Writing content for the web is all about connecting with your audience. Making some form of impact on them. Whether that’s to get them to do something (subscribe to email list, social media sharing, etc) or to educate and inform them.
Writing has traditionally been seen as more of an art rather than a science. Based upon form, rhythm rather than efficacy…
But when it comes to written web content, it has intent and purpose. A desired result. A scientific precision. This concept of writing is known as Copywriting.
What Is Copywriting?
I like to think of copywriting as “the science of writing”. It helps me to interpret it in a more mathematical, logical framework. Though the truth is that it’s both an art and a science.
So what is the definition of copywriting? Let’s look at what various sources of credibility say.
“Copywriting is the skill – and field of work – where people write sales promotions and other marketing materials for products, services, fundraising campaigns, etc.
It’s the craft of writing persuasive messages that prompt people to take action (buy something, enquire about a service, download a free eBook, donate to a cause, etc.)”
A great, thorough definition.
Copyblogger puts it simply…
“Copywriting is the art and science of strategically delivering words (whether written or spoken) that get people to take some form of action”
FYI – Copy is written text. Why it’s referred to as that I’m not really sure. It’s not important really, but here’s a Quora post that supposedly details the origins.
Copywriting vs. Content Marketing
The difference between copywriting and content marketing is important to detail. Copywriting refers to sales letters, landing pages, funnels, direct mail. Comparatively content marketing can be blog posts, informative articles, podcasts, email marketing.
In that same article they also make an essential point. The same point I am making in this post.
Copywriting helps content marketing.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to sell something, or simply educate and inform. Copywriting is the basis for drawing, attracting the readers attention…
And the more you know about copywriting, the better off your content marketing will be.
Here are 5 tried and tested copywriting principles I use to make persuasive content.
Copywriting Principle #1 – Scientific Proof
Empirical evidence is gospel. In the 21st century digital age, science is God… And to question God?
It’s more than just social proof in effect. It’s an unmatched level of authority. An authority that is less attached with individuals or organizations, but rather a concept. A process.
The scientific process.
Now not all research is good. Not all scientific conclusions are accurate.
People will believe science in blind faith because of the “Appeal to Authority” logical fallacy.
Science in its purest form is about questioning everything. A base level of skepticism.
Carl Sagan wrote this about science and it’s authoritative power.
“One of the great commandments of science is, “mistrust arguments from authority”. … Too many such arguments have proved too painfully wrong. Authorities must prove their contentions like everybody else.”
Doctors used to appear on smoking advertisements. A doctor approving of smoking? It must be healthy!
Any level-headed critical thinker will vet claims, but most people won’t.
IMPORTANT: I am not advocating the use of bad research. That is lying. I advocate using good studies. Good research. I am advocating ethics. I only endorse, reference something I believe in.
You should too. Take advantage of the persuasive powers of scientific proof. But be credible. Maintain ethics. That congruency and authenticity will speak to your audience.
FUN FACT: Did you know the original Google algorithm (PageRank) was based on references in academia? The idea was based on the observation and assumption that the studies referenced the most, were most likely the best.
Science as a system of authority is extremely powerful. A tool of persuasion. It can and is often used for dubious means. Politicized. Weaponized.
Use it right. Here’s how…
Utilizing the persuasive power of scientific proof in web content is quite simple. Whether that web content is a sales letter, blog post or even a video… The main point is to present it in a format that is easily understood.
In my blog posts and articles I will hyperlink the study, and extract a quote that supports whatever point I am trying to make. The quote will be blown up editorial style. This is called a pull quote.
It’s a way to break up chunks of text and make things easier to read. You want to make it as easy to understand your scientific proof. Your persuasive dynamite.
Here’s an example.
I also use graphs and infographics available as another way to display scientific proof. Images are easier to interpret. An easier form of content to consume. More on that later…
Here’s an example of a graph in one of my posts.
Here’s another example.
Remember, to take full advantage of the persuasive power of scientific proof, it needs to be easy to understand. Don’t quote the methodology. Your readers don’t have time. Just the conclusion, the result.
Copywriting Principle #2 – Authoritative Approval
This principle is similar to the first, but has more to do with individuals, companies, figures opposed to science and research. Based on opinions and personal beliefs.
The persuasion of information oftens hinges not on the actual intel, but where it’s coming from. Even if it might be wrong, people will believe it if it comes from authority.
Authority is credibility.
Even though we know authority can and often does lie… We still believe them most of the time.
I am not advocating lying here. I advise strongly against fake news.
I wouldn’t quote or look for authoritative approval from a fraud. Neither should you.
You want be associated, and approved by credible individuals. You want to reference and quote credible authority.
In the copywriting world, authoritative approval is achieved through various means. It depends on what copywriting content is being produced.
Here’s an example.
This is a long form sales page for a copywriting program. Notice the authoritative testimonial in the green box.
You can read the whole sales letter here. It’s a really good one. Lots to learn from analyzing it.
Here’s another example. A stem cell treatment ad. Notice the quote of approval from Dr. Lewis M Feder highlighted in the red box.
But how do we use the copywriting principle of authoritative approval for content marketing?
The principles will be the same. It’s just not going to be in the format of a testimonial. It will look different, but still harness the power of authority.
You’re not selling something remember, with content marketing you’re informing, educating.
You are referencing someone of authority, and showing how they believe or do what you are saying. What you are educating your readers. You could call it indirect authoritative approval.. In a nutshell it’s like this.
“Hey look at [insert credible source]. He believes/does the same as me/what I’m telling you.”
The practical application is slightly different than scientific proof. With scientific proof you’re referencing studies, research, statistics.
Here you are quoting opinions, beliefs, displaying case studies. Things not tied to science, or objective statistical conclusions.
Just like the first principle, I will quote, hyperlink and sometimes use a screenshot. For the same reasons of increased readability. Making the content easy to consume. Easy to understand.
An example of me quoting SEO software company Moz’s definition of Schema Markup/Structured Data.
Sometimes I’ll use a screenshot image in the same fashion. Here’s a definition of onboarding (recruitment industry term) straight from the Collins dictionary.
Sometimes I will just hyperlink to a person of authority and some example of what they say or do. It’s another way to mix it up.
It also has some SEO benefits. In the early days of SEO linking to other people was considered bad practice. You’d give up “link juice”.
This is no longer the case. Google wants you to reference other people. Just like academic studies. True to the original intent of PageRank.
WordPress SEO plugin RankMath checks for outbound links.
Here’s an example of me outbound linking successful marketer Neil Patel.
Here’s me combining outbound linking and blown up pull quotes.
Similar to harnessing the persuasive power of scientific proof, but slightly different. You will not always be able to find studies, statistics and research for topics. This is the next best strategy.
Like anything else, don’t overuse it, use it ethically. It is another tool in your arsenal.
Copywriting Principle #3 – Length Implies Strength
I’ve written before about the seo benefits of longer form content. It consistently outperforms shorter pieces.
But did you know longer copy is perceived as more credible?
When an article, or post is long, people instinctively think it’s in-depth. Thorough. Expert.
The phenomenon is called the Length Implies Strength Heuristic.
Detailed in this 2008 study.
“A long message carries with it the length cue, which at a glance can cue the “length implies strength” heuristic, leading to the conclusion that the message is strong – a conclusion drawn without taking into consideration the actual content of the message.”
This phenomenon is a subset of the Heuristic-Systematic Model of Persuasion. It is based on the idea that people interpret and analyze information in 2 ways
1. Careful critical analysis (systematic processing)
2. Instinctive presumption (heuristic processing)
Heuristic processing provides an economic advantage by requiring less mental resources.
Long sales letters have historically outperformed short sales letters. Part of this has to do with the Length Implies Strength heuristic.
This is a pretty simple implementation. Just write longer content. But don’t write lots of words just for the sake of it. You still want to create high quality, informative content that will resonate with your audience.
Remember, in 2019 user experience is the number one search engine algorithm factor. Backlinks generated through organic means. Not blackhat link building techniques.
WordPress SEO plugin RankMath has a content length criteria. Here’s their guide on content length.
Write long, informative content and you’ll reap SEO benefits. You will also enjoy the persuasive power from the Length Implies Strength heuristic phenomenon.
Copywriting Principle #4 – Color Psychology
There is a reason why we write on white paper with black, blue or red ink. There is a reason why white background and black text is universal on the web. It might appear common sense, but once upon a time it was not.
We use these specific colors because it’s most effective. A long time ago copywriters did tests on print advertising material to find out what colors worked, and which did not. I first read about these tests in “Scientific Advertising”.
Persuasion is all about emotion. Color creates a huge emotional response. Larger than any text, image or video ever will. Colors define mood and incites reaction. Two vital aspects that make color psychology a key copywriting principle.
Although this may be the case, every individual is unique. Everyone interprets colors differently according to the literature. Some factors that might alter color perception include;
1. Past Experiences
4. Natural Environment
Although there is individual variation at play, there are generally accepted color emotive responses.
Here’s a general guide based on research.
Color psychology plays a massive role in modern advertising. Research shows that different colors affect consumer preference and ultimately purchasing culture. Color has a major influence on consumer decision.
In the copywriting world, color psychology is heavily utilized. It plays an integral part in sales letters. Here are some examples.
This is a 2006 sales letter from Neil Strauss. He has opened with a strong message of exclusivity in blown up red font.
The red color matches the content of the message, urgency, excitement, energy. A textbook example of color psychology usage in copywriting.
Here is another sales letter example.
Color is also used to increase conversion and click-through rate. In this sales letter the purchase button is colored orange to increase alertness and suggest confidence.
The use of color psychology is really straight forward when it comes to copywriting. An expertise that revolves around using words to incite action. The emotive power of color is a powerful tool in their arsenal.
But how can we use it for content marketing?
We are not trying to sell something. We are informing. Educating through free valuable content. Building our brand, so that we can push our readers to become leads, and eventually customers. Content marketing is at the top of the inbound sales funnel.
So here are some ways to use color psychology for content marketing.
Email optin forms will be used at the end of content to build email lists. They will be enticed with free value content like guides or programs. Using the right color psychology tactics can help draw readers attention to the form.
Infographics are a fantastic way to display information such as statistics or research. Use a color that fits the information presented, and your content overall.
Hyperlinks, Quotes, Text
Hyperlinks can often be the same color as your website brand. I have blue in my design and my hyperlinks are blue. Neil Patel has an orange color design and his hyperlinks follow suite.
This isn’t a huge deal, and seems standard on most website designs. This is really a whole different topic (website design).
On my site this also extends to quotes.
Lastly you can use different colors in the actual text.
Like bold font, it is a way to emphasize a point. The color aspect brings another element of psychology into play. As shown above, copywriters utilize color psychology heavily in sales letters.
However it needs to make sense. Just like bold font you can overdo it. I see lots of writers make these mistakes today, under the guise of “unique writing style”. The problem is it can take away from the flow of reading.
Use in moderation, in the right context, and use the right colors according to color psychology.
Copywriting Principle #5 – White Space Design
How you present your content, is just as important as the copy/text itself. I personally feel you shouldn’t separate the two tasks as there is lots of synergy. Copywriters and designers need to be on the same page.
So with that out of the way, let’s talk about one of the core design principles, white space design.
White space design is the empty (white) space between content (text, graphics, figures, etc). It can also be referred to as negative space.
Here’s a more thorough definition from the Wikipedia page.
“In page layout, illustration and sculpture, white space is often referred to as negative space. It is the portion of a page left unmarked: margins, gutters and space between columns, lines of type, graphics, figures, or objects drawn or depicted.”
If it still doesn’t make sense to you, here’s some examples of good and bad white space practice.
Notice the larger white space margins between the gray boxes on the left.
There are two categories of ‘White Space’.
- Macro White Space
The white space between major page and layout elements. This type of white space enhances page structure and overall feel. Google utilizes a high degree of macro white space. This creates a clutter-free psychological feel.
- Micro White Space
The white space that is found in, around and between the smaller page elements. These include paragraphs, lines, images, etc. This type of white space effects content readability, altering the reader’s speed and comprehension.
Why should you utilize white space design principles? What are the benefits?
A 2018 chinese study looked at the effect of white space on smartphone content consumption. They broke the white space variables into;
- Line spacing
- Paragraph spacing
- Page spacing
The study found that;
- All 3 when optimized improved reading speed
- Page spacing and line spacing improved comfort and aesthetic appeal
- Paragraph spacing did not improve effortlessness, comfort, aesthetic appeal, and preference
They concluded that;
“Appropriate use of white space would increase user performance and satisfaction on reading text on smartphones..”
So there is empirical evidence for utilizing white space design. It’s simply going to make your content perform better with readers.
Here are some good examples of white space design in effect.
This is a famous 1960 print advertisement for Rolls-Royce by renowned copywriter David Ogilvy. Notice the white space between all the different sizes of copy and images.
For another type of content, here’s a checkout page on female fashion company Victoria Secret.
It’s a universal design principle that can be applied to any form of content. I consider it a copywriting principle because it has had such fundamental roots in print advertising.
Claude C Hopkins wrote about it in “Scientific Advertising” AKA the bible of advertising.
I personally copied much of my post design elements off of Medium.com. Here is what Medium’s posts look like.
For me, the main white space design elements I noticed and duplicated from Medium were
- The space between lines of text
- The space between paragraphs/images/content
- The space on either side of the text
I edited these things manually on WordPress via Divi Theme builder. I had to also take into account best practices for font size and line length.
However the easiest way is to just use a predesigned minimalist blog post layout.
Dashboard > Appearance > Themes > Add New
Here’s an example of one I quickly searched for.
Looks good to me.
ALSO: Best line length practice will be somewhere between 45-70 characters, depending on expert opinion.
Copywriting is a powerful tool for content marketing. We often stick the two into rigidly defined categories, not knowing they can have great synergistic benefits. Writing is writing, regardless of the intent and purpose. There is a desired response. Copywriting is the study of response.
Knowing the specific principles copywriters utilize to persuade people into buying is invaluable knowledge. I have outlined in detail 5 copywriting principles and how to implement them into your content strategy.
Taking advantage of this information will provide serious benefits to your content marketing.
Lars Erik Larson is a digital marketer based out of Perth, Western Australia. He specializes in writing long-form B2B Marketing Blog posts that build brand and rank highly on Google. Lars runs Wordsmith Method, a content marketing business targeting small businesses and startups.