How to win customers and influence people through compelling
How can we do better at communicating with our political counterparts?
American politics is about as divisive an issue as you can find these days. So when Robb Willer, a professor of sociology, psychology and organizational behavior at Stanford University, asked this very question in a recent TED talk, I must admit I was intrigued.
If you can spare 12 minutes, I highly recommend watching the full video:
As a social psychologist and movie buff, Willer says he often compares social patterns to Hollywood films. So when digging into the cause behind today’s severe political polarization, he says:
“Well, it could be a disaster movie. It certainly seems like a disaster. Could be a war movie. Also fits. But what I keep thinking is that we’re in a zombie apocalypse movie…There’s people wandering around in packs, not thinking for themselves, seized by this mob mentality trying to spread their disease and destroy society.”
A funny analogy to be sure. But this is where it starts to hit home:
“And you probably think, as I do, that you’re the good guy in the zombie apocalypse movie, and all this hate and polarization, it’s being propagated by the other people, because we’re Brad Pitt, right? … But here’s the thing: what movie do you suppose they think they’re in? Right? Well, they absolutely think that they’re the good guys in the zombie apocalypse movie.”
The bigger point he’s trying to make is that we’re all guilty of contributing to this social polarization; of having an “us vs. them mentality” – as my colleague touches on in his blog: “5 Tips For Handling Bad Reviews (Because They’re Coming).” Affirming our own moral values comes naturally, but understanding and relating to someone on the opposite end of the spectrum is difficult and not intuitive at all.
Later in the talk, Willer shares his research and findings to see how we can effectively communicate with the those who think differently than ourselves. He proposes two qualities that allow us to “reach across the aisle” and connect with another person – no matter how different they are from ourselves. These qualities are: empathy and respect.
More on how to incorporate empathy and respect into your SEO copywriting later. First, though, let’s do a quick recap of SEO and copywriting – and how the two intertwine.
What is SEO Copywriting?
The act of writing, while painstakingly frustrating at times when the “creative juices” aren’t flowing, is a relatively straightforward process. Each writer’s process is slightly different, but it typically looks something like this:
- Prewriting – the ideation phase (brainstorming, creating an outline, researching, taking notes, thinking, etc.)
- Drafting – when a writer puts all those ideas swarming around in their head onto paper. It involves connecting ideas together and supporting your thesis.
- Revising – when the writer refines their piece, thinking about which terms are better for their audience and making each sentence as concise as possible.
- Editing – the final review, checking for grammar, spelling, syntax, mechanics, punctuation, etc.
Personally, my writing process is a bit less structured. Sometimes I do the drafting and revising phase at the same time. Other times I may combine prewriting and drafting. But the basic framework is still there.
SEO, on the other hand, is rarely straightforward.
Search engine optimization isn’t as simple as implementing some WordPress plugin and calling it a day. It requires constant vigilance to stay up-to-date with the latest trends, Google algorithm updates, analytics data, etc. – then putting in the manpower to make your site compliable.
So it’s not surprising that when you combine copywriting and SEO without proper planning, the result can be hot mess of keywords and repetitive content that doesn’t connect to any human being – let alone your target audience.
So let’s keep it simple. As an SEO copywriter, your job is to:
- Write for your audience.
- Write for search engines.
Note that writing for your audience is first. Sure, keywords are valuable. But the most important thing to remember about SEO copywriting is to write for humans not algorithms. Optimizing your content for search engines comes after.
How to Write Compelling SEO Content for Your Website
If you can communicate effectively about politics with someone who falls on the other side of the fence, then writing persuasive and compelling content for your target audience and customers should be a walk in the park.
To find out what effective communication looks like, Willer and his colleague ran an experiment in which they asked individuals with liberal values to write a persuasive essay in support of same-sex marriage that was compelling to people with conservative values.
They found that “69 percent of liberals invoked one of the more liberal moral values in constructing their essay, and only nine percent invoked one of the more conservative moral values, even though they were supposed to be trying to persuade conservatives,” said Miller.
The results were nearly identical when they ran the experiment again in reverse, this time asking conservatives to write a compelling essay to convince liberals to support making English the official language of the U.S.
Needless to say, neither liberals nor conservatives were very successful at persuading the opposite side.
So how can we apply this knowledge to content marketing?
If you’re a content creator, here are two SEO copywriting best practices for writing compelling content that satisfies and sways your audience:
Stop thinking of people as “conversions”
Many of us in the marketing and business worlds are guilty of using terms like “visitors,” “buyers,” “customers” and “conversions” to talk about people who engage with a company. While this makes sense from a business angle, it has no place in the world of content marketing.
The moment we forget that our audience is composed of thinking, feeling and breathing human beings is the moment our content becomes stale and ineffective.
It all goes back to the first job of an SEO copywriter: to write for humans not algorithms.
Creating buyer personas is a great technique for focusing on your audience, rather than getting lost in the endless pit of catchy slogans and trendy industry jargon.
This flows right into my next tip for writing persuasive SEO copy…
Understand your audience
Empathy and respect – that’s the key. Only once you truly understand your audience’s deepest desires, needs and fears can you effectively communicate to them.
Willer refers to this technique as “moral reframing,” and he ran another set of experiments testing the theory in which he asked liberals and conservatives to read one of three essays. The first essay was “conventionally pro-environmental,” promoting the more commonly liberal values of care and protection from harm. The second essay was also pro-environmental but tapped into more conservative values such as moral purity. The third essay was non-political. After they read a randomly assigned essay, Willer surveyed each person on their attitude toward modern environmental issues.
What he found was that, for liberals, it didn’t matter which essay they read – they expressed pro-environmental attitudes regardless. Conservatives, however, showed much more support for environmental issues if they had read second moral purity essay than if they were given one of the other two essays.
They repeated this study several times, surveying attitudes on a wide range of other polarizing political topics. The message was the same every time: “If you want to persuade someone on some policy, it’s helpful to connect that policy to their underlying moral values.”
Or, if you want to persuade someone to purchase a product or service, it’s helpful to connect that product or service to their underlying desires, needs or fears.
This message seems like a no-brainer. And yet we constantly struggle to establish this connection in every aspect of life – from politics to SEO copywriting.
The Takeaway: Writing Compelling SEO Content
“You know, it turns out that when we go to persuade somebody on a political issue, we talk like we’re speaking into a mirror. We don’t persuade so much as we rehearse our own reasons for why we believe some sort of political position. We kept saying when we were designing these reframed moral arguments, ‘Empathy and respect, empathy and respect.’ If you can tap into that, you can connect and you might be able to persuade somebody in this country.”
Whether you’re trying to convince someone to agree with your political viewpoint or choose your business over competitors, this same principle holds true. Empathy and respect, along with remembering that your audience is human, can go a long way in writing compelling content that persuades, inspires and intrigues.
Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox.
Before I turn the discussion over to you, a quick plug: If you’re business or organization is looking for professional SEO copywriting services, we invite you to contact SEO Advantage® today. Our team of professional copywriters and content marketers is highly trained in writing compelling content for online audiences. We can help give you a voice, built your online reputation and rankings.
Now your turn:
What techniques do you use to create persuasive writing? What are some good/bad examples of compelling content?