You know about the basics of psychology in SEO – create a piece of content that appeals to the person whose hands it’s in, and there’s a good chance they’ll link to it. It can be broken down to way more meta-tidbits than that, but that’s the basic synopsis. Make stuff people want. Find ways for them to get it. Create links.
Yes, yes, yes.
But this post isn’t about that. This is about the ways you can use psychology in advanced ways – through manipulation, exploitation, nudging, or otherwise. What I mean by “using psychology” is understanding how people think – and how they tick – and using that information to get more links, and after, maximize the value of the links you do get.
1. Grab Attention with Permission Marketing
A big part of SEO for many websites is link begging. They e-mail potential targets, present their content, and hope, eat, pray, love that the webmaster will link to them. They do this at scale, and then bury away in their tunnels and hope for replies. This is a rather inefficient way to go about this – and, likely, it burns away many of the e-mails webmasters receive.
Seth Godin coined the term “permission marketing”. One definition describes it as follows –
“This form of marketing requires that the prospective customer has either given explicit permission for the marketer to send their promotional message (e.g. an email or catalog request) or implicit permission (e.g. querying a search engine)”
When we send a cold e-mail at any time of the day, we lose all aspects of permission. Users will likely see our e-mail at a time when they aren’t apt to take action – like when their e-mail box is full, or on the weekend, or late at night. By structuring the release time of our e-mails to maximize the likelihood a webmaster will grant us permission to market to them with our content – we also maximize the likelihood we’ll get a link.
In the early morning, most people have a crowded inbox. Even if they like your content, if they have several other to-dos, there’s a good chance they’ll move on and then forget about it. Late at night, in the smartphone age, they’ll see your e-mail on their phone or at a time where they don’t feel like doing work – again, a period where linking to you is unlikely. On Fridays, most people are already “checked out”, and as such, don’t care about your 1,000,000 ways to make a million dollars post. This is even worse on the weekends. Also, Mondays are most likely to be the busiest inbox wise, so even if you get the e-mail in during the middle of their office hours, it might fall to the wayside in an already crowded inbox.
If we catch webmasters with a single e-mail, when they are likely to give us the most attention, we have grabbed the most amount of permission possible we can with this kind of effort – and also, may get them to regard an e-mail that might have been thought of as spam at a different time as a unique, relevant request – this time.
The time this is depends on your market, but there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this post, you’re mainly marketing to the United States. So, I recommend you send your e-mail blasts, ideally, at the time of 10AM-1PM PST on Tuesday and Wednesday. This will most often catch people on both coasts in office. The further from this timeframe you send out an e-mail, the more likely that their attention will be diluted elsewhere.
Of course, e-mail to e-mail, this likely has little effect. But when your SEO campaigns, over a long enough timeline, involve sending out e-mails in the five to six digits – a little extra effort is worthwhile.
2. Pretend You’re a Fan – And They Won’t Give a *$&# About Your Website
In a previous post about how adding more value can get you less links, I detailed how I did a giveaway that actually resulted in lower ROI than simply cold e-mailing link prospects.
The reason this occurred was because what really got me the links wasn’t always the website itself, instead, it was the way I imbued myself to the webmaster. I would send an e-mail as a fan of their website, noting how it was a great resource in X vertical, and that they should also check out this other resource, Y. I would not claim affiliation with Y resource, ever. Also, I would pretend to be female in all instances, because, stereotypes aside, people think females are less manipulative and less likely to just be out for the link.
By using this method of disassociating yourself with Y website, you are very frequently able to get people to link to you where they wouldn’t have otherwise. Psychologically, the reason for this is because they want to appease their fanbase – by linking to you, they think that they will retain you as a reader, you’ll continue to e-mail, and things will continue to be honky dory – even though we know, obviously, that’s not going to be the case. As long as your site passes some moderate level of acceptability (see: not porn), they are pretty likely to link to you to fulfill this inherent desire.
For this very reason, I would also suggest you throw in a second link, even if it’s non-relevant to the vertical. You’ll find that people will randomly link to this second page as well. Just come up with some random benefit the secondary URL had for you, such as how you got your television screen there, or something like that. Because people care about you – and don’t care about the page, they’ll add that second link for no reason other than to appease you.
Of course, the better your website, the more likely you’ll draw a link, too. The more these two factors work together, the more likely you are to garner a link in this kind of situation.
3. Use Redirects over Canonicalization to Maximize Link Juice
Consider people. In all instances, it is in our best interest to assume that they are 1) not intelligent, or 2) lazy. When these two things combine, we can be pretty certain that when we do create a content source worthy of being linked to, the URL they discover it on will be the URL they link to.
The problem with this, we know, is that not every URL is created equal, and many pass less value than others. Links with rel=canonical attributes pass some non 1:1 level of value back to the “head” URL. If we implement a 301 redirect for these accessory URLs instead of using rel=canonical, people will always be sent to the URL we want them to use for their links, and as such, we will always maximize the amount of link juice we get when they lazily pull the web address.
4. Take Advantage of Scrapers with Absolute URLS
By using absolute URLs (href=http://www.blog.com/blogpost.html) in your site architecture, you take advantage of dirty scrapers who will pull your content and paste it elsewhere. If you choose relative URLs (href=/blogpost.html), your full URL won’t be pulled, and as such, you won’t get a link back to your website. These links are almost always pretty crappy, but even if it’s worth .000001 points of link juice, that is .000001 points closer to first place in the SERPs – and that’s .000001 points you didn’t have to work for.
We utilize psychology in this case because we know scrapers are generally lazy (they’re scraping!) and as such, we know that they won’t remove our link in the code. Also, if a link back to the original post isn’t a clear sign to Google which website originated the post, I don’t know what is.
5. Make URLs without Affiliate Codes the Default for Affiliate Programs
As an SEO, I felt especially dirty when I ran across Best of the Web’s affiliate program – in it, they want you to link to their website without the affiliate URL, and instead, paste some code in the HTML analytics-style to qualify your website for the program. This way, they get a link back to their site without the dirty affiliate code – offering multiple benefits, a) hordes more link juice, and b), a link that’s not nearly as dirty to the person clicking on it.
The problem with this setup is it’s a bit buggy and difficult to implement – for BOTW, I was unable to get the code to work, and I’m not sure it’s easy or straightforward for a developer to implement – or way more affiliate programs would be using it. The benefit, though, is huge – loads more value-passing links – and for a site like BOTW.org that thrives on its link juice, such a program is of huge benefit.
People want to make money – if you give them an easy way to do that, they’ll take care of you in kind.
BOTW implements this efficiently by making linking without the affiliate code the default option. Since BOTW primes us with the non-affiliate URL, we are way more likely to take that method, even though it’s not necessarily the best, or easiest option for us, the webmasters. If they had presented a more straightforward, either/or option, I may not have even attempted to utilize that URL.
6. Nudge Users into Linking
Nudge is a great book about making choices – and how we can push people to make better ones. Of course, as SEOs, the better one involves linking to our website – so, it’s in our best interests to give people the idea that linking is in their best interest.
By offering two options in a call to action, we are more likely to make someone use a secondary choice because of strong choice architecture. Choice architecture is the way in which decisions are influenced by how the choices are presented – meaning that by presenting end users two options, one of which is an easier path than the first, we are more likely to create a second action rather than having someone simply bounce from the website.
In Rand Fishkin’s great Whiteboard Friday video about this subject, he describes a non-profit scenario where you can ask for one of two things – a donation, or a link. If people can’t afford to give a donation, they can offer up a link – because that’s at no cost besides time. But if you don’t offer up this either/or scenario, the user is likely to just bounce after viewing the call to action.
You can use this creatively in many ways. Say, for example, you have a premium product that you can offer users, such as a cool toolset. You can give them two choices – pay some small amount for the application, or link to your application on their blog. As long as that link stays up, they can use the application for free. This kind of either/or setup would be beneficial for a tool with a high-value SEO keyword – once you hit an acceptable limit of links, or you start ranking for that keyword, pull the offer for new signups, and start raking in money from organic traffic.
7. Use Price Anchoring to Minimize Costs
Consider a situation where you’re paying to have a great piece of linkbait made. Or you’re hiring a SEO consultant to build links for you. In most sales processes, the person doing the sales offers the proposal at a given rate, and from there, you negotiate. In this process, the person being sold to is at a decided disadvantage – because they have to wait for the initial price anchor.
Before the person can offer you a number, offer the price first – and do so at a number considerably lower than the price you’re actually willing to pay. This will serve as a “price anchor” for them to work off of – instead of the reverse. Unless the person’s services are in extremely high demand, they’ll work off your number. With things that require human capital, there is actually an ability to get valuable services at extremely low cost – because there is no clearly defined cost like a physical product.
In this situation, use a reverse pricing strategy. In most instances, pricing strategy involves the seller trying to create the perception that a product is less than it actually is – by using 99 cent remainders. Here, though, you are attempting to make your bottom dollar price seem larger – so adjust accordingly. Use a rounded number, or add a middle digit – I like using 205 instead of something like 200 – but never 199.
You’ll be absolutely amazed at how often you get the service for the price you offer. If the person declines outright, which they sometimes will, open back up the conversation – “What price were you thinking?” They’ll inevitably be forced to play against the initial figure you gave – because they’ll assume that you’re the cheapskate you really are.
This definitely isn’t the start-all end-all list of ways psychology can result in more link juice for you – whether it’s by maximizing the algorithm, or allowing you more resources to allocate into other SEO activities. But it’s a start – a good start.
Do you have any other ways to bend people’s brains into linking to you? I’d love to hear them in the comments!