Manipulated Or Influenced? The Power Of Persuasion

by | Jan 20, 2022

The Power of Persuasion
11 min read

For our TrustED Conf 2021 VR World Tour, we heard from Martin Sprong, a seasoned digital marketer, specialising in SEO on The Power Of Persuasion.


Manipulated or influenced? The power of persuasion

mental shortcuts system 1 and 2It’s estimated that we as humans get exposed to 4 to 10-thousand ads each day. That is a lot of information to process and decisions that we need to make.

To do so we use mental shortcuts, so-called heuristics to make a decision. This is also sometimes referenced as System 1 thinking. In which we act fast, subconsciously but is also error-prone. System 2 is for more complex decision-making, it’s slow, effortful but reliable.

This is where we as Digital Marketers can influence consumer decision making

principles of persuationSystem 1 thinking is where we as digital marketers can have significant influence. Consumers are physically limited when they purchase something online. Therefore they use product information like price, reviews and advertisements to make a subjective decision of the quality of the product. One of the ways to influence this process is to use persuasive messages on websites or advertisements.

The goal of persuasion is to change someone’s attitudes or behaviour

The goal of persuasion is to change someone’s attitudes or behaviour. Either consciously or subconsciously. For this article, we are especially looking into the well-known principles of persuasion by Cialdini.

Cialdini6-Principles-of-PersuasionDr Cialdini is known globally as the foundational expert in the science of influence and how to apply it ethically in business. He is known for his research to understand what makes people say “yes” and has developed the following 6 principles of persuasion.

1. Reciprocity

This is the principle of feeling an obligation to repay someone when they have provided us with something. Simply said, reciprocity is the principle that we’re much more likely to do something for someone who has done something for us.

Hootsuite’s social media image size guide is a great example of using this principle. It provides users with all the basics, then they offer a free downloadable guide. In return, they ask you to provide some personal details to be able to download it in full.


  • Ebooks, Articles, Webinars, Podcasts
  • Free Trials/Samples
  • Content marketing (hubspot)

Remember to give first, then you shall get in return.

2. Scarcity

Feeling that there is only one chance can convince people to take action sooner, sometimes without careful consideration of consequences or alternative options.


I think we are all familiar with the feeling that we are going to miss out makes us make certain actions sooner – without carefully going through alternative options. Travel websites like Airbnb and are masters of creating this sense of urgency. 


  • Limited availability
  • Out of stock
  • Holiday deals
  • Pre-orders

3. Authority

When people evaluate an offer or piece of marketing collateral, the “who” it’s associated with can, in many cases, be more important than what it is. It is a pretty common tactic that most of you are likely familiar with. 


  • Showcase expertise of staff
  • Thought leadership by listing recent blogs and social posts
  • Feature awards
  • Deepen specificity (i.e., number of customers served, etc.)

4. Consistency

The principles of consistency play into this behaviour. Once someone has made a decision, it’s likely that their future behaviour will align with this.


  • Cross-selling (Apple – cross-selling of products during the checkout process. When someone is in the process of buying they’re likely to buy similar products)
  • Free Ebooks, Articles, Webinars, Podcasts
  • Consistently publish content over time
  • Live chat

Overlapping with the principle of reciprocity, if you provide resources for users to consume it’s likely they will engage you for other services as they tend to be consistent with the brand they engage with. 

5. Liking

When people are uncertain, they’ll most likely look to others for behavioural guidance.


We tend to like people that are similar to us. This is the principle of liking. When people are uncertain, they’ll most likely look at behaviour cues from others.


  • Physical attractiveness
  • Shop the look
  • Use examples people can identify with
  • About us page

6. Social proof

If we see others doing something then we often assume that it is the right thing to do. This is the most common principle. Social proof is about if we see others doing something, then we assume that is the right thing. 

Social proof

The best example of this is the use and power of reviews. Who hasn’t looked at the reviews when they are looking to book a restaurant or review a product.


  • Product reviews (can increase trust – 93% of consumers read reviews before purchasing a product)
  • FOMO
  • Testimonials
  • User-generated content

The Principles of Persuasion are just the tip of the iceberg

Some of you might think, all of these are pretty logical. And that is exactly what it aims to do, it tries to influence your subconscious behaviour. They won’t always work, but it’s a great way to be smarter with our recommendations and go get a better understanding of your audience.

Wheel of Persuasion

This is the wheel of persuasion, developed by Bart Schutz, and it includes a wealth of information regarding online persuasion and experience design tactics with academic background and practical tips.

Wheel of persuasion developed by Bart Schutz

In the end, it all comes down to testing what works with your audience at different stages of the funnel. 

How to utilise Principles of Persuasion in day-to-day life

Optimise SEO page titles & descriptions for intent

The Google search results is the first port of call for many people to find information. Whilst rankings play an important role, the message that we create for our page titles and meta descriptions are a great way to persuade people to actually click.

Optimise SEO page titles & descriptions for intent

SEO might not have the flexibility of Google Ads, but it still provides an opportunity to test some of the principles.

Focus on:

  • Providing timely and engaging page titles
  • Use the meta description to create a persuasive message
  • Utilise product and review schema

Focus on the user when providing on-page optimisations

As SEO’s we tend to look at optimising specific SEO elements with keywords. We need to look beyond this and focus on the user and its intent. And this plays nicely into the hand of Google’s E.A.T.

Google EAT

What the SEO team can do:

  • Provide suggestions on the tone of voice of content
  • Find ways to include reviews & testimonials
  • Optimise images beyond keyword targeting
  • Create consistency by cross-selling and linking to related articles or products

Use Google Ads to test your messaging

Google Ads are a great way to play with the principles of persuasion. By using Google Ads to continually test ad copy and identify what resonates with the audience, it will give you an understanding of what works, then you can start to optimise from here.

Use Google Ads to test your messaging

As you can see in the examples the Principles of Persuasion are quite a common tactic to build ads.

  • Insurer of the year (authority)
  • Reviews (social proof)
  • Free initial consultation (reciprocity)
  • Testimonials (liking)


  1. Next time you write a page title or ads headline, see if you can further tweak your recommendations by making them more persuasive.
  2. Start thinking beyond providing just keyword optimisations. Instead, focus on your audience and ensure the content matches the intent of the page. Start supplementing your standard SEO recommendations with UX suggestions/tactics.
  3. Test everything. Test the different principles to identify which principle is most likely to trigger an action from your customers. Share these insights with your team – so insights can be implemented across channels.
Kirsten Tanner

Recommended for you

Get Our Newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter and receive monthly updates on what we’ve been up to, digital marketing news and more.

Your personal information will not be shared, and we don’t like mail spam or pushy salesmen either!