These phrases litter the huge variety of email newsletter boxes you’ll come across online, and they generally serve the same purpose: Click here to give us your email address. They serve the same purpose, but do they say the same thing?
Can one word change the way you feel about a button?
In my experience, yes. I subscribe to the copywriting school of thought where every single word is absolutely worth stewing over and A/B testing because one single word can change everything. The difference between “joining” and “signing up” is the difference between fellowship and enlisting. A word changes the meaning, the mood, and the motivation.
Once you’ve found the most powerful words, we’d love to help you share them to social at exactly the right times — so you can drive more traffic, engagement, and conversions.
To connect the dots then, you’re probably wondering: If a single word makes that much difference, then what words should I be using? Which words and phrases convert?
The science of copywriting, the psychology of headlines, and the art of CTAs has revealed quite a number of go-to moves for marketers looking to gain a linguistic edge in their words and pitches.
I’ve enjoyed saving several lists of these so-called power words and pulling them out to use in a pinch. I’m happy to share my lists with you of the phrases and words that convert. Do you have any power words that work magic for you? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Research reveals how a single word makes all the difference
You likely know inherently that specific words matter. You click on a headline because a single word strikes you. You click a signup button because a word creates an emotion.
The research behind this power of words is incredibly deep. Researchers have found that the word you use to describe a car accident (“contacted” vs. “smashed”) paints the way eyewitnesses view the event. Another study found that simple stock names that are easier to pronounce lead to quicker gains post-IPO.
Perhaps my favorite study is one shared by Brian Clark of Copyblogger. Social psychologist Ellen Langer tested the power of a single word in an experiment where she asked to cut in line at a copy machine. She tried three different ways of asking:
“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” – 60% said OK
“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” – 94% said OK
“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?” – 93% said OK
I don’t know about you, but I thought Langer’s third request was rather elementary. Yet it didn’t matter. The trigger word “because” was all she needed. The takeaway: When you want people to take action, always give a reason.
Neurologically, we have an instinctual reaction to words and language. Researchers have found that we are hardwired to associate sounds with images, even in words we do not comprehend. Here’s a test for you, pulled from a study by Wolfgang Köhler. Which of the two shapes below is a maluma and which is a takete?
The vast majority of respondents label the smooth, rounded image a maluma and the hard, jagged image a takete.
To go one step further into the power of words, you can look at Patrick Renvoise and Christopher Morin’s book about neuromarketing (see Peep Laja’s article at ConversionXL for a great analysis of the book). Renvoise and Morin highlight the three different brains we have: the new brain, the middle brain, and the old brain.
The old brain is the part that controls decisions, and it also happens to be the most primitive. In this way, the words you use to market to the old brain will often be the most direct, simple, arresting, visual words you have.
You’ll likely see a lot of these “old brain” words in the lists below.
The ultimate list of words and phrases that convert
A quick Google search can reveal pages of results for persuasive and powerful words. There’s no trouble finding them; there’s sometimes trouble applying them. The words you see below are split into a number of categories, along with some ideas on how I’ve used them in the past (and how you can use them, too).
The 5 most persuasive words in the English language
You’ve seen these words countless times before—and for good reason. The research behind these words has shown over and over that they work. Gregory Ciotti wrote about these five in a post for Copyblogger, showing exactly how each is vital for persuasive speech and copy. For instance, immediate words like “instantly” trigger mid-brain activity and feed our zest for quick gratification.
Where to try these words: Calls-to-action, headlines, email subject lines, headings, opening sentences and paragraphs
The 20 most influential words, via David Ogilvy
David Ogilvy is to advertising as Jimi Hendrix is to the electric guitar. His list of influential words you see above was first published in 1963, and many remain in vogue today.
Where to try these: Headlines, bullet points, subject lines
(Sidenote: For a fun blast from the past, courtesy of Ben Locker, here are a couple advertisements for power words that date back to 1961. A New York Times ad is on the left, a Washington Post ad is on the right. Ogilvy’s 20 influential words came out two years after these.)
3 words to encourage community
- Become a member
- Come along
These community phrases provide a sense of togetherness to the user; they feel like they’re taking part in something larger than themselves. (You’ll notice that we use the word “join” in our email newsletter form.)
Where to try these words: Email signups, trial offers, in-app messaging
10 cause-and-effect words and phrases
- As a result
- Caused by
- Due to
- For this reason
Author Darlene Price, the originator of this cause-and-effect list, has great insight into what makes these cause-and-effect phrases so useful: “Cause-and-effect words make your claims sound objective and rational rather than biased and subjective.”
Where to try these: Closing paragraphs, transitions
12 phrases that imply exclusivity
- Members only
- Login required
- Class full
- Membership now closed
- Ask for an invitation
- Apply to be one of our beta testers
- Exclusive offers
- Become an insider
- Be one of the few
- Get it before everybody else
- Be the first to hear about it
- Only available to subscribers
Garrett Moon of CoSchedule explains exclusivity as being like a club with membership restrictions. You want in because others are in. There’s a bit of social pressure with exclusivity wording, and it helps drive decisions and actions for the user.
Where to try these: Signup forms, links, calls-to-action, subheads
9 phrases that imply scarcity
- Limited offer
- Supplies running out
- Get them while they last
- Sale ends soon
- Today only
- Only 10 available
- Only 3 left
- Only available here
- Double the offer in the next hour only
The fear of missing out (often abbreviated as FOMO) is a common driver of action for marketers and advertisers. FOMO is essentially scarcity. By showing that an item or product is in limited supply, you hope to ratchet up demand.
Where to try these: Headings, promo copy
28 words and phrases that make you feel safe
- Cancel Anytime
- No Obligation
- No Questions Asked
- No Risk
- No Strings Attached
- Try before You Buy
Boost Blog Traffic’s Jon Morrow collected a huge list of power words (his full list of 317 is well worth the read) and sorted the list by category. The above section is Morrow’s grouping of words that engender feelings of safety. It’s my favorite group from Morrow’s list because these safety words have an amazing effect on the person reading: They create trust.
Where to try these: Payment forms, signup forms, testimonials
48 ubiquitous power words
- Hot Special
- How to
Each employee on the circulation and email marketing teams at Interweave Press has these words printed and posted on their wall. The list, which was originally compiled Linda Ruth and Curtis Circulation Company, came from studying best-selling magazine covers, and Interweave’s Bob Kaslik found that the words work equally well on magazines as they do in promo copy and in email subject lines.
Where to try these: Email subject lines, headlines, calls-to-action
9 word for shareable content
- Tell us
Neil Patel put together the infographic you see below, based on research on each of the four major social networks: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. His list represents the words that can get your content shared on social media. I’ve found success grouping some of these words with other power words as well.
Where to try these: Social media updates
Create and share your own list
If you’re looking for inspiration (and a few unique power words to keep in your toolbox), try keeping track of the words that get you to convert. Take note of the words and phrases that grab your attention. Keep in mind why a headline stands out more than another. Notice which words grab you in a bullet list of benefits.
As you find new words, you can build a list in Evernote or another note-taking app; then be sure to reference them when you’re in a pinch and looking for a powerful addition to your headline, copy, or post.
And once you’ve found the power words that help you convert, we’d love to help you share them to your social profiles at exactly the right times.
Do you have any favorite power words that have worked for you? Which ones from the list here might you be interested to try? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Image credits: CarbonNYC, Ben Locker, Conversion XL,
All of your content marketing success hinges on the bounce and the conversion. The two exist on a seesaw, the dreaded “bounce” on one side and “conversion” on the other.
And what is the fulcrum at the center of the two that will determine which way it will tip? Your call to action—aka your marketing CTA.
Your content marketing lives and dies based on the success of your CTA. It determines if people take your content and bounce out on their merry way, never to return, or if they leap for the bait and go further into your sales funnel. Knowing how to write a call to action that hooks your reader’s interest is key to your content’s survival.
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What Is A Call To Action?
A call to action might be as simple as asking someone to:
- Sign up for your email newsletter.
- Download free resources in exchange for an email address.
- Buy an ebook, coaching service, or your product.
A call to action might be at the beginning of a blog post, at the end of a blog post, or sprinkled throughout a landing page. As a marketer, you use a call to action in any medium—videos, advertisements, blog posts, landing pages, and even social messages.
Whatever form it takes, and wherever it appears in your content, a call to action is you providing your reader with some form of actionable task and usually appears as a button, link within text, or an image of some kind.
Whatever form it takes, a call to action provides your reader with an actionable task.Click To Tweet
Content marketing is creating content, but with a purpose.
All content has the purpose of establishing your expertise and being helpful to your reader so that they come back to you for more. And of course, content has the purpose of bringing in new readers through search engines.
So you must include purposeful elements in your content that specifically ask your reader to do something tangible instead of merely feeling warm fuzzies about your brand. You must regularly ask your reader to do something.
A call to action not only gets your reader to do something that commits her further to what you are ultimately selling, it’s also something you can measure. And, if you can measure it, you can test, tweak, and change it so you learn more about your audience.
Without a call to action, you’re wasting your best efforts.Click To Tweet
Without a call to action, you’re wasting your best efforts and goodwill on readers who probably would take action and who probably would buy but you’ve never pushed them to.
Without writing a call to action, the most you’ll know about your reader is hits, page views, and bounces. You’ll spread lots of goodwill. But you’ll never make a sale.
How To Write A Call To Action Using Exclusivity And The Undeniable FOMO
When it comes to a powerful motivator for your call to action, FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is hard to beat. This is about exclusivity, which generally works in two ways:
- Only some get in. By only letting a few get in, you suggest that those who do are lucky, should be thankful, are special, are deserving—anything of this nature. This is about status, namely who’s in and who’s out. In order for this to work, you have to make something amazing enough that people want to be in on it.
- Anyone gets in, but with restrictions. Think of data rights management or DRM controls on ebooks and music. The product is available to anyone, but you need specific devices, tools, or access methods to use it. In this way, it’s exclusive because you control how people use it and how they can share or spread it.
That fear of missing out taps into several human emotions (some of which we’d rather not admit to). It’s more than just fear because that fear is based in something else:
- Panic: “If I miss out, I’ll never know if this could have changed my life!”
- Greed: “I have to have everything.”
- Comparison: “I don’t want to be the only person without this!”
- Curiosity: “Could this possibly be as amazing as they describe?”
- Pride: “I got in and you didn’t. Ha ha.”
Most of us are almost compulsively driven by these emotions.
When you write a call to action, you must tap into these kinds of emotion—the ones that are so connected to exclusivity—because they’re what drive people to act when it comes to selling.
And when you’re selling something people don’t need (i.e. food, water, shelter, new washer) and are instead trying to create a want (i.e. you just bought a new shirt, but why not get a few more?), you have to find another motivator for them to part with their money (or their email address).
And, oddly, the fear and subsequent emotions that are tied into exclusivity are good ones to use.
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How To Put Exclusivity To Work In Your Call To Action
Exclusivity rides on one main idea: If you don’t do something now, you’ll never be able to do it again.
You can hint at exclusivity through the words in your call to action.
Think of any word or phrase that suggests now:
- Last chance
- Limited supply
- Only a few left
- Ends tomorrow
- Limited time only
- One-time offer
- Expires soon
You get the idea.
With FOMO, there isn’t time to think. The language all points to action immediately. So Call now is much better than Call anytime.
How To Write A Call To Action Using Hope As A Motivation
Fear isn’t the only way to get people to act, though it’s one of the most powerful. Hope can do the trick, too.
First you need to create a sense of desperation. Illustrate just how big a problem your readers have, and the hope to change it will suddenly make sense.
While driving around town and checking errands off of my to-do list this past weekend, I took note of the billboards and signs outside of the stores and restaurants. I said to my friend, who was with me, that there was absolutely nothing that I needed, yet here I was, buying stuff.
“I wouldn’t be dissatisfied with my life and possessions if they didn’t tell me it ought to be so,” I said, a bit annoyed.
“You can’t sell to people who aren’t dissatisfied,” my friend replied.
With dissatisfaction comes hope. Or it should, if you’re writing your call to action correctly.
How To Leverage Hope With Your Call To Action
To tap into hope, you first must suggest hopelessness. By that, I mean you must show the reader that there is a problem, it’s a serious one, and they have it.
And then you provide the solution and the hope.
“You’ve tried everything to lose weight, but nothing worked,” is easily countered with, “Try this safe and proven method that returns results every time, risk free!”
In this call to action example, you assure the reader by using the words “safe” and “risk free”, and give them hope by suggesting it’s “proven” and “returns results”.
Big problem. Big hope. Once you’ve established this pattern, end with your simplified call to action. “Start now and lose 10 pounds in your first month.”
So … What Are Those Call To Action Words That Get People To Act?
Is it possible that certain words get more conversions than others? It’s a good question that has some research behind it—to an extent.
So I took a look at five well-researched articles to pull together a big list of call to action words that will help you get more email signups, trials, and sales. This data comes from five researched articles, and even includes some words that have helped CoSchedule get as much as a 27% conversion rate from our own calls to action:
- Backlinko’s research on building email lists
- Sprout Social’s research on call to action phrases
- WishPond’s research on words to use in call to action buttons
- Unbounce’s research on call to action buttons
- Unbounce’s research on conversion rate optimization
- CoSchedule’s research from our own landing pages and blog posts
Now, many of these sources suggest testing your own calls to action on your blog and website to see what words perform best with your audience. That is great advice you can put into practice by using a tool like Visual Website Optimizer. Start simple:
- Write two powerful calls to action you will A/B test against one another.
- Set up the test with Visual Website Optimizer.
- Give it a week and analyze the data.
The results may surprise you, as they’ve done with us at CoSchedule.
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6 Call To Action Examples To Help You Write Better CTAs Than Ever
Call to action examples are everywhere, so where would you start? I figured we’d take a look at a few of the top companies in the world according to Fortune’s 500 list (there has to be a reason they’re so successful, right?), then dive in to some specific examples that are a bit more content marketing related.
Let’s do this.
1. Learn More With Apple
Like the simplicity of their products, Apple keeps their calls to action short, clean, and to the point.
Learn more and Trade up to a new iPhone are unmistakable in letting Apple’s audience know exactly what they’ll see after they click through the call to action. Apple also doesn’t clutter the design: There are clearly only two options to help their users focus on making a decision to click quickly and easily.
Lesson Learned: Be clear and concise, and position your call to action as the obvious next step.
2. Save With CVS
While the design is super busy compared to Apple’s example (do I click on Save with Our App, App Store, Google Play, or on the phone itself?!), CVS focuses on the value proposition in their call to action.
Save with Our App focuses CVS’ audience on the perceived benefit of using the tool, which connects into hope to resolve the dissatisfaction of spending so much money.
The headline here—Unlock extra savings with app-only deals!—also suggests exclusivity, that you can only experience those benefits if you get the app. They also include the word exclusive in the description, which is a powerful motivator for the fear of missing out.
Lesson Learned: Keep your design clean so your users know where to click. Brainstorm the value proposition to answer your readers’ inherent question, “What’s in it for me?” and tie that into your call to action.
3. Rely On The Visual Like Amazon
Who said you had to write a call to action? The behemoth Amazon focuses on compelling imagery to entice action.
In this example, there is really no traditional call to action that usually begins with a verb. However, Amazon does rock some powerful words with the visual: Now and Limited time offer. Talk about inducing urgency and appealing to the fear of missing out.
The visual tells the rest of the story, helping Amazon shoppers envision themselves in front of an amazing TV with a bowl of popcorn and a couple glasses of champaign.
Would you like to chillax like that, too? Heck yes, you would. And that’s why the visual creates a powerful call to action.
It’s noteworthy to mention this: Amazon doesn’t even show the product they’re selling (other than the remote) and focuses the visual mostly on the experience you’ll feel when you click through the call to action to purchase it. People don’t buy products, they buy experiences. And that’s why Amazon crushed it with this call to action example.
Lesson Learned: Literally show the pleasurable outcome your audience will experience if they just click through your call to action.
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4. Code School Shows Calls To Action Don’t Have To Be Super Formal
Wondering how to apply calls to action into your blog posts? Write a post that helps your readers do something without you, then when you can help them do it even better, let them know.
Code School helps people learn how to code. So when they wrote a post called Why Python? that covered reasons to learn and use the language, they ended the post with a call to action to learn more through the courses Code School offers.
The call to action appears as the last paragraph in the blog post, and invites readers to Check out a couple new courses. It’s simple, informal, yet informational to teach their audience about the possibilities Code School offers to help their readers improve.
Lesson Learned: Write a blog post that connects into your product or service. Then end the post with an informal call to action to work with you to resolve the problems you just outlined in your post and link to content that introduces your offering.
5. Wistia Embeds Calls To Action In Videos
Do you embed videos in your blog posts? With Wistia, you can add a Turnstile into your video to collect email leads during video play, and you can also include a written call to action and link to related content at the end of your video.
Turns out, you can also write a call to action right into your YouTube videos, too, if you’re not a Wistia user.
Anyway, this call to action example shows up at the end of a video that explains one element about making post-product process simpler—something Wistia’s audience cares a lot about. Wistia then links to more information on the topic to help their viewers learn more about post-production—which is a part of the video process Wistia as a tool can help make more efficient.
The video appears in lieu of a traditional blog post header graphic. That means Wistia’s audience sees a video right away (which also likely boosts on page time and engagement quite a bit), Wistia shows their quirky brand personality, and they display a strong call to action immediately.
This is a great example of leading an audience deeper into the funnel from inbound marketing to demand generation content that positions Wistia as the solution to the problem. Brilliant.
Lesson Learned: Strategically think about the next step to bring new users from inbound marketing into demand generation content that positions your product or service as the answer to a problem your audience is facing. Write calls to action for all of your videos.
6. Create Content-Specific Calls To Action Like Backlinko
Have you seen blog posts that offer something free in exchange for your email address? Somewhere along the lines, marketers started calling those things content upgrades. And they are a super smart way to include a call to action in every blog post to turn the traffic you get into email subscribers.
In this call to action example from Backlinko, Brian Dean includes a written CTA in the introduction of his blog post. That is brilliant because a majority of your audience will read the first 100 words of your post, then maybe skim the rest.
Anyway, this call to action is very smart because it relates specifically to the content at hand and not just a generic give-me-your-email-address kinda CTA. Brian relates directly to the challenge his readers want to resolve by writing Get More Email Subscribers, then he uses a powerful word with download.
He also promises that what his readers will get behind the call to action will help them quickly execute the 17 strategies from this post, which is very important for the Backlinko blog in particular because Brian creates such long-form content. This way, he captures the interest of the too-long-didn’t-read (TLDR) audience while also turning them into email subscribers.
To top it off, Brian targets another call to action for the 20% of his audience that makes it through the entire blog post to the very end. This time, he lets the visual speak for itself with the power word download, and includes the emotional word free to describe his content upgrade.
Lesson Learned: Include a relevant content upgrade at the beginning and end of your blog posts to convert traffic into email subscribers. Use your call to action to appeal to the reasons your audience is already interested in the content, packaging a condensed and actionable guide behind the clickthrough.
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Put It All Together: How To Write A Call To Action With A Compelling Structure
No matter what motivation you use (fear or hope), there are some common ways that you should use when structuring your call to action.
1. Start with verbs.
Verbs are the action words that make it clear to readers what you want them to do. Instead of saying, “Ready to get started?” simplify it to “Get started now” or “Start saving now”.
Some verbs are stronger than others. This has to do with the cacophony of the word (hard K, G, D sounds) coupled with the strength of the action suggested in context.
The word “buy” feels stronger and more urgent than “purchase”. “Get your copy” is more cacophonous and powerful than “Download your ebook”.
Starting with verbs means starting phrases and sentences, sure, but also the placement of links and call to action buttons. They come first (or nearly first) and should be prominent. Buttons to buy or sign-up should be above the fold, no scrolling required. They should be before the long chunk of explanatory text.
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2. Take it easy on filler words.
Adverbs and adjectives can get in the way of the action you want your readers to take.
You should have already done the work of convincing people to take the action before presenting your call to action to them through blog post or landing page copy. Try your best to avoid words ending in -ly. “Click here” is better than “Click here quickly.”
There are exceptions, though. For example, you might hint at exclusivity by saying “Get your custom ebook now” instead of just “Get your ebook”.
3. Keep things simple and brief.
Use words that are simple, common, and not too long.
This isn’t because you think your reader isn’t smart enough to handle anything else, but because you’re trying to prod base emotions. You don’t want anything to get in the way of those simple emotions, particularly requiring readers to consider complex thought processes or scenarios which could distract them or lead them down a path of thought away from taking action.
Avoid buzzwords, jargon, and any word that feels “empty” and can be ignored by the reader. If you use enough ignorable words in your call to action, your entire call to action runs the risk of being ignored.
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If you must use descriptive words, use simple and common words that are emotionally effective.
This is no time to go crazy with a thesaurus and impress the world with your vocabulary. The language must not get in the way of the emotional prodding you’re trying to achieve. Save your thinking words for your blog posts, and focus your call to action on words that are powerful persuaders.
Remember simple, basic, and primal words—and not too many words overall—when you make the big request.
4. Make the request simple, too.
It’s not just the language of the request that you need to make simple, but the request itself must be easy. One or two clicks to completion. As little pain as possible.
If you need more information than a name and email, try to break it up so you capture that email first, get the user into the purchase or into their account, and then collect the rest later. The reason is that you don’t want to give your reader time to change their mind.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been at a big box store and, because of too few checkout lanes available, seen people abandon full carts in line and walk out the door. It’s the same with your call to action.
The more complicated you make it for readers to complete it, the more likely they’ll find a way to change their mind or forget the driving reason you just convinced them they needed to take action.
“Buy now!” doesn’t feel like “now” if you make them fill out lots of information, answer a small survey, and click on a reply email to verify. That feels like buying later, and it brings into question the urgency you insisted was necessary to get a reader to take action.
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