Tag Archive | "Persuasive"

Last Day to Join Persuasive Copywriting, and a Punch in the Mouth for Facebook

Heads up: The introductory rate for our Persuasive Copywriting 101 Course is ending today, November 1, at 5:00 p.m. Pacific…

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Get a Lot Better at Writing Persuasive Copy: Copyblogger’s Brand-New Copywriting Course is Open

Last week, one of our very dear community members, Hashim Warren, said something I loved about our new persuasive copywriting…

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Sign Up for the Free Copyblogger Workshop on Persuasive Presentations

On Monday, I unveiled our new Copyblogger book club. We’ve been having a great time working through Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft, and we’d love to have you with us! On Tuesday, webinar “gun for hire” Tim Paige swung by the blog to talk about one of the things that can make webinars so
Read More…

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The ‘Pulp Fiction’ Technique for Engaging and Persuasive Content

"Pulp Fiction expertly uses a common writing technique that grabs attention right from the beginning, and magnetically holds it." – Brian Clark

You’ve seen Pulp Fiction, right? It’s the classic 1994 black comedy crime film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.

The film is highly stylized, presented out of chronological order, and filled with eclectic dialogue that reveals each character’s perspectives on various subjects. And yes, it’s profane and violent.

Pulp Fiction was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture. Tarantino and his co-writer Roger Avary won for Best Original Screenplay, which is truly the foundation of an exceptional film.

Despite the groundbreaking inventiveness, Pulp Fiction also expertly uses a common writing technique that grabs attention right from the beginning, and magnetically holds that attention through a form of psychological tension generated by our short-term memories.

This simple strategy is something you can use in your marketing content, your sales copy, and your live presentations. You’ll not only increase engagement, but also add enhanced credibility to the persuasive point you’re trying to make.

Opening the loop

Back during the aftermath of the tragic effects of Hurricane Katrina, I came across an interesting article about some less-than-inspiring aspects of the devastating storm. It began with this:

“An Illinois woman mourns her two young daughters, swept to their deaths in Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters. It’s a tragic and terrifying story. It’s also a lie.”

Now, any article that details accounts of fraud in the aftermath of Katrina would contain compelling information. But that opening had me riveted, and it got me reading what ended up being a detailed and lengthy piece that I might have otherwise skipped.

The article went on for 1,136 words before explaining that opening statement. It finally came as the initial bullet point in a list of false claims for relief after Katrina.

This type of opening with a delayed resolution is called an open loop, and it works for just about any type of content or copy. No matter the medium, you always want to grab attention quickly and hold it while you provide the surrounding facts, lessons, or supporting evidence.

The information is the same, but the level of attention and even fascination on the reader’s part is greatly heightened by the structure, leading to better retention and potential for persuasion.

Bond … James Bond

Open loops are used all the time in the movies. Think about James Bond, dangling over a vat of sharks.

While the villain monologues, Bond saves himself by cutting away the ropes with the buzzsaw hidden in his Rolex Submariner watch. Why do we accept, much less embrace, this ridiculous resolution?

It’s because the buzzsaw feature of the watch was introduced to us earlier thanks to the new technology presentation from Q that happens in every Bond movie. The implausible becomes credible thanks to the setup earlier in the film.

These setups create open loops that will keep your audience itching to find out what happens in the end — a need-to-know phenomenon called the Zeigarnik Effect by psychologists.

In a nutshell, the Zeigarnik Effect means that we hold things in our short-term memories that lack closure. For example, waiters can easily remember the orders of each of the tables they’re serving — until the food comes out that is, at which point retention and recall diminishes greatly.

So, when you use the setup and payoff structure of the open loop, your audience is driven to keep going with you. And that’s what you want, right?

Think about cliffhanger endings, where a loop is opened without being closed. Not only do you want to know what happens, you remember to tune in next time.

The setup and subsequent payoff of an open loop is incredibly satisfying. And that’s why open loops are also powerful persuasion vehicles, because we embrace the payoff in a way we wouldn’t without the setup and time-lapse in between.

Think back to the James Bond example; the open loop made an implausible escape perfectly acceptable. As we’ll see in the next example, it can also make a commercial claim more credible, and even prompt the holy grail of direct response copywritingaction.

Loops that move people to act

So, how can you use an open loop in your copy to not only persuade, but also prompt action? Take a look at the copy for this radio ad written by Roy Williams for a diamond merchant called Justice Jewelers:

“Antwerp, Belgium, is no longer the diamond capital of the world.

Thirty-four hours on an airplane. One way. Thirty. Four. Hours. That’s how long it took me to get to where 80 percent of the world’s diamonds are now being cut. After 34 hours, I looked bad. I smelled bad. I wanted to go to sleep. But then I saw the diamonds.

Unbelievable. They told me I was the first retailer from North America ever to be in that office.

Only the biggest wholesalers are allowed through those doors. Fortunately, I had one of ’em with me, a lifelong friend who was doing me a favor.

Now pay attention, because what I’m about to say is really important: As of this moment, Justice Jewelers has the lowest diamond prices in America, and I’m including all the online diamond sellers in that statement.

Now you and I both know that talk is cheap. So put it to the test. Go online. Find your best deal. Not only will Justice Jewelers give you a better diamond, we’ll give you a better price, as well.

I’m Woody Justice, and I’m working really, really hard to be your jeweler. Thirty-four hours of hard travel, one way. I think you’ll be glad I did it.”

Okay, so the ad starts off by setting up an open loop. If Antwerp is no longer the diamond cutting capital of the world, which city is the new one?

But here’s the thing … we’re never told the city, or even exactly how low the prices are. To do that, you need to take action by heading over to the Justice Jewelers website, combined with a challenge to find lower prices anywhere else online.

Less artful ads would lead with the claim of the lowest prices thanks to an exclusive source of diamonds. Skepticism would naturally abound.

Here, the storytelling setup is incredibly engaging, even if you’re not in the market for diamonds. If you are in the market, the lingering open loop means the listener is more likely to retain, recall, and act on the information.

Can you see how this might work on a landing page aimed at getting an email opt-in? You open the loop, and the only way the visitor can close it is to sign up for the lead magnet.

That’s just one example of the many uses of open loops. As I mentioned earlier, you can incorporate open loops in your marketing content, your sales copy, and your live presentations, all making you inherently more engaging and persuasive.

And speaking of earlier, what about Pulp Fiction?

Pumpkin and Honey Bunny

So I saw Pulp Fiction on opening night back in 1994, and oh man … that first scene. I’ve never before or since experienced a theater full of people bursting into applause after the opening of a film.

As a refresher, Pulp Fiction begins with a man and a woman sitting together in a diner. The two are known only by the pet names they call each other — Pumpkin and Honey Bunny.

They’re discussing the relative dangers of robbing various places, revealing that the two are criminals. They’ve been holding up liquor stores, which Pumpkin thinks is too dangerous and will eventually result in them or someone else getting killed.

After sharing a story about a man who robs a bank with a telephone, Pumpkin proposes that they start robbing diners. In fact, he suggests that they rob the diner they’re in, right now.

Up to this point, Honey Bunny has been nothing but sweetness and light. She suddenly jumps up with a gun and shouts some particularly shocking threats to the patrons. Cut to Dick Dale’s iconic rendition of “Misirlou” and the opening credits.

Now, the rest of the film proceeds. Some of what follows actually occurs before the opening scene, and some occurs after, but don’t worry about that right now.

The point is, much of the rest of the film plays out without returning to Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. Even though the film is riveting, in the back of your mind you’re thinking … what the hell was that about?

What happened to Pumpkin and Honey Bunny?

Finally, we arrive at the last scene of the film. It’s the same diner from the opening.

Turns out, this is where gangsters Jules and Vincent have decided to have breakfast after escaping The Bonnie Situation and disposing of a headless guy at Monster Joe’s Truck and Tow.

Cut to Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, just as Honey Bunny leaps up with the gun and makes her threat. Ironically, in their bid for safer crime options, these two fools have picked the exact wrong diner to rob.

The scene plays out and the film ends, which closes the open loop. Incredibly satisfying.

So, in case there was any doubt, you can also use open loops when crafting tutorial content as well — because I just demonstrated one for you. The headline and opening of this article promise you an example from Pulp Fiction, but I didn’t actually close that loop until the very end.

  • Maybe you were wondering when I would get to it.
  • Maybe you knew I was demonstrating an open loop in my usual meta way.
  • Maybe (hopefully!) you got so caught up in the article that it was only nagging you somewhere in the back of your mind.

Anyway, do you use open loops in your content and copy? Let me know in the comments.

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Prove It! 6 Persuasive Techniques for Making the Sale

simple tips to convince skeptical buyers

A few months ago, I was struggling with writing a sales page for an upcoming program launch, so I showed my draft to my copywriting mentor and asked his advice.

He scanned the page for about 20 seconds, then said:

“You need more proof. This page should be full of stories and case studies about how your approach works. You need to show the real results people get from using this product.”

I argued that adding more case studies would take up a lot of room on the page. He laughed.

“When I write my own sales pages, highlighting the proof is the most important part,” he said. “If I can show people I can get results, the rest of the copy is almost superfluous.”

I know his advice was a bit of an oversimplification — other elements of copywriting still matter, of course — but now I see better conversions on my sales pages because I implement my mentor’s advice on a regular basis.

In today’s post, I’ll share six persuasive techniques for showing proof the next time you need to convince a prospect that you can get results.

1. Case studies

Case studies (also known as customer success stories) tell a brief story about a customer or client who has gotten great results from your product or service.

For example, you might write, “Alexander Manuel used my system and saw a 50 percent increase in email sign ups within one month.”

When you use case studies in sales copy, it’s best to keep them short and concise. Focus on measurable results whenever you can. Numbers are often the most persuasive aspect of case studies for prospects.

If your product helped your customer reduce 300 hours of his workload last year, state that. If your client increased profits when she started using your services, state how much extra revenue she brought in.

2. Testimonials

Testimonials are written statements from your customers or clients, extolling the virtues of your product or service. Typically, they are quotes from people who have hired you or bought from you in the past.

The best testimonials go beyond just singing your praises and talking about how awesome you are — they explain details about why your client endorses you.

Testimonials, like case studies, are most powerful when they include numbers and/or quantitative results.

Check out these six questions from Sean D’Souza that help you draw out detailed and persuasive testimonials from your clients.

3. Press coverage

Have you recently received praise from a media outlet? Add it to your copy if it’s relevant and helps support your claims.

If you’re going to include press coverage, though, make sure the quote is from a well-known source.

While praise from a small-town newspaper might not do much for your credibility, a few words from a highly trusted magazine might be compelling and persuasive.

When deciding whether or not to include press coverage as part of your copywriting proof, ask yourself if your prospects recognize, like, and respect the source.

4. Social shares

In certain situations, it might make sense to use social media sharing results in your copy.

If you’re a freelance writer, for instance, and you have a track record of writing blog posts that get thousands of Facebook or Twitter shares, you could present those social sharing numbers when you pitch your services to new clients.

5. Research studies

If research studies clearly show the effectiveness of your product, you can use that data in your copy.

The key to using this type of proof is making sure you deliver the information clearly and concisely in layman’s terms.

6. Visual representations of results

Images are powerful. You can use before-and-after photos, charts, screenshots, and other visuals to prove that your product or service works and is worth the investment.

Label visuals with captions if they need explanations, and don’t let charts or other snazzy images overpower your copy. In most cases, visual representations will complement the main part of your copy.

Proof: one of the most important elements in your copywriting toolbox

When you write copy, proof is incredibly important. That’s why it’s one of the 5 Ps of writing great copy: Premise, Promise, Picture, Proof, and Push.

Learn more about the 5 Ps in Copyblogger’s free ebook, The 5 P Approach to Copy that Crushes It.

As you face your next copywriting assignment — for your own business or for one of your clients — don’t forget to include convincing proof. It will help you create compelling copy that brings in more registrations, opt-ins, and sales.

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3 Resources to Help You Produce Stunning and Persuasive Content

copyblogger collection - beautiful content that sells

Eenie meenie miney mo …

You likely have used the “eenie-meenie-miney-mo method” when making an inconsequential decision.

That’s the opposite of how you should make decisions regarding the look of your content and the message you want to communicate.

Your content needs to be a carefully crafted presentation that is the result of intentional choices.

Those focused presentations, in contrast to the outcome produced by the eenie-meenie-miney-mo methodology, create an experience for your audience members that make them happy to receive your content — and even happier to take the next step and do business with you.

This week’s Copyblogger Collection is a series of three handpicked articles that will show you:

  • How to get more people to read your content
  • How to fully engage your readers’ brains with images
  • How to boost the conversion rates of your call-to-action buttons

As you work your way through the material below, think of the following lessons as a mini course for producing stunning and persuasive content.

8 Incredibly Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your Content


One of the biggest fears a content creator may have is that no one will view their work. It’s tricky to stay motivated if you feel like no one pays attention to you.

How do you hook distracted readers?

In 8 Incredibly Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your Content, Pamela Wilson walks you through easy-to-implement changes that will make your content pop and draw readers in.

How to Fully Engage Your Readers’ Brains with Images [SlideShare]


Speaking of content that pops, Pamela is back, and this time she has expert advice about choosing images that perfectly complement your writing.

Pamela says:

“If you haven’t been fully engaging your readers’ brains by using images with your content, the time to start is right now.

Because it turns out that just like everything else in life, you’ll get more proficient and professional with your image creation the more you do it.”

Check out How to Fully Engage Your Readers’ Brains with Images [SlideShare] for techniques and tools that boost the comprehension and retention of your content.

6 Proven Ways to Boost the Conversion Rates of Your Call-to-Action Buttons


Here’s an important reminder from Joanna Wiebe:

“Your visitors can’t get through your checkout process or sign-up form without clicking at least one button. And that one button — like all of your buttons — can be improved.

But we fail to optimize calls to action for pretty simple reasons, all of which are complete BS.

We need to stop ignoring the so-called ‘small things,’ especially when conversions depend on them.”

Joanna reveals small changes that can grow your business in 6 Proven Ways to Boost the Conversion Rates of Your Call-to-Action Buttons.

Present a content gift to your audience

You have the opportunity to wrap up your content in a package that your audience members will view as the exact gift they want.

Use this post (and save it for future reference) to help you master the art of creating content gifts.

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Here’s How to Combine Storytelling and Data to Produce Persuasive Content

Posted by nikkielizabethdemere

[Estimated read time: 5 minutes]

Can you recall Don Draper using statistics in a quote? Neither can I.

Draper’s pitches were successful because they focused on stories. (Remember the famous Kodak Carousel pitch?) He was on to something: Research highlights stories as key to capturing an audience’s attention.

Jennifer Aaker, a social psychologist and professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, cites a study in which students were asked to present a one-minute persuasive pitch to their class members. Each pitch included an average of 2.5 statistics. Only one of those pitches included a story. Ten minutes later, the researcher asked the students to pull out a sheet of paper and write down every idea they remembered. Only 5% of the students remembered a statistic; 63% of the students remembered the story.

For most people, numbers aren’t memorable. Stories are.

kwUFkb1.pngNumerous studies have shown that stories aren’t only more effective in making a message memorable, they’re also more emotionally persuasive. Pair this with research that shows we make decisions primarily with emotion (using logic to justify them later), and you have the power of story in a nutshell.

Your brain on stories

When we hear a story, not only are the language parts of the brain activated, but also every other part of the brain we would use if we were living the story. Mentally, we become the protagonist. In our minds, the story is real and it’s happening to us, not to somebody else.

Warm chocolate oozed out of the center of the cake, swirling with mocha eddies of ice cream.

Oh, sorry — are you feeling hungry now?

There are 63 grams of fat in Chili’s Chocolate Molten Lava Cake.

How eager are you to forget that statistic?

If the story is about food, your sensory cortex lights up. If the story is about motion, you motor cortex lights up, as if you were the one shoveling cake into your mouth or driving a race car.

An even more remarkable study from Princeton shows that when you tell a story, your brain and your listeners’ brains actually sync up. This implies that you can plant ideas and emotions into your audience’s brain through story.

Don’t ditch the data

There’s a case to be made for ditching data altogether in favor of story.

If you’ve read about the “identifiable victim effect” — demonstrated by Carnegie Mellon researchers presenting study participants with the story of a starving child versus statistics about child starvation in Africa — you know why. In the experiment, participants who received the Save the Children pamphlet featuring the story of a starving child named Rokia donated double the money of those who saw a pamphlet with statistics only.

But, in another experiment (part of the same study), they handed participants a Save the Children pamphlet that included both the story and the statistics.

ajYCsuK.pngThat may seem like damning evidence as far as data is concerned.

Paul Slovic, one of the researchers, explains this phenomenon (nearly a 40% drop) as a “drop in the bucket” effect. Read about poor starving Rokia, and your emotions and mind are fully engaged. But read about the millions of starving children on the African continent, and as Slovic says, “The data sends a bad feeling that counteracts the warm glow from helping Rokia.”

But data doesn’t always give a bad feeling. It all depends on how you use it.

Marry stories with data for compelling content

If story activates the emotional centers of the brain, data activates the logic centers. Activating both at the same time can be incredibly powerful — if done correctly. For example, if you tell a story about someone your business or product has helped, then combine that story with data that explains how much you’ve helped them, your story becomes more trustworthy.

In John Allen Paulos’ New York Times piece “Stories vs. Statistics,” he explains that people are afraid of committing two types of judgment errors: observing something that is not really there (Type 1 error); and missing something that is there (Type 2 error). Some people are more comfortable committing one type of error over the other, depending on their personality types, and this is where stories and statistics come into play.

fJEBlMO.pngFor a certain type of consumer, story is really all they need. They’re ready to make a decision based purely on the emotional connection you make with them. But others aren’t so sure about your story. They’re less impressed by the flashy details. Their discerning minds want proof in the form of hard numbers.

Why do numbers make us trust? While data and statistics can be woven into just about any form to support just about any theory, we still think of numbers as unbiased, objective, unemotional. Perhaps this bias is a result of how our brains treat numerical information; it just doesn’t tickle the emotional parts of ourselves. We treat numbers with logic and, illogical as it may be, expect the same treatment from data in return.

It’s a bias we marketers can use, especially when we know that, while people are likely to act on their gut instinct, they still confirm that instinct with logic.

I would argue that we need to use data in this way, as a confirmation of the story we’re telling, not as a replacement for the story.

Professor Jennifer Aaker explains it like this:


Whether you’re writing a web page, ebook, or presentation, lead with the story. Grab attention with an anecdote that paints a narrative picture of the problem you’re trying to solve. Then, don’t just throw a data set in.

Instead, put your data into a meaningful, visual context that literally illustrates your point.

In Visage’s related ebook, they tell you how to thoughtfully blend the data and storytelling to provide value, insight, and meaning to your audience.

And, to drive your point home, explain your data visualization. Don’t assume audiences will get it at a glance (even if they can). Highlight important patterns. Explain your axes. Answer the question lingering in your audience’s mind: “So what?”

When you deliver data within the context of a larger story, that is the moment when it becomes incredibly powerful, and you become your most persuasive.

How are you using data in your content marketing?

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15 Copy Editing Tips That Can Transform Your Content into Persuasive and Shareable Works of Art

Image of star being carved out of stone

What’s special about the compelling content you retweet, Like, bookmark, and email to your friends?

Those articles serve the audience, not the content creator.

Creative work that instantly captivates and holds an audience’s attention influences their lives.

Transcribing the thoughts in your head won’t always serve a purpose. You must construct helpful and manageable instructions for your audience — the reader will do something differently in her daily routine after learning about the information you share on a specific topic.

That’s easier said than done.

You obviously want to establish your website as an authoritative publication in your niche, but in order to cross that threshold you need to critically examine your cornerstone content.

Strengthening your ability to create content that spreads includes improving your editing skills. Editors transform basic text into powerful stories (in all media) that persuade people to take action.

Once you’ve written a draft, you’re still not ready to hit “publish” just yet. Here are 15 copy editing tips that help turn your articles, landing pages, webinars, and podcasts into shareable works of art.

Copy Editing Stage 1: Pre-revision rituals

  1. Walk away. Realistically evaluate your post’s urgency. Unless you must meet a strict deadline, take a break for at least a day after you’ve completed your post. New ways to modify your writing will become evident after you’ve created some distance from your initial creation.
  2. Release attachment. Forget that you wrote the content and consciously assume an Editor Mindset that’s free from your Writer Ego. As an editor, you have no problem evaluating and deleting to produce a more coherent and complete post. Proactive editing shouldn’t be devastating.
  3. Create a new document. Prepare to save everything you remove because writing consistent posts for your blog is a fluid process. Content that’s excessive or irrelevant for a certain post shouldn’t go to waste. Use those ideas as a springboard for your next article.
  4. Indulge a bad habit. Perform one fast, superficial reading to gratify the impulse to skim your text. Each subsequent reading should be a meticulous review of the text.
  5. Self-evaluate. As you lightly read your post, write side notes without changing the draft. If you didn’t communicate your intentions accurately, use these notes as an opportunity to record leftover ideas you thought you included but actually didn’t. You’ll use the notes in Stage 2.

Copy Editing Stage 2: Comprehensive cutting and pasting

  1. Summarize your goal. Write your straightforward aim in about 25 words, and then edit your summary until you have a succinct headline that includes the “Four U’s” of copywriting: ultra-specific, unique, useful, and urgent. Writers often assume that readers will quickly understand their main point even though they haven’t explicitly stated it.
  2. Avoid overwhelm. Weak sections may appear in final versions of blog posts if you don’t edit enough because reviewing the entire post in one sitting overwhelms you. For example, I edited this post in five different sessions. Begin with your favorite part to generate editing momentum.
  3. Pamper your audience. Ask yourself, “How does this information help my reader?” after each sentence. Each paragraph should satisfy an element of CMKR — provide Comfort, be Memorable, share Knowledge, or list Resources.
  4. Consider alternatives. Incorporate notes you made during Pre-Revision as you reorganize or combine sentences, shorten or lengthen paragraphs, or change the order of the text. If you often repeat a word, keep it in the most appropriate place, and replace it with synonyms in other instances.
  5. Eliminate questions. Use the “Fifth U” that pertains to editing the body of your copy: unmistakable. You never want your reader to guess or have the thought, “I don’t really follow. Is he trying to say ___?” If a reader strains to comprehend your message, she won’t have any motivation to share your writing with others.

Copy Editing Stage 3: Razor-sharp proofreading

  1. Don’t rush. Your content needs to be solid before you proofread. You’ll notice errors more easily when you’re not still rewriting and rearranging portions of your blog post. If you begin proofreading but find yourself copy editing too much, continue with Stage 2 until you’re ready for Stage 3.
  2. Be curious. Read slowly, as if each word is foreign to you. It’s time to scrutinize each word to make sure it’s the perfect fit for that sentence. A slow proofreading practice also helps you catch real-word typos, such as “my” instead of “may,” “through” instead of “thorough,” “most” instead of “post,” or “to” instead of “too.”
  3. Get mechanical. Proper writing mechanics ensure that your blog post is effortlessly comprehensible. A few grammar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes won’t necessarily ruin your reputation, but they may ruin great ideas by making them confusing.
  4. Value consistency. Create a style guide for your blog post that lists all proper names, terms, and phrases. Professional, polished writing doesn’t have inconsistencies such as varied capitalization or punctuation when referring to the same word. For example, if “Walmart” is the correct spelling, you should never also write “Wal-Mart,” “WalMart,” or “Wal-mart” within the same post.
  5. Categorize your progress. Stop proofreading a section of your text once you know it’s flawless and focus on weaker areas. Highlight the text in green if it’s completely proofread, yellow if it’s partially finished, and red if it still needs a good amount of your attention. When all the text is green, read your post one more time out loud. You should be able to read it without making any changes.

Adaptation is essential to effective communication

Editing improves your writing because language that impacts readers doesn’t always materialize immediately. Your concepts become more persuasive when you manipulate and craft your original words.

During in-person communication, you can rephrase your verbal speech if you observe a puzzled or clueless look on someone’s face. With writing, you don’t get the luxury of such feedback until after you’ve published. At that point, you don’t get another chance to explain yourself; a reader will simply stop reading.

How do your copy editing techniques differ from your writing practices?

Share your favorite revision tips in the comments below!

About the Author: Stefanie Flaxman is the creator of Revision Fairy. Get more from @RevisionFairy on Twitter and Google+.

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The 5 Most Persuasive Words in the English Language

Image of Open Dictionary

When it comes to assembling persuasive copy, like any other construction job, you need to rely on your skills, experience, and toolbox.

The toolbox of the writer is filled with words.

In defining what I believe is a critical element of crafting effective copy, I’ll make my case by amending the famous quote from Animal Farm: “All words are equal, but some words are more equal than others.”

And there are certain power words that hold more sway over our decision making process than others. You might be surprised to find that these “power words” don’t seem … well, all that powerful.

This speaks to just how damned efficient they are. Simple language is crystal-clear language, and these words make it clear just what you want your reader to do.

And you might be surprised just how effective these deceptively simple words can be.

I’ve listed these words below (along with studies related to their power) that will show you how to speak more persuasively to your audience.

Warning: I can’t stress enough — just as in the application of writing headlines that work — you must understand why these words are persuasive, and you must use them in the contexts that make sense for your audience and your business. If you just start slapping them on every piece of content you create for no apparent reason, you’ll quickly see just how unpersuasive they can be.

There, you’ve been warned. Now, let’s get on with the show …

1. You

There’s an often-cited study in the copywriting world about a piece of Yale research that reveals “You” to be the #1 power word out of a supposed 12.

Despite the fact that the study likely never happened, I have some actual research that reveals the power of invoking the self.

As it turns out, while people might like the word “you,” it is guaranteed that that they love reading their own name much more.

According to recent research examining brain activation, few things light us up quite like seeing our own names in print or on the screen. Our names are intrinsically tied to our self-perception and make up a massive part of our identity. No surprise then, that we become more engaged and even more trusting of a message in which our name appears.

Research has shown that we will gladly pay more for personalization, so isn’t it about time you start getting personal with your customers?

However, there is one small problem with this finding …

Writing general web copy with name utilization in mind isn’t usually possible, but by capitalizing on the power of permission marketing, you can adapt this strategy easily — many email lists are greatly aided by being able to start off messages with a customer’s name.

While that may not be important for your blog updates, if you maintain a variety of separate lists for your products (and you should), make sure you’re grabbing a first name to make your broadcasts trigger that personal aspect with customers.

2. Free

Everybody loves free.

People love free stuff so much they’ll actually make different choices, even when the respective value of the item or service remains the same.

Dan Ariely revealed this startling fact in his book Predictably Irrational, where he examined a very unusual “battle” between Lindt chocolate truffles and Hershey Kisses.

To test the power of the word “free” in relation to concrete value, the study first asked people to choose between a 1 cent Hershey Kiss or a 15 cent Lindt truffle (about half its actual value, generally considered a richer, superior chocolate).

The results were as follows:

In other words, tastes were found to be very much in favor for the truffle. I mean, who’s going to pass up a deal, right?

Later though, another random group of subjects seemingly flipped on their opinion of these two treats. Ariely revealed that when the price was reduced by one cent for both brands (meaning the Kiss was now free), people altered their choices drastically.

With the new prices, here were the results:

Although in the first test it appears we simply can’t pass up a deal, as it turns out, we really can’t pass up a steal. Although the relation in prices remained the same (a 14 cent difference between the two), people chose the Kiss far more often when it was free.

Ariely points to loss aversion (our disdain for losing out on things) and our natural instinct to go after “low hanging fruit” as the reasons why we are so susceptible to snatching up free stuff.

The danger of free: As we’ve seen here, there is a certain inherit danger in trumpeting free things. Having something for free will attract more people. But that will most certainly include a fair share of “bargain hunters” who aren’t likely to turn into the superstar customers that really grow your business.

Use free only when it makes sense, and only in the right context.

Emphasizing the “freeness” of your free guides, courses, information, support, etc., can go a long way in attracting attention. On Sparring Mind, I emphasize the fact that my newsletter is “free to join,” because although most marketers understand this, many folks don’t quite understand what it means to subscribe.

Conversely, you should use minimal pricing to keep out those barnacle customers who aren’t ideal long-term buyers, or who aren’t truly suited for your flagship offerings.

3. Because

In a study from the classic book Influence by Robert Cialdini, tests were conducted on requests from a person in a hurry to use an in-office copy machine. The tests examined how different requests might affect people’s willingness to allow this person to “cut” in line.

In the first test, the participant simply stated:

Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?

In this scenario, around 60% of people allowed him to cut in line and use the machine first.

In the next scenario, the request was slightly tweaked. This time the participant said:

I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I am in a rush?

Did you see the ever-so-subtle difference between the two?

Let’s break this down: Not only was the request only minimally changed, but the “because” (his reason) was barely a reason at all! “Because I’m in a rush” wouldn’t stand up as a good excuse for most of us, right? Isn’t a majority of the working world in a rush?

Despite what we might like to believe, around 94% of people allowed him to cut in line this time! If you think that’s strange, check out the request used in the 3rd and final test:

Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?

That went from having a barely passable reason to absolutely no reason at all for letting the man cut. In spite of this, 93% of people let him cut on this third trial, only a 1% drop from when he had a weak reason (“I’m in a rush”) and a 33% improvement vs. the first test.

According to Cialdini:

A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.

Here’s the bottom line: Many companies are proud of the features that their product (or service) can offer, and that’s fine, but you have to remember that when you are focusing on writing persuasive copy, it all comes down to answering your customer’s #1 question:

What’s in it for me?

Although “because” may appear to have some sort of brainwashing effect on people at Xerox machines, it’s only really a matter of reasoning: even giving weak reasons have been shown to be more persuasive than giving no reason at all.

Only trumpet features and product traits you are proud of when they help make your point. Use them to create an incentive for customers to take action. And use “because” when pointing out these compelling reasons, but don’t rely on it as a crutch.

4. Instantly

The subject of delayed gratification is an important one among neuroscientists, as many famous studies (such as the Stanford marshmallow experiment) showcase how being able to delay rewards to a later date is a skill needed to become successful. (I know very few entrepreneurs who would argue against that.)

The reason this interests us as marketers is because it reveals an interesting aspect of human nature …

We want things yesterday!

Several MRI studies have shown just how fired up our mid-brain gets when we envision instant rewards, and how it’s our frontal cortex that’s activated when it comes to waiting for something (that’s a no-no for sales).

Words like “instant,” “immediately,” or even”fast” are triggers for flipping the switch on that mid-brain activity.

If you are in the business of selling web-based software, you already have an advantage here: “instant access” isn’t a vague promise, it’s often the reality. For those in the physical products or services business, reminding customers that they will receive their product quickly (or someone will get in touch with them ASAP) can go a long way in being the gentle push they need to buy.

We’ve seen how even “tightwad customers” can be swayed with these subtle changes in language to insinuate fast pain removal. It’s a reliable tactic for converting more prospects into customers as long as you follow the one golden rule …

Always deliver on your promises. And, whenever possible, overdeliver.

This is an area where many business get too optimistic, and although it’s smart to emphasis these instant rewards, it’s also always a good idea to under-promise and over-deliver, so be sure you can actually follow through on your promises or you may end up with a “tribe” that hates your guts.

5. New

This one almost seems paradoxical.

According neuroimaging research, we actually respond more favorably to recognized brands, and can have a hefty amount of disdain for any drastic changes. (Remember New Coke? Oh, the horror …)

On the other hand, it’s long been known that novelty plays an incredibly important role in activating our brain’s reward center and in keeping us content with our products.

“Newness” is important to products, especially because research has shown that they age far more quickly than “experiential” purchases. (In other words, you’ll hate your new headphones in 2 years, but that concert you went to 5 years ago probably aged in your mind like a fine wine.)

How can you achieve a zen-like balance against these two contradictory sides of the same word?

The important things to consider here are which parts of your business generate trust, and which parts generate utility. It’s your brand that creates trust, and as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Your products however are what customers get utility out of, and stagnant offerings are your first class ticket to an abysmally bored userbase.

Your core brand elements like your unique selling proposition, your dazzling customer service and your quality offering in the marketplace should be approached with excessive caution if things are going well.

With your products, it’s far easier to excite customers with new features and polish. Even if things don’t work out perfectly, a majority of customers will appreciate innovation attempts over no progression at all (unless you pull a Digg v4 and ruin everything in one fell swoop).

New fixes to old problems, new features and improvements, a fresh new design, or even new ways of getting your message out there (Red Bull anyone?) are all essential for keeping your customers “on their toes,” without losing the trust that has cemented you as an awesome brand in their mind.

Now it’s your turn …

Here’s what to do next:

  1. Let me know in the comments what you thought of the research above. Also let me know about what words you love to implement into your persuasive copy. You don’t need to cite research, just give me a reason why.
  2. As a special thanks (and if you want more research-backed content), be sure to pick up our guide on 10 Ways to Convert More Customers with Psychology (it’s free!). You should check it out because it’s a really good read ;-)

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the comments!

About the Author: Gregory Ciotti is the content strategist for Help Scout, the invisible help desk software for small business owners. Get more research tidbits from Greg on Help Scout’s customer loyalty blog.

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48 Elements of Persuasive Written Content

image of old locked door

You feel your blood pressure rising.

Maybe you’re mad, maybe you’re inspired, or maybe you’re just excited to find someone who really, truly gets you. Regardless, your attention is riveted — you can’t look away.


You’ve just been spellbound by content that persuades. It grabs us like nothing else can.


The truth is, words are very powerful things.

They can make us buy things we didn’t think we needed. They can reveal ideas that we’ve been looking for for years. They can make us cry or laugh almost hysterically.

Professional writers know how to use the right words to communicate their intent, they become masters of telling stories over time.

But they don’t just write random content. They write persuasive content.

And if you want to master this craft, you need to start with the basics.

There are many more available for your your content toolbox, but here are 48 essential elements from A to Z (well, almost) to get you started …

1. Anxiety

The written word should provoke a response, but truly persuasive content contains multiple responses. Chief among these is anxiety. Readers should feel like they need to move forward now – RIGHT now. Don’t be afraid to make ‘em sweat.

2. Authenticity

Content delivered over time gives you more room to persuade than a one-shot sales page. So put those words to good use by making your writing ring true. Trustworthiness is persuasive.

3. Authority

If you’re going to convince someone with your words they need to ring true. Write with authority and be sure to use the sort of examples that resonate with readers. If you’re writing to moms, they are going to know if you can truly talk “mom,” for example.

4. Boxes

Break up your text by including boxes and side bars with extra details including graphs, charts, bulleted lists and engaging quotations.

5. Breaks

There is nothing worse than giant blocks of text. Break it up, people! Format your content to be readily scannable. Break your lines every two to three sentences. White space is your friend.

6. Bullet Points

Lists are the most commonly read thing on a page of content. Bullet points are particularly effective — they’re fast and easy to skim. Spend some time writing them well.

7. Buttons

Let me know periodically what I can do next. Have a button to help me “Buy Now” or to “Click Here to Sign Up.” Buttons get a better response than random links on a page.

8. Catch Phrases

Put those boxes to good use with quick snippets of text. Write with the intent of creating catch phrases — things others can Tweet or remember about what they are reading. Be clever, but subtle. You want to guide the reader through content — not force feed them slogans.

9. Catchy Headlines

If you read Copyblogger regularly, you know the importance of headlines. How else are you going to get readers to pay attention to you? “10 Things You’ll Never Know about Beans” is much more compelling than “Beans: Facts and Information”

10. Color

Use color to your advantage when writing killer content. You don’t have to make your words different colors necessarily, but think about the page itself and how to showcase the text you’re creating.

11. Commas

Commas are great — but use them sparingly and only when necessary. If you often find yourself putting in more than one comma in a sentence, it may be a sign that your sentences are too long. Long-winded sentences bore and confuse readers.

12. Common Language

We know you’re smart and you know all sorts of big, fancy words. But unless you’re trying to be irritating, don’t talk down to the reader. Give us something conversational with a common language that we can understand.

13. Contractions

Formal English can be tough to use if you’re trying to make things approachable and trustworthy. Rather than “cannot”, use “can’t.” Instead of “does not”, use “doesn’t.” It’s quick, fast and instantly comfortable for readers.

14. Dashes

Commas definitely have their place, but also consider the mighty dash. Dashes are great for visually breaking up text, and they tend to make content feel less formal. Because they’re such a strong visual element, they can also help with clarity — it’s easy to see the break in the sentence.

15. Depth

Just because you’re avoiding overly fancy words doesn’t mean you’re going to insult your reader’s intelligence. Your content needs depth. Leave readers as satisfied as if they’d just eaten a good meal.

16. Email Addresses

If you want to make your content authentic, especially on a landing page, don’t make the customer search for your contact information. Make your email address or a contact form easy to find. If your business has a physical address, include that as well.

17. Emotional Response

Engaging content is powerful business. If you can evoke an emotional response from the reader — make her laugh, cry, fume with anger — she’ll be more engaged and likely to read and act on what’s she’s reading.

18. Extras

If your content is leading up to a big promotion, be sure to throw in some extras. Include a valuable bonus, or perhaps link to extra resources as part of your content to build additional trust with your reader. Deliver plenty of value.

19. Eyes

A simple trick of persuasive content — include a picture with eyes. If you have a picture of a woman looking to the left, the reader’s eyes will look to the left, too. They want to see what she’s looking at. So if you need attention on something on the page, let the eyes lead the way.

20. Facts

Good content is based on facts. Including true facts and statistics makes your material memorable and reliable as well.

21. Fluency

Persuasive content must be smooth and easy to follow. Move through subheadings with logical transitions and avoid obvious repetition. Make it flow into the eyes and mind of the reader.

22. Guarantee

If you’re housing your persuasive content on a landing page or sales letter, you’ll want to encourage your readers to make the right choice. Offer them an iron-clad guarantee. Be sure it’s something you can actually honor — “We guarantee you’ll have the time of your life with these new tips!” isn’t particularly iron-clad. (But if you’re feeling very confident, you can offer a money-back guarantee if the customer is not entranced, delighted, and positively starry-eyed.)

23. Images

Images break up the text of your persuasive content nicely. Images can guide the eyes of the reader around the page, and can also help the reader get additional meaning from the content. For persuasive content, captions are an excellent addition.

24. Instructions

Content leading up to something — a sign-up, a petition, a purchase — must include explicit instructions. Sure, you can leave your reader alone to figure it out, or you can help him out with simple instructions to simply fill in his email address below to get new coupons and specials!

25. Locality

Nothing beats going local. Make your content appeal to local markets with clever references to landmarks, events, or local slang. It builds confidence with readers, as well as authenticity.

26. Logic

Persuasive content must be logically arranged on the page. Jumping from voter registration to a particular candidate’s politics and back to polling statistics and ending with the importance of civic duty is going to give your readers visual whiplash. Plan ahead and don’t be afraid to move things around once they are written.

27. Meat

We all like something that makes us think. Give readers something to really bite into and mentally chew on.

28. Opinions

While facts are a great foundation to persuasive content, opinions are what make it fun to read. Interview experts, insert your own opinion, or dig around for previous commentary on the topic to liven things up a bit.

29. Paragraphs

You absolutely, positively must use short paragraphs when you’re writing persuasive content. If you want to get it read, break it up.

30. Periods

Please include periods in your persuasive content, and use them frequently. Shorter sentences create balance. When you use a short sentence next to a longer one, it makes the material more lyrical and enjoyable. (Remember to make it swing.)

31. Phone Numbers

Readers interested in following up on your content or looking for additional information should be able to reach you. While we’re all a big fan of instant messages and email, consider a real phone number. It builds trust with readers.

32. Phrasing

Watch your phrasing in your persuasive content. Your sentences should be personable and easy to read, and they should say something meaningful. Avoid ambiguous words like “one” and “the individual” and try to stay in the active voice as much as possible. Don’t sound like a corporate robot.

33. Polish

Typos happen to the best of us, but we should make a good faith effort to avoid them. Give your persuasive content a bit of spit and polish before you make it live and then go back and read it again periodically in an effort to continuously improve.

34. Post Scripts

Ever wonder why there are so many postscripts in sales letters? It’s because they’re one of the most-read elements of a page. You can use a P.S. in your persuasive content, too. You might use them to to work in some humor, re-state the guarantee, or drive a key benefit home.

35. Presence

There is a place for mindless drivel online, but not in the form of persuasive content. Your content should have presence online and on your site. It should stand alone.

36. Questions

What better way to make people think while reading your material than to ask questions? Rhetorical questions are a highly effective way to engage a reader and transition through text.


Want truly persuasive content? Ask an expert what she thinks and quote her response in your content. You can also respond to a thought-provoking post in your topic, quoting liberally (with links and attribution, of course). Or come up with some clever elements that can work beautifully in quote boxes on the sides of your text.

38. Rationale

Copy is written to convince. Copywriting takes an “either/or” approach … you buy or you don’t. But content leaves plenty of room for debate. Rather than forcing an opinion on a reader, use content to build a case for or against something with resounding rationale. No holes in this argument!

39. Seals and Stamps

If your content is explaining or outlining a product or service, go ahead and throw around a few names. Put your stamp or seal of approval at the bottom of the content to make it credible.

40. Short Introduction

Catch the reader’s interest with a short introduction, then get into the meat of the matter.

41. Short Sentences

Long sentences can be effective. But that long sentence had better have at least three shorter friends hanging around. Short sentences are powerful. Use them.

42. Signature

If your content is part of a sales letter, be sure to add a signature. If your content is more formal, consider adding a signature or bio box, even if it’s on your own website. What a great place to learn more about the author, an expert on the subject!

43. Social Connections

What’s the point of content that can’t be Liked or Tweeted? Include all the important buttons to make sharing easier.

44. Spacing

Text isn’t just about words, it’s about positioning as well. Paragraphs, punctuation and short sentences help to position words on the page. Think about website spacing as well. White space frames words for maximum power.

45. Testimonials

If you’re selling something — even especially an idea — you’ll need testimonials. Get the opinions of others to include in your content and you’ll be presenting a balanced, honest opinion. Balanced content can work surprisingly well at reassuring readers.

46. Texture

Texture is the “feel” of your written piece. Does it look good on the page? Does it flow easily? Are the sections sized correctly and balanced? Are images placed appropriately? Layers of images, text, and balance create an outstanding texture for persuasive content.

47. Tone

Consider the tone of your piece, and stay in character as you’re writing. Are you joking with friends? Warning off potential victims? Creating a sense of emergency? Tone is created through sentence construction, phrasing, and word choice. Short, excited sentences sound urgent! Longer, more fluid sentences help the reader create a feeling of peacefulness and contentment.

48. Voice

Hand in hand with tone is the sound of your voice coming through content. Persuasive content isn’t technical writing, and your unique voice should be present as you’re writing. A strong voice is entertaining, engaging, and enjoyable to read.

Persuasive content is still on the throne …

We know how valuable copywriting is.

But highly persuasive content — dripped out over time — does 90% of the work that single-shot copywriting used to do. That’s why content marketing is this year’s hot topic — and it will be for years to come.

With content you have more chances to present your case, more opportunity to build trusted relationships. You can play with tone, approach, and bias. But the only content worth actually reading is of the fierce variety — persuasive content is most certainly still king.

About the Author: Uttoran Sen is a full time blogger and a Freelance Content Writer since 2004. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on Facebook.


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