6 Weapons of Influence & How to Use Them for SEO

As a marketer and a bookworm, I couldn’t say no when Wil suggested the book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, to the SEER team. After reading it, the gears began turning in my head on how to relate this to SEO. Honestly—it wasn’t too hard. Persuasion is an incredibly powerful tool to have on your side, and it’s undeniably related to this field.

Note:The psychological aspects discussed below are all taken from Influence, but the SEO applications are my suggestions.

Below are six “weapons of influence”, as Cialdini calls them, to equip yourself for SEO and beyond.

 1. Reciprocation

Everyone likes a gift, right? And when a friend gets you a present for your birthday, it’s only natural that in three months that you’ll return the favor. But what happens with one that you didn’t ask for? You wouldn’t give something to a stranger just because he “gifted” something of little value…

Well, studies show that even if a charity gives out a something as insignificant as address labels in order to prompt donations, it works. This gift, no matter how much you don’t want or appreciate it, is likely to provoke action because it is viewed as an obligation that needs to be amended.

SEO Application: Send a gift, not a pitch.

Next time you’re trying to find an “in” with a resource guide owner or blogger, try this tactic. Instead of opening with a request to work with them, use Check My Links for Chrome or LinkChecker for Firefox to find broken links. Because you approach the blogger with a something that’s helpful for them, they’re more likely to be open to your offer since you’ve “gifted” something to begin with.

2. Commitment & Consistency

As humans, we’re naturally stubborn. Before you start making a plea with your screen that you’re abnormally compliant, it’s an inherent trait of humans, so it still applies to you.

For example, if you’re a gambling kind of person, when do you feel most comfortable with your bet: before you put in down or just after? The majority people feel the most comfortable with their choice after they place it because they want to believe in the choice that has already been made. By putting your money down, you solidify your choice and become confident in your decision, just because you made it.

In addition to commitment, consistency is another factor that affects decisions. If a person soliciting donations came to your door, asked to speak to you, then proceeded to say how he enjoys working your neighborhood because of how generous everyone is, you’d pony up in order to live up to this person’s expectations. Humans have a need for consistency because it allows us to shortcut in this complicated, modern world, and it protects us from being called inconsistent, which isn't a desirable quality in most circles.

SEO Application: Frame your outreach in a way that will prompt consistency.

Next time you’re doing outreach, approach the editor in such a way that taps into their perceived identity or makes them feel as if they need to adhere to a characteristic. For example, compliment a blogger on being an expert in x, noting how helpful this is to people interested in x. Don’t forget concrete examples and specifics! After he or she responds, pitch a topic or article that would be just as helpful to the readers and frame it in that way that is consistent to the perceived view of the blog.

3. Social Proof

Everyone likes to think as themselves as a completely unique individual, which everyone is, BUT we tend to be more concerned with the way other people act than you’d think.

For example, you know what a laugh track on a TV show is, right? Everyone can see through this irritating and phony laughter, and I think that it’s safe to say that no one really enjoys it. Cialdini revealed that TV execs have found that this results in the audience laughing longer and more often at the show. Two words: social proof.

SEO Application: Provide an example of an accepted guest post or interview in your outreach.

Hat tip to @Alisa_Scharf for this one—she suggested it without even reading the book!

Next time you’re trying to pitch a guest post, product review, or any other strategy that has worked in the past, include a link to one that was previously done. For example, have you placed a great product review on a quality website? Reference it! It’s proof that you are not only capable of providing quality content, but that other websites have appreciated you as well.

4. Liking

There are a variety of ways that influencers can persuade you to convert by exploiting your ability to like someone, but I think that this example is the most relevant to SEO.

People have also been known to trust and be influenced by people that are similar to them. Car salesmen use this technique to sell cars. If you pull up with kids in the back seat, golf clubs in the trunk, or a sports team bumper sticker, the salesperson will talk about his kids and highlight the safety features, mention how he hopes the rain holds out so ha can play the Back 9, or mention how he can’t wait for the game on Sunday. By sparking this "connection", the salesperson has a better chance of winning you over because you perceive him as someone like yourself.

SEO Application: Compliment honestly & create a connection.

For your next outreach campaign, compliment the blog (as honestly as you can) with specifics. By offering the compliment first, the blogger is has a better chance of “liking” you and, therefore, working with you. I know this idea is basic, but if you do this well, it could open more doors than a standard outreach template.

Another tip would be to learn something about the topic the website is about so you can create some sort of connection between the two of you. People like to talk about things that are familiar to them, so brush up on a few things before outreach and you can get this person on your side from the beginning. If you strike up a conversation about last week’s game to a sport’s fan blog, they’d be more likely to engage in you because a) they can automatically assume you have this in common and are therefore somewhat similar and b) you’re creating a discussion and a relationship rather than just blinding asking for a guest post.

5. Authority

Sometimes, it’s amazing what a title, uniform, or badge can do to influence someone. For example, Cialdini described how his friend who is a professor gets a distinct change in treatment when he introduces him as a professor. The person he's talking to goes from having differing opinions to “extended (and highly grammatical) statements of accord.” There are ways to use this to your advantage though.

SEO Application: Use the titles and names of authority figures when you outreach to bloggers.

If you’re trying to set up a giveaway, mention how one of the higher-ups took a look at the website and how they wanted to work with the blog. Similarly, offer an interview with the “Chief Information Officer” or the “Head Buyer” rather than just naming names. You may get a response back faster than you’d think!

6. Scarcity

Remember the McDonald’s Beanie Baby toy craze of the ‘90s? I certainly do. Every week, my dad and I would take a trip to McDonalds to order a kid’s meal, not because of the quality ingredients, but because the new, exclusive Beanie Baby toy was released. The closest store to our house sold out? We’d call our family friends on the other side of town and plead with them to pick one (or three) up for us.

Two words can cause such a panic over toys that thousands of people have them unopened in storage: limited edition. By telling people that there is a finite quality that is rapidly diminishing, you can get them to do crazy things.

SEO Application: Offer a limited or exclusive opportunity.

While you probably won’t start a craze, there are two ways I can see this working in the SEO world. First, pitch a review or an interview in such a way that the blogger understands that this is rare, “While we don’t often do this, the quality of your blog and the success of your previous interviews prompted us to reach out to you with an exclusive opportunity to interview our CEO.” Of course, you’d need to personalize this to your situation and the blog.

Secondly, you could offer exclusive content or sneak peeks to bloggers in order to link build. Bloggers are in tough competition, especially in highly saturated industries, and they are always looking to get a leg up. By offering a preview of a big content piece or giving them exclusive, behind-the-scenes pictures, you can really get them on your side.

So, now that you're armed with six weapons of influence, remember what Uncle Ben said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Let me know how these have worked for you and any other useful applications you've discovered in the comments!

You can follow me on Twitter @Teresa_a_Lopez!

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Teresa Lopez
Teresa Lopez
Associate Director, SEO