Use rhetoric to improve copywriting

1. Convince readers that you're qualified to speak on your subject using ethos; an appeal to your authority or credibility.

How to apply it: Inject personal stories and successes into your copy to show you have real world experience. Use testimonials and other forms of social proof to demonstrate authority. Offer a privacy policy, a satisfaction guarantee, and free shipping, to build goodwill. Borrow credibility from someone with more ethos than you for example, a guest post, co-host a webinar, and have them tweet about your product. Use industry terms, but avoid big words and complicated sentence structures. Write the way you would speak if you were delivering your copy orally. For example, look at how Timothy Sykes demonstrates his authority on the subject of penny stock trading. But don’t mistake him for a money-hungry Scrooge.

2. Add some impact using pathos; an appeal to the reader's emotions.

How to apply it: Use stories and visuals to fully capture your visitors’ problem. Before you persuade, you must remind them that they have this problem and need a solution for it. Use stories and visuals to capture the future, featuring your product or service. What will life be like after your product or service is purchased? What will life be like when the problem you just reminded them of disappears? Ask questions to push your visitors to think about their problem and the potential solution. Questions help your visitors make a personal connection with your copy. Combine ethos, pathos, and logos, but end on pathos. Add emotional triggers throughout your copy, but save the best for last. What will trigger such a strong emotional response that your visitors will have no choice but to respond to your call to action? At a Call to Action Conference, Talia Wolf of, shared this case study: Pretty standard, right? The copy appeals mostly to our logical, rational brains. For the treatment, Talia injected some emotion:

3. Back up your words using logos; adding facts and figures that support your statements.

How to apply it: Support the problem you’re solving with factual proof. Let’s say you’re a mattress company that wants to help with sleepless nights. How many Americans don’t get a full night of sleep? How many report waking up in the night or bad backs the next morning, or constantly moving husbands who can’t get comfortable? Support your solution with factual proof. Why does it work? What makes it more unique than the next mattress? Who has it worked for? What were their results? Where are they now? Be clear, because clarity converts. Don’t use hyperbole. No one believes signing up for your mailing list will change their life or make them rich. Also, don’t be vague. Be specific about the proof, about the numbers, about the facts. Don’t leave any room for doubt. Logos can support ethos because if you have facts and data, you’re more likely to be considered an authority. However, it can also hinder ethos and activate pathos. For example, without context, most data can be misleading and misinterpreted. It’s quite easy to immorally use logos (hinder ethos), to make your audience feel a certain way (activate pathos). For example, The Rich Jerk is seriously lacking logos in his calls to action: This is the perfect example of not walking the walk. On the other hand, we have sites like ROBIN: As an ecommerce customer service tool, it’s in ROBIN’s best interest to make the case for improved customer service. They back their claim and their value proposition, Our software helps eCommerce stores turn their customer service into a money-making operation, with cold, hard facts.

4. Use the invention method to persuade your particular audience, in your particular situation.

There are four elements to invention: Target: Who are you trying to persuade? Information: What information do you need to persuade them? Presentation: How will you present that information to them? Timing: When will you present that information to them? How long will it take? What will the context be? Think of this, more or less, as crafting your value proposition. According to Copy Hackers, the five pillars of a great value proposition are: Unique. Is anyone else offering the same value? Desirable. Is it something consumers actually want / need? Specific. Is it too general or vague? Succinct. Is it to the point and direct enough? Memorable. Will consumers remember it in 2 hours? 2 weeks? 2 months?

5. Create an outline for your content, using arrangement to structure your argument in the most persuasive way.

According to ancient philosophers, there are five elements of arrangement: Introduction. Position the argument and yourself and grab the audience’s attention. Statement of Fact. State the facts of your argument keeping opinion separate. Confirmation of Fact. Present your case (your desired action), using rhetoric. Refutation. Attack opposing arguments by poking holes in their facts and case. Conclusion. Summarize what you’ve said and restate your call to action. For example, look at Si digital, which you’ve likely heard of because their site is often celebrated for design / UX… As you scroll down, the pink liquid fills the tube, and they take you through their value proposition; Not just another agency, Always responsive, Let’s stay together. Only when the facts have been represented do they introduce a call to action.

6. Fill out your outline into a full piece of content, using style to arrange your sentences.

According to Cicero, there are two core elements to style: Eloquence: The words flow easily, often using subtle rhyme and alliteration. Power: High impact words and phrases triggering strong emotional responses. How to apply it: Have personality. There are dozens of companies making healthy, organic green juices. If the product and price are essentially the same, what sets you apart? Personality. Let it show through your copy. Instead of writing a lot of copy, use high impact words. Say more with less. Style is about using language to get to your point as quickly as possible, later you can explain it in more depth. Think of this the way you think of onboarding. Your goal is to get the customer to your core value as quickly as possible, but later on, they will discover even more value. When you’re done writing, have a teenager or someone who has English as a second language read your copy. Where do they get stuck? What words and phrases are confusing to them? As a writer, it’s easy to overestimate readability.

7. Add elements that make the copy more memorable and add recallability, by drawing upon customers' previous memories.

There are two aspects to using memory in your content: Memory Recall: Draw on your audience’s pre-existing memories to solidify your argument. Memory Retention: Make your argument unique and memorable. According to multiple studies from 2013, nostalgia makes people feel closer to the people around them and more optimistic about the future. You can harness nostalgia to encourage customers to extend that positive feeling to your content, and to your brand. To make your copy memorable: Evoke an emotional response: What should your visitors feel after reading? Create contrast: Now vs. later, with vs. without. Contrast helps drive points home. Use unusual words / concepts: Unexpected words and concepts make visitors stop and think since it’s unfamiliar. Create shock: Do you have any shocking statistics or statements? If so, use them to create happiness (a positive surprise) or fear (an inconvenient truth). Use humor: Can you use your copy to tell a joke without sacrificing clarity? Use repetition: If you want something to be remembered, repeat it in different words.

8. Deliver your copy in a way that supports and augments your copy, choosing a medium, format, font, and images that suit your audience.

Today, the factors of delivery are: Medium: A landing page? A PPC ad? A print ad? An email? Length: 3,000 words like CXL or 300 words like Seth Godin? Format: Small, scannable paragraphs with lots of subheadings? Large, academic-style bodies of text? Typography on an image? Font: Speaking of typography, what message is your font sending your audience? Images: How do the images surrounding your copy impact your argument? Speed/Readability: How quickly does the page load? How easy is it to read and comprehend the copy? For example, Michael Aagaard showed how adding checkmark images, extending the length of the value proposition, and using a list format in a call to action resulted in a huge lift in signups.