By Amanda MacArthur • 08/06/2014
Today’s multiplatform publishing requires online copywriting skills that borrow from the print world, but also address larger issues
If you’re an experienced direct response copywriter, you know that “you” is generally considered to be the most powerful single word, ranking right up there with free, new and save.
As direct marketing legend Herschell Gordon Lewis says in The Art of Writing Copy, “Unless the reader regards himself as the target of your message, benefit can’t exist. Benefit demands a ‘We/You’ relationship.”
Among Mr. Lewis’s other favorite copywriting power words:
- free gift
- limited time
- right now
- first time offered
- not sold in stores
- good only until [DATE]
- Don’t miss out
- I’ll look for your order
- Try it at our risk
Online copywriting borrows from magazine covers
Today’s online copywriters are a hybrid of journalist and marketer, employing the best skills of both crafts. We—and I include myself in this group of online copywriting hybrids—have broader concerns that inform and influence the words we choose.
They boil down to two fundamental questions:
- What are the keywords that web surfers use to arrive at your website?
- What words in email subject lines trigger the highest open rates?
Here’s a list of copywriting power words used by one of our former clients who was so successful, the company was eventually sold to F + W Media. These words were posted on the office walls, and were used interchangeably for newsstand magazine cover lines, promotional copy, and email subject lines:
- Hot Special
- How to
The list was compiled by Curtis Circulation Company, a leading national newsstand distributor of magazines, and Linda Ruth of Publishers Single Copy Sales Services, by studying best-selling magazine covers.
Used judiciously in online copywriting, power words can grab a reader’s attention and help communicate and persuade. But they are not a substitute for formal structure. Good online copywriting requires an orderly format that moves the reader along to a purchase decision.
Power words can be, well, powerful, but they do not work without context. Power words in online copywriting need to be used in cooperation with all of the other tools in the copywriter’s bag of tricks.
The experts also recommend using the Email Subject Line Tester to help develop effective, compelling subject lines that withstand sophisticated SPAM filters.
We also like CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer …
… and the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer from the Advanced Marketing Institute.
The writers we know, including our own Lead Copywriter, Mary Van Doren, also love the Google Keyword Planner. Writers can use it to find out which related words and phrases users are typing into search engines to find content, often delivering phrases derived from a copywriting power word you wouldn’t have thought of.
For instance, if you type the last word on the above list, create, into the Keyword Planner, one of the interesting results is create your own. A writer could certainly use that phrase in a subject line or in any online copywriting job.
Also, be sure to study Google Analytics to find out which terms consumers are using to get to your website, and use those liberally.
This article was originally published in 2012 and has been updated.
Posted in Audience Development Strategy