“Thanks to Google, we can instantly seek out support for the most bizarre idea imaginable. If our initial search fails to turn up the results we want, we don’t give it a second thought, rather we just try out a different query and search again.”
– Justin Owings
This is one of my favourite quotes on the subject of confirmation bias – our tendency to pick and choose facts where they suit us, neglecting anything that goes against our argument. It’s something that should interest all Internet Marketers, and particularly those who run blogs.
I often say that to be successful as an ‘expert’ or a consultant, you don’t need to know everything – just a tiny bit more than your average reader. You can be a successful blogger by validating what your audience already knows. It’s one of our many rational defects that we rarely seek new information, and would much rather find confirmation that our existing views are truthful and valid.
Confirmation bias: The tendency of people to favour information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses.
Successful bloggers are brilliant at exploiting this bias. They roll out content that is designed to look informative, but usually only confirms what the reader already knew. The best bloggers will go one step further. They’ll produce content that validates what a reader can only speculate to be true, thus sealing the role of ‘authority in a niche’, as my fellow Internet Marketers like to put it.
Unlike journalists, bloggers do not have to stick rigidly to the confines of fact over fiction. The secret to success lies in how we are perceived. By feeding readers the right blend of useless crap they already knew, and useless crap they always assumed, we can portray ourselves as figures of authority where it isn’t truly deserved. Some of the biggest and most popular blogs in the world rely on steady diets of ‘expert advice’ that serve merely to nail us to our beliefs.
Confirmation bias is a psychological weapon that allows bloggers to gain followers without having any kind of academic link to their chosen topic. By engineering a steady dripfeed of content that satisfies without challenging, any single one of us can become an expert. The old adage that content is king makes sense, but it doesn’t tell the full story.
If you really want to command a following, stick to telling people what they already know. If you want to become the fabled Mr Big Pants ‘authority in a niche’, extend that content to what they also speculate to be true.
One look at my Twitter feed tells me that the Republican primaries are now in full swing. Have you seen the bickering on political blogs?
You’ll find that the most commented sites are those that rally similar minded folk by enforcing their beliefs and serving a rose-tinted slew of facts to support them. If these sites felt a duty to promote a fairer race, they would paint each candidate in a fair and unbiased light. Of course, to do so would be to ask readers to challenge their beliefs. It never happens. People don’t want to be challenged. They want to feel vindicated, that they were right all along.
Once forming an opinion, we would rather live in ignorance than appear to be ‘flip-flopping’. Ordinary bloggers can grow monster followings by latching on to this weakness and appealing to the confirmation bias in us all.
Internet Marketing doesn’t require years of expertise, neither does blogging. It simply requires the articulation of beliefs and opinions in such a way that readers can pursue them as their own. If you do this, you will always have an audience.
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