Here are fourteen persuasive writing techniques that will trigger a response from your visitors.
Have you ever wondered why nobody is responding to your offers?
Why do people read your landing pages and then leave?
Why do people see your ads and keep scrolling?
You have a great product. You are offering an in-demand service. So why does nobody seem to be interested?
The answer boils down to psychology. Simply put, you aren’t being persuasive. You aren’t managing to trigger that little thing in your visitors’ brains that snaps them to attention, gets the heart rate pumping, and compels them to keep reading.
Today, we’re giving you a handful of tools that marketers and advertisers have been using for decades to captivate audiences and compel a response.
1. Focus on resonating with emotional problems.
Everyone has problems, and your product or service is designed to help people solve one or more of those problems.
A lot of businesses simply dive into explaining their solutions. One of the most powerful persuasion techniques, however, is to start by resonating with your readers around the emotional problems they are facing. When people see someone describing something “painful” they are experiencing, it pulls them in and prepares them to buy into the solution.
Another word for this is “empathy”. People want to feel like you empathize with their problems and that it drives the mission of your business.
US President Barack Obama once said this about empathy:
“You know, there’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit – the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us – the child who’s hungry, the steelworker who’s been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this – when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers – it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.”
That’s how empathy works. When you put yourself in your readers’ shoes and let them know you understand what they’re going through, they’ll be more inclined to listen to you. When you resonate with them on their problems, they will resonate with you on your solutions.
For instance, let’s say you want to write copy to sell a tool that solves the problem of content managers having to host their marketing tools on several different platforms. You could make your copy all about that problem and then introduce your tool in the end.
Here’s a great example:
In this example from Entrepreneur Alliance, the product is a monthly subscription to a group where real entrepreneurs help each other out. As you can see in the copy above, which appears just below the fold, the company quickly addresses some of the common pain points many new entrepreneurs experience when trying to get started. They also address the frustration people feel when they are constantly assaulted by new people trying to sell them something.
If you are reading this copy and you too have experienced this frustration, than you are far more likely to be intrigued and even compelled by the solution that the Entrepreneur Alliance then proposes to you.
Of course, in order to legitimately resonate with your audience’s pain points, you have to first understand your audience.
Understanding Your Audience
Michael Port offers the FESP model for understanding an audience that you will perform for or write for:
- How does the world look to your audience Financially?
- How does the world look to your audience Emotionally?
- How does the world look to your audience Spiritually?
- How does the world look to your audience Physically?
In our example above, the marketing person may see the world like this:
- Financially, she’s spending too much on multiple tools.
- Emotionally, she’s struggling to manage a “Mississippi of tasks.”
- Spiritually, she feels obligated to deliver value from these expensive tools.
- Physically, she struggles with the stress of managing content effectively.
This FESP copy should speak to her needs right out of the gate.
In the context of a landing page, it’s usually best to dive into these needs and problems using your value proposition or immediately following your value proposition.
2. Incorporate facts, data, and other analytical information.
While point #1 is very emotionally driven, selling isn’t all about emotion.
- Certain segments of your audience might be more analytical.
- Certain products or services aren’t geared towards emotional problems.
- Even when you can utilize emotion, backing it with hard data strengthens the pitch.
One of the best ways to sell is to demonstrate “irrefutable” evidence that your solution is the best possible option for the prospective customer.
Legendary advertising creative director William Bernbach once said, “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.” In the digital age, “truth” looks like facts, statistics, case studies, etc.
We employ this in our own marketing here at Conversion Sciences. We can talk about our experience and expertise all day long and even resonate with the problems our clients have dealt with, but at the end of the day, what prospective clients really want to know is:
- Have you had success with past clients?
- Aka do you have the track record to prove you will succeed with my business?
Since we drive an average conversion lift of 15 to 25% with our clients and have a 90% retention rate, we like to include that information in our copy whenever possible.
This is about as soft as it gets in terms of analytics, but since it is true, it serves as a powerful signal to clients considering our services, demonstrating that we aren’t just talking about AB testing. We are actually getting results.
Do the same in your own copy as often as possible.
3. Demonstrate social proof at key junctures.
Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.
In other words, monkey see, monkey do.
When we are making a decision, we want to know that other people consider it to be the right decision. Who are these “other” people?
- Specific people we respect
- People who are in a similar situation to us
- Large quantities of random strangers
In 2017, social proof often takes the form of influencer recommendations, customer testimonials, and social share count.
For example, CoSchedule asks visitors to click TRY IT FOR FREE on their homepage. Visitors are then taken to a page that contains a testimonial and highlights the company’s most recognizable customers.
Be specific in your case studies and testimonials.
The best customer stories and testimonials will offer the customer name, company, title and a picture. When appropriate, add the city and state of the speaker as well. Also consider things like age when appropriate.
Favor testimonials that avoid judgments, like, “We loved working with this company!” Instead, focus on a specific result. The more specific your numbers are, the more believable they are.
These stories answer the question, “What did people like me experience?”
4. Use tone to add emotion and keep things interesting.
What does it mean to use one’s tone in writing? Basically, it means writing like you would talk in real life. Your tone can breathe life into your copy. It can make your writing a lot less boring for prospects to read.
David Ogilvy once said “Tell the truth but make truth fascinating. You know, you can’t bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them in buying it.”
When I asked Sam Hurley (founder of OPTIM-EYEZ) to share his number one advice on persuasive writing techniques, he said, “It has to be tone. A sentence that equates to the same meaning can be written in 10 different ways…Each variation will evoke 10 unique reactions — and the difference can ultimately mean conversion or exit.”
In other words, you can rewrite a sentence in several different ways using your tone to effectively pass your message across to prospects and make it sink in their minds.
Take this post from Derek Halpern, for instance:
See what did he do there?
Derek used three different sentences to ask just one question: “Do people read long sales pages?” Why? He wanted to sound like a normal person in his tone; not a company trying to sell something.
If he was going to ask the same question in a real life setting, he wouldn’t just ask Do people read long pages?, would he?
No, he’d naturally ask follow-up questions just like he did in the example above. And those (follow-up) questions will mean the same thing as the original query. But they’ll make his message sink in his readers’ minds.
Your tone is important. It helps you talk like a fellow human being, not a business trying to make sales. It helps you build trust. And because your readers are also humans, they can very well relate with your tone when they see it in your copy.
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”― Robert Frost
In other words, people react according to what they see in your copy. If they see you shedding tears, they’d be moved to tears. If you crack jokes, they’ll laugh (or at least give you a smile). And so forth. That’s how it works.
Be careful with your tone.
Can anyone actually insult their prospects (or readers) deliberately? I’d love to answer that question with a no, but it happens. I recently found this while doing research for one of my clients:
This form saying I’m a mediocre content marketer if I don’t sign up for the whitepaper. It that true?
But does that slur really convert better than being polite? Did it get me converted? Heck, no! I actually got pissed off! I don’t know about you, but I cringe when I see Calls to Action like this.
Yet, it contains no word that could potentially insult anyone.
5. Take time to bring up and cover objections.
You should never begin writing copy with a pre-determined word count. It doesn’t matter if your copy ends at 400 or 3000 words. What matters is that you say everything that needs to be said.
More specifically, what matters is that you cover all the key objections.
An objection is an argument that tends to come up from the customer’s end to justify saying “No” to your pitch.
If you are selling me a productivity app and I say, “Well, I don’t think I need an app to be productive,” that’s an objection. If I ask, “Why would I pay for an app when there are 30 other productivity apps that are free?” that’s an objection.
In an interpersonal sales meeting, the power of the objection goes to whoever brings it up first. If I ask you about all the free apps and then you respond, it tends to sound like you’re justifying a problem. Since I brought up the objection, and I think I’m pretty smart, I give it more weight than your response.
On the other hand, if you bring up the objection first, you win. If you introduce the cost and then immediately begin talking about how free productivity apps either utilize distracting advertising or have a low budget and thus numerous technical problems, both of which defeat the purpose of a productivity app, suddenly that potential objection has now become a selling point.
With online copy, the customer never speaks, so you have time to address as many objections as you feel is necessary. There may be just a few or there may be numerous objections that need to be covered. The important thing is that you give yourself time to cover them all.
6. Draw attention to your points with rhetorical questions.
Rhetorical questions draw attention. They’re not meant to be answered, which means that they shouldn’t have an answer. If your question can easily answered with a “yes” or “no”, it won’t invite the visitor to read on.
Instead, pose questions that make the reader think, “What does this mean?” or, “How will you do that?”
What if we had one single solution that can perform all these functions?
Life would become extremely easy for content marketers, right?
We had a significant increase in leads for one of our addiction center clients using the rhetorical question, “Are you ready to stop lying? We can help.”
Of course, I didn’t expect answers to them. But if you’re a content marketer, you were probably answering those questions in your mind, agreeing to my point of view that an all-in-one tool is the best option for content marketers.
That’s how rhetorical questions work. They pull attention, get readers’ attention and lure them to keep reading your copy.
7. Use hyperbole to communicate value.
Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration to make your point to readers. Hyperbole should be used carefully. If you claim to be the biggest, best, or leader, your persuasive copy must deliver proof very quickly.
For example, take Contently:
There are certainly other companies out there that get more ROI from content marketing than Contently’s customers. But, their exaggeration is immediately backed up with the logos of some of the biggest companies in the world, the implication being that they use Contently to run their content marketing.
Another example here is Campaign Monitor’s “Send email your customers can’t ignore”.
In this case, the hyperbolic claim makes the reader ask, “How do you do that?” Will all customers read your emails just because you sent them using Campaign Monitor? Probably not.
Unfortunately, the hyperbole isn’t backed up by proof. Only more claims are offered. This page goes on to invite the visitor to watch a video to get the proof.
The longer the distance between your hyperbole and the proof, the more tenuous your persuasive argument becomes.
But you get the message they’re trying to pass across, right? Campaign Monitor helps you send emails that get opened and replied.
8. Open your first paragraph with a hook.
Once readers move past your headline, the next phase they’ll be meeting with is your opening paragraph. It tells them if they should keep reading your copy or head out to somewhere else.
There are a couple of ways to create a hook in your copy. You could start with a question like this one:
That very first line (After all, that’s the dream, right?) will spring up a question in the mind of most readers. They’ll start wondering what the dream might be. And they know they have to keep reading to find out. That’s the hook right there.
Another way to create a hook would be starting out with an eye-catching phrase. This could be anything that has the potential of making your readers pay attention. For example:
9. Start small and utilize escalating agreements.
Avoid hitting the nail on the at once––especially when you’re writing on a complex topic or for an audience that’s pretty tough to persuade. Begin by beating about the bush a little and give your readers simple valid points to agree on before they get to the complex parts of your copy.
This will help you persuade them to read your copy with ease no matter how complex the topic is and have them nodding their heads in agreement as they read on.
For example, calculating the Net Present Value of a sum of money is mostly a complex topics for folks who aren’t finance-savvy. I mean, it was pretty much a really tough topic for me in my first year studying finance in University. But see how the guys at Maths Is Fun made it look so simple by implementing escalating agreements:
See how they start their exegesis with a set of simple, valid opening sentences that virtually anyone would agree with? Notice that when readers agree that money now is more valuable than money later on, they’ll mostly move to the next line because they agreed with the previous sentence? That’s escalating agreements work. And that’s how to use it to persuade readers.
10. It’s OK to use technical details.
Part of resonating with an audience is speaking in their language. When you use relevant jargon or communicate in technical terms only your target segment understands, you help position yourself as an authority in your space and build a community of people who use the same terminologies as you.
So how do you write with simplicity and still use jargon to show that you are a guru?
See how Apple uses a mix of both waffles and plainness in their copy for iPhone 7:
“iPhone 7 dramatically improves the most important aspects of the iPhone experience. It introduces advanced new camera systems. The best performance and battery life ever in an iPhone. Immersive stereo speakers. The brightest, most colorful iPhone display. Splash and water resistance. And it looks every bit as powerful as it is. This is iPhone 7.”
Notice how all that contains no single jargon even though the copy is about a technical product? Yes, that’s simplicity. Virtually anyone would understand it.
Now see how they used technical terminology on the same page––after enticing readers with jargon-less copy:
Now some readers might not know what an optical image or f/1.8 aperture means. That’s certain. But they’re most likely going to stay with the copy because it’s interesting to read and not stuffed with too much technical mumbo jumbo.
Veteran copywriter Robert Bly said the following in a recent newsletter:
“…almost without exception, virtually every successful direct response promotion is written in clear, concise, conversational copy. It’s the style used by John Forde … Clayton Makepeace … Richard Armstrong…Ivan Levison…Paul Hollingshead …Steve Slaunwhite…and just about every top six- and seven-figure copywriter I know. Why? Because it is plain English that virtually always gets the best response — proving that when it comes to communicating, simple writing is the best writing.”
11. Use short and to-the-point statements.
Short, concise statements can be memorable, fun and persuasive. They help to reduce cognitive overload, the need for an excessive amount of mental effort to understand things.
See how the folks at Fiftythree do it on their jobs page:
Copy doesn’t have to be wordy all the time. Just straight to the point and you’d have passed your message across in a split second.
12. Focus your headline on the biggest benefit you’re offering.
Irrespective of how many benefits your offerings can provide, you need to figure out what your biggest benefit is and make your headline focus on. Too many websites “bury the lead.” This means that the most powerful point of the page is relegated to a subhead or the body of the copy.
A typical example here would be SumoMe. They offer several tools but the biggest benefit they provide is traffic and customers:
Traffic and customers are what SumoMe’s prospects care about the most, so they put that in their homepage headline. David Ogilvy once said this about headlines:
“On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money.”
13. Tell stories.
There has been a great deal written about stories. This is because they are proving to be so effective. Stories suck people’s attention into your copy. They make even the busiest people pay attention to whatever you’ve got to say or sell.
As an example, see how MAG International uses the art of storytelling to describe the havoc that landmines wreck:
Stories are most effective when:
- Readers don’t know about the problem.
- Readers may know about the problem, but haven’t considered finding a solution.
Stories may not be effective for readers that are frequent buyers or are very familiar with your solution to their problem.
14. Flaunt your Unique Selling Proposition (USP).
Of all these persuasive writing techniques, this one is the most effective in our tests. Your unique selling proposition (USP), could be anything that entices visitors to stay and read. It can be that you have low prices, superior quality or anything helps your readers rationalize reading on. For an ecommerce company, the USP includes your positioning, return policy, shipping policy and guarantees.
First, your selling proposition often doesn’t necessarily need to be unique. It just needs to be communicated. Rug Perfection offers hand-made rugs made of natural materials. They offer free shipping and pay shipping for returns as well. Would you know that from the copy on their website?
Your USP doesn’t have to be complex. Persuasive writers are able to summarize your place in the market in just a few words. This is true of Kissmetrics.
If calling out your competitor like Kissmetrics seems a little too aggressive for you, you can simply flaunt your unique value without mentioning any rival’s name. See how GoDaddy displays their unique 1-month free trial on their homepage:
There’s virtually no other web host provider that allows a month free trial. So that’s a USP for GoDaddy.
Check out more value proposition examples here.
Start Using These Persuasive Writing Techniques
People are getting smarter year-by-year. Each time we want to shop for anything online, we mostly prefer to check out a number of options and choose who we’d like to do business with.
So a smart move you can (and should) make now is to ensure your web copy and content is focused on enticing, engaging and ultimately persuading prospects to pay attention to your brand and offerings.
Brian Massey is the Founder and Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences. He is the author of Your Customer Creation Equation. His rare combination of interests, experience and neuroses were developed over almost 20 years as a computer programmer, entrepreneur, corporate marketer, international speaker and writer.
Article contributions by Victor Ijidola.