These 18 Psychological Studies Will Transform the Way You Write Content for Your CEO Blog

By May 7, 2016CEO blogging

The biggest and most important question that CEO bloggers ask is “how do I get more people to read my blog?” After getting your positioning right and understanding the problems your clients find painful, we’ve found that a powerful way to increase blog traffic and readership is to employ a number of strategies based upon psychological research.

In this article we have examined a number of studies and pinpointed a number of effective techniques for increasing reader engagement and writing better blog posts. Better still, many of these principles can be used in combination for greater effect.

Outline of Psychological Principles Discussed in this Article:

  1. Short Attention Spans
  2. Self-Censorship
  3. The Mere Exposure Effect
  4. The Google Effect
  5. Priming
  6. Reciprocity
  7. Experts and Social Proof
  8. The Decoy Effect
  9. The Verbatim Effect
  10. Clustering
  11. Appeal to Emotions
  12. Framing
  13. Storytelling
  14. The Rhyme as Reason Effect
  15. The Processing Fluency Bias
  16. The Psychology of Usefulness
  17. Eye Tracking Studies
  18. Colour Psychology

18 Psychological Principles for CEO Bloggers:

To effectively employ these psychological principles, a CEO blogger must also be aware of some basic online behaviours (1-4). A simple awareness of these patterns of behaviour will make it easier to employ the strategies we will discuss.

18 Psychological Principles for CEO Bloggers

This study shows how attention spans deteriorates with age.

1. Be Aware of Short Attention Spans – The average person’s attention span is now eight seconds, a study of Canadian media viewing habits conducted by researchers at Microsoft’s Bing Ads determined. The same study found that attention spans are shrinking: they are down from 12 seconds in 2000. This means that readers are less tolerant of boredom.

2. Watch Out for Self-Censorship – Bloggers are often their own worst enemies because they censor their own material too heavily. Sometimes by eliminating any opinion that could be construed as offensive or controversial. Self-Censorship on Facebook, a study conducted by Sauvik Das of Carnegie Mellon University and Adam Kramer of Facebook Inc., found that 71% of the site’s users censored posts at the last minute. This means that many writers are more concerned about not offending others than creating good content.

3. Mere Exposure – Psychologist Robert B. Zajonc’s Mere Exposure Theory postulates that people are likely to develop a preference for things that they are exposed to on a regular basis. Zajonc’s research indicates that repetition and regular exposure to data or images can make people like them more. Therefore, repeating patterns or data in a blog can create a regular audience for a CEO. The important point here is – be consistent.

4. The Google Effect – People tend to value information from certain sources more than others. Researchers Betsy Sparrow, Jenny Liu and Daniel Wegner found that people are more likely to forget information they find online and to consider information printed on paper more valuable than read on electronic data. This is called the Google Effect; it can be countered with effective writing styles and showing that information is referenced from respected sources (for example – scientific research papers instead of Wikipedia).

5. Use Priming to Direct Your Readers’ Attention – The idea behind priming is to use words or images that trigger certain behaviours in readers. Researchers Naomi Mandel and Eric J. Johnson discovered that websites that contained pictures of money were more likely to influence visitors’ choices. Those who looked at pictures of money were more likely to study financial information, Psychology Today reported.

This works because certain images conjure up specific thoughts or emotions, for example a picture of the Queen might evoke patriotism. Therefore, a CEO blogger should carefully consider the types of images they use when creating content. One incongruent image can do a lot of damage to your overall message.

The 1st weapon of influence

6. Harness Reciprocity – In his classic work Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Robert B. Cialdini demonstrated that diners who were given a mint when they finished their meals at a restaurant paid larger tips. In essence, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

CEO bloggers can employ this strategy by providing useful information for their readers, such as an inside sales strategy or insight into the market. A good way to utilize reciprocity is to point readers to free or lower cost resources they can take advantage of.

The Power of Social Proof

The power of social proof.

social proof

7. Leverage Your Expertise and Social Proof – The formal name for this phenomenon is informational social influence. It occurs when people imitate the behaviour of others whom they assume to have superior knowledge or insight. Visitors referred to a designer fashion site called Rent the Runway by persons perceived as experts (fashion bloggers and magazines) had a conversion rate that was 200% higher than those drawn in by paid search, Tech Crunch reported.

This strategy can be highly effective for CEO blogs because CEOs are already perceived as experts on their business and widely respected.

8. Be Aware of The Decoy Effect – Also known as the bait and switch, this principle draws in visitors by offering them the illusion of a choice. Duke University Professor Dan Ariely demonstrated this principle by offering 100 students three choices for a subscription to the Economist:

  • an online subscription for $59,
  • a print subscription for $125, and
  • an online and print subscription for $125.

Students preferred the combined online and print subscription because it seemed to offer them a bargain, two for the price of one, even though the online deal was less than half the price.

A CEO blogger could use this principle in their post’s call-to-action to great effect. In fact, any web page with pricing information will be so much more powerful with this principle utilised.

9. Cluster Similar Topics Together – Back in 1956, George A. Miller demonstrated that the average person can only remember seven pieces of information at a time. A CEO blogger can take advantage of this by combining a blog about similar subjects, for example warehousing and inventory. Limiting the amount of information in a particular post can also make it easier to read. Therefore, it is a good idea not to write about two complex subjects at the same time.

10. Keep the Verbatim Effect in Mind When Writing Posts – In a 2008 study, researchers found that 15 subjects were more likely to remember the meaning of a sentence than the actual words. This means that the overall message is much more important than the technical details.

A CEO blogger can put this principle into immediate effect by concentrating on the big ideas and basic concepts in their posts before moving onto the specifics.

Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain

11. Appeal to Emotions – In his book Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain neurologist Antonio Damasio effectively demonstrated that emotions guide human beings in most decision making. Despite this, we find that many CEO bloggers make the basic mistake of producing dry technical posts that provide no emotional satisfaction. We have found that simply adding some content that appeals to emotions, such as humour, can significantly increase traffic to a blog.

12. Framing Your Content in the Right Way – Research indicates that people are more likely to respond to information if positive or negative results are emphasized. In an article for the Journal of Economic Psychology, James N. Druckman demonstrated that more people would pay attention to statements about economic policy when effects on employment rates were mentioned. A CEO could take advantage of this by mentioning the results of a new initiative at his company, such as increased sales.

Millais Boyhood of Raleigh

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ― Philip Pullman

13. Does Your Blog Post Tell a Story? – The New York Times reported that MRI scans revealed that stories can actually stimulate the brain. Neural activity increased when people read an interesting or entertaining story. Keith Oately, a novelist and professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, even believes that reading can produce a vivid sensation of reality.

Therefore the best way for a CEO blog to engage readers is to tell a really good story that captures the imagination. We find that taking the trouble to turn a blog post into a good story about your company can increase reader interest and blog views.

14. The Rhyme as Reason Effect – Tests conducted by M.S. McGlone and Jessica Tofighbakhsh found that people found statements made in rhyme to be more accurate than non-rhyming phrases that contained the same information. Their subjects were more likely to believe the phrase “What sobriety conceals, alcohol reveals” than “What sobriety conceals, alcohol unmasks.” This indicates that adding a few rhyming phrases to a CEO blog post can make it sound more credible.

Every great blogger understands processing fluency and how it affects readers.

Every great blogger understands processing fluency and how it affects readers.

15. The Processing Fluency Bias – Researchers demonstrated that American students who were required to read lessons printed in a heard-to-read font learned more than those given lessons in an easy-to-read font, The New York Times reported. Researcher Daniel M. Oppenheimer thinks this occurred because students had to concentrate and think more when faced with a hard-to-read font.

A CEO blogger can harness this psychological principle by changing the structure of the content in their posts. We do not recommend using a hard-to-read, but changing the colour of the text, for example, could prove useful.

16. The Psychology of Usefulness – Blogger Gord Hotchkiss postulated that when faced with a dull task, the human brain automatically looks for a shortcut to finding the most effective solution for the task. A CEO blogger can put this concept into use by offering fast or simple solutions to complex problems. The best way to see the effectiveness of this principle is to use it in your blog posts’ title. “How We Cut Order Processing Time in Half” promises a useful solution for a common problem in the industry.

17. Be Aware of the Findings of Eye-Tracking Studies – Many psychological studies have been conducted to find out what readers look at first on a web page. A 2000 study from the Poynter Institute determined that readers looked at text 78% of the time, and graphics 22% of the time. This indicates that CEO bloggers should concentrate on writing a good post and not spend so much time on graphics.

This doesn’t mean that you should neglect the graphics on your blog post. Quite the contrary. But your graphics should complement your content, not the other way round.

The Psychology of Colours

What colours are you taking advantage of?

The Psychology of Colours

18. Consider Colour Psychology – Researcher Satyendra Singh determined that 62% to 90% of a users’ initial assessment of a website was based upon colour. Researchers Paul A. Bottomley and John R. Doyle also determined that certain colours send specific information to viewers. Neutral colours such as white or grey convey the impression of usefulness or utility, while bright colours such as red provide pleasure and stimulation.

The research suggests that adding a bright colour such as red to a CEO blog can make it seem more exciting, while a white or grey background can make it seem useful. The key point here is – choose your colour scheme very carefully.

In conclusion

The most effective CEO bloggers employ a combination of these strategies to drive traffic to their sites. It would be almost impossible to focus on all 14 strategies in one post. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you just focus on integrating a few of these principles into your blog posts the overall quality and persuasiveness of your content will noticeably increase. We recommend focusing on one principle per blog post until you get a good feeling for the efficacy of each.