In last Friday’s Whiteboard Friday video, Rand tells us how processing fluency impacts web marketing, and explains why things which are easier for us to digest are more likely to induce action.
“Howdy Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to start with a conundrum. In fact, it’s a conundrum from a research project that is based on a fluency bias. Fluency bias being one of the many cognitive biases in the field of psychology.
Let me start by asking you a question. Do you believe the statement, “What alcohol conceals, sobriety unmasks”? So a large number of participants in a research study were asked whether they believed this, and a second group, another group of participants in the same study were asked separately whether they believed the statement, “What alcohol conceals, sobriety reveals.” What do you think were the results? Take a minute to guess.
People believed this one massively more by a shocking margin. And you would think to yourself, “Well, I am not nearly so foolish a person as to think that my belief in a statement like this would be biased by rhyme, conceals/reveals,” and yet that is exactly what happened time and time again. This study can be reproduced with success. Far more people believe “What alcohol conceals, sobriety reveals,” rather than the alternate use of the word “unmasks.”
This is called, one of my favorite cognitive biases in the world, the “rhyme as reason” bias. Rhyme as reason. Let me give you another famous example that some of you have probably already jumped to. Do you remember Johnny Cochran in the famous O.J. Simpson trial, declaring to the jury, “If the gloves does not fit, you must acquit. If the glove does not fit, you must acquit.”
So human beings, especially in the marketing and technology world, are trained, we are trained to think that people are logical, that people consider the rational outcomes, the rational inputs, and they come to a rational decision based on those inputs. And yet a cognitive bias, like rhyme as reason, would suggest that’s not really the case at all. We are biased by all sorts of things.
Rhyme as reason is one of many fluency biases. The fluency bias or the fluency processing bias essentially suggests that things which are more easy for us to comprehend, which are more simple for us to digest, lots of good examples here. Attractive people on magazine covers are more likely to draw our eyes. Concepts that are simple for us to understand, phrases that we’ve heard many times, things that relate to things in our memory, all of these are simpler for us to understand and therefore more credible, more believable, and more likely, in the marketing world, to induce action.
Let’s take this over to web marketing for a second and think about things where this happens. Page speed load time. When something loads more quickly, not only are we more likely to stay on the page, we’re more likely to trust the brand more. We’re more likely to recommend it to others. We’re more likely to use it ourselves.
In fact, when Microsoft did a famous research study where they increased the amount of time before search results were returned by a mere 250 milliseconds, which is undetectable to the human eye, right? If you were shown a film strip and then there was a 250 millisecond cut, your eye could not detect it. Your brain would not know that you had been shown that image, and yet what they found was that abandonment rates went up. People searched less, and they searched less often, and they were less likely to return to the site.
This is fluency bias at work. The aesthetic attractiveness of a website’s or a web page’s layout is likely to drive us to take more action or to take less action, to recommend something, to tweet it, to share it, to link to it. No wonder, right?
The pronounceability of a brand name. One of my favorite, favorite examples is that a study looked at the pronounceability of stock market ticker symbols during their IPO, at a public market offering. And you would think to yourself, “Now, wait a minute. These are some of the smartest human beings in the world, who are working at hedge funds, who are working at large investment portfolios. There is no way that they are going to be taken in by the pronounceability of a stock ticker symbol.” Why does it even matter whether a stock ticker symbol is pronounceable or not? And yet pronounceability has a high correlation with more successful IPOs in their first two weeks after offering.
Insanity. Insanity. We are all subject to this. No matter how smart you believe yourself or you audience to be, fluency biases, processing fluency, and cognitive biases as a whole are undoubtedly having an effect on your audience.
The familiarity of user experience. Some of you have seen some of the screen shots from Moz Analytics and probably maybe a few of you have gotten access to the private beta, and over the next couple of months more people will. Inside that product you’ll notice that it looks very similar to another product. Right? There’s sort of a, “Oh, look at that. There’s the navigation on the left-hand side. There’s a little graph up here, and the time frame is over here, and then there’s a chart of data down here.” That reminds me a lot of Google Analytics, which many people who are watching this Whiteboard Friday and might be using Moz Analytics are almost certainly familiar with. And that is no error. That familiarity of user experience, that, “Oh, yes. I have been here before. Oh, yes. I am familiar with how to use a web analytics product or a search engine or an e-commerce site.”
There’s a reason that these follow into patterns and why these patterns are successful when they are repeated and deviation from those patterns can actually be dangerous. The legibility of font and text in a blog post, in a piece of content can influence whether it’s shared more or less.
The ease of discovery and shareability of something. If something is very easy to copy and paste inside my browser so that I can easily tweet it, or if I am sent a link by somebody in an email that just says, “Hey, if you would retweet this that would be great,” and it goes directly to their tweet, wow, this is very easy. It’s very easy for me to share it, and therefore I am more likely to do so. Processing fluency dictates it is thus.
I would urge you, whenever you’re thinking about your marketing campaigns, whether those be in the SEO world with things like your domain name, your title, your URL. Your URL, in a study by Bing, domain name and URL, the little part in the search results that’s green, actually had a significant biasing effect on where clicks went. Almost as significant, in fact, a little more significant than whether there was a rel=author profile picture, according to Google. These are separate studies, but the data should match up.
The readability of that content. Social, the sharing time. When was it shared? Was it shared at a time when I’m going to see it? Was it shared at a time when I’m likely to be on a device where I’m more likely to share? Maybe that’s mobile if it’s a retweet. Maybe that’s desktop if it’s something where I actually want someone to take action, or a laptop, or a tablet.
The length of the content. Length is very much a part of processing fluency because very long articles, depends on the subject matter, but we have a tendency not to read or to comprehend and process all of that information.
In advertising, your copy, your layout, your design, this is classic ad agency world stuff that people have been doing for decades. And in content, the style, the UX, the complexity of that content.
Again, another really good example, Moz’s own search ranking factors, which are produced every two years, and this summer we’re coming out with a new version. It will be first presented at MozCon and then appear on the web. But the complexity of the new UI, that we launched in 2011, made it such that engagement on those pages was far less because you had to click over to different tabs to actually see the numbers, as opposed to seeing it all on one page. It reduced the shareability, the number of links it got, as compared to when it was done in 2005, 2007, and 2009. Fascinating, fascinating stuff.
If you were investing in web marketing channels, in content marketing and SEO, in social, and advertising of any kind, I would urge you to think about the fluency of the work that you’re producing and whether people can really consume it as effectively as you’re hoping they can. This can have a big impact on the effectiveness of the work that you do.
All right everyone. I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday, and we’ll see you again next week. Take care.”