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The Curse of Knowledge is something I first came across while reading Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. As soon as I read it, I knew exactly what it was and was reassured that it wasn’t just me who was worried about how much of a problem it is. It allowed me to recognise that I was certainly guilty of avoiding ‘Curse of Knowledge’ related issues. The Curse of Knowledge also often rears its head in the world of SEO, recognising it can help you avoid easy mistakes that will impact your visibility.

What is the Curse of Knowledge?

I think one of the best ways of describing it is from the ‘tapper and listeners’ experiment. In the experiment there were two individuals, one tapped out the rhythm to a song and the other was tasked to guess the song in question. The listeners had a success rate of 2.5%. The experiment gets interesting, however, when the tappers were asked to predict the success rate – they predicted 50%.
“The tappers got their message across 1 time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across 1 time in 2. Why?”

The experimenters found that when you tap a song out you will hear it in your head and you cannot stop yourself from doing so. If you do not have the song playing in your head, it becomes very difficult to decipher the taps. Much to the experimenters’ amusement, the tappers became very animated and bemused that their partner could be “so stupid” not to know the difference between the Star Spangled Banner and Happy Birthday.

The problem in this case is the Curse of Knowledge. Not only can the tapper not unhear the song in their head, but they cannot imagine what it would be like not to have the song playing in their head. In other words, they cannot conceive of what it would be like to lack this knowledge.

How does the Curse of Knowledge Affect Me?

The Curse of Knowledge affects everyone. Whether you receive training, give training or attend meetings where you want to get your point across, the Curse of Knowledge may be affecting your ability to do these things effectively. It is a difficult skill to master, to be able to put yourself in the position of someone who doesn’t know elements of what you’re talking about. In fact, part of the struggle is identifying when someone doesn’t know what you’re talking about, what you’re thinking and the theory underpinning your ideas.

The Curse of Knowledge and Digital Marketing

The Curse of Knowledge is a common problem but two particular examples relate to the success of your digital marketing campaigns.

Speak the language of your customers

If you are a B2B manufacturer, for example, then you probably have a warrant to speak in jargon and assume that your intended audience knows (roughly) what you’re talking about (most of the time) with you regular clients and customers. If you are a B2B or B2C company, however, that aims to attract new customers and clients (and aren’t we all) then we should be wary of going off on a tangent that will alienate the very people you want to help or even worse leave of information accessible to people to want to buy products or services.

For example, say I were to move into a lovely cottage in the peak district. This old-fashioned stone cottage is off the grid and the oil that powers the electric is a little bit unreliable. I may want to purchase a back-up generator. As you may imagine, back-up generators are not my speciality and I would assume they are not the speciality of many customers looking for a small home generator like me.

I’ve searched “Back up Home Generator” and been presented with a few websites. Some ecommerce, some enquiry-based but something strikes me as odd; many assume their customer already knows exactly what they want or need. Of course, I’m sure some do but many using this general search term will not. Being automatically presented with pages for back up home generators featuring only a list of specifications and technical jargon, I cannot help but feel that this is a missed opportunity. This HGI generators page breaks the mould by actually giving advice and details about different types of home generators, which is what I actually need before purchase as opposed to being confronted with a bare page reading “8kW Standby Generator with 50 Amp, 10 Circuit Automatic Transfer Switch”. Of course, “8kW Standby Generator with 50 Amp, 10 Circuit Automatic Transfer Switch” may be appropriate for an informed visitor but from a visitor like this you would expect a more informed and specific search phrase.

Speak the language of the search engines

If you want Google to understand what your website is about, you need to tell their bots. Google bots crawl your website and you may assume that your visitors know what you do (even though they might not) but Google bots definitely do not. This is why it is of the utmost importance that you actually say on your pages what you do. It sounds simple but it is incredibly easy, and incredibly common, that a website will not even mention the most common words associated with what they do.

But does it actually work?

In a word, yes. But don’t take my word for it, try it yourself. Try to put yourself in the position of your clients or customers, what would they want to know?

I wrote a blog post in January called “How to Run a Competition on Your Facebook Business Page”. As a digital marketing agency we are quite informed about these types of issues and it is not necessarily the type of post I would usually think of writing or necessarily reading. It is full of practical advice suitable for our clients, whereas I would be more likely to read a more detailed post about terms and condition changes. It can be difficult but you need to remember that you are not writing for yourself, you are writing for your readers who may be in a different position.

So did it work?

In the 6 months following its publication, the post was the 3rd most popular landing page and has driven a number of enquiries. A great way to tell if your post has longevity and has continued to drive traffic to your website is by looking for a graph shaped like this:

Blog Post Performance Graph

A post with initial interest that is no longer being read, shared or found regularly in search engines would have almost the opposite shape of this graph.

Find out which of your articles are still driving high quality traffic to your website, you may be surprised by the result!

One response to “SEO and the Curse of Knowledge”

  1. Darren McCowan says:

    Possibly the most thought provoking article I’ve read this year. Great advice!!!

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