and staff’s behaviour with what is important to your customers you are more likely to motivate visitors to interact and share your brand with others.

Example of Celebrity Endorsement

Image of cristiano ronaldo playing poker
Image Source: PokerStars.uk

Secondly, evidence of social proof can help online conversion optimisation. This includes customer testimonials, celebrity testimonials, number of customers, product rating and reviews, social media likes and shares, awards and brand logos of well-known customers or partners. Indeed, a lack of social proof is often a key reason for poor online conversion rates as visitors are reassured when they perceive that a site is popular and trusted by many other customers.

Example of Social Proof A/B Test

Example of A/B testing customer numbers for social proof

In the above A/B test example the only difference between the two variants is that we changed the number of monthly players from all players on the left (i.e. total number of players for all rooms throughout the whole month) to the number of unique players (i.e. only counting each player once in a month) on the right. This dramatically reduced the number of active players that could be quoted underneath the call to action button. Variant B which displays the lower number of unique monthly players reduced registration conversion on the landing page by 5%.

Conclusion:

The bandwagon effect is one of the most important drivers of conversion and sustainable growth. Like any strategy for improving conversion it is essential to establish a strong and compelling base (i.e. a purpose led value proposition) first. This will help to encourage interaction with your brand which facilitates the sharing of your idea or product through social networks.

Having clear evidence of social proof on your site or app should also be a priority as it provides reassurance to visitors that you are a popular and trusted brand. Use online experiments to validate the implementation of social proof as it is particular sensitive to how and where it is communicated.

Related posts:

Herd instinct – Are most purchase decisions the result of social influence?

Herd instinct – How do social networks influence human behaviour?

Herd instinct – What makes social networks tick?

Word of Mouth – 6 myths about word of mouth marketing.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

11 Strategies From The Paradox of Choice To Boost Conversions!

Why More Is Less!

In his book The Paradox of Choice – Why more is less, Barry Schwartz challenges the myth that giving people more choice is positive and makes people feel in control. Rather, he suggests that too much choice creates anxiety and reduces satisfaction with the choices we make. Choice overload also results in people freezing and not making any decision because they fear making a bad decision.

To cope with the problems created by choice overload Schwartz suggests eleven strategies for reducing the amount of time we spend making decisions and being happier with those decisions. In this post I examine these ideas and outline what conversion optimisation can learn from these insights.

1. Chose when to chose:

Identify which choices really matter to you and concentrate your time and energy on those opportunities. There are costs associated with decision making. If you do not feel any better for using the time to make a decision you should consider what you have gained from the experience. Limit the number of options you give yourself and reduce the time and energy you invest in making less important decisions.

Strategy for conversion:

Use anticipatory design techniques to simplify decision making by using data you collect on customer behaviour to predict user needs. This allows you to restrict the number of options you present to visitors to minimise cognitive strain.

Spotify uses this approach to build a weekly personalised playlist for each customer. They achieve this by collecting data on past behaviour to build a taste profile for each customer. This allows them to apply an affinity score for each artist as an indication of how core they are to your tastes. It then uses a machine learning algorithm to analyse on-going behaviour to predict which genres you are most likely to be willing to explore new music.

Image of Discover Weekly play list as an example of anticipatory design
Image source: Spotify.com

The algorithm then looks for users who have created playlists featuring songs and artists you also enjoy to identify songs that have been added to these playlists but that you have not listened to before. It then applies your taste profile to adjust its findings by areas of affinity and exploration to produce a personalised weekly play list – Discover Weekly.

For e-Commerce provide prominent  filters to enable selective browsing. Ensure your primary call-to-action is prominent and compelling.  A clear visual hierarchy also helps to draw attention towards the decision you want the visitor to make.

2. Be a chooser, not a picker:

A chooser considers what makes a decision important and if none of the options meets their needs they look to create different options. People become pickers when they experience choice overload.  To become a chooser we must be prepared to rely more on customs, norms and rules to make less important decisions automatic.

Strategy for conversion:

Provide guidance, such as links to how to posts, and buying tips to allow customers to simplify and shorten the decision making process. Customs and norms are important drivers of behaviour so ensure you use them to your advantage. This means complying with basic  web conventions as people are creatures of habit and you are likely to increase cognitive load if visitors can’t find things where they expect them to be.

Similarly research the market before launching into a new country to understand cross-cultural dimensions in website design and optimisation. Don’t fall foul of different web conventions because you don’t understand cultural differences in new markets.  For example, Vehicle hire company Hertz uses the same domain (Hertz.com) for all countries that it operates in but uses different languages, visuals and appropriate copy to ensure it allows for cultural differences.

Singapore                                                   Chile

Image of Hertz.com homepage for Singapore and Chile
Image source: Hertz.com

 

3. Satisfy more and maximise less:

People that maximise worry about regret to a greater extent and are also more disappointed when the consequences of decisions are not as positive as they hoped. Being willing to aim for a “good enough” outcome simplifies decision making and improves satisfaction.

Strategy for conversion:

Recognise for most decisions people are happy to satisfy rather than maximise. Avoid using phrases such as “ideal” or “perfect” solution as this is out of step with what your customers are looking for. Offer free trials or money back guarantees to reduce the risk from the customer’s perspective.

4. Think about the opportunity costs of opportunity costs:

The more time we spend comparing alternatives when evaluating our most preferred option the less satisfied we tend to be with our final decision. This is because thinking about the best features of something we rejected will distract us from the satisfaction we receive from the selected item. This is why satisfiers tend to be happier with their choices as they see less need to undertake lots of research.

Strategy for conversion:

Reduce the need for customers to do their own research by including a table of your product’s features compared with your main competitors. Ideally use an independent source and ensure it is a balanced comparison so that you show where competitors may have a better feature. People appreciate honesty as this helps build trust in a brand.

5. Make your decisions non-reversible:

People like the ability to return items they have purchased but what they don’t appreciate is that knowing that this option is available increases the probability that they will change their mind and reduces their satisfaction with the outcome. Agonising over whether we have a made the best decision is a recipe for misery.

Indeed, when we are unable to change our minds we are more satisfied because our brains use a number of psychological processes to convince ourselves that we have made the best decision.

Strategy for conversion:

Ensure you congratulate customers when they complete a purchase and remind them of why your product or service is one of the best on the market. In your confirmation email include testimonials or awards to provide evidence that customers are generally delighted with their decision to buy from your site. Don’t assume the process ends when a customer makes a purchase.

6. Practice an attitude of gratitude:

Everything is relative and how feel about the choices we make is strongly affected by what we compare them with. Schwartz suggests that we can significantly improve our subjective experience by consciously being more grateful for the good aspects of what we purchase or experience. We are more likely to be happy with our choices if we reflect on how much better things are than they might have been rather than putting our focus on areas where alternatives might have delivered better outcomes.

Strategy for conversion:

Gratitude works both ways. Ensure you show appreciation for your customers by giving them regular feedback on how they are doing. If they open an account, add something to their basket, download software or make a purchase congratulate them and make them feel important. Emphasize your strongest features in communications to reinforce the benefits of their purchase.

7. Regret less:

Regret is sometimes necessary, but given the complexity of life today it is rare to come across any single decision that has the life-transforming power that we might thing it has. Further, when regret becomes so dominant that it pollutes or prevents decisions, we should seek to reduce it. Schwartz suggests people become a satisfier rather than a maximiser, limit the number of options we consider and practice gratitude for what is good about a decision.

Strategy for conversion:

Regret is often caused by broken promises. Ensure that you deliver what you promised and align all your behaviours with your value proposition so that customers see that you practice what you preach. Customers show most loyalty to brands that demonstrate they have similar values and aspirations to themselves.

Image of Tesco cancer research race-for-life partnership
Source: Tesco.com

The best way of showing this though is in your behaviour towards customers and employees. Support good causes that are consistent with your values and avoid policies and practices that are inconsistent with these standards and principles.

8. Anticipate adaption:

Psychologists have noticed that people over-estimate how much pleasure or difference decisions have on our lives as we adapt more quickly than we anticipate. When times are hard this helps us to avoid the full impact of hardship, but when life is going well this places us on a “hedonic treadmill” which takes away much of the satisfaction we expect from a positive experience.

Schwartz suggests we develop more realistic expectations about how perceptions change over time and reduce the time and energy we expend researching and deliberating over decisions.

Strategy for conversion:

Allow for adaption by not over-promising or making out your product will change customer’s lives as few products or services achieve this. Be realistic and customers are less likely to be disappointed and return or cancel their subscription. Also use post-purchase communications to provide tips and suggestions on how customers can get the most out of their purchase. For example Music apps like Spotify and Deezer inform customers about new tracks, artists and playlists that they might like.

9. Control Expectations:

Our perception of an experience is heavily influenced by how it compares with our expectations. Eliminating excessively high expectations is the quickest route to increasing satisfaction, but this is not helped by a world that encourages high expectations.

Strategy for conversion:

Managing expectations is about clear and timely communications. London Underground improved satisfaction with its service not by running more trains but by installing LED screens on station platforms to inform customers about how long they would have to wait for the next train. Ensure that you keep your customers informed at each stage of the process and provide a range of genuine testimonials about how your product or service helps solve your customer’s problem.

10. Curtail social comparisons:

We often can’t help but compare ourselves with other people, but as Schwartz points out social comparisons may reduce our level of satisfaction with what we have. The old saying “you can’t take it with you” comes to mind when comparing what we have with the wealthiest in society. Schwartz suggests that we minimise social comparison because it can be so destructive.

Strategy for conversion:

We are social and interconnected animals and as a result are heavily influenced by what we think other people are doing. Evidence that your brand is popular and trusted can be very persuasive for prospective customers. Social proof, such as testimonials, customer numbers, customer ratings and reviews give people the confidence they may need to transact on your site.

However, social proof can also simplify choices by helping customers explore and try new options. For example Spotify displays how many people follow each artist, song and playlist. This is a great way of encouraging people to listen to music they haven’t heard before as people often use popularity as a proxy for safety and avoiding disappointment.

Image of Spotify app with social proof
Image source: Spotify.com

Always display some evidence of social validation on your site as people love to associate themselves with brands that are popular and are supported by similar minded people.

11. Learn to love constraints:

Schwartz argues that freedom of choice can become a tyranny of choice due to the ever increasing number of daily options we are faced with. However, many people conform to rules, standards and norms established by society and create habits to speed up decision making. These strategies allow us to free up time and energy that we can spend on the more important decisions in our lives.

Strategy for conversion:

Much of what we call brand loyalty is actually the result of customers forming habits. The most successful brands minimise friction and deliver a great customer experience to encourage habit formation. Examine your value proposition and your customer journey to identify ways to encourage habit formation or try piggy-backing off an existing habit as this is easier than creating new habits. Marketing communications should focus on disrupting existing habits rather than simply telling a story.

Conclusion:

The Paradox of Choice reminds us that sometimes when we think we are improving the customer experience we might in fact be doing the opposite. Don’t assume that you understand how your customers will react to a change. A/B testing and bandit testing are tools to be used to reduce this uncertainty. Use them appropriately and they can save your organisation a lot of money.

Thank you for reading my post and if you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

 

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

How does fake news shape beliefs?

Why do facts not change opinions?

There is a general misconception that by presenting facts and figures that contradict a person’s existing beliefs we can change their opinion. Hilary Clinton certainly tried such a rational approach in the 2016 US presidential election. However,  she failed to win enough votes in the states where it mattered despite Donald Trump running with much more emotive and populist arguments.  Why does this happen and how does fake news (or “alternative  facts” as Kellyanne Conway refers to them) influence our beliefs?

The backfire effect is a psychological bias which is a tendency for people to reject evidence that contradicts deeply held beliefs. As a result our opinions become even more entrenched than before we received the new information.   This may explain why the attacks on Trump’s suitability to become US president during the 2016 campaign had no impact on his popularity among his core supporters. They rejected the information as unreliable.

What causes the backfire effect?

The experience of receiving evidence that is inconsistent with our beliefs causes cognitive dissonance. This makes us feel very uncomfortable and as a defence mechanism our brain creates new memories and neural connections that further strengthen existing beliefs to dismiss the new information and eliminate cognitive dissonance. Over time we also become less sceptical of those ideas that support our beliefs which are often the very same concepts that may be incorrect.

Evidence:

In 2006, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler (PDF), two leading researchers of political science, created fake newspaper articles on politically sensitive issues. They were written in a way that would support a widespread misconception about a specific idea in US politics.

Once a person had read the fake article they were given an authentic article which outlined a more accurate view of the story. One fake article for instance indicated that the US had found weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. The genuine article clearly stated that the US never found such weapons in Iraq.

Participants who had been opposed to the war or who held strong liberal attitudes tended to disagree with the fake story and accepted the second article. However, those who supported the war and held more conservative beliefs tended to accept the accuracy of the fake article and strongly disagreed with the second post. Further, after reading the authentic article which stated there we no WMDs ever found, conservative leaning participants indicated that they were even more certain than before that Iraq had held WMDs.

Did fake news help Trump?

Emotional factors played a big part in the outcome of the US presidential election.

Research by Ipsos suggests the backfire effect is especially problematic when fake or incorrect news is circulated in the public domain. The danger here is our tendency to be more likely to accept something as true the more times we are exposed to the same information (see Availability Cascade).

During the 2016 US election fake news stories circulated on Facebook and other social media platforms. The Ipsos survey found that fake news headlines were accepted as true by those who were exposed to them around 75% of the time.

Further, people who gave Facebook as their major news source were more likely to perceive fake news headlines as genuine stories compared to those who were less reliant on the social media platform.  This dispels the myth that people can tell what is genuine information on Facebook.

“The 2016 election may mark the point in modern political history when information and disinformation became a dominant electoral currency,” – Chris Jackson of Ipsos Public Affairs

Republican leaning voters were more likely than Democrats to accept fake news as being accurate (84% compared to 71%). Similarly Clinton voters were less likely than Trump voters to perceive fake news as being true (58% compared to 86% for Trump voters).

This is probably because most top-performing  fake headlines during the campaign were pro-Trump or critical of Clinton. This would support the backfire effect being triggered by the fake news stories. It is also worrying that a majority of Clinton voters who saw the fake news stories considered them to be very or somewhat accurate.

Alternative Facts:

Sean Spicer’s accusation of “deliberately false reporting” by journalists of the numbers attending Trump’s inauguration suggests that Trump intends to try to put doubt in the minds of his supporters about the accuracy of media reports. “Alternative facts” as Kellyanne Conway refers to them are lies. However,  as we have seen above this can be a  very effective strategy for making existing beliefs even stronger among those who support the political party   concerned. Fake news can also put a seed of doubt into the minds of others who have no political allegiance.

Trump has not changed his style of leadership since he became President. He relies on creating social media storms to get his points across and is unlikely to want to lose this weapon going forward. He has changed the rules of politics and his opponents need to realise this and begin to adjust their approach accordingly. That should’t mean using fake news, but they should simply their messaging and speak directly to people about their hopes and concerns.

Journalists also need to be careful not to allow President Trump to use such media storms to obscure other more important news. Over the weekend following the inauguration so much attention was given to the disputed numbers  relatively little time was given to Trump signing an Executive Order to begin the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act.  This will potentially remove medical care for around 1.8 million US citizens. No credible plans are in place to provide these people with replacement cover to a comparable level.

Threat to fair elections:

One of the most worrying lies that Donald Trump has consistently promoted is that there were between 2 to 3 million votes illegally cast during the 2016 presidential election. There is no evidence that there was wide-spread voting fraud at polling stations. Most fraud tends to be carried out with postal voting.

However, Trump’s aim may be to simply make it more difficult for people to vote by increasing the onus on voters to prove their identity. The evidence suggests that these kinds of measures often reduce the likelihood of people from the ethnic minorities to cast their vote. As Trump lacks appeal to many in the ethnic minority community this may be a simple ploy to improve his chances of being re-elected for a second term.

 Did fake news influence Brexit?

Image of the UK Leave campaign website

Similar allegations have been made about the UK European referendum. According to a source at the BBC the Leave campaign in particular tended to submit statement of debatable accuracy either very late of very early in the day in order to get them communicated in morning new programmes. They understood though that amendments or having to retract inaccurate stories would only occur later in the day and by then the content was already circulating and had done its job.

Conclusion:

The human brain instinctively and unconsciously protects your beliefs from harm when confronted with information that is inconsistent with those same beliefs. It does this by making those beliefs even stronger and so more resistant to change.

The danger here is that fake news stories will inevitably lead to  beliefs that don’t stand up to rational scrutiny becoming more entrenched. This could result in even more polarised positions for the two camps in American politics.  Whether fake new stories were the difference between Trump  winning or losing the US election is impossible to know. However, as most fake news was supportive of Trump it is possible that it had an insidious influence.

Marketing Implications:

Clinton should have avoided attacking Trump on a personal level as this just reinforced his supporter’s beliefs about both candidates.  The Democrats would have been better to focus on how they could persuade the undecided voters and engage Clinton’s own supporters.

The learning here is don’t try changing people’s deeply held beliefs as they won’t respond to rational argument. For marketers this suggests changing habits (e.g. a free trial) or using an emotional trigger to engage competitor’s customers.

However, the backfire effect indicates that marketers should concentrate on trying to win over people who don’t have strong beliefs that run counter to their argument. This means running a positive campaign that projects both emotional and rational benefits. Inspire people rather than attacking your competitors as the latter is likely to be counterproductive.

Thank you for reading my post and if you found it useful please share using the social media icons on the page.

 

Related posts:

EU Referendum – Why emotions won over logic?

Brexit campaign – 7 marketing lessons from the Brexit campaigns.

Referendum – Are referendum a device of dictators and demagogues? 

US opinion polls – Why did the polls get it wrong again?

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, check out the Conversion Uplift  Facebook page or connect on LinkedIn.

Secrets of Optimising Gambling Sites – Bonuses

Challenges and Opportunities :

Until I moved to Gibraltar, the self-proclaimed home of online gambling, I had not given much thought to the challenges of optimising online gambling sites. I previously worked in e-commerce and financial services so it was a bit of a change.

Once I had completed a year in the sun I moved to London to work on gaming sites for a further two and half years. I now offer conversion rate optimisation consultancy services to a range of sectors, including gambling sites, and would like to share my thoughts on the challenges and opportunities for optimising these kinds of sites.

In this first post I outline my thoughts on the use of bonuses as an acquisition and retention tool.

Complexity turns customers off:

 

Behavioural psychologists have noticed that mental maths, complex language and reading rules in poor fonts triggers our slow, methodical System 2 decision making process. This alters our mood and makes us less impulsive as we focus our attention on the matter in hand. It can also often result in frustration and unhappiness. Even a simple frown has been found to negatively affect our mood.

As a result gambling sites using dark and low contrast pages are automatically ringing alarm bells in our brain as we sense danger in such environments. This makes people especially cautious, conservative and risk adverse.

Image of low contrast text on Titanbet.co.uk
Image source: Titanbet.co.uk

Some gaming sites also suffer from this reaction due to the complexity and presentation of their sign-up and deposit bonus offers. This is compounded by designers who wrongly believe that displaying small print in grey text on dark backgrounds is less distracting for users. The opposite is true as psychologists have discovered that this type of page design results in disfluency which disrupts the mental flow, increasing perceived effort and leads to cognitive strain.

Insight:

  • Use high-contrast designs unless you want visitors to take extra care with reading instructions. Psychologists have found that low-contrast text encourages people to think more carefully when reading content in such environments and they are less honest compared to high-contrast sites.
  • Avoid difficult to pronounce words as easily read words evoke positive feelings, but the opposite is true for difficult for words that are not.
  • Use familiar words (e.g. avoid jargon) as if something is unfamiliar we are more critical and suspicious of it. We are, also more accepting of familiar ideas and phrases.
  • Avoid multitasking (switching from one task to another) as our brains are not designed for this. Ideally pre-populate bonus code fields. Otherwise allow customers to copy bonus codes (i.e. don’t use images). For mobile customers ask them to take a screen shot of the bonus code as our short-term memory has very limited capacity.
  • Don’t ask for too much information at once. Divide tasks into small steps and break-up registration forms into a number of separate pages. Only ask for information that is absolutely necessary (e.g. gender can be inferred from a person’s name).
  • Ensure there is a clear and compelling differences between choices offered to customers. Asking people to make trade-offs between offers (e.g. welcome packages) which lack a clear reason to select either option creates conflict and makes decision making onerous. It forces us to think about opportunity costs and the losses inevitably involved. Introducing a third, obviously inferior option, presents a comparison that simplifies the decision for customers (see decoy effect).

Gains are nice, but losses motivate more:

Due to loss aversion we understand that people are more concerned about avoiding a loss than making a gain of the same size. This means that if we frame a gain as loss (e.g. “Don’t miss out on a free £10 welcome bonus”) it will be perceived to be more valuable than expressed as a simple gain.

The Benefit of Segregating Gains –  Loss Aversion

 

Chart showing the benefits of segregating gains due to loss aversion
Image source – PDF

 

However, hedonic framing tells us that two individual gains are perceived to be more valuable than a single larger gain of the same total amount. This means you should always segregate gains and especially small gains as the gain curve is steepest near the origin (see diagram below). This suggests that gaming companies would be better to focus on offering a series of small bonuses rather than a single large bonus.

Insight:

  • Focus on offering a series of small bonuses rather than a single large bonus as this will be perceived to have significantly greater value to customers.
  • Smaller gains should also be segregated from larger losses because of the steepness of the gain curve means that the utility of a small gain is likely to exceed the utility of slightly reducing that of a large loss.

This is also called  the silver lining effect and explains the appeal of cash-back or loss-back promotions such as this one from Paddypower. Slot machines also benefit from the phenomena as they show winnings separately from the amount wagered.

Image of cashback offer from paddypower.com
Image source: Paddypower.com

 

  • Loss aversion also indicates that people should add together losses because the loss function is convex. This means that when we make multiple small losses and look at them separately we feel more pain than if we combined them into a single loss. This explains why people get more concerned about a series of small losses than a single large loss of around the same size.

 

Rewards need to be achievable to motivate:

As I discussed in my post on the psychology of rewards, offering an incentive to complete a task can be a great way of motivating people, but for this to work effectively the goal needs to be achievable without too much effort. Otherwise people become despondent and lose interest. For some sites where there is also a time limit to release a bonus this is a concern as the level of commitment required can be unrealistic for most recreational players.

For example to release the poker bonus shown below from Betfair.com you need to earn 1,250 Status Points before you get your first £10 and you have to achieve this within 45 days. However, if you want to start off on beginners tables  as I did with micro-stakes you will earn relatively few Status Points and will struggle to obtain a bonus despite playing a lot of poker.  There appears to be little allowance for inexperienced players who want to play for low stakes or that for £10 it’s just not worth the effort.

Image of poker deposit bonus terms and conditions from Betfair.com
Image source: Betfair.com

 

The challenge here is to design bonuses that protect companies from potential fraud without penalising genuine new poker customers. The simplest way to deal with this problem is keep the first time deposit bonus to a relatively small sum (e.g. £10) as many new players only deposit the minimum amount when they first sign up.

PokerStars offers a £20 first deposit bonus for all customers who deposit £10 without any need to wager their own money to release the bonus.  This is a much better user experience than discovering you have to earn points within so many days as otherwise your bonus will expire.

Image of deposit bonus of £20 from pokerstars.com
Image source – Pokerstars.uk/

Insight:

  • Rewards need to be perceived as achievable to be effective incentives to help attract and retain customers. Onerous rules and time limits for releasing bonuses reduce their appeal as they lead to anxiety and frustration among regular customers.
  • This often results in poor retention rates which marketing then responds to by offering additional bonuses as an incentive to reactivate customers. Keeping incentives simple and making them more achievable may help break this cycle for some customers and encourage greater loyalty.

It’s not all about bonuses:

Image of 888.com poker table
Source: 888poker.com

Although bonuses are a useful acquisition and retention tool, it’s not the main reason why most genuine customers want to gamble online.  As with any optimisation process successful organisations need to begin by understanding customers and developing a strong value proposition that is aligned to customer expectations and goals. The Lift Model from Widerfunnel is my favourite optimisation tool as it’s a simple but effective way to visualise the optimisation process.

Image of Widerfunnel.com lift model
Source: Widerfunnel.com

The product is also important and the advertising man Dave Trott sums its influence up perfectly.

“The product creates the experience. The experience creates the reputation. The reputation creates the brand.” Dave Trott, One + One = Three.

Some gambling brands clearly understand this. Mr Green for example has created an outstanding online experience with a compelling proposition. This includes a quirky website design which definitely has the novelty factor.

They made responsible gambling prominent in their sign up process long before it became mandatory in the UK and employed account verification measures to prevent customers opening multiple accounts. This strategy of openness and responsibility helps build credibility and confidence among online players that the site is both reliable and trustworthy.

Insight:

  • Your value proposition needs to be much more than just a bonus as otherwise you may only have price to differentiate between you and the competition. When a new visitor lands on a site they will often decide within a matter of seconds whether your proposition appeals to them and so it is essential that you get their attention with relevant imagery, headings, clear reasons to explore further and establish your credibility.
  • As Phil Barden explains in his book Decoded – The science behind why we buy, products work at an explicit level (e.g. we want to play a game of poker) , but brands are perceived to have psychological benefits that help differentiate them from each other (e.g. they offer escapism, fun and recognition of success ).  A strong brand needs to deliver on both explicit and implicit (psychological) goals by communicating a compelling value proposition.
6 main implicit psychologial goals
Source: Decode Marketing

 

  • Phil identified 6 core psychological goals that customers might expect brands to deliver on. These are based on the latest research from the fields of neuroscience and psychology. Check out his book Decoded – I strongly recommend it.

Conclusion:

If a gaming brand is not strongly associated with relevant psychological goals then customers may take the free bonus, but they are unlikely to ever return once they have used it up. Psychological goals are especially important for products where there is little to differentiate between individual brands. Gambling sites are often perceived to have similar offerings and so understanding those deep psychological goals are key to acquisition and retention rates.

Thank you for reading my post and if you found it useful please share using the social media icons on the page.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.

Why did the polls get it wrong again?

When will we learn?

The opinion polls were wrong again! Just like in 2015 with the UK General Election the US polls wrongly predicted the outcome.

Why are opinion polls wrong, wrong, wrong?

The most obvious reason is that we are inter-connected, emotionally volatile beings, with complex underlying psychological motivations that subconsciously drive our behaviour. We are not fully aware of why we might vote for Trump or Clinton.  If you try to over-simplify human decision making you stand no chance of predicting it. Dale Carnegie summed this up very well over 60 years ago:

“When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity”  – Dale Carnegie, How to win friends and influence people

Trump undoubtedly connected with many disillusioned voters at an emotional level. He engaged our fast,  intuitive and impulsive System 1 brain by using highly emotive language in a simple but effective way. “Build a wall”, “deport illegal immigrants” and “lock her up” resonated with many white, working class voters at a deep emotional level.

Hilary Clinton was unable to do the same because she used more rational language which was aimed at System 2, our slow, logical brain. She was also strongly associated with the established political classes and Trump capitalised on this big time with attacks on the Washington elite. Ironically, Trump’s standing was probably helped by the lack of support and criticism he received from many established members of the Republican party.

People don’t tell the whole truth!

With so much negativity about the campaign should we be surprised that some people may have lied about their intentions? We are social creatures and like to feel we fit in with the groups and networks that we associate with. We dislike being an outsider and may feel uncomfortable admitting to ourselves, never mind other people that we are considering voting for someone with highly divisive policies. Get real – people will tell you what they think you want to hear rather than what might be their true intentions.

Stereo types and attitudes:

We also suffer from implicit bias which shape attitudes and stereotypes that influence our behaviour at a subconscious level. This means that we like or dislike certain kinds of people or cultures without being full aware of the reasons. However much we might try to ignore such feelings they are fully integrated into our decision making machinery and insidiously influence our behaviour.

Hilary Clinton is of course a women, ex-first lady, the 67th US Secretary of State and was strongly aligned to the first black president of the United States. Never mind her use of a private email server which opened up a whole can of worms for her during the campaign. Trump played on all these points during the campaign as he even called for Hillary to be jailed. He understood that people are not fully rational or isolated from one another.

What about the undecided voters?

Those people who had not made up their mind (or rather had it made up for them) are always a challenge for pollsters. The evidence suggests that these voters can be heavily influenced by what they think other people are going to do and opinion polls are part of this jigsaw. However, again some voters may just not want to admit how they plan to vote. Taking people literally when they give us an answer to a question is again just plain silly.

Money!

The investigation of the reasons behind the failure to predict the UK General Election in 2015 suggested that the pollsters did not allow enough time or energy to contact Conservative voters. The people they had most difficulty contacting were generally busier and more difficult to get hold of and were more likely to be Conservative voters. This partly comes down to money as taking the effort to knock on doors and actively select people using more scientific sampling methods is extremely time-consuming and expensive.

Conclusion:

However, when it comes down to it the reliance on asking direct questions of people is still a fundamentally flawed way of predicting future behaviour. Like much of the traditional market research that is pumped out each day it is not worth the paper it is printed on. Instead we should be using more implicit and indirect questioning similar to that carried out by Jon Pulseton at Lightspeed Research  or  text analytics as conducted by Tom Anderson. These methods appear better at tapping into the emotional response that each candidate evokes.

Thank you for reading my post. If you found it interesting please share with the social media icons below.

Related Posts:

Polls and the UK 2015 election  – Why did the opinion polls get it so wrong in 2015?

Influence of polls – Do opinion polls influence voters?

European Referendum – Why emotions won over logic?

Marketing lessons – 7 Marketing lessons from the Brexit campaigns.

Referendum – A device for dictators and demagogues?

 

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.

The Psychology of Pokemon Go

Learn the psychological secrets of Pokémon Go’s success!

In just two weeks Pokemon Go, the augmented reality smartphone game designed by Niantic, achieved over 21 million active users in the US, more than Candy Crush did at its peak. The game’s popularity has quickly spread in other countries  and it is now becoming a global phenomenon. So, why did Pokemon Go become a such an instant success and what are the psychological buttons that it pressed to create so many engaged users?

1. Nostalgia from a childhood brand:

Pokemon is a brand that has been established and has grown across multiple entertainment categories for over 20 years. This provided Pokemon with the opportunity to target an existing and passionate audience of players who grew up in the 1990’s and wanted to indulge in an old obsession. This instantly helped Pokemon Go establish itself on a new platform (smartphones and tablets) and created the conditions for the game to spread through social networks to a more diverse and younger audiences.

Image of implicit goals
Source: Decode Marketing

The desire for adventure and escapism is just one of a number of implicit psychological goals that motivate brand choice. Using the latest research from psychology and neuroscience marketing consultant Phil Barden has identified 6 key psychological goals that brands can be perceived to meet. The extent to which people perceive that a brand will fully meet certain psychological goals that they find compelling will help determine which one they choose.

Image of Pokemon Go in App store
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc, iOS App Store

Learning: Leverage brand equity by targeting existing engaged customers to give you a head start to building your app store presence.  Ensure brand communications target appropriate psychological goals that can help generate a strong emotional response to your game or product.

2. Herd mentality:

As social beings our decisions are heavily influenced by what we think other people around us are doing. When in a new or uncertain situation we naturally look to see what other people are doing as a guide to desired behaviour.  Pokemon Go benefited from copy-cat behaviour as our herd instincts assisted the spread of the awareness and adoption of the game through our social networks. Once the number of downloads gave Pokemon Go entry into the download charts this would have further boosted its desirability among trend seekers or gamers unsure about the nature of the game.

 

Top iOS apps in USA for 23rd July 2016
Source: App Annie top iOS apps in USA for 23rd July 2016

 

Learning: Using social proof and encouraging people to interact with your brand across offline and online social networks is a powerful influence on success or failure. How people interact with each other and what they do with your product or idea will determine the nature of your brand, not what you set out in your brand guidelines.

3. Novelty gets attention:

Our brains are hard-wired to be wary of change and so the blending of the real world with the digital world of augmented reality brings fantasy into the game experience in a seamless and engaging manner. This creates a novel user experience that attracts attention. Novelty is a powerful psychological trigger for stimulating our brain. Although augmented reality has been around for a number years, Pokémon Go cleverly integrates it with a real-world game that also activates user’s curiosity.

Image of Pokemon Go Drowzee

Learning: Use novelty to grab attention and create curiosity about your brand.

4. We desire control:

The design of Pokémon Go means that players have a good chance of intercepting a monster where ever they travel. There is no necessity to head for a Pokestop or Gym if it doesn’t fit in with the user’s plans. Monsters often pop-up randomly as players go on their daily business.

Pokémon Go allows players to remain in control and it is up to the user to decide how much effort they want to put into the game. This is important from a psychological perspective as autonomy is one of three basic drivers of human behaviour identified by psychologist Daniel Pink that make people happy and engaged in activities.

Image of Pokemon Go with Venonat showing

 

Learning: Autonomy and our desire to act with choice is something people naturally seek and psychologists believe that it improves our lives. Where possible always offer people choice as we dislike doors being closed or being forced down a particular path.

5. Mastery :

Pokemon Go uses achievements to reward players for progressing through the levels of the game. People love to obtain a high degree of competency in activities they undertake, but can easily get frustrated and abandon a game if a task is not realistically achievable. On the other hand if it is too easy to complete players can lose interest in the game. Pokemon Go achieves a balance by setting a low degree of initial difficulty for new players and using a distance/time barrier to ensure it takes some physical effort to discover more creatures.

Learning: Ensure challenges and tasks are realistically achievable, but not so easy that players lose interest. Mastery is one of our most powerful and intrinsic motivators which drives our passion for achievement.

Pokemon medal for 10 normal Pokemon
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

6. Variable ratio schedule reward model:

In the 1950’s the American psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted experiments to understand how people respond to different reward schedules. He discovered that a variable ratio schedule, where the reward is based upon the number of times the task is undertaken, but the timing is randomised to make it unpredictable, is the best method for encouraging repetitive behaviour. This type of schedule encourages people to complete the behaviour over and over again as they are uncertain when the next reward will be received. It is also resistant to extinction by its very nature and can make some behaviour addictive.

Learning: Link rewards to the frequency of the behaviour, but use a variable ratio schedule to make the timing of the reward unpredictable.

Pokemon Go level up 4
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

7. Use classical conditioning to obtain an automatic response:

When a user walks near a Pokemon, gym or Pokestop, their smartphone gives an audible buzz. As the players is then rewarded with a new Pokemon or other creature this sound becomes associated with the forthcoming reward in the same way that Pavlov’s dog would salivate at the sound of a bell. Classical conditioning creates automatic behaviours by paring a stimulus (a sound) with a response (search for monster nearby).

Learning: Use audible sounds, smells or movement to create automatic behaviours through classical conditioning by pairing a stimulus with a response. Once users have become conditioned to react in a certain way, you may pair another stimulus to the desired behaviour and create a new automatic response.

Image of Pokemon Zubat before capture
Source: Pokemon iOS app

 

8. We are all social beings at heart:

Unlike most apps, Pokemon Go provides the opportunity to meet new people because it requires you to visit local landmarks and walk to places nearby to find Pokémon’s. As human beings we are hard wired to connect and interact with other people. Indeed, social isolation and loneliness are harmful to our long term health and can trigger depression. Playing Pokemon Go therefore benefits are psychological health by creating opportunities for gamer’s to meet and interact with other people.

 

Image of Pokemon Go gym

Learning: Allow people to share or interact with other people as this is an important human characteristic with many benefits for the individuals concerned.

 

9. We benefit psychologically from walking:

There is increasing evidence to suggest a sedentary lifestyle is harmful to our health and that walking is beneficial from both a psychological and physical perspective. We have an innate desire to get outside and research suggests that walking can reduce depression and our risk of diseases such as diabetes.

 

Learning: Creating a game or product that requires or encourages physical exercise has health benefits for the customer and can create natural breaks in product usage which improves attention and engagement.

Image of Pokemon Go map
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

10. Good timing:

Launching the game in the summer and just at the start of the holiday season meant that people are already primed and ready to go outside and explore. We are naturally drawn to sunlight because it increases the amount of vitamin D in our bodies which can help prevent cancer and improves our alertness and mental performance.

Learning: Always consider timing and how it may influence usage to give your product or campaign the best chance of success. Research your audience to identify key factors influencing adoption or likelihood to view your content.

Image of Pokemon Rattata outside Pets at Home store
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

 

11. Easy equals true:

The app is so simple and intuitive to use that it does not require any detailed instructions or much practice to become competent. This means there is little friction associated with getting started and this minimises cognitive load which encourages continued engagement with the app.  Many apps are so poorly designed that they require extensive onboarding instructions and navigation aids. Such complexity can cause cognitive strain and frustration which often leads to apps being abandoned.

Learning: If your user interface requires detailed instructions or navigation aids to allow users to learn how to use it you have failed. Keep user interface designs simple and intuitive.

 

Image of Pokemon Gym description
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

12. Piggy back on existing habits:

People are creatures of habit and so adoption is much easier if you can piggy back off an existing habit rather than having to create a new habit. Most smartphone users take their devices with them as they go for a walk or travel to the office or the shops. Pokemon Go was therefore able to benefit from habitual behaviour which assisted take-up of the game.

 

Learning: Where possible identify existing habits that your product or campaign can benefit from rather than trying to create a new behaviour.

Image of Pokemon Horsea creature
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

13. The power of free:

We are attracted by free apps because people are inherently afraid of loss and free is a powerful motivator because we don’t like to miss out on a bargain. Further, allowing users to play for free minimises the perceived risk of signing up to Pokemon Go because there is no monetary cost to the player if they subsequently find they don’t enjoy the game.

In addition, even partial ownership (e.g. a free trial) tends to make people more attached to what they have and make them focus on what they could lose rather what they may gain. This is why free trials offered by the likes of Spotify and Netflix are so successful.

Pokemon Go generates revenues by players purchasing  virtual coins to exchange for items such as Pokeballs to capture monsters. Once players have moved up a number of levels they may also want to pay to store, hatch, train (in the gym) and battle opponents. Companies also have the ability to sponsor locations to attract players to a real location.

 

Learning: Ownership changes are our perception of things and our aversion to loss makes it more difficult to give up things that we have. For non-fremium apps, offer a free trial to give users ownership and allow them to check out the user experience. To monetise a free app allow players to buy in-app currency to spend on digital goods or enter competitions.

Image of loading screen for Pokemon Go
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

 

What should we take out from Pokémon Go’s success?

Good marketing planning and having the right partners for a venture certainly help. Although we may not be lucky enough to have a global brand that has 20 years of heritage behind it, we can still be careful to create a compelling proposition and ensure that implementation is not rushed. What Pokémon Go does show is that if you can align your marketing with human psychology you will benefit from important drivers of consumer behaviour.

Thank you reading my post. If you found this useful please share with the social media icons on the page.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com.  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.