Psychology Studies That Will Help You Score Links

Today’s guest post comes from Karen Yu (@kykarenyu) is a Marketing Assistant for Powered by Search, a profit HOT 50-ranked digital performance marketing agency in Toronto, Ontario. Karen is passionate about creative marketing and social activism.


As Google continues to improve their algorithm, website owners have been forced to evolve their link building tactics. If you’ve gotten away with buying links, spamming a blog’s comment section, using low quality web directories or forum spamming in the past, it’s time to rethink your ways.

Websites have come a long way from cheating themselves into Google’s rankings. The focus has now drastically shifted to ranking naturally. You can no longer think of link building as an automated process, where the only thing you have to interact with are computer and robots. Link building is now a relationship-building process. Websites aren’t giving you links, people are. So remember to think people, not websites. You need the ability to understand people and what they’re thinking.

And how do we understand what people are thinking? Psychology. Psychology is the study of the human mind and what affects their behaviour. No one is going to willingly put your link on their website if they don’t see the value of doing so. For someone to want to put your link on their website, you have to change their behaviour and help them see the value of building a relationship with you.

So as much as you wish you had magic powers to change someone’s mind, it doesn’t exist. What you can do, however, is understand proven psychology studies that may become your magic in achieving links. We’re going to go back to your university psychology course and discuss 6 psychology studies that may help you score some big links.


Gaining Attention

People are busy. They’re are being bombarded with messages through email, SMS, phone calls, social media and meetings. Another email requesting a link is probably last on their priority list. This is why you must be able to gain the attention of the person before you can even begin thinking of asking for a link. Here are some psychology studies that may help you do so:

Halo Effect  (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977)

The halo effect is a cognitive bias in which our initial overall impression of a person influences how we feel or think about his overall character.

Let’s say that you’re a great SEO, someone who is proficient at their job and is also very nice and interesting guy. However, you end up sending an email like this:

Bad Link Email


The person you’re sending this email to has no idea who you are, but this email is their first impression of you. When the halo effect kicks in, they are influenced to think you’re a boring and incompetent SEO that definitely doesn’t deserve a link.

On the other hand if you send an email similar to this:

Good Link Email

They are likely to think you are a genuine person and may see some value of starting a relationship with you.

Using the Halo Effect: Spend time writing and formatting a good email. It should be clear and concise outlining the benefits of working with you.

Halo Effect

Fear As A Motivator (Howard Leventhal)


Leventhal conducted a study to show how fear affects our behaviour. Conclusion? Fear is one of the most effective motivators to get people to do something. If you had no fear that your boss is going to fire you no matter what you do, you likely won’t be showing up to work every day.

Fear is a great motivator, but we’re not telling you to craft a horror story for your contact. The goal is to portray the information that you’re providing them as urgent, and there may be consequences for not having the information. For example, you can set up a sense of urgency or fear by setting up a title for your content such as “Link Building Strategies You Must Implement Right Now.”

Using Fear As A Motivator: Set up email titles that is worded in a way that instills fear or urgency into your contact. It should make them want to open your email and act quickly!


Persuading Your Contact

Door in the Face Technique

This doesn’t mean literally slamming a door in your contact’s face. The Door in the Face Technique is asking for a large request that your contact will likely turn down, followed by a second, more reasonable request. Studies show that the respondent will most likely agree to the second request, compared to if you made the reasonable request in isolation.

If you already have a decent relationship with the contact on hand, you may want to ask them for a larger request such as contributing for a whitepaper you’re writing. Hopefully they’ll respectfully turn down your request. Later on when you ask them for a just a link to your whitepaper in an upcoming blog post instead, they’ll willingly accept.

Using the Door in the Face Technique: Ask your contact for a favour that you know may be too difficult for them to help you complete. Then, follow-up asking for just a link on their website.

Door in Face

Social Proof (Robert Cialdini)

Social proof, also known as informational social influence is a psychology study that states that a person is influenced to do something because others are doing it as well. For example, let’s say that two stores are handing out free samples, but the line for one is much longer than the other. We are more likely to join the longer line, even though we have to wait longer because it appears that the samples provided are better as it is more demanded by others.

The same applies for the virtual world. If your contact sees that your content is being shared by a large number of people on social media platforms they will assume that the quality of your content is higher than the content of someone with no social shares.

Using Social Proof: Implement social share buttons that allows readers to share your content. Then spend time promoting your content so it shows that your content is popular amongst readers.

Facebook Like Button

Prospect Theory (Kahneman and Tversky)

The Prospect Theory is a psychological study that explains how people make decisions, especially in face of risk. The theory states that the idea of losses are more painful to us than gains are pleasurable. Many studies have concluded that losses are actually twice as painful as gains are pleasurable to us.

Although asking for a link isn’t exactly asking your contact to gamble their life savings on you, there is still some perception of risk. Associated risks of completing your link request is the time they spend processing the request as well as the risk of posting poorly written content, making them appear less credible.

A main component of this study is the reference point. Above this point, a person would perceive a gain, but below this point he/she will perceive a loss. The key is to be above the reference point by framing your pitch around the minimization of risks that your contact will incur and the maximization of benefits they will achieve through building a relationship with you.

Using the Prospect Theory: Make sure you’re highlighting the benefits your contact will get out of this partnership. Also be sure to emphasize that you’ll take on any of the risks that may occur. ‘

Prospect Theory

Social Identity Theory (Henri Tajfel and John Turner)

The Social Identity Theory states that people are more likely to identify with and act positively towards those who are in the same group as them. This strikes an empathetic side of us- the more similar you are to a person, the more likely you are to understand them and be empathetic to their situation.

Again, link building is about people, not websites. Identify with the contacts you are trying to convince. If you’re asking for a link from a journalist, seek out the style of emails that typically appeals to them, and also be understanding of what their career demands of them. If you’re trying to get a link on an all women magazine, you might want to have a female in the office contact them, rather than a male. Think about the people you’re interacting with, and why they might want to help you out.

Using the Social Identity Theory: Do research and understand the background of the people you’re contact. Understand what motivates them and how to identify and relate to them and incorporate these factors into your outreach email.

Social Identity

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this Psychology 101 crash course has given you some new perspectives on link building. The people you are emailing for links are not robots- they are people who work hard in their positions, have a family and other interests and hobbies. They’re people. And like all people, we need some persuading to do things for others. Understand people through psychology studies will help you understand others, build meaningful relationships with them and help each other achieve common goals.

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