7 Scientifically-Backed Copywriting Tips

7 Scientifically-Backed Copywriting Tips

Reader Comments (126)

  1. Okay, Let me just admit, how fascinated I was by your post. When I gave it a read, I thought I knew most of the things, most of us do but how many of us actually follow it through? No one I guess. I was not surprised or shocked by any of the research because in my heart I knew most of them. But which taught me the most, i would say using verbs over adjectives as we know its impact but still use fancied adjectives to make something look better when in reality it does not.

    • Thanks Lucy, and I agree with you on the verb analysis, probably my favorite bit as well.

      Adjectives can be used to prop up fluff, but it’s harder to deny outright action.

  2. I share your stuff so regularly it’s getting boring. I mean, imagine my poor followers constantly seeing tweets from me extolling your virtues. Poor people. They’ll probably block me soon.
    Just put up a dud once in a while to prove you’re human like the rest of us, will you?

    On a thoroughly more businesslike point, mirror neurons. Loving these little blighters.
    Where do you stand on anti-smoking adverts such as this one (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIyqcST29wQ) which launches immediately into lighting up?


        • Thanks for that link, Neil. I don’t smoke, never have. But I do write copy.

          In that link you posted, it definitely stirred emotion… mostly that smoking the cigarette was like sucking on a bloody tumor. Not sure if the idea that the mutations are also happening inside the smoker transfers, but it definitely makes the idea of smoking less appealing.

          Even stronger for me was the one on the side of your same example, showing smoke floating up around a sleeping baby and then explaining 80% of harmful cigarette output is invisible… so it hits kids anyway, even when the stuff you can see isn’t.

  3. A fascinating article and Lucy hits the nail on the head when she says that most of us know these things but don’t necessarily use them. It never hurts to be reminded of the things which make us better writers and to look at things we think we know from a fresh perspective.

  4. Loved the power words, as I found out that they really work! On the authenticity part, I have my reserves as it truly depends who your audience is. Both readers and writers need to stay true to their reasons for being on the web.

  5. Your transportation one is so important. In journalism school we called it “show, don’t tell.” But it really is the vehicle to create inspired writing. It doesn’t matter the medium, strong writing moves people, which is exactly what any writer should strive for. Good post!

  6. The one that always gets me is the studies referred to by Robert Cialdini, especially with how irrational we actually are. (You have to love that part of the human race – we make our decisions and then justify them). I loved your tip about making sure to use verbs – and it is probably the one that I struggle with the most.

  7. I’m just getting started in the copywriting world, coming off a number of years as a technical writer) so articles like this are priceless. Thanks for sharing what you do and – more importantly – how you do it.

    • Ain’t it true?

      And with the advent of things like AdBlock, weaving marketing in to great written content is only going to become more important. πŸ™‚

  8. Including power words seem to be a missing element for me. Thanks for reiterating their importance!

  9. You said “β€” verbs beat out actions more often than not.” I was confused because, well, verbs are actions. I think you meant “β€” verbs beat out adjectives…”

    Great article, btw. Thank you.

  10. In sweating the small stuff, how do you know which small stuff to test? In a long copy sales letter, aren’t there infinite possibilities? Obviously, I would test multiple headlines, but what next? The opening, the offer, the p.s.?

    The verb example is a keeper. I’m an over-adjective user from way back, like in 3rd grade when you’re trying to make your paper be 2 pages long. I’m going to use more verbs from now on.

    • Good question Kari, for long copy pages the best things to test are where you hit home on critical points.

      Since the example in that study was short, it made sense to test that minor detail, but for long pages you should be testing things like your opening and closing lines, and any very specific calls-to-action.

      The overall voice of the page can be left alone if it’s been working, nothing would ever get published if we were all testing minor details on 2000 word pages. πŸ™‚

  11. Great stuff. We (Apexx Behavioral Solutions Group http://www.myapexx.com) do behavioral research on people and money – because most of us aren’t very good at either. The research behind the post is right on.

    Most money decisions are emotional and unconscious. Write and market to your readers “feeling brain.”

    I’m new to this blogging thing. The folks at Copyblogger, Scribe, Premise . . . have provided the perfect suite of tools, with adult supervision and lots of advice. After a month, I think I’m getting the hang of this – thanks.

    Remember, the common wisdom about money is wrong – manage your behavior, then your money. Likewise, I believe the common wisdom about marketing and advertising is wrong. Read Copyblogger – you’ll find out why.

    Money makes your brain hurt, we fix than . . . it’s what we do. – Ted

  12. Great post, Gregory. While your tips are great for copywriters, they also work very well for fiction writers. There is nothing so compelling as a good story with action verbs and lots of emotion. Same goes for a speech or presentation. Tell a story, make a point!

  13. Stories DO sell! They take prospective clients straight to their emotions, bypassing the mind, and wooing them to purchase by tapping into their deepest needs and desires. Then, reason kicks in to support the emotional decision that has already been made. Brilliance in action. Great article!

  14. Hey, thanks Gregory! I have to say I like the “sweat the small stuff” part. As you grow here online you look at all the little things as things you could ignore, but that just happens to be one of the biggest mistakes a beginner here could make. Just wanted to say thank you for the article and, will be sharing this with my list!

    • Thank you David! That study blew me away personally, definitely makes me think about certain phrases I’ve used on pieces with shorter copy…

  15. Wow! You have hit everything right on the money here (no pun intended). Any time you want to work with people, build relationships, trust, etc. you have to know how the human mind works. This blog post does just that beautifully! Our imagination is powerful. Our problems need resolutions. Our stories are relational. Combining all of these elements together is impact full. Not just to bring in more revenue, but to just know you are making a difference in life of someone else. It’s just like what the great Zig Ziglar has taught for years. “You can get whatever you want in life if you are willing to help enough other people get whey they want.”

  16. I love the story example. My subject, health and wellness, is pretty dry. I am going to try to work on the story angle. Ads on TV and soap operas that tell stories both keep people coming back.

    Thanks. Good article

  17. Great post, Thanks a lot for taking in the efforts to gather all the researchs and creating this article.
    I agree with you on the point of imagining yourself to be in others shoes before creating your content as it would not only answer your visitors questions in a better way but also improve your writing skill.

  18. Gregory, I have to tell you that this is TRULY a piece of copywiring art!! It’s nothing less than fascinating. I’m in the process of learning persuasive content techniques and your great piece of blog post very has much enhanced my understanding.

    However, I have to tell you honestly that practicing these tips is not easy especially for the first one! Sometimes I find it extremely difficult to put myself in the shoes of the viewer or the reader to speak to their frustrated needs and emotions. This requires deep understanding to your customers persona, their needs, problems, frustrations and what they are going through to offer the solution. Analyzing these factors will make it easier to put those emotions and needs into words.

    Thanks for the great post again!!


    • Thanks so much Niveen!

      All too true on your last point, the best copy starts with understanding first. Choosing the right words only works when you understand the thoughts of those meant to read it.

  19. Thanks for these tips in a short article I can sink my writing teeth into. We are a very technical company and some of our writing can be very dry. I sometimes glaze over just proof reading it! You tips on making it more humanistic could really help and I can’t wait to implement.

  20. Thanks for the kick start….reinventing myself after 18 years in safe but uninspiring government jobs. Dry and safe has been standard fare. Reckon I’ve ben asleep at the wheel but got my mojo back and heading down the right road with tips like this. Thanks and keep them coming.

  21. I have been studying conversational hypnosis and NLP to hone my ability to influence people and found them extremely valuable. Establishing rapport with the reader, modelling, using power words and metaphors are extremely powerful techniques, but are often overcomplicated. I have really appreciated how they are simply and usefully described here.

  22. I agree with Niveen’s comment that this is truly a piece of copywriting ART! Not only did you captivate my attentions from the start, but with every point you continuted to intrigue, fascinate and surprise me. Better yet, not only did I not know about HelpScout, your excellent article inspired me to investigate the site and services.

    Loved the ‘devil’s advocate’ concept – have used it at times without knowing why it was so powerful only that it worked. Thanks for the insight!

    As John and others have said, your great ideas can also be applied to other fields, in my case the world of creating better presentations. As a presentation makeover specialist, I am often challenged to explain “how and why” a great presentation is so much more than pretty colors and pictures. You’ve provided me with some excellent facts that I can adapt to my story – many thanks!

  23. All of the above are jewels of wisdom in writing, be it copy or anything. The big question is: How do we do them to achieve what every writer wants to achieve. If that is easy to answer, then comparisons would lose its boundaries in the field of writing.

  24. Awesome advice. I’m surprised (although I really shouldn’t be) that the “small $5 fee” change of wording was able to make such a big difference.

  25. This is just what I needed to read since I am writing a video script for a company and I want to see conversions on building a list. This is something to download as a pdf and read every day for a week to make it really stick.

  26. Thanks for the great tips, Gregory. I’m going to share a link to this blog with my readers because it’s so informative. Okay, with 2 tips out of the way I’ll relax and get to my point. Recently, a magazine publisher shouted (Australian for “bought”) me a dinner. Over the course of the meal, I mentioned how skeptical I was about claims that copywriting can pay big money. She told me categorically it can and recommended a course to me. The name of the course rang a bell with me, but I couldn’t place it. When I returned home, I looked it up and remembered how I’d been turned off before by its heavy hitting hype. Reading it anew, I had more faith in its claims because she had been so sincere and had nothing personally to gain from recommending the course. I’m still a little skeptical, though, because the copywriting that promoted the copywriting course was so ineffective with me. Then again, maybe my ingrained skepticism is not typical of most readers and I could possibly learn from those who have studied copywriting scientifically and know what works for the majority of readers. Thoughts?

    • I’m skeptical of many online course Rob, because 80% of them are garbage. πŸ™‚

      That being said, I’m not sure *quite* what you are asking… are you inquiring about copywriting or on why your publisher’s recommendation swayed your opinion?

      • Thanks for the replay. Sounds like you share my skepticism, so maybe I’m not skeptical to the point of unhealthy cynicism. The course is published by AWAI – American Writers & Artists Inc. Do you know anything about them?

  27. Great advice. Actually my favorite powerful word is “free”.

    Because it induce the readers to take the action and which results in conversions.

  28. Best part of the article for me was that is was extremely simple and caters to the need of modern marketing needs. More so, as action speaks more than words… Resembling it, your point of Verb speaking more than adjective was a perfect discovery… Cheers!!

  29. I believe personal stories are the best way to engage with prospects. Also, the power words are, indeed, “powerful”/. Thanks for this informative article.

  30. Great article – definitely one to share.
    I particularly love the devil’s advocate point – that’s a great way to get rid of anyone’s objections by already addressing them and showing the solution. Or maybe I just like the ideal of being devilish!

  31. Very interesting stuff. More than anything, what this tells me is that we need to measure and track our marketing efforts. A/B testing, with different headlines and calls to action, is critical. There is no reason that we can’t hold ourselves accountable to our marketing efforts. There are tools that offer visibility and insight so that, like the researchers you cite, we can also make strategic determinations about what works best.

  32. Exceptionally well researched and factual write up. This is true quality and value for all on the internet. Frankly, all of us need as much “back up” and study as possible to do our job – creating true value for our customers. Imagine the energy of writing truly original and compelling copy. I don’t intend to sell you anything. This process saves time in producing good copy the first time. It saves trouble in doing it right the first time. We all reach our objective of transferring true value to our clients. All for the very small price in time and effort to study and replicate these principles. Imagine doing it wrong – it really takes less time to just slap something down and move on doesn’t it? This is for you, it is free once you learn it, because you want to make the sale. This will capture the clients instantly with a new product or concept for their trouble. Imagine the excitement of finally becoming persuasive and capable of delivering on your promises. What do you think I will do next? Just like a professor in front of an adoring student, understanding the value of these principals will deliver time and again. Thanks for your grand post!

  33. Verbs v. Adjectives. What a simple, brilliant concept. Verbs are the catalyst: using verbs naturally leads you into telling stories, which give you opportunities to use power words, which leads you into getting people to relate to the emotions you want to tap. Fantastic post!

  34. I loved the tips you shared in this article, Gregory. A lot of them I probably knew and I do utilize them in my everyday work, but I do it perhaps … a bit randomly. This article paints a clear, concise picture of what’s really important if you want to convice someone to do something via a compelling copy. I also realize that most of the stuff listed here works well when combined. For example, a story is a way to invoke memories, but crafting a good story probably requires verbs rather than adjectives, etc…

  35. The study about a tiny change making all the difference. I edit people’s work, as well as write copy/content, and they don’t see the value in small changes I make to what they have written. But, by adding just one word here or there, the impact of what is said, increases so much. Wow.

  36. β€œEnvision this …,” No, you’ve already lost me. Did you mean to write “Imagine this”?
    “You need to speak to the frustrated entreproducer”. Lost me again. No point in inventing words that your audience don’t know or understand.
    “Good times spent with friends over an ice-cold beer.” Ah, you must be American. Beer is not served cold. But pale yellow alcoholic pre-urine is.

      • Envision means β€œto picture to oneself.” So does imagine, or even visualise (visualize). Both are commoner currency and hence they communicate more widely. And neither is as likely to alienate a proportion of the audience.

    • Honestly your comment makes very little sense.

      1.) Envision is correctly used here.

      2.) Entreproducer is a site that Brian Clark (founder of Copyblogger) maintains, I’m adding a subtle nod to the regulars who visit this site, you must be new around here…

      3.) Ah, a beer snob. Here’s the thing: you didn’t read the next section where I specifically discuss Miller Lite, a company that always advertises its beer in that fashion.

      Thanks for playing!

      • “Entreproducer is a site that Brian Clark (founder of Copyblogger) maintains, I’m adding a subtle nod to the regulars who visit this site, you must be new around here…”

        Ah, an in-joke. What a great idea in copy that’ll be read by non-insiders!

        And envision is still an ungainly word which will turn-off many readers.

  37. As a freelance marketing contractor to the technical game development industry, this post was very useful to me. I never really thought about verbs vs. adjectives before or purposely using power words, but it makes sense. Marketing copy to software developers is often boring, but finding the human side of the story (e.g., “use our tech to make your software more PlaceAdjectiveHere” ) can be challenging, so I often work hard to start my content marketing stories backwards, finding examples of real life use because…

    So, thanks for this article!

  38. Agree: Great work. Content I can a) understand and b) use / apply in my work. What helps for the b) part is that you are adding practical examples. Thanks for your work.
    My favorite: verbs over adjectives.
    Do you know of any research supporting the advice to rather use the active than the passive language?

  39. Just ran into this blog post via LinkedIn and I’m soo glad I did! I mostly do social media and digital communications but I find that a lot of the that has to do with the ability to write in a way that gets people excited and willing to try a new product or share something with a brand. For that reason, I’ve been trying to learn as much as possible about copywriting. These tips are excellent! Some of these I’ve used frequently but verbs over adjectives is a new one for me. Thanks so much for sharing these!! πŸ™‚

  40. I like #1, “Make em’ feel something” because of what it DIDN’T say. People like to think they’re so sophisticated and rational; “Just the facts, ma’am.” Because, armed with the facts, they will make the perfect decision. “I don’t want to be sold to, just tell me what you do and I’ll make up my own mind.” HAHAHA. The fact is, they don’t. They don’t decide AT ALL. They move on to the next shiny object, procrastinate, and don’t do anything, don’t buy anything. “Make em’ feel something” and you can move them to take ACTION.

    This is my first trip to you blog. Well done! “I’ll be BACK” (famous feelings-eliciting quote).

  41. Kind of funny: Don’t use adjectives but adding “small” to “a $5 fee” makes it more powerful. This really proves the value of testing. Thanks.

  42. hi Gregory, the way you have highlighted the use of “you” made me surprised for so far i was told use of “we” and “Our” were to increase the chances of a reader believing the statement, more often than when said “you”. For instance, “You always had such problems” is not always appealing to a reader, but “we always had such problems” was better trusted. Because by using “we” we get to become a part of the reading(clients) people.

    I would be glad if you express your thoughts..!!

  43. I am a massive copyblogger fan. Only thing I have trouble with is the ‘story’ approach. On the web, when I’m looking to buy something, if I don’t get a product or service definition, the benefits and the price within 15 seconds of checking the home page, I’m off to look for someone who isn’t wasting my time. I also hate long copy, and usually avoid taking on that sort of job. I know my personal preferences should not come into the equation, but I’ve been doing this for international clients for a long time, and feel I have earned the right to be awkward!

    • It depends hugely on context. If it’s a commodity item, then you’ll look for price & a quick statement of benefits and click Buy.

      But as business owners, when we let ourselves be defined as commodities, we’ll nearly always lose out to players like Walmart who can always beat us on cost. When your copy is optimized for the “get me the lowest price” buyer, that’s who your customers will be — which may or may not be good for your business.

      There’s definitely a place for cutting to the chase — typically when we use long copy, we’ll provide a link near the top for the “I’m ready to buy” readers.

  44. Adding “small” before “$5 fee” and thus boosting conversions 20% was inspiring. It’s amazing the effect an addition or subtraction of a single word can have on performance. $5 is already a tolerable fee, but just reaffirming that by adding “small” made more people buy.

  45. Simply superb Gregory Ciotti … cant remember any of my advertising class or any book on copywriter taught what i have learned this excellent piece of work in just about approx 30 mins

    Cheers and thanks Gregory Ciotti

  46. Bookmarked this and favorited in my Tweets.

    Will be reading this later. But I’ve already checked out Help Scout and it looks good.

    Thanks Gregory!

  47. Gregory,

    An excellent post – you had me hooked with the 7 Reasons headline. The scientific reasoning was so interesting and I know I can take these tips on board and write better copy. Verbs. Verbs. Verbs. The powerhouse of the sentence. Having read your post, I have learnt about mirror neurons, I ‘heard’ the bone break and I tasted the cold beer (I don’t care whether its ‘the done thing’ I like my beer cold!) I also enjoy playing the devil’s advocate and now understand why it is such a useful and clever tactic and I love any form of transportation/escapism. One of the reasons why TV ads are so powerful, they offer a brief glimpse through a window into another world. Fantastic writing and great inspiration and motivation. You have earned your beer. Thanks.

  48. For good website copy writing you really have to put yourself in your prospects shoes, it is a great tip about making them feel it, πŸ™‚ Reminds me of going to one of the Chicago Bears games.

  49. Hi, Greg.
    Fantastically persuasive article…even though I dropped adjectives the moment I began to read “On Writing” by the master himself.

    The selective use of the five powerful words struck home – I’ve opened up the linked tab to absorb that deeper.

    The devil in the detail, being his advocate and emoting your potential customers all refreshed or provided a different perspective on practises I’m consequentially honing as my business grows.

    Superb article, squire – off to download your e-book that I’m sure will be really lovely prompt me into upping my game to the next level.

    Take care, Top Man!

  50. Excellent article. I love stuff backed by science. If you want people to follow you, understand what really pushes their hot buttons.

    Transportation: was the point that resonated so strongly for me.
    I already know about the delicious power of stories. Yet your very specific advice about how to do that is so helpful. Not I can take them to a higher level.

    Thanks .

  51. great content… number 5 did get to me.. action words say it better than the superfluous adjectives

  52. I agree with “Make them feel something” the most. If you ca strike a chord in the reader that results in more shares and exposure for your content. I always try to write with passion, people can tell if you really care when you are writing.

  53. I love reading blog posts like this. Using subtle changes in language can have changes in the response someone has and the action they can take. I am a massive fan of Cialdini recently done his “Principles of Persuasion” and upon seeing the reference you made to him, gave this post instant credibility for me.

    I have his 6 principles above his desk and in particular, love referencing his “Activators” and “Amplifiers” when dealing with people.

    Oh the psychology of it all….love it.

  54. Great post. I loved all of your points but particularly number 2 on “beware of selling savings.” People really do value other things such as time unless you are selling a commodity like laundry detergent. And even then if you could improve someone’s experience of detergent by making it smell nicer or if it can make your clothes feel nicer that’s what you’d want to emphasize.

    However, I took at look at the abstract of the study on the Devil’s Advocate. It was interesting to note that they found that objections only increased the persuasiveness of the message if people knew the objections were not authentic. In other words if they knew a person was giving a dissenting view in order to play Devil’s Advocate and not dissenting because they really disagreed.

    I think this can work in our copy too, if we describe a friend/customer/colleague who only wanted to play Devil’s Advocate for a minute and brought up objections to our product or service. Then we address each point that was made.

    What do you think of that idea?

  55. Having read Copyblogger for quite a few years now, I would like to share one observation I have made regarding the 6th point – power words. I am sure copyblogger has many non-native English followers like me and they will understand what I mean.

    What I mean is the “power” of using “negative or disturbing in-nature” words in a powerful and shocking way. My favorite word in this sense is “killer” which made me meet Copyblogger for the first time. I still remember typing something like “how to write an effective article etc.” in google and it was the Copyblogger’s “How to Write a Killer β€œHow To” Article…” article that grabbed my attention and opened me a brand new world that I did not know it existed.

    I believe the “power words” list should contain such words as well. thanks for this great article.

  56. A little late to the comment party on this one, but damn, was this a fantastic read!

    Nothing tickles my brain juices more than claims backed up by SCIENCE!

    That should actually be one of the tips, back up your claims! Even on an authority blog like Copyblogger, being able to link to hard science drives the point home.

    Loved this. Will be sharing. Thank you. Enjoy your beer.

  57. Great post. I literally just joined twitter in order to read this. Worth it–a compliment even if twitter is free, because my time is expensive.

  58. What can I say- a fantastic list of tips. While I have been creating content following these guidelines, I think that it has been more subconscious. Thanks for the concise checklist and bringing it back to the conscious realm!

    I’m new to Copyblogger and am devouring the content. It’s a just as important to know that I’m not the only one obsessed with such things…

  59. Really great tips to write something perfect. I’m writing few sales copies for my Business website which includes both products and limited number of services.

    I spent long hard hours to brainstorm something cracking, but I was failed every time by wasting the so valuable time. Anyway 7 really amazing tips of yours will put some more weight towards the completion of my sales copies.

    There are tons of things to read in Copyblogger and Copywriting 101 is something special for me.

    Thank you,
    Shyam Chathuranga.

  60. Great stuff! I consistently use scientific evidence as THE primary rationale for investing in great copy. Too many clients think it’s a luxury when, in fact, it is a dire necessity.

    If you like the scientific approach, I recommend all three books by Chip and Dan Heath –
    β€’ Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
    β€’ Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
    β€’ Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

    LOTS of science referenced, along with case studies that move you straight from theory into practice. Good stuff.

    Other (surprisingly) helpful reading can be had from ad man Roy Williams –

    β€’ The Wizard of Ads: Turning Words into Magic and Dreamers into Millionaires
    β€’ Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads: Turning Paupers into Princes and Lead into Gold
    β€’ Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads: Tools and Techniques for Profitable Persuasion

    NOTE: His sensational subtitles over-promise a bit, but don’t let them fool you. I return to these books regularly.

  61. Speaking of the idea of “Devil’s Advocate:”

    I did some work for a custom cabinet maker whose work is exquisite. In the midst of the campaign, I wrote what I would argue is the strongest headline ever to flow from my fingertips:

    “If the devil is in the details, we’re downright evil.”

    Most clients would likely argue against using the word “evil” in association with their brand, but he embraced it. So much so that it’s now his tagline. I love a courageous client!

  62. Thanks for guidance here in these copywriting tips. Story telling, empathy, modelling for success, after pain and trials will be my next focus, because you, named one, want fine examples to model—for desired, dreamed Results in Life! Thanks again. Great blog. G.

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