“The World can move, or not, by changing some words.”
– Toby Ziegler, White House Director of Communications, The West Wing.
Toby Ziegler is a creation of Aaron Sorkin; a writer who has spent his whole career crafting screenplays, like The West Wing, The Newsroom, and movies, like The American President and The Social Network.
In his work, every word matters. Every word conveys an important meaning. Change a word or two and the audience will laugh or cry, agree or disagree, shout at the screen or give a standing ovation.
One common thread throughout his work is an appreciation for the craft of writing and a deep respect for the words used, depending on the character and what Sorkin hopes to achieve.
Brands, agencies and e-commerce companies alike need to have the same respect for individual words as award winning screenwriters. A conversion can happen, or not, by changing some words. But unlike Sorkin, copywriters have the chance to test and constantly change the script depending on the impact our words have on a digital audience.
We also have the ability to stop the action with a few words, driving our audiences towards a specific destination: the end of the conversion journey. This means taking time to understand the value of certain words and using them the right way in the content we produce, which is what this article is about.
The Five Most Powerful Words For Calls to Action
There are countless studies online about which words are the most powerful, including dozens on the psychology of language and how that relates to increasing conversions. This is to be expected, given that marketers never stop learning and trying to find new ways to engage with their audience.
One specific group of five words appears again and again, despite some doubt as to the existence of a definitive study which supports their power:
Robert Cialdini in his book Influence did tests using language. All of which consistently found that when a “because” was followed by a good reason, people generally respond positively. He demonstrated that:
“ A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”
With new comes the irresistible pull of the novelty factor. Especially when it comes to products, we need new features to keep us excited, to make us feel alive. This all happens in the same part of our brains responsible for gambling, drug and alcohol addictions, even the reason we have affairs.
We respond the same way to new products, improved features, even new branding and packaging. Using ‘new’ in copy, providing you aren’t just trying to sell old wine in a new skin, will have a noticeable impact on conversions, every time.
A 2007 study by Carmody and Lewis found that using a customers name in copy causes a “unique brain functioning activation” response.
Unfortunately when it comes to general web copy or other digital content, you can’t speak to everyone in your audience on a personal level. Which is where the word you comes in; it is as close as you can get online, and gets a similar response, on a psychological level.
Everyone loves the word free. The idea of getting something for nothing, providing what you are getting has actual value. A customer getting something they don’t want for free is unlikely to have the kind of positive impact you would be hoping for, so pick your “free” deals carefully.
In Dan Ariely’s insightful book, Predictably Irrational, he tests this theory on a Hershey’s Kiss and a Lindt truffle.
In the first test the truffle was given a value of 15 cents. The Kiss was 1 cent. Based on pre-existing brand and taste perception amongst his taste audience, 73 percent picked the truffle.
He repeated the test, except this time the Kiss was free. The truffle cost 1 cent less, down to 14 cents. That one tiny change had a massive difference. The Kiss won, with 69% of the audience choosing that, and only 31% still picking the truffle.
Humans are terrible at waiting. Delayed gratification might be one of the greatest skills when it comes to being successful, as countless studies have shown, but when it comes to making a purchase, we don’t want it tomorrow, we need it, now!
If we can get something, especially something new or at a discount, or even free, then we want it immediately. Several MRI studies have shown the impact of words like “instantly,” “now,” “immediate” or “fast” have on the human brain.
You will have seen these five words used over and over again, because they work, consistently.
How to integrate them into Calls-to-Action and Web Copy
These five words are load bearing. Like the framework and supporting walls in a physical structure they can carry a lot of weight because of the psychological trust placed on them. However, they themselves must be supported the right way, within the framework of the copy and design.
The use of any one of these words, or any number of other high value words which convert, must make sense within the copy itself.
How you use them also depends on the context. Is it within a headline or call to action? Social or SEO? Within headlines, and for SEO purposes, the word needs to be placed early on or right at the start: “Free Wi-Fi for every Rewards Customer this Holiday Season.”
Depending on your SEO aims it might be useful to sprinkle the word throughout (providing it looks like natural web copy), and in the meta, like seasoning. The same is true when aiming for conversions within email marketing, as repetition is key for re-enforcement of the message. Cement and build trust with your audience using these keywords, which are all supported by numerous studies, and reinforce with repetition and clear calls to action.
What words work well with your audience? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
About the Author: Benjamin Kerry is Head of Marketing for Jigoshop. More than 370,000 stores worldwide empower their e-commerce with Jigoshop, a powerful plugin available for WordPress users around the globe.