“Is this gonna work?” Publish. “Nope.”

“Is this gonna work?” Publish. “Nope.”

“Maybe this will.”

And so it continues.

I call it “copy roulette”.

Copy Roulette: the marketing game where startups rely almost entirely on swipe files, plug-and-play templates and step-by-step page structures to grow their businesses.

You know you’ve played it before. You see a course packed with “proven templates,” and you buy it for those alone.

Then, of course, you use the templates and – surprise! – they don’t work because a) they aren’t right for your audience and product, b) they’ve been used repeatedly by everyone else that downloaded them or c) both.

Copy Roulette is not good for business.

To play it, you:

  • Default to shortcuts instead of doing the research,
  • Favor “proven” over putting in the work, and then
  • Cross your fingers and hope your borrowed templates create the ideal result.

What’s particularly sad about playing that losing game is this: it still took you time, energy and even money to play. You were promised a shortcut. What you got is wasted time. Which means you’re starting from scratch again.

If only you’d spent those resources on the right approach…

Brian Balfour, one of the top “growth hackers” in the world lists 10 reasons why companies fail at growth. You’ll notice that 6 of the 10 speak to a desire to find shortcuts:

10 reasons growth fails

Copy fails for the same reasons when all you do is swipe, copy-paste and hope for the best.

This is Copy Roulette:

  • Chasing after silver bullets with the latest headline template
  • Not digging in and learning what part of your body copy is failing to convert
  • Not doubling down on the time-tested swipes that also work for your product/market
  • Skipping the data and analytics when examining your traffic sources, heatmaps and recorded visitor sessions
  • Not focusing on what copy to improve or what messaging to lead with

Just stop. …Or did you think you just need to find “better” headlines and copy somewhere else?

Using a Wilson Blade 104 and standing on a court does not turn you into Serena Williams

So let’s say you’re in the exact same position every startup on the planet is in: you’re dissatisfied with your conversion rate and MRR.

Those are not problems that can be solved by swiping the right headline or borrowing Groove’s marketing plan.

In most cases, those problems are symptoms of a deeper issue: something is broken with your offer, your messaging and/or your product-market fit.

You already know that. I know you do. I’ve consulted with dozens of startup marketing teams across the US and Europe, and I’ve seen the same issues time and again.

I’ve also seen the same quick-fixes: somebody else’s email copy, landing page copy, A/B test or marketing strategy.

(Side note: I’m not saying you should ditch all of your copywriting templates, structures or entire swipe file library. Keep them. Reference them. But know that they’re superficial – they’re bandages on scratches.)

True growth that’s sustainable, predictable and exponential can only be achieved when you’re writing copy with a strategy that’s tested and provenIt’s this:

Knowing your customers better than they think they know themselves.

And better than your competitors do.

And then using their own words to get them to take action.

Now that I’ve fed you some tough love, let me give you something you can reliably use. It’s a proven, tested way to truly understand people.

It’s called… therapy.

Before you roll your eyes, give me just two more minutes to get you on board. It’ll be worth it. Let’s start with this – have a quick read about Alliance Theory:

Alliance theory and copywriting is (almost) the same

From “The Beginner’s Guide to Counseling & Psychotherapy” by Stephen Palmer

You – as a founder, marketer, and copywriter – should form an alliance with your potential customer and work together towards a sale. (Or, as my friend Ryan Schwartz puts it: “You’re coaching the sale”.)

That’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? Forming an alliance WITH your prospect. It’s so interesting, you should tweet it:

I’m going to teach you exactly how to do that in this article by sharing the 5 ways to get more leads, fan and sales by channeling your inner therapist. (And by not just blindly copying what someone else did. No matter how “epically successful” they tell you their campaign was.)

5 Strategies to Get More Leads, Fans and Sales By Channeling Your Inner Therapist

Here’s the skinny on what your therapist can teach you:

  1. Get close to your reader
  2. Tap into the right cognitive biases
  3. Become the obvious “yes”
  4. Convince powerfully
  5. Trigger emotions that drive behavior

What do you do with each of those?

Let’s start with the first…

Strategy #1 – Get Close to Your Reader

There’ve been beaucoup de studies done on the importance of the therapeutic relationship.

To save you years of reading (you’re welcome), I’ll just give it to you straight: that relationship is a mighty big deal.

So, imagine if just like a therapist you believed your most important objective was to build, nurture and strengthen your relationship with your customer EVERY time you interacted with him. Imagine if you believed it with such conviction that you put it on the top of your list every day.

What might happen?

Let me give you the CliffsNotes: You’d start converting like a mofo.

Here’s how you can learn from the “therapeutic relationship” and directly transfer those skills to the various phases where your copywriting will move the needle (acquisition, conversion, and so on).

therapy vs copy on Copy Hackers by Sam Woods


Sources on cognitive therapy here, more techniques here and here.

This isn’t YAT, or yet another table. This is a strategy. A “strategy” therapists have been using with their clients since the beginning of couches and clipboards. And one that could actually help you get double or triple the results you want.

Because if you don’t start putting your relationship with your potential clients and customers on the pedestal it deserves, 1) your copy is going to suck, and 2) your company is going to end up in the company graveyard rapidement.

Strategy #2 – Use the Right Cognitive Biases to Drive Conversions

Cognitive biases are errors in judgement and decision-making, common to all humans. Why do they happen? Because of our cognitive limitations. This is often referred to as Bounded rationality, “the principle that organisms have limited resources, such as time, information, and cognitive capacity, with which to find solutions to the problems they face.”

It works like this:

You’re at a restaurant, looking at a menu and trying to decide between fish or steak.

You don’t have all the available information on how fresh the fish is (or isn’t), or if the steak is going to be juicy. That’s limited information.

You’re hungry, starving even, and haven’t hydrated enough today. Or maybe you’ve had one too many drinks before dinner. Either way, your cognitive abilities (to think, reason) are limited.

Next, the people you’re having dinner with are ready to order and they’re impatient. The waiter? Oh yeah, she’s waiting for you to decide. You have limited time to make your decision.

All this works against you making the best decision – any decision, really.

This is true for you, me and everyone else.

Your website visitors, email subscribers, trial users, customers – everyone – have brains that simply make predictable mistakes and use heuristics (shortcuts) to grasp reality and make decisions.

This means that, if you play your cards right, you can harness the behaviors these biases cause.


If you just rush off in search of a list of all the cognitive biases there are, crank out random experiments and write half-baked copy…

You’re on a fool’s errand. Sorry. But it’s true.

Here’s what you absolutely, positively, cannot miss:

  1. Your potential customers aren’t robots walking around, waiting for someone to tap into their wiring and remote-control their behavior.
  2. They’re human beings, with desires, emotions, beliefs and experiences that influence what they say and do.
  3. So, when your potential customers find themselves in various situations, their brains will only serve up the information that’s recent, frequent and relevant (see the research and article, published in Encyclopedia of Human Behavior).

This means there are only SOME biases that work well for conversion copywriting.

But too many (maybe even you) are seduced by the thrill of knowing a bunch of biases. C-levels love hearing about ’em, so marketers love talking about ’em. I submit the following as evidence:

What are the most important cognitive biases to be aware of? On Quora

That’s way too many answers for what’s supposed to be “the” Most Important Cognitive Biases, no? (Here are even more.)

Everyone has an opinion on which cognitive biases are the most important.

But you and I are not interested in how many there are, or necessarily what they’re called. That’s the stuff of party tricks. It’s not helpful when it’s time to write better copy. Far more powerful is knowing this:

When and where to use a bias for maximum impact on conversion.

If you understand your customers well enough, you can reliably stick to a handful of biases, strategically deployed and used throughout your landing pages, forms, emails and so on.

If you were a therapist, you’d be thinking about what your client needs to move forward in their treatment.

As a copywriter, you should be thinking about what copy will move your potential clients and customers forward in your nurture and sales process. That thinking will make it crystal clear what words to use. So now, rather than trying your hand at yet another game of Copy Roulette, let me share with you the 5 most effective cognitive biases to consider when writing copy and designing pages or experiences. Not only will I share with you the biases – but I’ll also share with you the points in the average SaaS funnel at which they historically have worked best AND exactly when you should use them.

Cognitive Bias #1: The IKEA Effect

Cognitive bias: The IKEA effect

What it is: People have a tendency to place a disproportionately high value on products/services that they’re part of creating, often regardless of outcome (like IKEA furniture).

How you use it: When you make people “work” towards buying and using your product or service, they’ll value it more. They’ll also be more invested and stick around longer. In the sales process, you can use techniques like collaborative discoveries and closes. When they work towards something, they’re more likely to follow-through and make a purchase (or convert).

Take a look at Algolia’s homepage, for example:

Home page copy on Algolia, using the IKEA effect

Home page copy on Algolia, using the IKEA effect

On the homepage, you can type in a search query (the arrow and “try it now”, plus search suggestion is strategically placed to move your eyes back up) and see how it works.

Once you’ve tried it, it’s a small micro-commitment that could very well encourage you to take the next step, either start a free trial (small ask) or schedule a demo (medium ask).

But the point is this: From the very first moment, you’re tasked with getting involved and even trying the product, prior to a real demo or trial.

What you should do: Consider what smaller steps your potential customers can take, before they have to sign-up for a free trial or get on your list. You could use surveys and quizzes, contests or even demos that aren’t hiding behind an opt-in wall.

Cognitive Bias #2: The Ambiguity Effect

Cognitive bias: the ambiguity effect

What it is: Tendency to avoid options or actions that are missing information. This makes the outcome and probability seem “unknown.”

How you use it: Make outcomes and next steps crystal clear at key conversion points. If people don’t understand your product/service or action, they will not choose it.

Here’s a great example of a poor homepage (obscured to protect the guilty) falling prey to to this bias:

Ambiguity effect in your copy

Ambiguity effect in home page copy

Their lead generation software might be amazing. But “easy lead generation software” tells me nothing. The word “easy”, much like “made simple”, is over-used and useless in this context. Having obscured what software this is, it doesn’t stand out at all, right? Nothing memorable. No clear value proposition. Just “tons of tools” and a nondescript screenshot.

And what am I signing up for?

The CTA lacks context + micro-copy that could help the visitor understand just what’s going on.

It’s all just very ambiguous.

What you should do: Don’t let your amazing product or service suffer from poor copy. When you think like a therapist, you’ll realize that speaking in ambiguities lead nowhere. Same goes for copy and conversions. Use tools like UserTesting to get a sense of how complete strangers perceive your copy and messaging.

With that taken care of, you can harness the next bias pretty easily.

Cognitive Bias #3: The Attention Bias

Cognitive bias: the attention bias

What it is: The tendency of our perception to be affected by our recurring thoughts.

How you use it: The more often a lead sees your message, Unique Selling Proposition, ads, etc., the more likely she is to respond, take action and purchase. Make sure your messaging is consistent, that you have plenty of CTAs (that look the same with the same copy) and use retargeting.

This example, from Price Intelligently, is fun:

Good example of the attention bias in copywriting

Good example of attention bias in copywriting

See the repetition of “pricing” in various forms?

This is just on their homepage, and hero section alone.

Notice the coupling of “pricing” with customer testimonials talking about outcome and benefit. When you scroll, you see:

Even more copywriting that plays on your attention bias

Think they’re trying to tell us something? The copy has also subtly moved on to highlighting potential issues you may have with poor pricing (“missing out on 33% more revenue”) and what you get by pricing your product accurately (“less churn, increased adoption, more revenue”).

And the hits just keep on coming:

They're really making use of their copywriting to push your attention bias button

Pricing continues to be aligned with business needs, like “strategy”, “team”, “value”, “packaging”, “positioning” and so on. (And I didn’t even mention the smart use of the teal/green [money] color.)

On the homepage alone, your brain’s attention bias is practically on drugs, as you’ll walk away remembering one thing about them: these guys know pricing.

What you should do: What word can your product or service own? Whatever it is, you should follow the lead of Price Intelligently and use it as often as it makes sense on your home page and elsewhere.

BONUS: Combine it with our next bias.

Cognitive Bias #4: The Anchoring Effect

Cognitive bias: Anchoring effect

What it is: The habit of relying on “anchors,” on one trait or piece of information, when making decisions (usually the first piece of information that we acquire on that subject).

How you use it: Usually, the first price someone sees will affect not only their purchase decision but also what they’re willing to spend. You can extend this beyond purchase by anchoring the value in something tangible and then giving it away for less. This can also be used for positioning your products/services.

Time Warner Cable finds a way to anchor internet package prices by showing you the most expensive option first. This makes the others look cheaper:

Example of the anchoring effect for pricing and copywriting

Even if their other packages offer slower speeds, you’re still primed by price and are more likely to make a decision based on price vs. features.

What you should do: On your pricing tables or product packages, experiment with leading with a higher price first. You can also do this in your sales copy, by simply anchoring the value in a higher price point than what you’re then offering it for.

Cognitive Bias #5: Functional Status Quo

Cognitive bias: Functional Status Quo

What it is: If your product challenges traditional use of a product or service, you’ll have a much tougher time marketing it.

How you use it: Don’t try to change what people are already doing. It’s more profitable to insert your products/services in the normal behavior of people. Small behavioral adjustments could happen overtime, but you’ll run out of money before you turn a profit. Your marketing needs to be in their current streams of behavior and psychology to yield results.

You can look at Vend to see how they use copy to communicate how their solution, in a complex environment like Point-of-Sale systems, solves their potential customers’ problem.

Vend using functional status quo

Vend using functional status quo

A demo is almost a must for companies who’re entering into “old” markets. And the use of screenshots that not only show how the app functions, but tells you where you’ll use Vend is a smart move.

Vend continues with harnessing functional status quo in their layout and copywriting

Vend continues with harnessing functional status quo in their layout and copywriting

What you should do: If your product requires even a medium sized change in behavior, you can mitigate the friction by taking a cue from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT):

“CBT works by changing people’s attitudes and their behavior by focusing on the thoughts, images, beliefs and attitudes that are held (a person’s cognitive processes) and how these processes relate to the way a person behaves”

And what better way to affect thoughts, images and beliefs but through copywriting? You’ll learn how to do this in a minute. For now, you can also see more biases “out in the wild”, like in this example of GrowthHackers, shared via KISSMetrics:

Using Cognitive Biases for increasing email signups

As seen on KISSmetrics: Using cognitive biases for to boost signups

Catch a few more ideas on how to increase email signups with cognitive biases over on KISSMetrics.

For you to connect the dots and infuse your copy with the power of biases, you need to understand how persuasion works. Sadly, only knowing who Cialdini is and what his 6 principles are is not enough. It’s a great starting point, sure. But if you’re in marketing or copywriting, then you’re in the business of understanding how people tick. Hence this whole post. :)

Let’s get back to our five strategies for getting more leads, fans and sales.

Strategy #3 – Become the Obvious “Yes” for Your Audience

This might shock you, but it has to be said:

Mr. Cialdini, we get it. Those 6 principles. They’re all good and cool but…

There’s a lot more to the “science of persuasion” than Cialdini.

Take a look at How To Use 10 Psychological Theories To Persuade People, for example. And here’s a research paper that talks about subliminal advertising, “Persuasion in the Marketplace: How Theories of Persuasion Apply to Marketing and Advertising”:

“What makes consumers so fearful of subliminal advertising is the notion that they may not be able to defend against an unwanted persuasion attempt.

However, stimuli need not be outside of conscious awareness to persuade: Supraliminal primes may also influence attitudes and behavior without consumers’ awareness if they are not aware of the influence of the prime on their attitudes and behaviors.”

And where can subliminal messaging be found in the first place?

In advertising and copywriting. Look at this:

Subliminal messaging, anyone?

The magazine name is SFX – but wow, doesn’t that look like “SEX”?

Or how about this slightly disturbing example:

Even more subliminal messaging!

I guess they’re trying to persuade us to go to Disney World. Or murder Mickey. I’m not sure which. But one of the two.

Subliminal messaging is powerful, especially because it affects you without your full realization. But before you sink your teeth in the juicy, sizzling steak of subliminal messaging and persuasion, ask yourself:

How would a therapist think about this? #wwtd

It would be like something you’d find in this  paper, “Persuasive communication: The case of marketing” (by Marie-Odile Taillard):

“Two of the goals of human communication are: to be understood and to be believed.

In persuasive communication, both of these acts are fulfilled.


Marketing communication offers a rich domain of investigation for this endeavor: we show that pragmatics can only benefit from an analysis of persuasive communication in an “optimized” context such as marketing.

We try to affect our audience’s beliefs, desires and actions.

Persuasion is the communicative act that carries out both these goals – an audience that has been persuaded has understood an utterance, and believed its message.”

That means, for your copywriting to be persuasive it has to fundamentally be:

  1. Understood
  2. Believed

And with copywriting, you’re also affecting your audience’s beliefs, desires and actions.

You can memorize Cialdini’s 6 principles and recite them on your deathbed if you’d like, but…

Unless your copywriting bridges the gap between
theories and becomes actual communication,
you’re persuading

So, how can YOUR copywriting bridge that gap?

Use this Persuasion Framework worksheet I put together, inspired by “The One Sentence Persuasion Course” by Blair Warren.

The Persuasion Framework, by Samuel J. Woods of ResponseCopy

Your answers to those questions will form the basis for your copywriting, on any page, in any email and for any persuasive messaging.

What you should do: Once you’ve filled out that above worksheet, you can actually think of stacking your messaging on, say, a home page with:

  • First, lead with Affirming Beliefs and Confirming Suspicions.
  • Next, Justify Failures and Encourage Dreams
  • Finish with Calming Fears and tie-in your CTA with Relieving Pains

Actually, you can stack that flow in several different ways but that’s enough to get you started.

Strategy #4 – Write Powerful & Effective Messaging

Robert Gifford is a professor of Psychology and Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria.

Here’s what he says makes people receptive to your messages:

  1. Urgency – This is critical for inciting action.
  2. Certainty – Communicate maximum certainty (with integrity) in your solution and its capabilities.
  3. Customization – Tailor messages for different groups, representing various interests and stakes. (Or levels of awareness and intent)
  4. Positivity – The message frame should be positive. Calling for sacrifices rarely, if ever, works.
  5. Control – Make it clear that people’s action and efforts are the deciding factor.

The goal is to craft messages that are “sticky”. Sticky messages get planted in the minds of your readers and simply won’t go away. They’re remembered.

Let’s look at how you can up the “stickiness” factor with this now rather popular framework.

Messages That Stick (Chip & Dan Heath)

Two brothers, Chip and Dan Heath, learned that ideas that “stick” all share the following six principles:

Made to Stick framework

  1. Simple: Your message has to be simple. You must come up with a profound compact phrase that would summarize your whole premise.
  2. Unexpected: In order to capture someone’s attention, you need to break a pattern. You need to understand and play with two essential emotions – surprise and interest.
  3. Concrete: People won’t remember vague stuff. What helps people understand new concepts is concrete language.
  4. Credible: You need somebody who people trust to confirm your case. The trustworthiness of your source makes all the difference.
  5. Emotional: Feelings inspire people to act.
  6. Stories: A credible idea makes people believe. An emotional idea makes people care. Put both of them together into an idea as stories have the amazing dual power to stimulate and to inspire.

Are you following the rules of sticky copy, or SUCCES? Test yourself by taking a look at your most recent email campaign, landing page or sales page. Is the message both simple and unexpected? Is it emotional and credible? Does it tell a story in a concrete way?

Do your messages show that you understand your audience? Is what you’re saying and promising believable? Have you crafted your messages in such a way that your audience will be receptive to them? Are they sticky? (That is, after your audience clicks away, does anything stay with them? And make them want to go back to it?)

Copy Hackers recently opened up enrollment for the second cohort of The Copywriter Mastermind. I was in TCM1 and now I’m in TCM2.

One of the new students in the cohort said that one of the reasons he decided to apply to the course was because of two little lines in one of the many emails Joanna sent. Here’s that copy:

“…Neither do your bosses or clients, who drop 5 or 6 figures driving traffic to your words.

Think about that for a second. All that money is driving to your words…”

That was sticky as hell. And the realization that the money was driving to this potential student’s words got him to keep going back to the sales letter, submit a lengthy application, and then ultimately hand over a substantial sum of money to Copy Hackers. (Editorial note: Thanks! :) )

You can do the same in your copy if you think less like a “copywriter” and more like a therapist. That is, if you use the strategies now at your disposal to create compelling messages that stick.

If you’re not quite there yet, or you just pulled out some of your most recent copy and it makes you want to cringe a little bit by how much you might be missing the boat, there’s a BIG piece to the puzzle that we’re going to address now.


This is likely to be your favorite part. Sorry it took so long to get here – but you didn’t want a shortcut anyway, did you?

Strategy #5 – Trigger Emotions That Drive Behavior

What if I told you that “95 percent of our purchase decision making takes place in the subconscious mind”?

If you’re stuck in the “Copy Roulette” mindset, you might spend precious hours on hunting down “tricks” on how to get in touch with that subconscious mind.

Tsk, tsk. What a shame.

To think and write like a therapist, understand behavioral models – like this one, a fascinating “Behavior Model for Persuasive Design” by Stanford’s BJ Fogg:

“Behavior is a product of three factors: motivation, ability, and triggers, each of which has subcomponents.

The FBM asserts that for a person to perform a target behavior, he or she must

(1) be sufficiently motivated,

(2) have the ability to perform the behavior, and

(3) be triggered to perform the behavior.

These three factors must occur at the same moment, else the behavior will not happen.”

Your copy can realistically only address 2 of the 3 factors: Motivation and Triggers.

Motivation, however, cannot be magically conjured up, but only “channeled”.

Copywriting master the late Eugene Schwartz put it this way:

“The power, the force, the overwhelming urge to own that makes advertising work, comes from the market itself, and not from the copy.

Copy cannot create desire for a product.

It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears and desires that already exist in the hearts of millions of people, and focus those already existing desires onto a particular product.

This is the copywriter’s task: not to create this mass desire — but to channel and direct it.”

Your copy has to focus and channel pre-existing motivation.

(Good news: your potential buyers are buyers because they have that pre-existing motivation and desire).

So, it’s about triggering the behavior – but how?

Make use of emotional triggers, primarily. Why? Because according to neuroscience, our decisions are emotional, not logical. And functional MRI neuro-imagery has shown that, when evaluating purchases, you primarily use emotions and later you rationalize your choice…

…And positive emotions toward a product or brand have greater influence on your loyalty than trust does. (Amazing, right?!)

Now, the exact emotions that will have the greatest impact on behavior depend on your customer, product and market. No emotion swipes, no feeling shortcuts.

As an example, what if you got this letter in the mail one day:

Emotional triggers with a Bill Jayme letter

Who could resist such a headline?

“Psychological test & free offer” only adds to the intrigue.

This mailer was created by copywriter Bill Jayme, who also popularized the now-sales-letter-staple, “Dear Reader”.

Biggest takeaway for you? Having empathy for your readers increases your chances of making a sale.

(Therapy will teach you that. Swipe files won’t.)

You’ll find plenty of different ways to use and categorize emotions, but here’s a model that works really well for copywriting purposes: Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion.

Plutchick's Wheel of Emotion

Plutchick’s Wheel of Emotion, not to be confused with an emotional rollercoaster

In that wheel, you can see a change in intensity and degree of feeling as you move closer to the middle. You want your copy to “move” people and bring them on an emotional journey – a story, of sorts.

But, you don’t need to worry about triggering uncontrollable, raging emotions.

Even some of the most common emotions we feel daily can be prompted and used for persuasion.

In fact, with emotions involved, we end up persuading ourselves. And that kind of persuasion is more powerful than anything else.

So, how do you elicit the right emotions that will help you get a click or purchase?

Yup, you guessed it: Words. Phrases. Sentences.


Firebox uses emotion-inducing product descriptions:

Emotional copywriting - isn't this cute?

And this additional description sets the tone with all the feels:

Copywriting with all the "feels", right?

See what they’re doing? The “merciless chills of winter”, “clutch onto a smelly hot water bottle that’ll be cold in less than an hour” and the “toasty solution has popped up”, which you can “snuggle and squeeze”, keeping you “cosy”.

You can practically taste, smell, feel and see this product. And feel yourself using it.

We’ll continue with this in just a minute, but pay attention to this:

All emotions are not equally persuasive

Research by Jonah Berger shows that high arousal emotions stimulate us into action.

(You know, when you can feel it in your gut or chest, maybe even a flash of heat on your forehead).

Conversely, low arousal emotions discourage action. We can’t have that.

Let’s look at 10 emotions you can tap into to get your users to act.

10 Emotions You Can Trigger For Maximum Persuasion

  1. Desire: When you write copy that presents products and services that helps fulfill various desires, you’ve struck gold.
  2. Trust: Copy that stimulates trust, such as “no hidden fees” or “total and 100% transactional transparency”, speak to this trigger. Make sure the trust-triggering messages are placed next to CTAs and in bold or italics so they’re easily visible.
  3. Belonging: Copy that makes people feel that they’re part of a select group can be very effective. Most people enjoy a sense of belonging – and the more exclusive, the better.
  4. Instant Gratification: People want quick solutions and they mostly want it all yesterday. Use instant gratification triggers such as ‘in two hours or less’ or ‘within 24 hours’ and so on in your copy.
  5. Leadership: For the right person, like early-adopters, messages about being the first to try something new can be highly effective. Spark their feelings related to leadership with cleverly worded copy such as ‘be the first to try our new program’ or ‘be the first to own this car’ work to trigger leadership-related emotions.
  6. Love: The need for love is constant and people seldom find long-term solutions to fulfill this need. Can your product or service help them experience love, from family, friends or even from co-workers?
  7. Greed: Consider a message that says, ‘Here’s how you can make millions with no investment’. Does that not appeal to the greed in you? Exactly. No need to be crude, of course.
  8. Hope: Hope is what drives the human spirit to look for solutions and push forward even when things look bleak. When you offer solutions that will help improve lives, health, relationships or careers, use hope as the emotional trigger in your headlines, cross-heads and body copy.
  9. Fear: When fear grips a person, rationality is pushed aside, making the person susceptible to quick decisions. When fear is the trigger, people are already ready to take action. All you need to achieve with your copy is to suggest which action to take.
  10. Guilt: Look at nonprofit organizations. They trigger guilt with copy and pictures of starving kids and barren landscapes to get you to donate. Certain consumers feel hugely gratified when they respond to guilt-triggering messages.

That should be enough of a start to help you immediately up the ante in your writing.

Could a swipe file teach you this? Nope. If you stare long enough, you might guess what’s happening. But copy based on guessing doesn’t convert. And conversion copywriters don’t guess.

With all that said, what do you actually do with WORDS?

You’re Now Ready To Tackle The Nuts and Bolts of Copywriting: Words

If you start and stop with the endless lists of tactics, simply swapping words around and playing “Copy Roulette”…

  • You’ll never rise above the paltry 2% conversion rates
  • Your SaaS onboarding sequence will just be an “info pump ‘n dump” scheme that fails to engage your users
  • Your home page will remain a jumbled mess of a street vendor, throwing cheap trinkets at people to see what they might like
  • And those lofty, pumped up revenue goals will deflate, petering out with a pathetic “pfffffft…”

Nope. Not gonna have it. You deserve better.

So, when you take a moment and think about this like a therapist might, which is to…

  • Use language and words that resonate and trigger actions and reactions
  • Feel like they’re understood and understand you
  • Get to know, like and trust you
  • And finally, compel them to take action

You’ll get better at turning up the emotional volume of your words, like:

Happy > Overjoyed

Satisfied > Thrilled

Prohibited > Outlawed

There’s usually several degrees, from low- to high-intensity, that you can explore with your copy.

Let’s explore a couple tactics you can use for amplifying emotion in your copy.

Tactic #1: Find the Right Emotional Words For Your Customers

Shanelle Mullin over at ConversionXL has a list of 8 steps you can take to start identifying the emotions your potential customers will respond to:

  • Conduct qualitative research to better understand your audience. What’s their emotional range? What are they feeling when they arrive on your site? 
  • Select a font that helps encourage the emotion you’re looking to create or maintain.
  • Choose the two or three colors that will create or maintain your emotion of choice. Use them consistently in your branding.
  • Evaluate your current images. What emotions are they evoking? The answer is never “none”.
  • Be aware of facial expressions, size, color, body language, etc. in your images.
  • When possible, make an emotional appeal and present an emotional benefit.
  • Repeat trigger words throughout your copy to inspire and maintain the right emotion(s).
  • Craft a story with a protagonist and a beginning, a middle and an end.

You can, of course, do some of this by finding words, language and messaging ideas from places like Amazon and TripAdvisor.

And if you need to brush up on where stellar messages come from, get this guide for free.

But now that you have done that, and you’ve picked out images and visuals that evoke the emotions your customers are seeking…

How can you actually turn this into copy?

Tactic #2: Apply The Wheel of Words

This wheel of words (combined with Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion above) may come in handy next time you need to amplify your words:

Wheel of Emotional Words

With all these wheels, you’ll be able to drive more conversions. Har har.

Let’s say you’re selling a weight-loss program and your research gave you insight into words used by your customers:

  • Before buying your weight-loss program, they felt “depressed” over their weight, “guilty” that they couldn’t stop eating junk food, and “ashamed” of themselves.
    • Look at the “sad” and even “disgusted” slice of the wheel.
  • When using your weight-loss program, they feel “amazed”, “excited” and even “astonished” that it worked so well.
    • Look at the “surprised” slice of the wheel.
  • They want to feel “proud” and “confident” of achieving their desired weight-loss goals.
    • Look at the “happy” slice of the wheel.

See how many more options you have with words you can use?

You can then spin up a lot more ads or headlines that capture attention with words like:

“Are you plagued by disapproving comments and judgmental looks from even strangers, when you just can’t say no to that full pint of ice cream?”


“Would you rather be startled over the fat that’s melting away every day, than nauseated after every meal?”

Can you see how using words of varying degrees of intensity can help you trigger stronger emotions with your potential customers?

Isn’t that kinduv amazing. That copy just wrote itself.

The whole point, of course, is not just to sprinkle random “emotion” words around. That’s the “Copy Roulette” mentality you and I have already talked about.

Instead, sift and plant your words strategically, like a therapist would in a session, to draw out responses, nods and silent yesses from your potential customers.

So, how can you amplify these words and make use of them?

Tactic #3: Use This Easy 3-Step Process to Write Copy that Makes People Feel

Each time you sit down to write a page, consider this 3-step process, from Bushra Azhar (of Persuasion Revolution), with a giant list of about 380 words.

3-Step exercise for using emotional words

With this simple 3-step process in mind, use this exercise:

  1. Desired Action: Start a Free Trial of your SaaS
  2. Emotional State(s) to Drive Action: Excited, Urgency (that your software can and will solve their problem and meet their needs)
  3. Words to Use: Instant relief, eliminate hours, slash wasteful spending, control chaos

So, you might start with:

FleetBuddy helps you easily manage your fleet operations.

Start your free trial now!

Pretty standard. And pretty boring.

But given your exercise above, you could turn that into this:

Control the chaos of fleet management with FleetBuddy.

Finally, get instant relief from the stress of servicing your fleet when you sign up today for a free trial. You’ll collaborate more effectively with your team, eliminate hours of sifting through piles of printed spreadsheets and slash wasteful spending on fuel.

Start Your Free 14 Day Trial

If you’re someone who’s flailing around with spreadsheets and trying to manage a fleet of vehicles, you’re most likely very excited about this, and feeling a sense of urgency to try it out.

The first option was okay but a bit bland. The second, after we put it through our exercise, is bursting with emotion-inducing language, priming your reader for conversion. <<– that’s how great copy happens

Tactic #4: Use These Power Words

If you still need some recommendations to jolt your creativity, consider using these proven, high-converting terms:

So many words that convert

And our friends over at CoSchedule compiled a massive collection of “500+ Powerful Words To Use For Writing Emotional Headlines” if you want some more.

Pretty strong words, no?

A word of warning: Don’t let these examples collect dust on your hard drive! I’m only handing you these swipe files now because you’re ready for it; you know they need to fit into a strategy.

Finally, use this last tactic to X-ray copy that you see others using, and learn why they wrote their copy that way.

Tactic #5: Reverse-Engineer Copy

This is one step beyond just piling up swipe files, and truly thinking like a therapist: You understand where someone is now, and work your way back to how they got there.

Let’s look at the YouNeedABudget.com (YNAB) home page and how they use a particular vocabulary throughout:

YouNeedABudget.com home page copywriting

You’ll notice a few things right away, like “Gain”, “Total Control” and “breaking” the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck.

(As a side-note, you can appreciate the “34 days” pattern interrupt, too).

The page continues with:

More copywriting goodness from YNAB

See the underlines? It’s not just “less stress” but “your stress levels will plummet and you’ll feel “financial peace.

Moving on to:

And even MORE copywriting goodness from YNAB

Are you seeing this? It’s really cool when you put on your “Copy Therapy X-Ray Glasses” and see the word matrix:

Your money has a “job” > It’ll do the work of saving and spending for you.

And it’s “dialed in” > You’re spending money wisely and with precision, preventing accidents.

When you “embrace” your expenses, you “smooth out” cash flow > No more fighting with your money (what a relief!), you’ll make up and become best friends.

Say “goodbye financial roller coaster” > No fear pounding in your chest, making it hard to breathe; everything will be just fine.

You’ll “roll with the punches” and get back on “track” > No one likes taking a financial beating but if something comes up, you can duck and dodge and get things straightened out again.

Finally, “age your money”, no more “paycheck cycle” with a “plan” > See? Your money is now a source of wisdom, relief and strength. No more confusion or stress. It’s taken care of.

That’s the power of identifying and using emotional power words and phrases in copywriting.

Dear Friend, It’s Time For Us To End Our Session
(Chances are, it’s been at least 60 minutes.)

As you sit up straight again, take a moment to breathe in. And out.

Can you see how the “Copy Roulette” mentality has sabotaged your home pages, ads, emails, landing pages… everything?

All those times you’ve opened a blank document, your mind filled to the brim with possibilities of what to write…… only to stare into the white abyss, cursing the unforgiving blinking cursor, which is slapping you in the face with each flicker.

But it’s not your fault.

You’ve been given the right tactics and the right ideas but were withheld the strategies that tied it all together. It’s so easy to get pulled into the “horder itch” and snag every listicle and “swipe file” in sight.

And while you must study successful copywriting and have a swipe file library, don’t allow that to become a crippling crutch that trips you up each time you sit down to write copy.

Think like a therapist. You’re “coaching the outcome”, the click, the visitor becoming a lead, and that lead opening their wallet to buy.

The bottom line: writing excellent copy is hard as hell.

You can’t outsource it to some swipefile by cutting and pasting something that worked for someone else, some other business, and think it’ll magically work for you too.

You have to listen to YOUR audience. Build a relationship with them by making them feel understood.

Reflect back to them what they’re already feeling through emotional language.

And then make sure your offer is so aligned with what they want that they can’t help but say, “Hell yes!”

This was originally published by Sam on CopyHackers