Powerful words grab the attention of readers, make your content more influential, help shape your voice, and get people act on your advice.
This article discusses:
How to use powerful words in your writing
Have you ever wished you had a magic word machine?
Throw in your ideas at the top. Crank its engine by hand. Leave the machine humming for a few minutes, and persuasive text rolls out at the other side.
Copy and paste the text onto your website. And voilà: you sell more than ever before.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, writing isn’t that easy. Not yet.
Robots might take over our writing tasks in the future. But for now, human intelligence is still required.
So, let’s concentrate on how our word choice can boost our persuasive powers, shall we?
When you use power words in copywriting, you grab the attention of more people, your content becomes more influential, and people act on your advice. And what’s more … a careful selection of power words helps shape your voice.
What are power words?
Weak words have a shallow meaning—they don’t make readers feel something and they don’t allow readers to visualize your words.
In contrast, power words tend to have strong meanings. They nudge people to take action—to download your report, to contact you for a quote, or to implement your advice.
Three different types of power words exist:
- 6 super seductive words nudging people to take action—their persuasive power seems irrational, but is proven by science.
- Emotional words grab attention because they connect to our feelings.
- Sensory words are powerful and memorable because they make readers experience your words as if they can see the picture you’re painting with words.
Want to know how to use these 3 types of words to add power and pizzazz to your business content?
The 6 super seductive words to boost conversions and social shares
Power word #1. New
“New” takes us on an adventure, a journey of discovery.
As neuromarketer Roger Dooley suggests, our brains are wired for “new.” Our attraction to novelties helps us innovate and seek new opportunities. If new things weren’t so attractive to humans, we’d still be stuck in our caves. You and I wouldn’t meet here on the web.
Apple has long understood the power of new. They rephrase “new” in multiple ways to seduce readers to upgrade their still fully functional iPhones or iPads:
reimagined from the ground up
re-invented from the inside out
we had to completely rethink how a keyboard is engineered
we redesigned each key and its underlying mechanism
How to use the power of “new” in your writing:
- In emails announcing new products, use “new,” “announcing,” or “introducing” at the start of your subject line
- On sales pages for new products, use feature flashes highlighting the word “new”
- When upgrading an existing product, explain carefully what’s new about it
- When tweeting a new blog post for the first time, use “new blog post” at the start of your tweet:
— Henneke Duistermaat (@HennekeD) July 19, 2016
Power word #2. Free
Our attraction to freebies is irrational …
In his book “Predictably Irrational,” Dan Ariely explains how Amazon.com started offering free shipments for orders over a certain price.
The offer was a great success, but not in France. Ariely explains:
Instead of offering FREE! Shipping on orders over a certain amount, the French division priced the shipping for those orders at one franc. Just one franc—about 20 [dollar] cents. This doesn’t seem very different from FREE! But it was. In fact, when Amazon changed the promotion in France to include free shipping, France joined all the other countries in a dramatic sales increase. In other words, whereas shipping for one franc—a real bargain—was virtually ignored by the French, FREE! Shipping caused an enthusiastic response.
“FREE” is not only powerful when adding bonuses to a product or service; you can also use “Free” to attract attention to your blog posts.
Here’s how Copyblogger harnesses the power of “free” in headlines to attract attention and boost social sharing:
- 13 Simple Questions to Help You Draft a Winning Content Strategy [Free Worksheet]
- Your Step-by-Step Email Marketing Strategy Guide [Free Checklist]
- 10 Ways to Piss Off David Ogilvy (Free Poster)
How to harness the power of “free” in your writing:
- Consider giving away a “free bonus” with a product
- Give away a free e-course, report or download for people who opt-in to your list
- Use phrases like “free checklist” in the headline of your blog posts (and when promoting your post in social media)
Power word #3. Imagine
Why is “imagine” almost hypnotic?
When people can hold your product in their hands, their desire to own your product increases.
This is why car salesmen tempt you to test drive a car. And why jewelry sellers suggest you try that necklace to see how it looks.
Online this seems tricky. But we can let people imagine how they would feel if you help them. How much smoother their business would run. How much more relaxed they would feel. How excited they’d be about their business, their career, their life.
Here’s how Ramit Sethi (I Will Teach You to Be Rich) uses the power of the word “imagine” to help you visualize what taking his course might mean for you:
Imagine you use this program to identify a profitable idea. You know it works because you get your first enthusiastic, paying client who is delighted to pay for your services. You now have new money in the bank.
What would that mean?
Would you be more confident of your abilities?
Would you be more motivated to earn more and use it to pay off debt, increase your savings, or take an extravagant vacation?
Power word #4. Because
Presenting a reason why people should do something can trigger an automatic response. Even if the reason is bogus.
In his book Influence, Cialdini describes the photocopier experiment: If you don’t give a reason why people should allow you to jump the queue, only 60% lets you go ahead. But when you give a reason, using the word “because,” 93% of people allow you to jump the queue:
Apple‘s copywriters like the word “because,” too:
Our accessories go together with iPhone so well because they’re designed together.
If iPhone 6s seems like it’s tailor made for iOS, that’s because it is.
Together, they deliver a powerful and enjoyable experience because they were designed that way — together.
Power word #5. Instant
Imagine playing Deal or No Deal. You can get a guaranteed payment for $240,000 now or you can keep playing for a chance to win a million dollars.
What would you do?
As neuromarketer Roger Dooley suggests, our attitudes towards risks, rewards, and time are all different.
But we all know the feeling of wanting something now.
This is why I love my Kindle. I can start reading a new book instantly.
To harness the power of instant gratification use the following phrases in sales copy or blog headlines:
- Instant access
- 3-minute sign-up
- Start my free course now
- Add Instant Power to Your Business Content With These 172+ Magic Words
To make people feel good about starting instantly, you may want to indicate there’s no risk:
- 30 day money back guarantee
- No credit card required (for a trial)
- Risk-free / No risk
- No lock-in period / Cancel anytime
Human psychology is complicated. You know that already. So, “instant gratification” isn’t always the answer to increasing sales.
When I marketed range cookers, we introduced a unique service where you could order your cooker in any color. Not only did a custom-colored cooker command a premium price, you also had to wait up to three months (compared to a couple of weeks for a standard order).
Similarly, when I implemented a waiting list for copywriting inquiries, I could instantly increase my fees.
That’s the power of exclusivity.
What appeals more to your customers? Instant gratification or exclusivity?
Power phrase #6. How to
As bestselling author Jonah Berger explains in his book Contagious, we like to pass along practical information:
People like to help one another. We go out of our way to give advice or send others information that will make them better off.
That’s why the phrase “How to” is powerful, and that’s why it’s one of the 20 most retweeted phrases.
No wonder, popular blogs love using “how to” in their headlines:
- How to Write Conversationally: 7 Tips to Engage and Delight Your Audience (The second most shared post on Copyblogger this year so far, 3,200+ shares)
- How to Build the Right Traffic Metrics Dashboard for 2016 (the fifth most popular on Moz.com, 7,700+ shares)
- How to Optimize Your Content for Google’s Featured Snippet Box (the second most popular post on HubSpot, 9,200+ shares)
“How to” works best when the advice promised is specific and valuable.
Bonus power “phrase”: numerals
Numerals like 10 or 7 or 93 aren’t words, but they can instantly boost your persuasiveness.
Usability expert Jakob Nielsen tracked eye movements of users visiting websites, and he found that “numerals often stop the wandering eye and attract fixations, even when they’re embedded within a mass of words that users otherwise ignore.”
Numerals attract attention because they look different from letters. Moreover, numbers represent facts.
Here’s how Case Study Buddy uses numbers in their sales copy:
Before the call, we’ll send your client a list of questions so they can prepare their answers and collect any results in advance.
Then, on a fast, friendly call (~30 mins), we’ll get their side of the story.
We transform that interview into a persuasive, 750 – 1,250 word case study that will show every new lead…
And here’s how Andrea Vahl uses a number on her About page:
I’m also the co-founder of Social Media Manager School, an online training course that has helped over 500 students learn how to start their own business as a social media manager or consultant.
And Copyblogger‘s About page:
Since January 2006, Copyblogger has been teaching people how to create killer online content.
How to take advantage of the power of numerals:
- Write numbers as digits (e.g., 7) rather than words (seven) because digits stand out more
- If your blog post has a number of tips, consider using a digit in your headline—list posts tend to be popular
- When writing sales copy, consider which facts you can share about your product, your service or your experience
A special note about YOU
Gregory Ciotti calls “you” one of the 5 most persuasive words in the English language, and D Bnonn Tennant says it’s a hypnotic word.
I’m a fan of the word “you,” too. Because it focuses the writer’s attention on why a product or service would be useful for their readers. What’s in it for them?
The word “you” also helps create a more conversational tone so you don’t sound like a pushy salesman.
However, the proof about “you” is hazy. In A/B tests (like this one by Michael Aagaard), button copy like “Get my free report” often outperforms “Get your free report.”
A quick reminder of the most powerful words
Can you spot the power words?
Want to make that text more persuasive?
- Add more facts to increase your credibility: what is so special about your magic bone?
- Back up your claims with testimonials or scientific proof.
You can’t rely on power words alone to sell your products.
Emotional trigger words
You sell on emotion, but you justify a purchase with logic
~ legendary copywriter Joseph Sugarman
We’d like to see ourselves as rational beings.
But without emotions we can’t make decisions as Antonio Damasio, professor in neuroscience, has proven.
Moreover, Jonah Berger’s research has shown that strong emotions drive people to sharing content. He highlights the importance of high-arousal emotions:
Anger and anxiety lead people to share because, like awe, they are high-arousal emotions. They kindle the fire, activate people, and drive them to take action.
Emotions are involved in the purchase of almost any product.
SweatBlock, for instance, mixes anxiety about excessive underarm sweating with the joy of feeling in control (hat tip to Joanna Wiebe for this example). The sales copy also uses trust phrases like “100% safe,” “soothing,” and “confidently”:
Dab on a SweatBlock towelette, and control excessive underarm sweating for up to 7 days. The 100% safe and soothing trade-secret formula – combined with the towelette – gives you results you can count on. So you can confidently raise your arms.
And here’s how the copy moves to joy:
Get up to 7 Days of Dry High-Fives, Hugs and Hoorays
Your choice of emotional words strongly influences your voice. Compare, for instance, these two headlines:
- 4 Bombproof Formulas for Openings That Grab Readers and Don’t Let Go (SmartBlogger)
- A 3-Step Formula for Captivating Your Audience With a Few Opening Lines (Copyblogger)
Or compare these:
- 20 Ways to Be Just Another Mediocre Blogger Nobody Gives a Crap About (SmartBlogger)
- 11 Ways to Bore the Boots Off Your Readers (Copyblogger)
How subtle or how strong would you like your voice to be?
The easiest way to start using emotional words is to empathize with your reader. What problem is she struggling with? Which emotions does she feel when thinking about this problem? Or how can your content or service make her feel better?
A list of emotional power words
The list below is not a definitive list. Use a thesaurus to find more words and pick the words that suit your voice.
Emotional power words #1: Joy
Love, loveable, to love, falling in love
Joy, joyful, to enjoy
Devotion, devoted, to devote
Nurturing, to nurture
Seduction, seductive, to seduce
Emotional power words #2: Trust
Admiration, to admire
Emotional power words #3: Fear
Steal, stolen, plunder
Failure, to fail
Emotional power words #4: Surprise
Enchantment, enchanting, to enchant
Emotional power words #5: Sadness
Sobbing, to sob
Emotional power words #6: Disgust
Repellent, to repel, repulsive
Emotional power words #7: Anger
Hatred, to hate
Emotional power words #8: Anticipation
Yearning, to yearn
Longing, to long for
Inspiration, to inspire
Enthusiasm, to enthuse
Charming, to charm
Discovery, to discover
Sensory power words
Sensory words are more powerful and memorable than ordinary words because they make your reader see, hear, smell, taste, or feel your words.
When reading non-sensory words, your brain processes text. But when you read sensory words different areas of your brain light up. Your brain processes sensory words as if you taste a sweet cake, as if you see a dazzling display of colors, as if you feel a rough texture.
Sensory words can even boost sales. Research into menus suggests that describing dishes using sensory words makes more people buy them.
Sensory words can add power to headlines to grab attention:
Sensory words can also help make abstract content more concrete.
The following examples are from Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate:
- Just like you tap your toe to a good beat, your brain enjoys tapping along with a good presentation, but only if something new is continually unfolding and developing.
- People rarely act by reason alone. You need to tap into other deeply seated desires and beliefs in order to be persuasive. You need a small thorn that is sharper than fact to prick their hearts. That thorn is emotion.
- Haven’t you often wished you could make customers, employees, investors, or students snap, crackle, pop, and move to the new place they need to be in order to create a new future?
A list of sensory power words
Sensory words describe how we experience the world:
- Words related to sight indicate colors, shape, or appearance
- Words related to touch describe textures; you can use them to describe feelings and abstract concepts
- Words related to hearing describe sounds
- Taste and smell are closely related
- Motion is sensory, too. By using active words or describing movement, you help your readers experience your words
Sensory power words #1: Visual words
To sparkle, sparkling
To shimmer, shimmering
Glow, glowing, to glow
Sensory power words #2: Tactile words
To fluff, fluff, fluffy
To stick, sticky
To chill, chilled
Sensory power words #3: Auditory words
Buzz, to buzz
Humming, to hum
To sizzle, sizzling
Sensory power words #4: Words related to taste and smell
Sensory power words #5: Motion words
To resonate, resonating
To breeze through
The looming danger of overused power words
Ever found sales text a little sleazy? Or over-the-top?
An overdose of clichéd power words makes your content sound pushy or even creepy.
- Shocking Celebrity Secrets Revealed by Their Former Bodyguards
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Can you smell a whiff of tabloid press sleaziness?
The art of writing seductive content
To write persuasive content start with imagining how you help your clients.
How do you make their life better? Which pain do you take away? How does your service make them feel? Why would they enjoy working with you?
Content becomes persuasive when you stop selling your products and quit selling your ideas.
Instead, demonstrate you understand your reader’s problems and show how you transform their lives—no matter how small these changes are.
So, connect with your reader’s wishes and feelings first.
Then, offer a service they’ll love.
And lastly, sprinkle a little magic dust over your content to boost your persuasive powers.
FREE 22-page ebook
How to Choose Words With Power and Pizzazz
How to Choose Words With Power and Pizzazz
- Discover 4 wordy rules for captivating your audience
- Learn how to fortify and energize your message
- Get examples that show you how to spice up your writing