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  • Writer's pictureSarah Presch

Cognitive Biases in SEO

Updated: Jun 2

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been lucky enough to speak at a number of events and podcasts about the fascinating world of cognitive biases. Rather than making you go through and listen to everything (though if you’d like to, that’d be fantastic!), here’s a summary of six of the cognitive biases I covered and how you can use them to better your SEO and marketing campaigns.

What are Cognitive Biases?

Let’s start from the beginning, what are cognitive biases? Cognitive biases are errors in thinking that everybody makes, which we’re often unaware of. There are hundreds of cognitive biases which impact every single aspect of our lives. But why do they exist? To put it simply, as humans we’re not very good at making quick rational decisions, so we use mental shortcuts called heuristics to help us make decisions quicker. These quick decisions, however, are prone to errors, which are known as cognitive biases.

cognitive bias SEO

Authority Bias

Authority Bias is the tendency to give more trust to someone you perceive to be an authority figure and be more influenced by their opinions. You can see this in pretty much every sphere of our daily lives – from trusting people with medical qualifications to politicians and everyone in between.

Authority bias doesn’t just have to mean traditional authority figures, though. It can also mean trusting influencers more than companies, trusting content that comes from a more reputable source, and so on. And as I mentioned in my talk at SEO Square, I decided to ruin my life by doing a psychology degree, meaning that because I obviously know what I’m talking about, you should take this blog post a little more seriously!!! :D

But what does this mean for SEO? You can use authority bias to your advantage in the SERPs because when people look for information, you can gain more trust by becoming an authority source. Now, that’s easier said than done because you can’t just decide “hey, I’m going to write quality content and E-E-A-T the shit out of it” and boom, I’m going to become an authority! Here’s what you can do:

How to use Authority Bias in SEO Content

  • Make sure that the content you’re writing is related to what your company does

  • Use real-life examples (if you can) to showcase your experience

  • Ensure that you’re using writers with experience in your industry

  • Include author bios to build trust

  • Rather than just covering what’s already in the SERPs, make sure you add your own unique spin

  • Go into detail rather than just providing your reader with a high-level overview of your topic

Anchoring Bias

Anchoring bias is the tendency to place more value on the first piece of information you see, and then use that as a benchmark moving forward. To give you an example, here are two teddys. They’re both the same price, but people are more likely to buy the one on the left because they perceive it as cheaper simply because it used to cost $5.99.

anchoring bias example

One company that’s used anchoring bias to their advantage is Apple. If you head to their pricing page, you can see that they put their most expensive iPhone model first. When people are deciding which phone to buy, they’ll automatically anchor their decision on the most expensive model. This in turn makes the other models appear cheaper and customers will make a purchase feeling like they’re getting a great deal, even though, iPhones are not known for their affordability.

Apple pricing anchoring bias

How to use Anchoring Bias in SEO

  • If you’re working for an e-shop, try putting the most expensive product first

  • Include an anchor in your copy using quantitative information about your brand

  • Use social proof


Mere Exposure Effect

Mere exposure effect refers to the fact that people tend to like (and believe) things or information that they’re familiar with. People don’t tend to like things they’re not used to, and changing views often feels extremely uncomfortable. This is why people go to great lengths to stick with what they’re used to.

Mere exposure effect

This bias also has a strong link to impulse buying, and is the reason that shops have chocolate bars and small items placed carefully around their till area. This is also why shops like Primark and Ikea have smaller, cheaper purchases scattered throughout their store. Once you see them, you think that you need them, and all of a sudden, you’ve spent much more than you expected on purchases you didn’t really need in the first place!


How to use Mere Exposure Effect in SEO

  • If you’re working for an e-shop, suggest similar products when people add a particular item to their basket

  • Mention and link to similar products if you’re writing blog content

  • Invest in advertising to get your brand in front of as many eyes as possible

Framing Effect

People react differently depending on how information is presented, which is known as the framing effect. You can see an example below – you have two yoghurts (or maybe they’re ice creams?!). One’s marketed as 20% fat, and the other is 80% fat free. Of course, people don’t want to feel like they’re eating 20% fat, so they’re going to go for the 80% fat free yoghurt, even though they’re both the same. In short - you have to be smart about the way you present your information/products/services so that they sound as appealing as possible.

framing effect

A classic example of the framing effect in action is Apple’s original ad for their first ever iPod. Rather than talking about how many giga memory their iPod has, they marketed it as “1000 songs in your pocket”. This clever little line of content not only summed up what iPods are, it got customers thinking of the benefits and what their product can really do for them.

framing effect example

How to use the Framing Effect in SEO

  • Spend that bit of extra time creating smart copy

  • Sell the benefits of your service/product

  • Always mention how your service/product makes people’s lives easier

  • Invest in good design because first impressions count!

  • Stop the me me me!

Availability Bias

Availability bias refers to the fact that people tend to make decisions on information they have readily available. People ignore the bigger picture, instead focussing on the most recent and frequent things they’ve heard/read, and unfortunately the most extreme and negative, too. This plays out in a number of ways and could be a blog post in itself, but in short – if people have heard something negative about your brand, that’s what they’re going to remember, rather than the years of good service leading up to that event. if you’d like to learn more about why people are so drawn to negative information, I’d suggest watching this talk about negativity bias by Giulia Panozzo.

availability bias

This is also something I have to deal with in my day-to-day work at Dragon Metrics. We’re a great SEO tool, but we don’t have the same level of brand awareness as some of the main players. Even though we’ve got some amazing, unique features that you can’t find anywhere else, people in the industry trust the big 2 more than us simply because they’ve heard of them. And this is all down to availability bias, not the fact that the other tools are much better.

Availability bias can also explain why people are so keen to use AI? People want information that is readily available, and AI provides just that, even if a lot of the information provided is not true.

How to use Availability Bias in SEO

  • Invest in brand awareness campaigns

  • Make sure you’re always making a good impression

  • Fact check every time you use AI!

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the cognitive bias I’ve spoken about the most recently, and refers to the human tendency to search for, interpret, and remember information that confirms their existing belief.

confirmation bias

If you’d like to learn more about confirmation bias and SEO, I've already got some in-depth resources on the topic so won't repeat it here. But I do personally think it’s the most important cognitive bias of the lot and has some pretty scary side effects. Depending on your favourite medium, you can either read a blog post I’ve written about confirmation bias for the Dragon Metrics blog or listen to an episode of Search with Candour.

Extra Reading on Cognitive Biases in SEO

Even though we’ve only just scratched the surface, hopefully I’ve shown you that understanding these little mental shortcuts will make you a better marketer.

If you’d like to learn more about cognitive biases in SEO, here are some brilliant resources:

And if you’d like to book a speaker for your event, you know where to find me!

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1 Comment

Crystal Waddell
Crystal Waddell
Jun 03

This is such fascinating stuff! I just want to make a spreadsheet and cross reference with all of my products!

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