I never fancied myself a writer, but as I created websites for some small businesses in my early career, I realized it was a crucial aspect to a successful website. These fledgling sites didn’t have taglines and headlines created, but while I was in the middle of mocking up these websites, I thought, “Dang, this would sure look good with some tasty little morsel of a key message, something to pique people’s’ interests with the image we’ve chosen.”
My first clients didn’t have a copywriter and neither did I—so half of the time, the message I’d come up with stuck for the long haul. It wasn’t always because my writing was amazing—even though I did try to catch the essence of why people came to these businesses sites and try to catch their mind with a hook—but because it was as good as either of us could do. I’d try to create something catchy. A powerful idea. A curiosity. But what I wrote was also meant to help people know what they did at a glance. Sometimes I created some clunkers and I had to backpedal, “uh, uh…that’s just a placeholder” I’d embarrassingly tell the client. I needed to go to the dojo of persuasion. I needed to become an apprentice to those with a better understanding.
6 Elements of Persuasion
According to “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini, the six elements of persuasion are:
1. Reciprocity: People feel an obligation to give back when they’ve received something from others.
2. Scarcity: People want things more when there are less of them or they perceive them as scarce.
3. Authority: People will follow the lead when someone seems to be a kind of authority figure to them and take expert lead.
4. Consistency: If people say yes once, they’re more likely to say yes again, etc.
5. Liking: People are more likely to say yes to someone they like.
6. Consensus: Otherwise known as group mentality, but if you share what most people do, someone is more likely to do that than the alternative.
All of this is great fodder for website copy and design. Of course a great way to start is by offering some kind of resource to visitors for free (reciprocity), like a “renter’s guide to Minneapolis” if you were a Minneapolis Realtor. When your copy knowingly displays the expertise of your field (authority) and kindly guides (liking) a visitor directly toward the “best value” that “most customers opt for” (consensus) “but will only be available for a limited time” (scarcity), you’re tickling all the points that lead to a very persuasive page of copy.
Overall Writing Style Tips
Beyond these principles, this excellent article on KissMetrics suggests these principles to help guide your overall writing style throughout the process of creating effective website copy.
1. Write conversationally – The trick here is to literally forget that you’re writing and instead try to “talk to a friend” who needs your help with a site. Get rid of anything that doesn’t feel like you’d really say it in real life. No need to be fancy—just be yourself. Be the down-to-earth voice of the company you’re representing, but skip the formality. However, don’t get too conversational so to throw all grammar and coherence out the window. Writing for the web isn’t stream of consciousness.
2. Use bulleted or numbered lists – How nice is it that this article is broken up by lists instead of just big old paragraphs? I think especially when people are trying to absorb information, it’s nice to have that info in bite-sized chunks.
3. Give it some kind of narrative structure – When you add elements of story, development over time, perhaps even hero, dilemma, and villain, you catch the imagination and draw people in.
4. Have clear, concise and inviting calls-to-action – I’m adding this in because I want you to understand we’re not here to just entertain and delight with our smooth and eloquent poetic lines. We have an end in mind, and perhaps not just for an article that’s just some kind of request to share, but for a home page or service page. Your words should be softly alluding to the next step and, at the end of a section, they should let the visitor know what the next step is, i.e., “Read our customer’s raving reviews,” “Press the button to the right to get your free trial right away.”
5. Talk about the benefits of your product, then talk about the features – Many business owners might be surprised to know that no one cares about the 3% greater battery life, the 12-inch larger reservoir, and the rust-proof polymer edge. They care that they get to recharge less, carry more, and won’t have to replace it for 10 years or more. They care first and foremost about how it affects them, and then they worry a little bit about why (features). The order of priority here is important.
The dojo of persuasion is not a place or time – it’s a state of mind. Be open to the spirit of inspiration when you write your next service page or blog post. Let it overtake you, and remember your training.