Psychological principles to make your audience engage with your content

By Sonya Karimkhanzand
20th October 2021

Earlier this month, Beth explored the psychological principles that should influence your content strategy, so today, we’re going to delve into the psychological principles that should fuel your actual content writing.

As users, we have an abundance of options when it comes to the content we read online, therefore it’s important to make your writing pop and take centre stage.

With all the fierce competition out there, content writers have a huge challenge on their hands to write copy that’s going to command attention.

Fortunately, we know the secret ingredient needed to stimulate readers’ interests – psychology. The more you know about how your readers’ mind works, the better content you can provide them with.

We get it – understanding readers on that type of level is like hitting a bull’s eye. However, once we demystify which psychological theories content writers can benefit from, you’ll be able to create a knock-out piece of writing.

Emotive hooks, attention grabbing headlines and significant statements – let’s take a closer look at which psychological theories work best for readers today.

Why use psychology to optimise content?

As content writers, we want to be able to produce copy that can evoke more emotion and response from our readers. But are words enough to do that? The answer is no.

By weaving psychology into your writing, you have a greater chance of piquing and retaining consumer interest. For example, did you know that including the word “because” can actually increase action from 60% to 94%? Clearly, giving consumers a reason prompts them to automatically comply.

This is a message to all content writers – the power of reasoning shouldn’t be underestimated! This is a clear example of how writing content isn’t just about arranging words on a page – it’s very much about how you use them too.

By trusting psychological insight and research when it comes to writing content, you can find inspiration to generate more engaging and valuable content for your readers. What does that mean?

It means that introducing psychological theories into your writing can bring about all the good things we want as content writers:

  • Greater engagement and therefore subsequent conversion rates
  • Higher SEO ranking with search engines
  • Increased consumer loyalty and brand support

Psychological theories to help improve content writing

With millions of pieces of content being produced everyday – it’s time to cut through the content marketing noise. You can tap into your reader’s brain directly with these psychological theories:

1. Information gap

The gap between what a person already knows and what they are interested in learning.

If we want to create content that’s going to pique interest, we first need to make our audience curious. Then, we can provide knowledge to satisfy this curiosity – this is how we fill the information gap.

One of the easiest ways to get readers to be curious and wanting more is by constructing headlines that command attention. And the 4U’s formula by Michael Masterson can help you do exactly this. It follows the sequence of creating effective headlines that are:

  • Useful – write a useful headline by showing the reader what’s in it for them and highlighting the benefits. Think about how what follows in the body of the content will help the reader to relieve a problem, answer a question and provide a solution.
  • Urgent – convinces people to act sooner rather than later, and therefore encourages them to read your content.
  • Unique – the headline should surprise your reader. Make sure to grab the reader’s attention with a surprising fact, unusual statement, special piece of information or distinctive angle.
  • Ultra-specific – go big on details. For example, your headline can include numbers/statistics, a step-by-step guide or showcase an exclusive piece of information. Specificity is key as it increases how useful the content is and makes it more compelling.

For example, let’s shine a light on these blog titles we curated for our client Kiddies Kingdom:

  • Top Tips for Getting Your Baby to Sleep and Stay Asleep
  • Your Guide to Baby Mattresses
  • 5 Top Tips for Breastfeeding in the Summer
  • Parent’s Guide to Car Seat Regulations

Each headline is useful as they indicate the benefits a parent will receive by reading the blog e.g. 5 Top Tips for Breastfeeding in the Summer will help mothers breastfeed during the warmer months.

All the blog titles convey urgency as each topic is extremely timely for new parents e.g. getting little ones to sleep is often a challenging task for parents so Top Tips for Getting Your Baby to Sleep and Stay Asleep can grab their attention quickly.

The blog titles are also unique as each command parent’s attention with a distinct angle e.g. Parent’s Guide to Car Seat Regulations offers a unique angle in that it’s going to teach parents the rules surrounding child car seats.

And finally, each headline is ultra-specific in that it explains exactly how it’s going to divulge the body of the content to you e.g. Your Guide to Baby Mattresses specifies that it’s going to give parents a step-by-step guide.

Best of all – you can also use this theory for the body of your content – not just the headline. For example, your writing style could fulfil the unique element of your copy. Or linking to authoritative sources to back up specific pieces of information or data could meet the ultra-specific part.

And sometimes it could be a case of knowing that urgency is the one to leave out in the body of the content, as it could make it sound too pushy or salesy.

2. Halo effect

The halo represents an overall impression created in one area in order to influence opinion in another area.

Let’s apply the ‘halo effect’ to our content writing – we strive to create a positive impression of our clients. But how can we create this positive impression?

If you’re writing copy for one your clients, you can create a good impression of them by establishing credibility and authority within the body of the content. For example, if you’re writing about health, make sure to link to studies or authoritative services like the NHS.

As humans, we tend to trust authoritative sources, and by creating this angel-like ‘halo’ above your client, you’re positioning them as a brand that can also be trusted.

When you create a good impression of your client in this way and back them with authoritative sources, readers will be prompted to trust that everything the client has to offer will be good.

3. BYAF (But You Are Free)

Giving consumers the option to refuse.

Most of us hate asking for favours. And if you think about it, we all use BYAF to make asking for favours less awkward for the other person as well as ourselves.

When writing content for clients, in some instances, we also want to promote what the client offers. However, the type of copy that will be disregarded by people is one that’s too pushy and salesy.

The psychological principle of BYAF reminds us that our readers want options. By incorporating statements such as “but you are free to” or “the choice is yours” or anything that reminds the reader that they’re in charge, psychologically, this will lower their guard.

Therefore, the easier you make it for them to say no, the more likely they are to say yes, and they’ll feel better about doing so because the decision was completely their own. And there you have it – a win-win situation for everyone!

4. Serial position effect

The brain’s prioritisation of the first and last pieces of information read.

We all love bullet points. Why? Because they break down key bits of information into clear and concise bitesize pieces. And this is perfect for your reader’s fleeting attention span because you can still get your message across.

But not all bullet points are created equal. In a list of three or more, readers are drawn to the first and last points – and just like that the points in the middle of the list are forgotten. This is what we call the ‘serial position effect’ where your brain’s subconscious only pays attention to the first and last pieces of information read.

Luckily, as content writers we can use this psychological hack to our advantage. When writing a bullet point list, make sure to prioritise its contents.

Think about which points are the most important ones, that you need your reader to pay attention. Then, position these as the first and last points. It’s in this way that you’ll increase the chances of your reader remembering your words of wisdom.

Content writing is a mix of art and psychology. Psychological theories in content writing are all about appealing to your readers’ emotions, in order to provide them with additional value.

Incorporating these psychological tactics into content will ensure that your client stands out from the crowd. So, the next time you’re writing copy, give these tactics a shot – a little psychology goes a long way!

If you require any content support, please do get in touch.

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