Beyond SEO Copywriting

A checklist for copywriting with credibility and maximum persuasion

Don Nicholas, Chris Sturk and I have all been beating the drum recently about the importance of creating SEO copywriting with rich, keyword phrases, and about obtaining quality incoming links from other highly ranked websites.

Keyword phrases and incoming links are essential to your copywriting success, without a doubt.

But wait, there’s more…

Today, I’m urging you to think about the other factors that make an online sales letter persuasive and effective. Or as Chester Bowles, of the now defunct Benton & Bowles advertising agency, once said, “It’s not creative unless it sells something.”

Here’s my personal checklist for copywriting with credibility and maximum persuasion.

1. Check for customer-centeredness.

•    Who is the customer?

•    What pain is she in?

•    Why does she buy?

•    How do you know?

•    Is the copy centered on the prospective customer? Does it use the word “you” as often as it should?

•    What is the big promise that the product offers the customer?

•    What are you really trying to sell?

•    What is the major gratification for downloading/owning this information product?

2. Check for logical organization.

•    Is the copy organized so that the reader can easily browse the page to get a sense of the content?

•    Does the copy anticipate and answer the customer’s questions?

•    Does the copy have a very clear call to action that tells the customer specifically what to do next?

•    Are there limited — perhaps two — choices?

•    Have you made it easy for the customer to order?

3. Check for story and metaphors.

•    Does the copy tell an interesting, engaging or amusing story or anecdote that serves as a metaphor for the product or the customer?

•    Can you create a story and add it?

4.  Check for social proof or consensus.

•    Are the product and the signatory credible and believable?

•    Does the letter include success stories or anecdotes?

•    Does the letter cite others who have used the product?

•    Does the letter need testimonials?

•    Does it use anxiety to threaten social isolation? Example: “Don’t be left behind…left out…miss the train…”

5.  Check for authority.

•    What are the signatory’s credentials?

•    Does the letter explain who the signatory is, what the company’s experience is, and why they have authority and credibility?

•    Degrees? Experience? Rank? Position? Fame? Celebrity?

6. Check for a genuine scarcity factor.

•    Is there an ethical way to create a sense of urgency or scarcity?

•    Uniqueness? Deadline for taking action? Limited quantity?

7. Check for reciprocity opportunities.

•    Does the letter cite the value-added the writer has created, gifts she has made, or free services she has performed for the reader or for society?

•    Does the letter imply that the recipient is obligated to reciprocate by downloading the report or subscribing to the free newsletter?


8. Check for commitment and consistency.

•    Does the letter appeal to the reader’s previous actions? Is there an ethical, “if you …” and “then you …” proposition that urges the reader to believe or take action in a way that maintains his congruency?

•    Does it urge consistency in an already demonstrated behavior?

Example: “If you’re a writer, editor, website designer, or publisher of any kind, you know the challenges of marketing information products on the Internet. In the past, you’ve turned to the Mequoda Group for cutting edge guidance and online resources. That’s why I know you’re going to want attend the Mequoda Summit…”

9.  Check for empathy.

•    Does the letter create rapport or engender empathy?

•    Does it offer friendship, kinship, brotherhood?

•    Is the writer pleasant and likeable?

Example: “If you think SEO programs are all “smoke and mirrors,” you’re not alone. If previous SEO training classes have left you disappointed, disillusioned and frustrated, you have a right to be skeptical…”

10. Check for “rational armament.”

•    Does the copy provide sufficient reasons why the customer should buy?

Remember, people make their buying decisions based on emotions, but they need to justify (rationalize) their decisions with reasons.

11. Check the letter’s language for at least three kinds of sensory appeal.

•    Does the language of the letter, especially the order forms, use words that appeal to three kinds of readers — those who are primarily visual, primarily auditory and primarily kinesthetic?

Examples: Do you see what I mean? Have you heard it all before? How do you feel about this?

•    What about using words that appeal to readers who are primarily olfactory or gustatory? Does this smell fishy to you? Do you want to chew over the idea before deciding?

Good housekeeping checklist

•    Check spelling.

•    Check for consistent style. Example: email vs. e-mail, etc.

•    Check all hypertext links and button copy for benefit-laden call to action.

Example: [link]Yes, I want prize-winning azaleas.[/link]

•    Read aloud. Does the copy sound as though it is being spoken by a real person? Is it warm? Friendly? Reassuring? Remove or rewrite any commands that sound threatening or scolding.

•    Put aside for at least an hour — overnight is better.

•    Reread. Rewrite. Re-edit.

Resources for further reading

This is my short list — and the top shelf — of my library on persuasion. There are many additional books and worthy authors, of course, but in my model of the world, these are the crème de la crème.

Influence: Science and Practice (5th Edition) by Robert B. Cialdini. Formerly (and much better) titled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping–Updated and Revised for the Internet, the Global Consumer, and Beyond by Paco Underhill

Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer

The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do by Clotaire Rapaille

7 Secrets of Marketing in a Multi-Cultural World by Clotaire Rapaille

How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market by Gerald Zaltman

The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes by Margaret Mark, Carol Pearson, and Carol S. Pearson

The Ultimate Sales Letter: Attract New Customers. Boost Your Sales by Dan S. Kennedy


Peter A. Schaible is Mequoda’s Chief Copywriter. For more of his unique perspective on copywriting, you can subscribe to his complimentary series on Targeting Your Prospective Customer by Type: How to Position Your Brand to Trigger an Emotional Response, available at No obligation. No upsell.



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