Unpacking the Cognitive Biases that Drive SEO Content Creation

The article discusses cognitive biases and how they unconsciously influence decisions, including content publishing decisions in SEO. The author highlights five cognitive biases: anchoring, illusory truth, authority bias, bandwagon effect, and the Google effect. For each bias, the author provides examples and how it can impact SEO professionals. Finally, the author suggests ways to leverage some biases to improve content marketing strategies.

The Psychology of Bias: How Our Brains Interpret Information

Our lives are shaped by the decisions we make every day, whether it's the food we eat, the way we live, or the brands we choose. The process by which humans make decisions is still somewhat of a mystery, but we can't ignore the role of our unconscious mind in the process. Often, we make decisions unconsciously using heuristics, and most of the time, these heuristics serve us well. However, in some instances, they can lead to poor judgments and irrational behaviour, which Ellis (2018) calls cognitive bias. In layman's terms, cognitive bias is a form of mental distortion that arises when individuals allow their judgments to be influenced by their personal preferences, beliefs, or emotions. For instance, if you use a product from Brand A and perceive a positive trait, that positive impression may spill over onto other products from the same brand.

Let's delve into how understanding cognitive bias can aid in SEO, as it may unconsciously affect our decisions regarding content publishing.

Breaking the Mold: How to Overcome 5 Cognitive Biases in Content Creation

1. The Psychology of Anchoring: How We Use Preconceived Notions to Evaluate Information

We tend to look at and process information in an easy way. This leads us to over-rely on a particular subject's first piece of information. So any plans or decisions we make, we tend to interpret based on our initial reference point or the anchor rather than objectively. There is a bias here that can impact judgment and prevent individuals from making appropriate judgements. 

Using Anchoring Bias to Stand Out: How to Create Effective Marketing Messages

An individual may experience anchoring bias and rely on the first piece of information they receive, such as a 50% discount offer seen in-store. This may lead them to continue seeking out 50% discounts or better as they search for other similar t-shirts.

 50 % offer on tshirt Image made using Canva
Image modified using Canva

Anchoring in SEO? 

The first result in a search engine can significantly influence consumers' decision-making in SEO. As an SEO specialist, one can try to increase visibility and occupy a top rank on the SERP by taking up more real estate or setting themselves apart with a robust and unique differentiator. Brand equity can play a crucial role in setting oneself apart from competitors. 

2. The Illusory Truth of Information: How Our Minds Can Be Deceived

The illusory truth effect occurs when individuals believe a statement is accurate simply because it has been repeated multiple times, regardless of its accuracy. This bias can be particularly dangerous because it can lead people to accept false information as accurate simply because it has been repeated enough times.

Breaking the Illusion in SEO

One typical example is the tendency to cling to specific concepts or keywords, such as LSI keywords, simply because they are frequently discussed. This is similar to how people are likelier to believe in conspiracy theories or misinformation that is easily understood and repeatedly shared.

To overcome this bias, SEO professionals must actively work to challenge myths and stereotypes by remaining vigilant and debunking inaccurate information when necessary. However, beginners may find it challenging to distinguish between what is true and false. One effective solution is to create content that simplifies complex topics and positions oneself or clients as experts in their niche. 

Another example is how US President Donald Trump repeatedly talked about using hydroxychloroquine as a potential cure for COVID-19, and people believed it, though there was no clinical evidence.

president trump saying hydroxychloroquine is okay for covid 19
image credit Hindustan Times

3. The Authority Trap: How Authority Bias Shapes Our Perception of Information

Authority bias is our tendency to be affected by the opinion of an authority figure. Our brain seeks authoritative figures, ideas and words as a shortcut to save time and energy while making decisions. However, problems arise when we assume specific authority figures have more knowledge or skills than they actually do, leading to wrong decisions. An example here can be how authoritative personalities tweeted or spoke loud about their crypto investment, and the crowd followed them without any research. 

Authority Bias Can Mislead You When it Comes to SEO.

In the SEO industry, there is a tendency to attribute greater accuracy to the opinions of authority figures. This can lead to the acceptance of inaccurate information and the perpetuation of myths and stereotypes. It is vital for SEO professionals to stay critical and vigilant, especially when evaluating information from self-proclaimed 'gurus' or influencers. 

SEO guru meditating
SEO Guru Meditating

4. The Power of the Crowd: Why We Follow the Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect is a mental shortcut that again helps us to make quick decisions where individuals tend to adopt beliefs or behaviours because many people around them are doing so. Instead of conducting an individual evaluation, we rely on the ideas and behaviour of others. This phenomenon can have positive or negative effects, as exemplified by the historical example of how the world rejected the ideology of Nazism after World War II. We also tend to adopt popular beliefs because of the FOMO culture.

However, the danger of the bandwagon effect is that it can lead to a lack of critical thinking on an individual level, which is necessary for making good decisions. Just because an idea or behaviour is popular and benefits others does not necessarily mean it is in our best interest. It is essential that we evaluate ideas and behaviours based on their merit and potential impact on us before making a decision.

Don't Miss the Boat: Bandwagon Effect Can Boost Your Content Marketing Strategy

In content marketing, companies can leverage the bandwagon effect by promoting products as "sold out" or "cult favourites," signalling that many others have already purchased and enjoyed them. This can be further amplified by using star ratings, reviews, and meta titles or descriptions that highlight the popularity of a product. Additionally, building a following within a niche community can be effective, as demonstrated by how a currency card company gained traction among Disney forums. Companies can increase brand awareness and customer loyalty by understanding and utilizing the bandwagon effect.

5. The Google Effect: When Information is Just a Click Away

The Google effect is a cognitive bias where humans tend to forget information that can be easily found online through a simple Google search. This is because people believe they do not need to remember the information if they can find it online quickly. The Google effect is sometimes referred to as digital amnesia. For instance, when reading a book and coming across a challenging word, we no longer feel inclined to reach for a physical dictionary, flip through its pages, and search for the word's definition. Instead, we simply search for its meaning on Google. With information readily available at the click of a button, we no longer need to allocate space in our memory to store it.

Decision Making in the Age of the Google Effect: What It Means for SEO

Given that people rely on Google to quickly find information rather than memorize or store it in their brains, it is crucial for SEO professionals to ensure that their pages are effectively indexed on Google. This phenomenon also incentivizes technical SEO specialists to ensure that websites are in good health and free of indexing problems. 

Pragm website free of video indexing issue


As marketers, we should educate ourselves on these biases and work to improve the quality of search results while also considering our own biases. According to the Pareto principle, you can achieve 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. As an SEO activity, focusing on the 20% of keywords that generate 80% of the traffic to your site can be an effective way to optimize your website. As a marketer, if we are unaware of cognitive biases and how they can influence consumer thought processes, we may unknowingly make decisions that are not based on accurate information, which can have a negative impact on our SEO efforts. 

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