7 psychological studies on blogging
You’ve probably read your fair share of “blogging tips”, and most likely the majority of them haven’t been backed by a single shred of evidence.
If you are the kind of blogger who prefers just the facts without all of the fluff and hype, this is the post for you.
I’ve gone over 7 psychological research studies and their results about human behavior and applied them to create proven techniques to create a successful blog.
You’ll find info on:
- Writing amazing content like a true expert
- Creating a blog design that keeps people around
- Establishing yourself as a likeable authority in your niche
- What it takes to get ‘excited’ people to convert
All backed by real science.
This stuff matters when you consider that “content” is the champion of the little guy, and a big part of getting referrals.
When I read Yoast’s Help Scout review (the startup I work for), I was amazed to find that the team had been following along with our blog.
Blogging isn’t just for your own ego — it’s a great way to attract customers.
Now let’s’ examine how to do it right!
The Psychology of Writing Great Content (Study 1)
You might think that it takes a lot of hard work to succeed in anything, as well as to succeed as a blogger.
While creating success for yourself as a blogger will require some hard work, one thing that you might find surprising is that you don’t have to be extremely busy to be successful.
Fact is, many entrepreneurs and bloggers focus too much on “hard to do” work, rather than the much more productive “hard work.”
What do I mean?
Consider this study in Psychological Review that followed the practicing patterns of children who went on to be “elite” violinists (professional players) and children who went on to be “good” violinists (music teacher).
While both of these groups were obviously talented at the violin, there was something about the “elite” group that the researchers found contributed the most to their superior ability.
What do you think it was?
Do you think they…
- Were naturally better & practiced less
- Were more dedicated and practiced more
In fact, researchers found that the two groups actually practiced the same amount of hours per week.
So what was the elite group doing differently?
When they did practice, their practice was more deliberate: researchers found that not only did the elite group engage in practice that was more precisely focused on improving, they had a greater separation of work & play, meaning that they practice in more intense and longer sessions than average players.
The average group would often spread their practices out during the day, while the elite group would have no more than two sessions that were intensely focused.
Yet both groups practiced roughly the same amount of hours per week, and the elite group got on average 1 hour more of sleep each night over the average group.
Not only that, but the most elite players (best of the best) were actually the most relaxed players, in that they dedicated the most time each week to leisure activities.
How To Apply This Right Now
The point is, you don’t need to spend 23 hours of each day thinking about blogging/marketing or spend time throughout the day writing an average post just to publish something daily.
You also don’t need to guest post for every blog in the world to get your name out there.
What you do need to do is really focus on your work and on improving when you’re in the zone.
Think about that spreading of work throughout the day… does it sound like you trying to write a post, only to lose track of time doing “work” on social media accounts?
Does it sound like you trying to create an epic post, only for it to get cut short and published a few smaller posts?
Point is… if you aren’t creating something as amazing as Seth Godin does on a daily basis, you shouldn’t be posting daily.
Instead of one average post a day, about about one outstanding post every other week?
You need to create the kind of content that is so good, people simply cannot ignore it.
To create this kind of content, you need to write like the elite players practiced: blocks of time dedicated to nothing but writing, no distractions, and no interruptions.
If you cannot dedicate a session to that level of “seriousness”, don’t even bother starting, you should only be sitting down to work when you really are in the mindset and have the time to do deliberate practice. (If this never arises, you have to force yourself with a schedule).
Only insanely useful content succeeds on the web today: gone are the days when you can put up a half-assed blog post every other day and become a popular blogger.
Today you need to create content so amazing that people have to share it, and not just for your own blog, you need to be able to sit down and write for others as well, because getting your name associated with quality content via guest blogging at important sites in your niche will catapult you into success faster than you realize.
This kind of content only gets created (and you only improve in writing it) with deliberate practice, practice that is intense, focused, and analyzes itself (how can I improve from my last piece of writing?).
Think about it like this: what works better in athletics, “messing around” in your backyard, or running drills with specific measurements of time, reps, etc.
The answer is obvious: focused, deliberate practice makes you better, “just winging it” is wasting your time.
The Psychology of Good Blog Design (Studies 2 & 3)
Simplicity is a good thing, and is so important that I would consider it a necessity of blog success.
The most important place to emphasize simplicity in your blog is the design.
You might have put the design of your blog in the back of your mind, after all, content is king… isn’t it?
This study on the trust of online health sites might disagree with you (shout out to SocialTriggers & WhatMakesThemClick for covering this study).
In it, researchers tested the perceived “trustworthiness” of health sites to participants.
Those in the study cited the design of the site as the biggest factor on whether or not they trusted the information there.
That hopefully just woke you up about the importance of site design.
If not, I’ll say it again: people’s initial judgement of your site (you know, that critical time where they decide to stay or leave) is mostly effected by it’s design, not it’s content.
You could be leaking visitors like a ship with a hole in the bottom if you don’t take care of your site design, and quick.
This doesn’t mean you need to hire a professional graphic designer and shell out a few thousand for a brand new site, although if you have the funds to hire a pro, you should.
What it does mean is that your site needs to be easy to navigate, clean, and inviting to new visitors.
The pros of web design already know this, for example, in my interview with Rafal Tomal (the lead designer of Copyblogger), he stated that:
If people don’t know where to go, they will always find an exit.
So simple, yet so true: if your website is’t designed to get people right to the good stuff, there’s always once place they can click, the back button!
Additionally, in The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar, a study on the amount of flavors of jam were available to participants gave an amazing example on the effect of choice overload on consumers
In the study, it is revealed how less options can actually result in more conversions.
Sheena, who is a professor at Columbia University, conducted a study at an up-scale grocery market, where she offered a selection of jams on consecutive Saturday afternoons.
On one Saturday, she offered 24 flavors, and on the other, she offered 6 flavors.
On which day do you think more people offered to try the jam?
You might be surprised, but it was the day with only 6 flavors.
When people are overloaded by choices, social psychologists are aware that they will often resort to their safety choice of nothing, and then move along to something else.
And that is what happened in this study.
Is your blog overloading readers with choices?
If it is, they will choose to leave.
How To Apply This Right Now
I’ve already touched on this above, but if you need it repeated: good blog design is critical to your blog’s success.
The best part: you can create a design that fits the findings of the studies above for very little.
First let’s talk about creating a blog that doesn’t suffer from choice overload.
In other words: clean, easy to navigate, and not too many choices.
For instance, on QuickSprout, you’ll see that Neil keeps his design sleek and his layout minimal.
On the sidebar, he’s got the ever important opt-in, a little about himself (with an image), a list of popular posts, how to connect with him, and a list of top commentors.
Your blog doesn’t need much on it’s sidebar, too many options will confuse visitors, and confusion as we’ve learned will lead to frustration, and that is never a good thing.
So what are some essentials?
- An opt-in form for email updates (mandatory, and should always be at the top of the sidebar)
- A popular posts widget (so people can see your best content)
- A little section about you (so readers can learn more if they are interested)
- Resource pages (linking to your best content on a few topics that you post about)
Other than those things, you are most likely wasting space, and that includes all sorts of badges, social media profiles, and other nonsense.
Your blog was made to get email subscribers and to keep new visitors reading, and your focus should be on capturing those emails for long term blog success, and if you give people too many roads to go down, they will likely just leave.
Onto blog design.
You want to keep things crisp and simple.
If you are going to spend money on anything, it should be on branding and opt-in forms.
Your blog needs to be memorable to visitors.
I’ll continue to use QuickSprout as an example: Neil’s blog design is clean, readable, and memorable in both name and logo.
The design looks professional but offers a lot of blank space for easy reading.
You should check out the following WordPress frameworks that might help you with this:
The thing to focus on is having a readable font, plenty of white space, and a memorable brand, and that won’t cost you too much if you use resources like Graphic River and the clean looking theme frameworks mentioned above.
Another thing about being memorable: do something in your niche that nobody else does, even if it’s small.
Derek uses purple as his accent color on SocialTriggers, it’s a tiny tweak, but it’s memorable: not many blogs focus on the color purple, especially in marketing.
So after you get rid of every excess link, badge, and other useless widget on your blog, focus on creating a look that sticks out in your niche and sticks in the minds of your future readers.
With a little effort and a focus on clean design, your blog will be converting like never before.
The Psychology of Being An Authority (Studies 4 & 5)
Being trusted and being considered an authority in your niche is the key component to succeeding in blogging.
People who value your opinion and trust your insight are much more inclined to promote you to others, which is the number #1 way of growing your blog’s presence online: nothing beats genuine referrals.
If you consider this study, you will see that when you engage in behaviors that are indicative of low self-control, your trustworthiness is diminished in the eyes of people looking up to you (in the case of blogging, your readers).
From the study itself:
In line with previous research…
…these findings support the positive value of self-control for relationships and highlight the role of perceived self-control for the development of a fundamental relationship factor…
As you can see, self-control will greatly impact how your audience sees you and whether or not they feel they can trust you.
If you are looking to establish yourself as an authority, you need to heed this warning.
Additionally, research has found that your assertiveness also effects how people perceive you socially (and how well liked you are).
Being liked is essential to success in the blogosphere: your personality is out there in front of everyone, if you come off as “socially insufferable” (my new favorite insult, ha!), you won’t be going far, even if your content is great.
The study, conducted by Ames & Flynn, shows the impact that assertiveness had on the ratings MBA students gave their managers.
Students preferred managers who were moderately assertive: non-assertive managers decreased productivity greatly, but overly assertive managers were described as “socially insufferable” (hehe), greatly disliked by their employees.
How To Apply This Today
As a writer of a blog, your writing is for your readers.
This mindstate should apply to your and all of your blogs as well: you have to be well liked and trusted in order for people to listen to what you have to say.
On the flip-side, you also have to be assertive in order to get what you want; you have to pursue more subscribers, achieve more conversions, and make more money.
There is a fine line on being overly aggressive on your blog and not trying hard enough: there has to be a middle ground where you keep readers happy but also pursue your goals, just like there was in the study.
Essentially, if you build a site for readers, and if you give away huge parts of your knowledge (and of yourself) for free, people won’t hate you for trying to sell them on something, you just have to ask in the right way.
You can have subscription boxes at the end of posts, you can have a large feature box or landing page for new visitors, and you can even kindly ask for people to tweet your articles at the end of each post.
But you can’t be overbearing.
Abusing people’s time with excessive ads, pop-ups, and other annoyances that reek of desperation is not the way to go.
However, if you have something to sell, sell it.
Promote it in a single post, people will not mind if the rest of your time has been spent creating amazing content for them and not badgering them while they are on your blog.
Neil openly puts links to both of his businesses on the sidebar of QuickSprout, but his readers are okay with that because:
- They are not intrusive
- His companies are excellent
- He provides such valuable free content, consistently
It’s okay to sell things to people, it’s okay to ask them to do things, being assertive is certainly apart of being successful.
But as the study above shows, you have to be mindful of your readers, on a blog, they are your customers, and you should always treat them with respect.
When it comes to the former study, exhibiting self control comes in the form of keeping things together.
Even if things don’t seem to be going your way, you have to maintain a level head and a cool, collected presence.
That’s not to say you can’t be honest with things that didn’t work out, but people generally don’t want to hear about your problems, they look to you for what you can offer, and in order to provide it, you need to focus on keeping everything organized, useful, and practical, and don’t allow your posts to turn into some tirade of negativity.
Assuming this type of presence will also actually make you a better person and entrepreneur: if you act the way someone who is influential “should” act, you will become more influential, and will create content that actually does help people and may even change lives.
The Psychology Of Increased Conversions (Studies 6 & 7)
If you asked a group of people about “conformity”, most people would probably say that they don’t like to be labeled.
This is especially true in American culture, where people have a strong belief in individualism, a trait that most Americans think they believe in.
However, identifying people with a specific group and enouraging associated has been shown to increase people’s participation and interest, no matter the topic.
That means that “labeling” people actually makes them more interested, who would’ve known!
The study concluded this by interviewing adults on their voting patterns.
They told one group that they were more likely to vote since they had been deemed to be part of the “politically active” group (even though they really weren’t, they were just told this).
The other group they told nothing.
On the next election day, the group that was told they were in the politically active group had a 15% higher turnout than the control group.
Remember that people who were told that they were politically active were randomly selected against a random control group: they weren’t actually picked out for being more politically active.
Yet, the insinuation that they were part of the politically active group actually made them more politically active!
Being told that you are apart of a group seems to make people feel more obligated to act like said group does, no matter what their previous actions were like.
But it doesn’t end there…
In a separate study by Howard Leventhal, participants were given information that described the dangers of a tetanus infection, essentially, an “urgent” call to action (tetanus infection is a very scary thing indeed).
The thing was (as would be expected for a psych study), there were two types of flyers that contained this information.
One of the flyers had minimal instructions on what to do about getting a tetanus vaccination.
The second set of flyers had only the info that tetanus was dangerous, and nothing else.
With this minimal follow-up information, you’d think that there would be not much of a difference…
But there was!
The first group had a much higher sign-up rate for tetanus vaccinations than the second group.
Dr. Leventhal concluded that calls to action that invoke urgency are only effective if a specific solution is given.
With only minimal follow-up info on how to get vaccinated for tetanus in the better performing packet, it could be concluded that it doesn’t take a whole lot to get people to take action when their interest has been peaked by urgency.
However, without any information on what to do, people are likely to do nothing.
The pamphlets with instructions gave people no excuse to brush off the action they needed to take.
Without those instructions though, Dr. Leventhal realized that most people are prone to “blocking” urgent calls to action, since without a follow-up plan, their brain makes them think: “Well, that probably won’t happen to me anyway…”
Over time, they forget about the urgency and nothing is done.
How To Apply This Today
Despite the fact that these results were laid with a foundation of scholarly research, applying them to content marketing and blogging is surprisingly easy.
When it comes to getting people involved with whatever your project is (selling, providing information, or even something simpler like building a list), it’s best to appeal to their want, their need to be associated with a specific group.
In my bylines for my guest posts, I always include something like “…a blog for WordPress users like you”, or, “…for people who like proof, case studies, and interviews with influencers.”
I do this because that’s what is here, and I want people who feel like they are in that group to get interested.
By picking a group(s) to appeal to, I may lose out on some people by not appealing to everyone…
But it’s better to do that.
If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one.
You have a niche: target them in everything you do.
Make them feel like they are apart of a crowd that everyone else isn’t apart of.
If I were selling high-end athletic wear, trying to compete with Nike wouldn’t make sense.
Consider this article on getting people to care about your business.
In it, the athletic clothing maker, Atayne, an athletic clothing company that has doubled its sales each year, is discussed.
This is what the owner had to say:
It’s more about promoting the lifestyle as opposed to pushing products.
And that resonates with our clients.
They are very loyal.
We don’t manufacture in China. We are priced anywhere from 10 percent to 15 percent higher than Nike and Under Armour.
What really draws people in is our values and our stories.
Then they fall in love with our product.
They market to a selection of athletes who don’t care that they are more expensive, they care about being an elite athlete, and they want the gear that’s going to cater to them.
Your blog or product should be pitched this way as well: this info isn’t for everybody, but some people are going to love it.
Furthermore, the urgency study reveals the importance of providing the correct information once interest is peaked.
To continue the athletic apparel metaphor, if I had told you that “regular” athletic clothing was proven to be more uncomfortable and had proven effects on an athlete’s focus, you would be in an urgent state if you were an aspiring pro athlete or obsessed with your performance.
“Wait, my clothing could be messing with my focus?”
That’s scary for an athlete.
But to get them to actually take action, you would need to do like Atayne does: explain what to do and how your product can do it.
Another thing Atayne promotes is being more “green”, the urgency there is that most athletic clothing uses no recyled material and is bad for the earth.
Some people really care deeply about this.
Atayne then explains that their clothing is made from reused material, and as an added benefit, is made for intense athletic sessions and is highly durable.
All of those things act as the information in the pamphlet in the above study: here is how to fix your problem.
Because they do this so well, they are able to charge more than the 800 pound gorillas in the room in the form of Nike and UnderArmour, and still be profitable.
The next time you get people excited, don’t leave them handing.
That’s like telling people about some treasure buried in the area, and not giving them a map.
Give them the map, and make sure the X is marked really big!
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!