5 Psychological Biases That Doom Online Marketing Campaigns To Failure

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Biases are dangerous, but when we talk about them, it’s usually in reference to politics, where biases can misdirect votes or legislation, or science and research, where biases can influence supposedly objective outcomes. However, biases can creep into your marketing strategy, as well. The success of your content marketing and SEO campaigns depend on a number of assumptions, from relatively innocuous and agreeable ones like “if I continue writing this type of content, my organic search rankings will improve” to shakier ones like “my target audience will find this joke amusing.”

Your inherent biases, whether they’re based on your personal beliefs, anecdotal evidence, or blind guesswork, can influence these assumptions and lead your campaign in an unfounded direction. While this isn’t automatically a bad thing, you owe it to yourself to check your assumptions and compensate for your biases to lead your campaign that much closer to a true path.

Here are five such biases that can crop up as you plan and execute your inbound marketing strategy:

1. Confirmation Bias. Confirmation bias is a well-known bias that affects most of us, whether we like it or not. It’s responsible for the propagation and survival of a number of superstitions and false beliefs, both inside and outside the marketing community. Confirmation bias is an error in procedural thinking that occurs when a preconceived notion is apparently confirmed by new evidence — even if that evidence isn’t clear or exhaustive.

As a political example, let’s say you firmly believe that presidential candidate “Hector Sanchez” (fake name for illustrative purposes) is the best qualified for the position. You’ll specifically seek out articles that illustrate him as a positive candidate (consciously or unconsciously), and you’ll associate with people who happen to agree with you. The same thing can happen in a content campaign — if you start with any preconceived notion about the effectiveness of a certain strategy, it can influence what research you do and how you interpret otherwise objective results.

2. Post-Purchase Rationalization. Post-purchase rationalization happens after you buy something questionable (usually a luxury or novelty). Because you’ve already lost money on said purchase, your mind tends to rationalize your decision retroactively. For example, let’s say you bought an enormous new TV. When you get it home, you might start saying things to yourself (and your family) like “well, the old one was going out anyway” or “I just couldn’t pass up this deal.” When you turn it on, you might say, “this picture quality definitely justifies the cost.”

This can manifest in your content marketing and SEO strategies, as well, since you’ll be investing time and money into them. You might look hard for any benefit to justify your implementation of these new tactics, giving precedence to your decisions that may or may not actually be there.

3. Projection Bias. Projection bias, as the name suggests, is the tendency to project your own line of thinking and reasoning onto other people. We intrinsically believe that other people are more like us than they actually are, so it’s easy to project our own qualities onto other people. For example, you might believe that more people agree with your political views or religion than actually do.

In the content and SEO world, this manifests as an assumption about your audience. You might assume that people will want to read your content because it’s content you would want to read — but this isn’t necessarily true. Always back up your assumptions with objective, data-based market research.

4. The Ambiguity Effect. The ambiguity effect is a bias that makes logical sense in most situations; it dictates that people tend to favor decisions with known outcomes over those with unknown outcomes. You can see why this is advantageous in the wild — choosing a fruit you know to be safe is better than trying to eat one that may or may not be poisonous.

However, we aren’t in the wild, and content marketing and SEO demand experimentation if your business is going to survive. Technological mechanics, including Google’s algorithm, change often, and your competitors are constantly striving for growth to exceed yours. Experimenting is the only way to improve upon your existing efforts, even if you aren’t sure the outcome will ultimately benefit your strategy. As an example, this bias will trick you into performing your responsibilities “as usual” rather than trying out a new medium, new platform, or new direction. Don’t let it.

5. The Bandwagon Effect. We’ve all been guilty of this one. The bandwagon effect is the tendency to make decisions based on what everyone else around us is doing. For example, if everyone in your family and most of your coworkers are talking about how good a new musician is, when you first hear that musician, you’ll be far more likely to think he/she is especially talented (regardless of ability).

This effect manifests in the content and SEO community quickly, since we’re all writing and communicating with each other at such a fast pace. It’s easy to believe something’s true when you’ve seen it on a handful of blogs, but unfortunately, this isn’t a foolproof system. Don’t adopt a strategy because a bunch of other people have already adopted it; adopt it because the evidence suggests it is effective.

Biases aren’t your fault; they usually manifest over an extended period of time, beneath your notice, and affect your decisions in ways you never realize (until it’s too late). Identifying these biases can be hard since they’re ingrained in your personality and behaviors, but it’s a necessity if you want to improve your ability to think critically and make objectively founded, important decisions for the direction of your campaign.

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