Remember your first time using email? Your inbox was an amazing place! It didn't matter what you were doing, everything stopped when that mechanical voice announced, "You've got mail".
You opened just about every message no matter who it was from or what the subject line read.
It was a glorious time
What about the first time you tried out a search engine, do you remember that? Putting in a broad term like "cars" and searching through 3 or 4 pages of results to find the best site about cars.
And how about Twitter? Once you got the knack of following people it seemed like you spent hours reading endless tweets. Oh, you still do that? So do I.
We still spend a lot of time using these services, but we've become much more efficient.
Emails are automatically filtered and prioritized, and even then we're only opening them if it's from someone we trust, or if it looks particularly interesting.
Search is no different
Google has streamlined our search behavior for years to the point where results display as you type, so if you're not happy with the top results, you just keep on typing.
As young and as exciting as it is, we can't be bothered with reading every tweet in our timeline.
We scan avatars to see who is saying what, and if we do take the time to read your entire tweet there may be a possibility that we'll click on the link - IF we think the expanded content will be worth our time to read.
What's the pattern, and how does this help your SEO?
Email, SERPS, Twitter, etc. they are just different ways for displaying messages.
Every time you are introduced to a new interface it takes a little time to get used to it, but soon you're flying through hundreds of messages like a machine, why is that?
It's because new experiences require your brain to perform unique logic calculations every time you interact with it, "Do I want to read this subject line?" and after the subject line is read, "Do I want to click this link to learn more?"
This sort of calculation doesn't usually take long to process, but it can add up when you've got hundreds of emails, or thousands of tweets to go through.
Thankfully our brain eventually speeds up the process by doing a pattern match. It starts by asking, "Who is this email from?"
If the trust is high enough, you might open the email without even reading the subject line.
In fact, that was the whole point behind Google's, "I feel lucky" feature where Google is really asking you to trust it enough to by pass the listings and take you to the first result.
If the trust of the sender isn't high enough to click through you'll likely start reading the subject line, SERP listing or tweet.
If the first few words match a previous subject line, title or tweet, you'll likely make a decision right then and there to continue reading just based off your past experiences with similar subject lines or skip it.
This principle of pattern matching and how to bypass it is critical for marketers to understand regardless of the discipline.
For SEO's, we're talking about the science of increasing the SERP click through rate. It's one of those under-the-cover metrics that make the difference between good SEO campaigns and great SEO campaigns.
Let's look at an example
You may be asking yourself, "If patterns have already been established, how do we bypass that pattern and change the behavior?"
We can find a great example of this with a quick Google search for [laptop computers].
You've got 10 listings titles that all say the same thing, "Laptops: Laptop Computers - <brand>" or "Cheap Laptops, Discount Laptops, Notebook Computers, Laptops".
These titles are nothing but keyword dumps. They all look the same, and they all match previous experiences with keyword dumped titles.
I don't know about you, but I tend to pass right over these guys.
So how do we change this behavior?
We need to bypass the logic (pattern match) level and directly target a person's desires.
Desires themselves are usually walled off behind logic and willpower, however there are certain triggers that allow you to access these desires directly.
If triggered correctly, these desires will overcome willpower and will result in action.
When this happens, (Desires overpowering willpower) Socrates calls it an, "Unbalanced individual", and marketers call it a, "conversion". Let's see how it's done.
The Triggers that Fascinate
Sally Hogshead recently put out an amazing book called, "FASCINATE: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation".
She talks about seven triggers that activate desire: lust, mystique, alarm prestige, power, vice and trust. These seven triggers capture the attention of consumers, and make them more susceptible to your message.
Here is a real life example of fascination at work.
Every day I walk by Penn Station in New York on my commute home. There are many street vendors selling scarves and books, but only one stands out.
He's an old black man dressed in a superman outfit with cowboy boots and a cowboy hat.
It's the middle of winter and he standing on boxes shouting at the top of his lungs about the assortment of wears he is peddling. You can't help but stare at this guy, because he is just plain fascinating.
I'm not remotely interested in buying his goods, but I've gone out of my way to listen to his message. This guy is targeting my mystic trigger, because my mind is trying to figure out why he is dressed up like a fool in the middle of winter.
If I listen to his message I might find out the answer.
Superman took me out of my pattern recognition loop of ignoring street vendors; he successfully bypassed my logic and willpower levels and directly tapped into my desires through mystic.
This is exactly what we want to do with our title and meta tags
Avoid the pattern recognition loop and compel the user to listen to our message. But in order to do this we need to better understand these fascination triggers.
Consider a beer advertisement with scantily clad woman holding a beer.
You're not going to click on the ad because you're interested in beer, you're going to click on it because lust is triggered and it's enticing you, urging you to click.
The woman has nothing to do with the ad, but that doesn't really matter does it? By the time you ask yourself, "Why is that half naked woman holding a beer" the landing page has loaded and you've started to wonder where the woman went.
That's lust for you, and lust isn't restricted to images of women. Apple makes billions of dollars by evoking lust through scrumptious product design.
How do you trigger lust through a title and description?
Well, let's see if we can't find a few good SERP examples.
not much to lust over. What if we tweaked it a bit?
What?! Did you just read that?
That listing is literally dripping. We've taken a common keyboard and slapped an R rating on it.
You can't tell me that men aren't going to be clicking on that listing.
Now let's take the same product and experiment with the "Power" trigger.
Now come on... Who doesn't want to be free from the tyranny of cables?
You've planted an idea in the readers mind, "You are bound by cables...You are a slave to clutter. Free yourself. Take control!"
And let's not ignore the trust trigger
We could do this exercise all day.
Every trigger hits at your desires in a different way. The key here is to find out which trigger appeals to your audience. That's where testing comes in.
Putting the trigger to the test
First let's start with Twitter.
Twitter is a great way to quickly test title tags options, but you can't easily do a/b splits. So here are a few ideas on how you can do pseudo- a/b splits.
First, you can agree to trade tweets with another Twitter account? I'm sure you've made some friends on the blue bird that would be happy to send a Tweet on your behalf in exchange for you pushing their message out to your audience.
You run the "a" tweet, and they run the "b" tweet. Schedule both ahead of time for like 10am, and 2pm using a tool like HootSuite or BufferApp.com.
You can use a shortener like Bit.ly for tracking purposes. (add + to your bit.ly URL to view the stats. As in http://bit.ly/gS3Zi1+ will provide the stats on how many times this shortened URL has been clicked on.)
If you can't find anyone with a similar size audience to trade tweets with, you may need to test both "a" and "b" tweets with your own audience.
You can run your "a" tweet on Monday at 10am and again at 2pm then wait a week and run your "b" tweet next Monday at 10am and again at 2pm.
When testing, it's important that you introduce as few variables as possible, such as day of the week and time of day.
While you're waiting for your tweets to run their course, work on getting together a mini-email campaign for some open rate testing.
Throw together a quick email featuring the product or service of the page you're optimizing, and run the a/b split on the subject lines.
Leave the body of the email identical, except for the main copy area where you can a/b split your soon-to-be meta description.
This way in a single email you've tested your title tag (email subject line) for open rates and your meta description (body copy) for click through rates.
While the creative team is putting together your email, take the paid search guy out to lunch and tell him about your ground breaking testing with Twitter and email, and how you'd like to get him in on the action. See if he's willing to help you test some ad copy variations on a few keywords.
You'll have to shorten your titles and descriptions to work with the paid search character limitations, but it's still enough room to hit a trigger. In fact, you may want to test a few different triggers to see which performs best before you finalize your email campaigns.
And the Winner Is...
You've tested tweets, emails and paid search copy. You've found your best performing subject line and description, and now you're ready to drop them on your site.
This is where you want to make sure you've taken some baseline reports to measure the impact of all this.
First, make sure you've got a reliable rankings report for all the keywords this page is currently ranking for.
This sort of tactic is really meant for driving higher click through rates from top ranking keywords, so you want to make sure your title tag changes aren't affecting your rankings in a negative way.
After you've secured a rankings report, take a look at last year's traffic pattern to make sure seasonality isn't going to skew your results. If it looks like you saw a peak or dip last year, anticipate the same change this year and factor that into your results.
Lastly, grab a traffic baseline for that page to see how much additional traffic your changes made in the click through rate.
There you have it. Science meets marketing to squeeze more traffic out of your best performing keywords. There you have it, a truly multi-channel approach to search engine optimization.
By day I work as the Director of SEO at Catalyst Search Marketing. By night I'm a masked vigilante programmer. Last year I developed Fluttrs basically "Video Twitter on Steroids". This year I'm working on an invite only marketing platform called Triberr.