Conversion-oriented writing moves audiences and gets them to take action. It turns visitors into leads, leads into customers, and customers into fans.
As you can imagine, strong conversion-oriented writing is crucial for successful content marketing. How quickly (and easily) you are able to get people to opt into an email list, read a blog post, or share your content will decide the number and quality of your leads.
But how can you become better at conversion-oriented writing? In this post, I’ll show you 14 actionable tricks.
1. Use power words
Copywriters have used power words for years to create more compelling copy and evoke emotions in readers. Take a look at this ad from David Ogilvy himself:
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Note all the power words highlighted – they paint a vivid picture of the product and the problems it solves.
Here’s a list of a few power words you can use right away in your content. Just make sure to use them in the appropriate context – your readers don’t want you to paint an absurd picture just to get them to react:
2. Give away (almost) everything in first paragraphs
According to a Microsoft study of 2,000 people, the average person’s attention span today is just eight seconds (down from 12 seconds in 2000). When someone lands on your site, you have just a few seconds in which to grab their attention.
The average person’s attention span is 8 seconds via @Microsoft #contentmarketing
Besides the obvious (improving site speed, for example), one way to do this is to follow the inverted-pyramid style of writing. Give the most important information within the first couple of paragraphs.
Some of the top-performing media sites already follow this tactic. For example, the DailyMail, includes a summary below the headline but before the byline.
This gives away the most important takeaways from the article without forcing readers to dig deep into the article.
The result? Higher engagement rates and better conversions.
3. Use visuals in place of words
Research shows that we process visuals significantly faster than text. You can use this to your advantage by presenting your ideas through images where possible.
According to @sciencenews, we process visuals significantly faster than text via @khalidh
For example, look at how Seth Godin uses images on his website. Instead of a traditional “blog” link, the site asks you to, “Click on Seth’s head,” to read his blog. Combined with the bold colors, this visual likely performs much better than a text link (and adds some personality to the site).
Also, note how Seth uses his expression to divert your attention to the navigation menu. This is a clever example of using “gaze focusing” to emphasize a specific element on the page.
If you want to emphasize something, use visual elements rather than subtle text.
4. Emphasize value over processes
Your content can be either process-oriented (“Sign up today for my conversion optimization course!”), or they can be value-oriented (“Increase sign-ups by 86% with my conversion optimization course!”).
The former describes an activity. The latter describes what value the activity creates.
As you know, customers care more about value than they do about the process. A headline that promises to help customers “get more shares and traffic” is far more enticing than one that simply tells them “how to use Twitter.”
One of CMI’s best-performing articles promises to tell readers how they can get their content “ranked, found, and read” with smarter link-building.
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The headline offers a clear value proposition – readers won’t just learn linking techniques; they’ll learn linking techniques that help them increase traffic and engagement.
5. Avoid vagueness
Which headline do you prefer? (1) Learn How I Captured Hundreds of Leads or (2) Learn How I Captured 2,358 Leads in Just 30 Days
Although both headlines communicate the same concept, most people would trust the second headline more for a simple reason – it’s specific. Instead of hinting at “hundreds of leads,” it gives an exact figure and a specific time frame for achieving it.
Exactness is crucial for inspiring trust. According to one research study at UCLA, financial advisers who give their clients exact numbers (e.g., “6.4%” as opposed to “around 6%”) were more likely to be trusted.
Marketers can use this in their own writing by avoiding vagueness or generalities.
For example, Brian Dean of Backlinko gives an exact number in his headline for a blog post about increasing traffic through an SEO technique:
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6. Use questions to guide readers
Questions are frequently used weapons in any writers’ arsenal. They work particularly well for conversion-focused writing because they frame a question and give room to frame a response.
Here’s a great example from a classic advertisement– “Who owns Sears?” – to set up the ad copy.
You can use similar questions to tailor a response that hooks readers in.
For example, Rohan Ayyar uses a question in the headline to set up the article content:
Here’s another headline from Alex Turnbull of GrooveHQ. He answers the question in the article, telling readers exactly what they need to do to make decisions.
7. Grab attention with “bucket brigades”
One of the most effective ways to increase your content’s readability and grab the reader is to:
- Use a colon
- Write your ideas on the next line
In copywriting, this is called a “bucket brigade” – breaking down an idea into multiple lines to keep readers interested.
Bucket brigades are particularly effective for article introductions. They tell readers exactly what the article is about in a single glance. Here’s a great example of a bucket brigade in a recently published CMI post:
Combined with the bold text and arrow-shaped bullets, a bucket brigade helps the content stand out and makes it easier to read, which equals better engagement.
8. Write for fifth graders
One of the core tenets of conversion-oriented writing is to cut down on complicated words, remove legalese, and keep jargon to a minimum.
Take a look at this classic Rolls-Royce ad from David Ogilvy:
Even when describing a complex machine such as a car, Ogilvy writes simply and clearly.
On average, you should aim to write for a 10- to 13-year-old audience. This means simple words, short sentences, and even shorter paragraphs.
When writing, use simple words, short sentences, & even shorter paragraphs says @khalidh #content
You can paste your text into the Flesch-Kincaid readability scale to figure out whether your writing meets this criterion.
For example, this article on growing your email list from SumoMe reads at the target average level – something even readers with limited English proficiency can understand.
9. Reference an authority
Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, says authority is one of the six key principles of persuasion.”Information from a recognized authority can provide us a valuable shortcut for deciding how to act in a situation,” he writes.
Authority is one of the 6 key principles of persuasion according to @RobertCialdini #contentmarketing
We are socially programmed to defer to an authority figure and to trust their judgment more than someone else. You can take advantage of this persuasion principle by referencing authority figures in your writing. This can be either in the form of a quote, a testimonial, or a simple reference to an authority figure or publication.
Tim Ferriss’ landing page at FourHourWorkWeek.com is a great example of this:
Another way to reference an authority in your content is to drop a quote, a statistic, or a data point from a recognized authority in your field (just as I did above).
For example, Copyblogger quotes from David Ogilvy to discuss creativity and writing:
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10. Use jargon effectively
Sprinkling jargon throughout your content usually puts readers to sleep. However, a strong case can be made for effective use of jargon in certain situations where you are targeting experts.
According to Trust and Distrust in Organizations: Dilemmas and Approaches:“Members of an organization may use specific types of language – technical language, common language, etc. – to signal to observers that they are members of an in-group.”
When used effectively, jargon shows readers that you are “one of them” and understand their problems. Publications targeting industry professionals frequently use technical terms in their content. Marketing blogs, for example, often use terms like “CTA, CRM, CPC, KPIs,” etc. not just as a shorthand, but also as a sign to readers that they understand marketing.
For instance, Search Engine Land’s SMX Advanced conference uses industry terms like SMX, SEM, and SEO liberally on its home page. This pure jargon doesn’t make sense to a non-marketer, but it demonstrates familiarity for industry professionals.
Use jargon in a similar way in your content. Make sure to use it sparingly, however. You don’t want to overuse it and impact your readability.
11. Fine tune headlines
According to David Ogilvy, “Five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy”.
According to David @Ogilvy, 5x as many people read the headline as read the body copy. #contentmarketing
He was known to spend months tweaking the headline before even tackling the body content. Headlines should be your first pit stop when crafting conversion-oriented content. It hardly matters whether you’ve used the right sentence structure in paragraph 10, if you can’t grab the reader’s attention with the headline.
Here are a few tips to help your headlines:
- Use numbers: Outbrain’s analysis of 150,000 headlines revealed that those with numbers performed better than those without. Interestingly enough, headlines with odd numbers received 20% higher click-through rates than headlines with even numbers.
Headlines w/ odd numbers received 20% higher click-thru rates than even via @outbrain #contentmarketing
All three of BuzzFeed’s top-performing articles use numbers in the headline. Two of the three use odd numbers.
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- Ask readers a question: Rhetorical or literal, questions can dramatically increase your click-through rate. One study found that question headlines get nearly five times more clicks than non-question headlines.
Question headlines get nearly 5x more clicks than non-question headlines via @tandfonline #contentmarketing
HowStuffWorks.com is a great example of this tip – its successful site was built simply to answer the question, “How does this work?”
- Surprise, scare, or incite your readers: One way to hook readers in is to tell them about a threat, or get them to rally around a cause. Readers who are excited, angry or anxious about a threat (such as a bad habit they didn’t know about) are likely to engage with the content.
For example, a study of the most-emailed New York Times articles showed that articles evoking anger were among the most heavily shared on the site:
One of Copyblogger’s best performing posts mentions the “threat” of digital sharecropping directly in the headline itself:
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Another post by HubSpot creates anxiety in readers by telling them about “bad habits” that are affecting their productivity:
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A recent CMI post talks about a threat that is “killing content marketing.” Even though the article itself gives a solution to this threat, the headline will get content marketers interested in learning more about the “one thing” that might kill their livelihood.
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You can evoke similar emotions with your headlines by using words like “beware,” “hidden,” “surprise,” “secret,” “danger,” “mistake,” etc. (See Tip No. 1 – Use power words.)
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13. Be exact in your CTA copy
Just as you don’t want your headlines to be vague, you also want your calls to action to be exact. If you want readers to take some action – subscribe to a blog, watch a video, or sign up for a free trial – you’ll get the best results by being as clear and up front about it as possible.
Take a look at the CTAs on Livestream’s site:
Clearly articulate in your CTAs what you want the readers to do with them. Encapsulate that action in a few words and put it inside a button.
Here’s another example from Clickfunnels.com:
The CTA details how long the sign-up will take and the step to get started. Customers have no difficulty understanding what clicking the CTA will do.
14. Limit commitment
It doesn’t matter how strong your sales copy is, your customers will still have fears, uncertainties, and doubts (FUDs) before they hit “buy.” Emphasize the lack of commitment in your CTAs and sales copy. For example, instead of giving customers a three-month lock-in period, give them the option to try out the product or service.
Salesforce gives customers two options – to watch demos or to try for free.
Neither option requires any significant commitment from customers.
Netflix does this even better. Both its site copy and CTA emphasize the commitment-free nature of the service. You can join for free and cancel anytime.
Little wonder that Netflix has one of the highest conversion rates in the industry (93% for the free to paid membership, as per one analyst).
Over to you
Writing conversion-oriented content can be challenging even for seasoned writers. To keep readers engaged, you need to grab their attention from the beginning and keep them engaged for the remainder of the piece. And once they’re done reading, you also have to convince them to click on a CTA to go from a cold visitor to paying customer.
However, by following these tips, you can keep your readers engaged. By focusing on big wins – writing better introductions, headlines, and CTAs – you can easily out-convert your competition.
Want to continue growing your content marketing skills (for better conversions and more)? Sign up for the free daily or weekly newsletter from the Content Marketing Institute that’s filled with insight, tips, tools, and more.
Cover image by Ryan McGuire-Bells Design, Gratisography, via pixabay.com.
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