How to Use Persuasive Words

Want to become a better writer? Learn how to use persuasive words to your advantage. We discuss that in this episode of The Lede.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The five most persuasive words in the English language
  • Demian’s favorite of the bunch
  • The importance of personalization (and how to do it effectively)
  • Why context makes all the difference
  • How because is effective because a reason usually follows it

And more.

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The Show Notes

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Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

The Lede Podcast: How to Use Persuasive Words

Jerod Morris: I’m Jerod Morris, and welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing brought to you by Copyblogger Media. If you want to get a content marketing education while you walk your dog or while you’re in your car, this podcast is the way to do it.

In this episode, Demian Farnworth is back and we continue our series providing you with the third ingredient that every blog post needs: persuasive words.

Why did I end the last episode of The Lede with this statement: “You absolutely won’t want to miss this new episode, because it’s free advice that will instantly make you a better communicator.” Because it includes the five most persuasive words in the English language, at least according to one of the single most popular blog posts in Copyblogger history, an article that, at last count, had over 4,000 re-tweets and nearly 2,000 likes. Those five words are you, free, because, instantly, and new. Hat tip to Gregory Ciotti by the way, for writing that piece.

Demian, do you have a favorite among those words?

Demian Farnworth: That’s a good question. I do have a favorite among those words. Before I get to that point, let me go through the other words.

The 5 Most Persuasive Words

So thinking about this idea of “you” when we talk about this, is that this it is nothing more than just personalization, and Ciotti makes that point in the blog post. And that personalization can be improved, too, when we talk about going from the generic “you” in a blog post to actually using the first and last name in your communication.

We know this works in the e-mail industry. MailChimp recently had a study where they looked at millions of open rates. They found out that if you had the first and the last name it exceeded open rates over just having the first name or just having the last name. In fact, just having the last name actually exceeded having the first name, which kind of demonstrates that you know a little bit about this person. So being able to personalize that is huge.

What was interesting about this study, too, is this idea of the word “free.” Because it is a good word. We talk about some things in that never change, and we always think the word “free” is one of those words, but in fact, what this MailChimp study found out was that in some industries like the medical, the travel, and retail industries, they should avoid that. It actually decreased the open rates when they used the word “free.” So if you’re in those industries, you may want to rethink that strategy.

But also the study, too, showed that words that were time-sensitive or that implied time sensitivity, like “urgent,” “breaking,” “important,” or “alert” also boosted open rates, while words like “reminder” and “cancellation” suppressed open rates.

Going further onto Ciotti’s list, the word “because” is the reason “why.” Like, “What’s in it for me?” That’s what everybody’s asking. What Ciotti demonstrated in that post was that if you say, “Hey, I need to make copies,” whatever you said after the word “because” didn’t really matter. It’s just that people hear that, and they think, “Oh, there’s a reason that he wants to do this,” instead of “He just needs to use the Xerox machine.”

Jerod: Right. And really quick, Demian, it goes back to that line that I ended the last episode with, right? “So you absolutely won’t want to miss this new episode…

Demian: Right.

Jerod: …because,” and then you get this reason. And it makes the important point that even giving weak reasons is shown to be more persuasive than giving no reason at all.

Demian: That’s right, and this is the same reason. It’s really hard to tell people “No.” Like when someone asks you to do something, it’s really hard to tell people “No” without giving a reason why.

Say I invite you to some sort of cocktail party, and you say, “Yeah, sure; I’ve got the time,” you’ll tell me yes. You won’t give me a reason why you’re coming. You won’t say, “Yes, I’m coming because of X, Y, and Z,” you’ll just say, “Yeah, I’ll be there!” But if you tell me “No,” you’ll say, “I can’t be there because I promised my girlfriend I would do this, and that …” People feel compelled to give reasons, and so when we hear that, we are like “Okay, he’s just not telling me no because he’s a jerk and doesn’t want to hang out with me,” or whatever. So yeah, great point.

Jerod: Well, if you’d ever ask me to a cocktail party, Demian, I’d give you an answer.

Demian: (Laughs) Well, if I lived closer to you it would be all the time.

Readers want instant gratification (and why context matters)

Demian: The last word that Ciotti mentions, the word “instant,” and again, he talks about how we desire immediate gratification. A great point of this is on Amazon, right? Amazon offers books either in the print edition or the Kindle edition, and the Kindle, the beautiful thing about that is that instead of having to run to the store or wait 2-3 days, you can have that book immediately, which is huge. So you tell people that something is instant, they love it.

And this is why too, say you’re talking about the weight-reducing industry, for example. People want to lose weight, but they don’t want it to take a long time. So if you can carve out some sort of idea that, like, you could lose 7 pounds in 7 weeks, that’s good. If you could lose 1 pound in 1 week, or however you want to shave that down so the results are getting to immediate, instant results.

Jerod: Yeah. I mean, people don’t like delayed gratification. And I’ve actually seen success with this on one of my side projects.

It’s a college sports site, and after games we send out an analysis. It immediately goes out to our e-mail subscribers. Well, to get new e-mail subscribers we put it on an autoresponder, and so as soon as they sign up for the e-mail address they get it. And so tweeting out, and putting it out on social media as, “Hey, instantly get our latest analysis by signing up for the free e-mail list,” we’ve seen tons and tons of conversions doing it that way. And I think it’s that immediate gratification that really pushes people over the edge to stop what they’re doing and say, “okay, let me go invest this 20 seconds to sign up to get this instant thing back in return.”

Demian: Yeah. I think we’ve been quite spoiled with the internet. We think that if anything is going to be delayed, it seems absolutely ridiculous because most things with software, and the amazing amount of ways in which the formats we can consume content, is available and there is no reason why I can’t have a PDF or podcast, or a movie, or whatever, within seconds of actually registering or requesting it.

Jerod: And it’s important to remember too, and Gregory makes this point in the article, that context is so important. So just because these words are persuasive, and studies have shown they’re persuasive, doesn’t mean that you can just dump them in every post and they’re going to work.

Like you said, that MailChimp study showed that there are certain industries where using the word “free” doesn’t work. And it’s mentioned in that post. Emphasizing the freeness of guides and courses — that can go a long way to attracting attention, but you can also devalue other parts of what you’re trying to do if you overuse that word “free.”

So again, you have to understand not just what words work, but why they work, so that you’re using them within the right contexts.

The importance of personalization (and how to do it)

Demian: That’s right. So back to my favorite one out of that list of five, and it would have to be that word “you.” But it’s not necessarily that word “you,” it’s the idea of personalization.

In a business context, we talk about permission marketing where you are building trust to get people to say, “Yes, I want to receive your information,” whether it’s as a subscriber, or an e-mail newsletter, or even as a registered member in a membership program. So you want to build that personalization up around an audience, around a blog, or elevate it through an e-mail. But it’s that idea of getting to know somebody.

So in a blog post, for example, you naturally would say to yourself, “Well, I can’t personalize a blog post.” Well, all that we’re really saying there is to write to one person. The person reading should feel like you are writing to them. And sometimes that means being very narrow and speaking and talking, and teaching, about a very specific thing so that you are communicating, maybe, with just 50 versus 55,000 people, and understanding their problem, identifying it, and relating to it. People will listen to that.

Jerod: Yeah. And one other point that I want to finish with here is that you see a lot of people say, “Well, I’m not writing persuasive copy,” right? Even if you scroll down the comments of Greg’s article you’ll see this. And no, you may not be writing copy to sell a product, but if you’re writing then presumably you’re writing to sell an idea, or you at least want people to continue reading if you’ve written something, right? So you are always at least persuading people to continue reading.

So again, you need to use the right words for the outcome that you are looking for, and that’s where, when you’re choosing your words, choose them carefully and choose the ones that are going to persuade people to keep doing the action that you want them to take, even if that’s just to continue reading on down the page if it’s just “normal” web copy.

Demian: Right. Yeah. And back to that cocktail party I never invited you to…

Jerod: (Laughs)

Demian: …say you were there, and we were talking, and even in that context people want to hear their name. They want to feel like you are paying attention to them, so even in that context when you’re talking to somebody and you feel like you might be losing them, or you want to bring their attention back towards you, you would use their name. I would say, you know, telling Jerod about football, and then say your name, Jerod. That would bring you back.

Interestingly, Dan and Chip Heath wrote the book “Made to Stick,” and they told a story about a small, mid-sized city newspaper where they had a readership rate of about 110%, which means that there are more people reading it than there are actually in that city. So they have, actually, a wider reach than they thought. And the way they did that was because their philosophy was names, names, names. They tried to identify people within the community and write articles around them, about them, about topics that were important to them, and so people would look toward that magazine to see if their name was in that paper. And that’s how they got such a high readership rate.

So the idea is writing to one person. Make them feel like you’re writing to them. And if you can do that, you can do that better in the e-mail. But then that’s important too, we talk about elevating those relationships from blog subscribers to e-mail newsletter, eventually to a registered membership or some other position.

Jerod: Yep. And for more absolutely great information on this topic, Brian Clark did a series on blog triggers back in the early days of Copyblogger. We are going to link to that in the show notes.

In the meantime, Demian, I look forward to seeing you at the cocktail party, because I’m very appreciative that you asked me.

Demian: Yes, you’re welcome. We’ll have to…

Jerod: (Laughs)

Demian: …we’ll have to make that happen in Denver.

Jerod: All right. Sounds good, man. Talk to you soon.

Demian: Thank you.

Jerod: Thanks everybody, for listening. If you’re enjoying the content provided here on The Lede, please consider leaving us a rating or review on ITunes, and we always appreciate it when you tweet out links to the show.

The next time Demian joins me, we move on to the fourth essential ingredient of a blog post: How to write damn good sentences. If you like watching a superstar take batting practice, tune in to hear the Duke of Damn himself knock this topic out of the park.


*Credits: Both the intro (“Bridge to Nowhere” by Sam Roberts Band) and outro songs (“Down in the Valley” by The Head and the Heart) are graciously provided by express written consent from the rights owners.