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5 Tips on the Effective Use of Copywriting Swipe Files

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Smart copywriters use good tools to make themselves more productive, and one of those “power” tools is the swipe file.

Used properly, it can get you writing quickly, provide inspiration, and improve your copywriting skills.

But what if you don’t use a swipe file correctly?

Uh-oh …

  • Your copy doesn’t hold the attention of your reader
  • The language annoys your target market
  • It makes you look unprofessional

If you want to skip these problems, and get the best benefits from using your swipe file, read on …

When ‘swiping’ killer copy kills your own promotion

Successful marketing materials can run for years using the same copy. So it makes sense to study those pieces that have stood the test of time.

Unfortunately, simply lifting words and phrases for your own marketing can have a detrimental effect. There are so many variables that make a successful promotion and compelling copy is just one piece of the puzzle.

If you simply use someone else’s style without understanding why they’re doing it that way, you might find that it won’t work at all.

It also means you’re missing the true gold of using a good swipe file: learning to master the craft of copywriting.

So here’s what you need to do:

1. Know your audience thermometer

The first rule of copywriting is knowing your audience. One style of copy will not persuade all readers.

Let’s say you look through your swipe file and find a successful promotion for a high-intensity work-out program. You decide to use the copy to help you sell computer software to the medical industry …

If you want an extraordinary ERP system for your healthcare institution, you have got to go to the extreme. You’ve got to be prepared to bring it, work it and find out who you really are. If you’re seeing other hospitals and clinics showing off their ripped business processes, they’re probably already using our ERP system.

It’s probably not going to cut it.

So the first thing to do is to gauge the style of copy your customers actually respond to best. Or as I call it, figuring out your audience thermometer, simply meaning, how ‘hot’ can you go with your copy …


If your customers are a straight talking, no-nonsense kind of crowd, think twice before copying the style of a high-energy promotion like the one above. Think lots of facts, figures, and plenty of proof.


Are your customers keen to solve their problem but need a little encouragement? Perhaps they’re unfamiliar with you or how your service works. Take the time to explain your processes like an approachable expert.


They like you, they like your stuff but they want to know that you can do what you promise. Build on this familiarity (but don’t take it for granted), and don’t be afraid to show off a little more of your personality.


Your audience can handle ‘hot’ so don’t shy away from really agitating the problem and making a BIG promise. (Just make sure you can keep it of course!)

2. Learn the language (don’t just memorize the words)

Understanding why a promotion is successful rather than copying the words is the difference between learning Spanish for your vacation, and simply using a phrasebook.

Knowing a few phrases might get you to the nearest bar and help you order dos cervezas.

But building your own sentences means you can party all night with the locals because you speak their language.

The same is true for your copywriting.

Let’s look at the following classic copywriting headline from John Caples:

They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano

But When I Started to Play!

Now, this was a very successful headline. But let’s say we try and copy this style, almost word for word to sell retail software.

We might have:

They Laughed When We Started Using New Point-of-Sale Software

But When Our Employee Productivity Started to Increase!

This style of language would probably feel a bit ‘off’ on the audience thermometer for a target market of retailers.

But we can still use that first headline for inspiration if we take it apart.

For example, what are the key elements of that first headline? Here are a few that spring to mind:

  • It appeals to the customer’s pride and self-image
  • It suggests unexpected results
  • The process to achieve results seems simple
  • It arouses curiosity. What kind of product could create such a surprising change?

If we applied these ideas to our audience of retailers, we might develop our own headline which appeals to their pride, offers significant results and arouses their curiosity.

For example:

One Simple Change in the Point-of-Sale Process Can Help You Outsell the Competition by %125

  • Outsell the competition — It appeals to our customer’s pride
  • By %125 — The results are unexpected
  • Simple Change — The process seems simple
  • One Simple Change — It arouses curiosity. What could that one change be?

The above headline is just an example, but the process works.

I have used elements of classic consumer copywriting headlines to build successful marketing copy for much more serious markets such as the healthcare, retail, and manufacturing industries.

3. Look for transferable words

Even though you’re learning to build your unique style of writing, you will see certain words and phrases that crop up in successful promotions across a wide range of industries.

These are little nuggets of copywriting gold.

If you can spend time building your own list of these — and have them at hand when you write — it makes it much easier than trying to think of that word you once saw that is ooh … just on the tip of your tongue.

Some common copywriting words that you’ll see repeatedly through the years and throughout many industries include:

Curiosity words

  • Unusual
  • Odd
  • Strange
  • Simple technique
  • Different
  • One small thing
  • Surprising

Problem words

  • Risk
  • Danger
  • Damages
  • Unwanted results
  • Alarming

Attention words

  • Free
  • New
  • Now
  • Finally

These words crop up time and time again because they work. They’re like little triggers to your customer’s psyche, that, when combined with the right offer, fear or benefit can amplify the value of your message and get them hooked on your copy.

4. Copy the structure

Copying the structure of a successful promotion is a great time saving device.

Whether it’s using AIDA, or problem, agitate, solve, watch how other people are laying out their offers and building the offer one paragraph at a time.

They key to this is to go through the templates of your swipe file and ask yourself “what is the writer doing here?”

Next time you go through a piece of copy you want to use for inspiration try and spot the order of the following elements:

  • Grabbing the reader’s attention
  • Outlining the benefits
  • Stating the offer
  • Outlining the product details
  • Covering objections
  • Making a big promise
  • Building proof in the product
  • Providing risk-reversal
  • Building credibility in the company or seller
  • Closing the sale

There will be a variety of formats, which means you can create a number of different outlines that you can then have to hand when writing your own landing page, blog post, or web copy.

5. Don’t be afraid to try something new …

While it is important to adapt your swipe file inspiration to your style and your target market, there’s a lot to be said for being brave enough to try something new.

There are countless stories of people who have borrowed a marketing style from outside their industry and used it to great effect.

Bill Glazer spent years marketing his menswear business using methods all other menswear businesses were using. When he applied radically different techniques from Dan Kennedy, his business grew 37% in a year.

That’s another reason why swipe files can be pure gold, you can see what’s working in other industries and test them in yours.

You might even stumble on a winning formula that other copywriters include in their own swipe file!

How about you?

What have you learned from using a swipe file in the past?

Share your own secrets below so we can all copy … ahem, find inspiration in them.

About the Author: In addition to writing, Amy Harrison likes to rip copywriting techniques apart to see how they work. She then shares her findings through tips, templates and free resources on her site Harrisonamy Copywriting.

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