7 clever copywriting tricks to captivate your readers

April 5, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Copywriting Tips 

copywriting tricksI studied magic when I was young. Mostly closeup magic, such as card tricks and slights of hand.

One thing I learned quickly. The magic only works if you can captivate your audience. You must grab and hold their attention from start to finish.

So it is with copywriting.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of tricks of the trade to grab and hold your audience. But here are seven for which I have a special fondness.

Let’s start with one of the most effective.

Start a sales letter with a one-sentence paragraph.

This is a technique I use all the time. That’s probably because I detest letters that start with a long, meandering paragraph that makes you tired just looking at it.

For example, if I’m going to start a letter with a story, I might write:

I simply couldn’t believe it.

That’s it. That’s the entire first paragraph. It’s short, easy-to-read, and creates curiosity about what I’m going to say next, which is exactly what you want when you’re telling a story.

Or if I’m writing a lead generation letter and I have a free sample I want people to request, I might start with:

I’d like to send you a $35 sampler of our fine cheeses. Is that okay with you?

Again, it’s short and easy-to-read, but in this case, it allows the letter to get right to the point. And that polite question prompts a mental “yes” that gets the letter started on a positive note.

End a letter page mid-sentence.

This is an oldie but goodie.

The idea is simple. If you have a letter that is several pages, you want to do whatever you can to get people to read and keep reading. And a page break is where many readers jump ship, especially if you have just completed a sentence before they turn the page.

However, people have an innate need for completeness. So if you break a sentence at the bottom of a page so that the reader must turn the page to finish it, you improve the odds that people will keep reading.

One caveat. Some business owners, marketing managers, and designers, hate this. They think it’s uncouth. However, this is just their urge for completeness talking. :)

Try the “running headline.”

This one I learned from Rene Gnam, one of the legends of direct marketing. And it works just like it sounds. It’s a headline that just keeps running, starting in the headline itself and continuing right through to the copy. Like this:

Overline:
If you’ve ever wondered how you too could earn a 6-figure income using the skills you already have and without taking a huge financial risk then …

Headline:
Ask for your FREE Business Start-Up Kit

Subhead:
… that shows you the secrets of starting and running a home-based business selling your personal services to businesses in your home town because…

Body Copy:
Today is the best time to start a small business. It’s more secure than a job. It allows you to earn more income. And it lets you set your own schedule so you’re no longer trapped by the 9-to-5 routine.

See how it works? One of the great challenges of copywriting is to keep people reading. And the running headline does this by never allowing the copy to come to a complete stop.

Throw an oddball word into a headline.

I love this one. It’s something I learned from some great headlines I’ve seen over the years. Here are a few examples:

Ohio man has 21-year tested formula to create multimillion dollar business from scratch, without bank loans, venture capitalists or selling stock.

Small Company’s New Golf Ball Flies Too Far; Could Obsolete Many Golf Courses.

Frustrated bartender develops incredible device to clean and disinfect your entire home…

Notice that in each headline there is at least one word you don’t expect, such as “Ohio,” “Obsolete,” or “Frustrated bartender.” These words catch your attention and add a touch of quirkiness that make the headlines more interesting and believable.

Consider how that last headline might read with ordinary words:

Here’s an incredible device to clean and disinfect your entire home.

Kinda boring, huh?

Include a “letter” on a postcard or flyer.

This is a little copywriting trick I started using many years ago. And there’s a story behind it.

I had a client who needed a direct mail package but refused to use one, swearing that they don’t work. Against my advice, he insisted that I create an oversized postcard. I knew a postcard was not the optimum solution, but I had no choice.

So I wrote the postcard, but incorporated elements from a typical direct mail package, including a short “letter” on the address side. To my delight, the card worked fairly well. Ever since, I’ve approached postcards and flyers as if they are pared down direct mail packages.

There’s nothing more to it than that. You start with a salutation, write a letter that is a few sentences long, and insert a signature and, sometimes, a P.S.

Write a “broadside” rather than a brochure.

I get the feeling that “broadside” is an old fogey term because I get blank stares almost every time I use it. Basically, a broadside is a printed piece of advertising with one primary selling surface.

Think of it like a poster, but in this context, it’s a poster you use in place of a brochure and it’s printed front and back, with all the main information on the front and supporting information on the back.

Why would I suggest using a broadside rather than a brochure? Because I think some brochures get too complicated, with all the folds and panels forcing you to chop up information into bits and pieces to fit the design.

With a broadside, you can write copy the same way you do with a print ad — headline, subheads, text, illustrations, sidebars, bullet lists, call to action, and so on. It writes easier. It reads easier. And in my opinion, it looks better too.

Another great advantage of the broadside is that it engages that urge for completeness I talked about previously.

With an ordinary brochure, information is neatly divided between the panels and every panel is complete. But with a broadside, you can’t read the headline or see the illustrations until you unfold it. So it encourages involvement.

Actually, I got the idea to start using broadsides many years ago when I got a mailing from Playboy. It included a small broadside showing a photo of an attractive woman, but with the piece folded so that you had to open it up to see the full photo.

Use a blank envelope.

There’s an old saying: “When the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see all your problems as nails.” Well, for copywriters, the temptation is to see all problems as an opportunity to sling words. But part of smart copywriting is knowing when to keep your hands off the keyboard.

Direct mail envelopes always present a challenge. You want the recipient to be interested enough to open it but you don’t want people to make a hasty decision about the contents and trash it. I’ve found that in many cases, the best answer is to forgo teasers and just leave the envelope blank.

Like the trick of ending a letter page mid-sentence, this trick drives some business owners batty. It strikes some as lazy or ugly, but tests show it often works. Why? Because a blank envelope conveys no information and forces the recipient to open it. This is half the battle in direct mail.

How do you know when to use a blank envelope? When you’re not sure about the match between your message and your audience. My rule for envelope teasers is, when in doubt leave it out. Plus, you can easily test teaser vs. blank.

Your turn.

Okay, I’ve shared some copywriting tricks with you. Now share some of yours with me. Show me your magic.

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Smart Comments

4 Comments on 7 clever copywriting tricks to captivate your readers

  1. Dean on Apr 5th, 2010 11:31 am
  2. Dean – Thanks for the tips. I hadn’t considered deliberately ending a letter page mid-sentence – good idea.

    With letters, I always break up copy with benefit-led sub-headings. That way even skim-readers can get the main sales message.

    Wherever possible, I go for 1-piece mailers, from postcards to roll-folds. In general I think they work more quickly than a letter in an envelope. In certain instances though, I think a letter pack is essential.
    .-= Dean’s last blog … Paul: You Don’t Forget A Truly Great Idea =-.

  3. Russell on Apr 5th, 2010 3:14 pm
  4. Thew close-up magicians I knew told me it was all about distracting from what’s really happening … (lol)
    .-= Russell’s last blog … Stannington Band charity concert clip =-.

  5. Dean Rieck on Apr 5th, 2010 5:10 pm
  6. Russell,
    Shhh. Don’t tell people there is some actual slight of hand going on.

  7. Joshua Black on Apr 7th, 2010 10:17 am
  8. Dean,

    I really like your writing tips today in Copyblogger. It’s nice to get some back-to-basics old school copywriting tips when everyone is so focused on the web these days.

    The old stuff still works and it will keep working. Great site.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire
    .-= Joshua Black’s last blog … Make Your Sales Letters Memorable Like a Pop Song? =-.