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How to Choose the Right Words to Connect, Engage, and Sell

sparkling sunshine You’re writing, and writing, and writing.

But something is amiss.

Sure, your brain is full of words. But they all seem wrong.

Your text sounds either naff or bland. You can’t find the right words to express your ideas.

Ever wondered whether there’s a secret to engaging your readers with the right words? And sell your products with seductive phrases?

4 simple rules exist that help you choose words for a persuasive sentence.

Rule 1: Pick words your readers use

Often we want to embellish things.

We try to make our products or services more special, more beautiful than the simple truth. But fancy and complicated words can muddle the meaning of our content. They may slow our reader down, or worse: our reader might just ignore our words.

Want to persuade your reader to do something?

Your first job is to make him feel you’re talking with him. In his language.

Web visitors are in a hurry; and they know what they’re looking for. Use the same phrases they use and they know immediately they’re in the right place.

Are your clients aliens who love to chat with a world-class IT solutions provider?

Great!

But if you deal with mere mortal beings, you might simply state: IT support for small businesses.

When you next receive an email from a potential client, pay attention to the words they use to ask for a quote. What is it they’re looking for? When you next discuss a project on the phone, notice how your client formulates his questions or comments.

Join the conversation that’s already going on in your reader’s head. Use the phrases he’s using. You can use jargon – but only if your reader actively uses the same jargon.

Remember who you’re writing for.

Rule 2: Choose precise words

Use a thesaurus to inspire your writing, but beware: so-called synonyms often have a slightly different meaning.

Let’s look at an example …

She struggled to write her next blog post is a rather bland sentence.

A thesaurus suggests these alternatives for struggling: slaving over, fighting hard, or working like a dog. Each of these phrases is stronger and more precise than struggling, but each has a different connotation:

  1. She slaved over her blog post, reviewing her sentences one by one.
  2. She fought hard with her demons to write her most inspirational post ever.
  3. All day she worked like a dog on her blog post; at 2am she finally finished editing.

To convey your message, you need to pick exactly the right word with exactly the right connotation.

Rule 3: Choose sensory words

The most powerful words are sensory words, because they make your reader see, hear, smell, taste, or feel something.

When you’re reading non-sensory words, your brain processes text. But when you read sensory words – like bland or sickly sweet, dazzling or silky smooth – different areas of your brain light up.

Your brain processes sensory words as if you taste a bland or sickly sweet cake, as if you see a dazzling display of colors, as if you feel a rough texture. Sensory words make your copy more memorable and persuasive, because they require more brain processing power than ordinary words.

In his book How to Write a Damn Good Novel James N. Frey mentions motion as another sense. By using active words or describing movement, you help your readers experience your copy, too.

Let’s have a look at the 3 sentences again, and see how we can make them more sensory:

  • She slaved over her blog post, polishing each sentence and fine-tuning each word.
  • She fought her demons and silenced them to write her most inspirational post ever.
  • The curtains were drawn. The house was quiet. At 1am she heaved a deep sigh and sat down to edit her blog post.

Research has proven that touching a product increases your desire to own it (pdf). To seduce your web visitor to buy from you, appeal to their senses. Use sensory words to let them imagine holding your product or working with you.

Your service doesn’t need to be a sensory experience – you can blow away your audience with your vibrant presentation; you can coach your clients to feel calm during hectic days; you can provide an app that seamlessly integrates with other apps.

Rule 4: Make each word relevant

Is less always more?

Hell no!

When you add a word to make your sentence more specific or to paint a more vivid picture, then more words can boost your persuasiveness.

Compare the following product descriptions:

Too many ideas in a sentence are tiring for your readers:
The sky blue glass drops of this amazing 3-tiered light pendant reflect light beautifully and add a touch of sophisticated elegance to any home.

Shorter, but rather bland:
The glass drops of this light pendant reflect the light to add a touch of elegance to your home.

More specific and more sensory:
This 3-tiered pendant features “drops” made from sky blue glass. These dangling drops reflect light to add an elegant sparkle to your room.

When each word adds meaning, your readers stop skimming and start reading. That’s when your content become seductive – no matter whether it’s sales copy, a blog post, or a business email.

Spend your editing time wisely

A poet has an ocean of time to rewrite a few lines. To find a more dazzling metaphor. To look for a more energetic word. To let the words flow with the perfect rhythm.

As a business owner, you need to focus on the content that’s most important: your home page, your about page, and your sales pages.

Or when writing a blog post, spend your time fine-tuning your headline and polishing your first and last paragraphs – because that’s where you need to engage and inspire your reader.

The art of choosing the right words

I’d love to tell you choosing the right words is easy, but applying the 4 rules takes practice.

When you next visit a website or read a book, pay attention to the words that appeal to you. And notice the sentences you *bleergh* don’t like, because they’re complicated or chaotic, or booooring. Use Evernote or a simple text file to collect words, phrases, and sentences that enchant you.

See how words sketch a scene. Understand how words make you feel. Appreciate the beauty of language.

Let your inner poet play with words. Have fun.

Image credit (adapted): Shutterstock

Comments

  1. As Sylvia Plath said, “Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences.” You hit the nail on the head again Henneke – brilliant post!
    Katherine recently posted…The Haruki Murakami Guide to Wooing Your Perfect CustomerMy Profile

  2. You are so helpful to me! This is great. Thank you.

  3. “Use Evernote to collect words, phrases and sentences that enchant you.” Excellent idea, as I already use Evernote everyday to collect other marketing ideas. I still need to go through all of my products and rewrite many of them, but one that I’ve already done starts the description of a striking chair with “Gasp worthy.” What do you think? Intriguing or too much?

    • Yes, I like it – as long as your audience agrees that your chair is that strikingly beautiful.

      I’d be tempted to add a dash: gasp-worthy. It’s not required (and an editor might not agree). But as it’s a less common phrase, I feel a dash makes it easier to read and get the concept.

  4. Thanks Henneke. This post is inspiring me to work on my latest web copy, rather than go get another cup of coffee.

  5. Nicely done, Henneke. Always enjoy reading your ideas.

  6. Great post – also read the book. Our writers have a lot of work to do but how exciting to know we can keep on improving! Thank you.

  7. Good evening Henneke. This is a great article and a great reminder to us all of what should or shouldn’t go into a sales page or copy. It also reminded me of a website I recently visited (following meeting the business owner) so that I could learn more about what the business actually does (what problem does it solve?). The site had little to no information (three two-lined sentences or so)… on three pages, with no menu headings, just a link from previous page. The description of what the business does (or what passed as a description) may as well have been written in Chinese to me. I was confounded by it. All that to say, make things clear (and quickly), interesting, truthful, genuine, touch on an emotion, and keep the language to that of the audience (know your prospect). What’s worse… my extremely sensitive and diplomatic offer to help enhance her copy was refused. Oh well… Thank you for sharing your insight on this. Warmest Regards, Shelly Moreau
    Shelly Moreau recently posted…Copy Without Emotion Leaves Readers Running in CirclesMy Profile

    • Yep, I’m with you. Too many websites aren’t helpful at all. They confuse rather than clarify. They spout exaggerated claims rather than provide the simple truth.

      Thank you for adding your thoughts, Shelly :)

  8. Enjoyed your article, but “…sickly sweet cake?” Sickeningly sweet, possibly. Was that a typo or do you need a proof-reader? I’m looking for work, lol. Seriously, I love to write, and your suggestions were very helpful, thanks!

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