Everything seems to be going well in your search engine optimization (SEO) campaign. You’ve had a few hiccups, sure, but overall, you’re on a solid growth trajectory, and things are only going to get better from here. You even have reports that can back you up.
But here’s the thing: your perception may not reflect the objective truth of the health of your SEO campaign. As with many things, when it comes to SEO, we tend to fall victim to one or more of a number of cognitive biases.
Cognitive biases are natural byproducts of the way our brains work, and they exist in nearly everybody as subtle factors that distort the way we think. These are just some of the ones that could impact your perceptions of your campaign:
- Confirmation bias. Confirmation bias makes you disproportionately favor evidence that supports your underlying assumptions, and dismiss or devalue evidence that serves to contradict it. In practice, let’s say you start evaluating your monthly performance with the assumption that you’ve been doing better than you did last month. You might point out key metrics that have improved, while ignoring metrics that have declined, or coming up with excuses for why they’ve declined.
- Anchoring. Anchoring is a complex phenomenon that makes you rely too heavily on the first piece of information you see. In the context of an SEO campaign, you might hear that your department is looking for 1,000 monthly organic visitors, and use that as the basis of your comparison with the actual metrics. If you get 1,100 visitors, you’ll consider your campaign a success—even if you could have gotten 1,600 visitors with a better strategy in place.
- Salience. Salience bias makes you disproportionately favor pieces of information that are prominent over ones that are less noticeable. For example, if there’s one black sheep in a herd of 100 white sheep, your attention will naturally be drawn to it. Chances are, you’ll zoom into the most noticeable metrics, graphs, and charts in your report, potentially undermining less noticeable figures. Combined with confirmation bias and/or a bit of optimism, you’ll be less likely to notice metrics that work against you.
- The bandwagon effect. We’re social creatures, and we often tend to do things just because other people are doing them. If your team leader or department head believes that your SEO campaign is getting results, it’s easy to be lulled into that state of thinking.
Complacency and Stagnation
You might also be deceiving yourself about your campaign’s health and progress because you’re complacent with any positive news. For example, let’s say you take over a campaign that’s been running for a year, and each month, you see an increase of 50 monthly organic visitors, on average.
Depending on what you’re investing, this might represent a positive ROI, so you’ll likely think that what you’re doing is working, and you’ll keep doing it.
The problem with this is that it ignores your potential gains, and potential growth. What if you could spend the same amount of money and see increases of 200 monthly visitors per month? Or 300? What if 50 is well below the average for your industry?
Resistance to Change
Some search optimizers also believe their work is good enough because they don’t want to do anything different, or don’t know how to change their tactics up in a significant way.
They’re used to one set of strategies, and one approach; to admit that the campaign isn’t working is to welcome a massive strategic and procedural change, which is an unpleasant idea for pretty much anybody.