Want to know what separates the so-so copy from the irresistible, money-making copy?
The latter is simple and easy to understand. It speaks your customers’ lingo. And it’s based on proven formulas, data and psychology.
Good copy requires getting inside your reader’s head and speaking to their motivations, fears and hesitations in the buying process.
Curious as to how you can do that?
Today’s your lucky day! I’ve compiled a list of psychology-based copywriting hacks that you can use to captivate your audience, evoke their emotions and get them to buy.
Whenever I need to remember how many days there are in a month, I repeat this phrase in my head: “30 days in September, April, June and November. All the rest have 31, except for February which has 28.”
I don’t even remember who taught it to me or when I learned it, but somehow (even though I have a terrible memory) it’s stuck with me all these years.
Can you guess why?
We’re more likely to remember phrases that rhyme (which also helps explain why most of your favorite songs probably rhyme).
But that’s not all: According to the rhyme-as-reason effect, we’re also more likely to believe rhymed phrases to be true and accurate.
Rhyme improves processing fluency, which in turn increases perceived truthfulness.
So when it comes to your copy, tell a rhyme if you can, like CityScoot does.
Don’t force it of course, but if it sounds natural to rhyme (especially in your taglines, headings, email subject lines etc), then go for it!
2. Serial-Position Effect
Psychologists have found that, when provided with a list of words, people have a tendency to recall the words at the beginning and end (but not the middle).
Words at the beginning go into long-term memory (primacy effect), while words at the end are only recalled short term (recency effect).
So when crafting your copy, put the information that you want your readers to remember at the beginning and end of the text (like the postscript in emails).
3. “But You Are Free” (BYAF)
Nobody likes to be coerced into doing anything. And that includes the customers you’re selling to. Simply giving (or reminding) your prospects of their freedom to choose can make all the difference.
One technique that you can use here is called But You Are Free (BYAF), used after making a request to remind your readers that they (yup, you guessed it) are free to do what they want.
Christopher Carpenter of Western Illinois University performed a meta study of worldwide research on BYAF, involving 22,000 participants and 42 studies.
He found that the use of “BYAF” DOUBLED the success rate of compliance.
Bottom line? If you ask your readers something, remind them that they have a choice in the matter (and no, you don’t have to say the exact words “BYAF” to do that).
For example, you might say something like “Sign up for our newsletter to get 50% off your next purchase. Not interested in discounts? That’s cool too.”
Here’s another example from the online retail company, Moosejaw, which I LOVE:
That’s the type of thing you want to do in your writing.
4. The Word “Because”
In 1978, Ellen Langer performed a study in which several people asked to cut a line to use the Xerox machine. The participants asked in three different ways:
- “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine?”
- “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
- “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”
The first statement resulted in a 60% compliance rate. The second statement? 93%. And the third statement: 94%.
In other words, it didn’t matter how silly the reasoning was; simply saying “because” caused people to comply to the request.
They then repeated the experiment, but this time, the participants asked to copy 20 pages instead of five. In this case, the “because I’m in a rush” was the only reason that swayed the majority of people.
So…why is this?
According to Langer, when people hear the word “because”, they tend to respond automatically as a heuristic or shortcut to make decisions quickly.
The experiments showed that if the trade-off is low (like letting someone cut the line to copy 5 pages), then the “why” part isn’t so important. But if the trade-off is higher (like 20 pages), then they’d better have a good reason for their request!
When it comes to your copy, tell your readers why they should buy the product or sign up for that newsletter. And if you’re asking for a lot (like a purchase), make sure you give a darn good reason.
5. Textural Descriptions
What sounds better to you: Succulent berries or delicious berries?
The former makes you almost TASTE the berries, doesn’t it?
According to Krish Sathian from Emory University, textural adjectives, which relate to physical sensations, activate the brain’s somatosensory cortex.
The somatosensory cortex is the part of the brain that receives and processes sensory input from the body (thank you, Google!).
So readers actually feel those textural adjectives.
Pretty powerful, huh?
Plus, that increased brain activity is tied to improved memory and recall.
Main takeaway here? Ditch the boring, everyday words and opt for textural descriptions in your copy whenever possible.
6. Urgency and Scarcity
“Quick! Time is running out!”
“Grab it before it’s sold out!”
“Only 10 HOURS left to buy!”
We’ve all seen those messages before. But there’s a reason why they work so well.
Urgency is the use of time-based trigger words that get prospects to take immediate action.
There are two types of urgency: implied urgency and real urgency. An example of real urgency is “this offer expires in 12 hours.” The urgency is legitimate.
Here’s an email I received from the mattress brand, Casper, that uses real urgency (and a lot of it!):
Implied urgency, which is when you don’t set a deadline, is safer to use. It’s more subtle, using words like “now,” “today” and “soon” to subliminally convey urgency. For example, “get your free copy today”.
Scarcity relies on quantity (as opposed to time) to get people to take action. It’s based on the fact that human beings place a higher value on things that are scarce in supply.
So what does all this mean for you and your copy?
Use scarcity, along with (implied and real) urgency, wherever you can in your copy. BUT don’t lie or overdo it. Otherwise, your readers will stop listening and worse, lose trust in the brand.
There’s no denying the power of storytelling. Stories help us to make sense of the world and share our understanding with others.
When you tell your readers a story, chemicals like cortisol, dopamine and oxitocin are released in their brain.
So why should you care? Cortisol helps with memory formation. Dopamine, which helps regulate emotions, keeps them engaged. And oxytocin, linked to empathy, helps them build and form relationships (with your client’s brand).
So if you can, tell your readers a story as you write. And no, a story doesn’t have to be long! It can even be just a few words.
For example, check out one of the most famous ads of all time, written for Rolls Royce by David Ogilvy:
What makes this ad so great are all the specifics. Rather than “At a high speed,” the ad reads “At 60 miles an hour.” Instead of just saying “it’s quiet,” the ad gives a direct comparison to something that all readers are familiar with: an electric clock. Can’t you hear the clock ticking? I can.
So go on and tell your readers something memorable. Paint them a picture. Relate to them. Make them feel something.
8. Loss aversion
Last year, I was thinking about selling my iPad. I had a laptop, so I didn’t really need it.
I posted an ad for it on a Craiglist-type site here in Spain and got a few offers for more than the iPad was probably worth. But I didn’t think the price was high enough. And ultimately, I never sold it. Losing the iPad wasn’t worth it to me.
This is loss aversion at play. Loss aversion is the idea that a loss has a greater emotional impact on people than a gain of the same size. According to research, losses may instigate more activity in the area of the brain that processes emotions.
Which explains why when you buy something, it’s hard to let it go. And why we often try to sell our used items for a higher price than other people are willing to pay for them.
It’s also why tech subscription companies tend to offer free trials and some eCommerce companies, like Warby Parker, even let you try out their products before purchasing.
So how can you take advantage of this in your copywriting? One way is to use urgency and scarcity (in moderation!), like we talked about.
More importantly, remind people what they have to lose by not choosing your client’s brand, like Sumo did in this email:
Take a look at the following words:
rain, horse, coffee, sun, dog, juice, wind, sprite, orangutan, clouds, water, cat
If you’re asked to memorize those words, you’re probably going to group the words that are similar to each other, rather than memorizing each item one by one.
This natural tendency to group related information is called clustering and helps to improve recall.
So when you’re determining what copy goes where on a page, consider grouping similar topics together. Doing so will make it more likely that your readers will retain the information (and remember why your client’s brand is so awesome).
10. Verbatim effect
Get this: Visitors spend less than 15 seconds on a website. On top of that, they don’t remember everything they see or read. Not even close.
The verbatim effect is the cognitive bias whereby people remember the gist of what was said, but not all the nitty gritty details.
So how can you grab your prospect’s attention while they’re on your client’s website and get them to remember the brand after they leave?
Clear and concise copy. Make sure that the main idea stands out from the rest of the text on the page. Use bullet points and lots of white space to make your copy scannable–and memorable.
For example, take a look at the main headline on the homepage of Zero Waste Grocery:
There’s no confusion about what they offer and the benefits are made clear in just a few words. The visitor can spend five to ten seconds on the website and easily recall later what the brand is about.
Or see how Apple shows off their computers:
Notice how they use just a few words to introduce each computer. Then if readers are curious about the product features and how the computers compare, they can scroll down the page:
Like Apple, don’t overload website visitors with information right off the bat. Instead, highlight the most important benefits in as few words as possible, and then provide more information in smaller font or further down the page.
11. Action Paralysis
A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were trying to decide where to move to within Spain. Our only requirement was that the city be affordable.
We considered pretty much every city in the country but could NOT make a decision for the life of us.
Finally, at the very last minute (literally the day we had to move out of our apartment), we decided to book a flight to Valencia. For that night.
THAT, my friends, is action paralysis.
Action paralysis is when people overthink a situation so much that they’re unable to make a decision. And end up not taking action.
The idea is to reduce your readers’ action paralysis as much as possible. Make it SO easy for them to take action that they barely have to think.
For example, instead of asking a question (like “do you want to sign up for our newsletter?”), tell your readers what they’ll get and exactly what to do to get it.
Or…you could ask a question that’s pretty much impossible to say no to, like the CBD brand, Feals does:
Here are a few other ways you can reduce action paralysis in your copy:
1. Think about your prospect’s hesitations in the buying process (and address those hesitations).
2. Present your readers with fewer options (and highlight one that’s clearly the winner).
3. Make the distinction between choices crystal clear.
For example, this is what you should NOT do:
Do you know the difference between those two calls-to-action? Because I sure as hell don’t.
That’s the type of thing that leads to action paralysis. Instead, clearly differentiate between the choices you’re offering so your readers don’t have to wonder what’s going on.
If the brand sells several products that are similar to one another, then create a table that clearly defines the differences between those products.
4. Guide your prospects through the buying process. Tell them the steps they have to take to become a customer or create a quiz that they can fill out to find the product that best suits them.
5. Default to what majority of users choose. For example, are most users from the U.S.? Then make that the default in the dropdown menu.
6. Make taking action a no-brainer. For instance, tell prospects about that kick-ass return policy your client’s brand offers.
12. Social proof
We all know that social proof is powerful. But did you know that it’s so powerful that it can even turn your customers away when you’re trying to do the exact opposite?
Let me give an example (provided by Bushra Azhar):
One study at the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park found that messages were more effective when they highlighted the desired behavior.
The message on the left was more effective at decreasing theft.
The second message stated that “many past visitors” removed the petrified wood from the park, which acted as social proof for stealing. People thought “well if other people have stolen, then I will too…”
So when crafting your messaging, frame it in a way that promotes the desired behavior, not the unwanted behavior.
Here’s another example: If you’re trying to encourage people to recycle, don’t say “70% of people don’t recycle.”
Instead, say “If everyone in the U.S. recycled just one plastic bottle, 54 million t-shirts or 6.5 million fleece jackets could be made.” (statistic stolen from Keep America Beautiful).
13. Self-fulfilling prophecy
Bushra once again gets credit for this point!
As she says, labels tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. So if you call your readers “smart,” they will feel and become smart.
Make a (positive) assumption about your readers and they will likely act accordingly.
For example, if you want your readers to donate money, you could label them as “generous.” And watch them open their wallets!
If you want them to buy CBD oil for the pets, tell them what a great pet-owner they are and/or how they give their pets top-notch treatment.
You get the picture.
14. Bizarreness effect
“Sell more online!”
“Save time and boost productivity.”
“Boost your conversions.”
Do those messages stand out to you at all? I’m guessing…no. Because we see them ALL. THE. TIME.
And science backs me up on this one: According to the bizarreness effect, people remember weird information more than everyday information.
Sounds obvious, but then why do we continue to see the same vague, stale messaging everywhere?
So unless you want to be ignored and forgotten, avoid common, overused language in your writing.
Instead, spice things up with similies, metaphors and garden-fresh words (see what I just did right there?) that your readers don’t see every day.
And hone in on that unique selling proposition. Get specific about your client’s offering.
Be DIFFERENT. Be the purple cow in a sea of black and white.
If you do that, you’ll have a good chance of getting your readers to notice AND remember your client’s brand.
On to You
Copywriting isn’t just writing words on a page and seeing what sticks.
It’s based on science first and foremost.
So think of yourself as a scientist, and experiment with these psychological copywriting hacks! You might be surprised at the difference even a small change in your copy makes.
Alright, mad scientist. Now go on and create that scientifically-based, highly persuasive copy. You got this!