How to Be a Copywriting Genius: The Brilliantly Sneaky Trick You Must Learn

Sneaky Copywriting

Are your readers doing what you want them to do? Are they clicking through to your links, ordering your eBook or signing up for your opt-in? If not, you need to learn a master craftsman’s copywriting secret.

This technique acts like a remote control to get your readers to take action. Press this “magic button” and you’ll see your results improve dramatically.

The secret, masters-only technique to compelling your readers to act is to . . .

. . . . ask them.

Annoyed? Think I’m pulling your leg? There’s nothing magical or tricky to getting someone to do something just by asking them, right? That’s completely obvious.

And most copy doesn’t do it.

Which is why most copy gets weak results.

Persuasive writing needs a strong call to action

The advice to “always ask them” has been turned into a heroic-sounding marketing term called the call to action, as if trumpets were sounding and prospects were marching off to war just because you inserted a couple of words at the end of your copy.

The term might sound a little bombastic. But the simple fact is, once you’ve gained your reader’s attention (with a great headline and a strong hook) and presented all the benefits she’ll get by taking the action you want, you still have one more hoop to jump through.

You need to tell your reader exactly what to do, how to do it, and that you want her to do it right now.

Make it specific

The late copywriting master Gary Halbert liked to include seemingly insane levels of detail in his calls to action.

His copy would end with something like, “Call (specific 800 number). You’ll talk with a woman named Robin in a blue sweater who will ask you, Would you like the large size or the jumbo?. Tell her you want the jumbo. She’ll ask you for your mailing address where you can receive packages, and you’ll give it to her.” He goes on and on like that for quite some time.

For the beginning copywriter, it feels like a strange, awkward technique that’s going to “look weird.” But for the reader, in the context of taking action that might cost some money, time or inconvenience, this level of detail creates a solid, comfortable understanding of what to do next and what to expect.

If you want your reader to take action, use highly specific language with clear, concrete details. Don’t leave any question about what you want to see happen. And don’t be afraid to be a little “too obvious.”

Your readers are not dumb

As you’re writing, you’ll think you have made yourself stupidly clear. You spent 14 hours on that lengthy article describing your fascinating new product. You followed up with a 12-part series on your blog and an autoresponder sequence of 20 emails.

To you, any moron can see what to do next–your reader should click through to that PayPal button and order your new work of genius.

The reality isn’t very appealing for the writer.

The fact is, Ron Reader found one of your posts (maybe #3 out of that carefully planned series of 12) on StumbleUpon and spent 30 seconds skimming the subheads. He read the first sentence twice because he thought it was funny, then he skipped down and read part of the last paragraph.

Then you got lucky–instead of Ron hitting “Stumble” again, Ron’s boss came up behind the cube and Ron had to think fast. He brought up a spreadsheet to look like he was working. An hour later, Ron’s cousin sent another link to YouTube, and Ron spent 20 minutes surfing videos of dogs drinking beer. Then he wrapped up that really overdue report while eating a bag of Fritos and catching up on email.

Four minutes before he shut down for the day, Ron noticed your post again, so he read your first paragraph and one of the sections that looked kind of interesting.

Your readers are not dumb. But they do have a lot of other things competing for their attention. So no, Ron Reader is not going to know what to do next unless you spell it out with painful clarity, and probably tie a giant red ribbon on it while you’re at it.

Incidentally, this is why links that say “click here,” even though they make Web usability pundits cringe, test better than links that don’t. It might be hard to believe, but no, many hurried and distracted users don’t instantly get that they are supposed to click here. You have to tell them.

Being clear isn’t the same as talking down to your reader

Granddaddy copywriter John Caples wrote about this very point way back in 1932. When you see the word “ad,” substitute post or landing page or Web copy. All persuasive writing is built on the same foundations.

Don’t make ads simple because you think people are low in intelligence. Some are smart and some are not smart. The point is that people are thinking about other things when they see your ad. Your ad does not get their full attention or intelligence. Your ad gets only a fraction of their intelligence . . . . People won’t study your ad carefully. They can’t be bothered. And so you have to make your ads simple.

Decide what action you want readers to take. Ask them to take that action. Ask them clearly, succinctly and unmistakably.

Put at least one unambiguous call to action into every piece of persuasive writing you create. You’ll see results.

About the Author: Get more online marketing advice from Sonia Simone by subscribing to her blog today.

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Reader Comments (117)

  1. says


    this is high quality information! Not only SEO, keywords and blog optimizing is important. If you write badly, you do not have a lot of readers.


  2. says

    Sonia, spot-on commentary! In a world where our prospects are assaulted by marketing messages from every which way, clarity of purpose – like simply asking for the action – will almost always win the day.

    Now please tell that to my non-profit clients who think it’s vaguely ‘dirty’ to come right out and ask for a donation :)

  3. says

    It’s uncanny but I did a talk on just this very thing a few days ago – even some of my examples were the same (great minds and all that). I think you totally nailed the concept and I shall be passing the link to this article on to some of my clients.

  4. says

    Hi Sonia, I don’t normally click through to the site however this really got my attention and just wanted to say thanks. I will be using your tips :)

  5. says

    Really enjoyed your post, Sonia. I’m always fighting the temptation to be to subtle in my writing. People don’t have time to interpret, so you have to be crystal clear.

  6. says

    This is a method I would never dream of using, simply on the basis that I assume that the readers knows exactly what needs to be done. This has shed some light on the matter for me definitely and I intend to use this in the future. Well done a very simple and concise post.

  7. says

    Hey, well done, Sonia. You’re right on with this.

    “Click here to learn more.” “Visit our XYZ page.” “Give us a call right now.” Those are all call to action phrases (short and sweet, mind you) that do help people know what to do next.

    You explained it well and wrote it well. Couldn’t have said it better myself!

  8. says

    Really well done, Sonia.

    Most people don’t believe just how simple you have to make things for other people.

    Here’s a tip for bloggers:

    If you put a mashup of 10 links in your post, the very few who do click will click the first one.

    My testing indicates that if you really, really want your readers to go to a link, you have to make it the whole point of the post and the only link available.

    I’ve been the first link of 10, in a blog post, on a blog with tens of thousands of readers and gotten 45 whopping visitors from that post.

    Those posts with 15 places you want your readers to visit are almost worthless to the 15 people you link to, visitor wise. Almost.

  9. says

    Thanks, all!

    Boy, Roberta, I feel your pain. I have one of those as well. I love them dearly and they do some amazing things, but they’re very particular about anything that feels “icky.”

    There’s a whole category of techniques that help response tremendously, but can be hard to sell to certain kinds of clients. I call them the “I don’t want to sound like an infomercial” issues. Talking reluctant folks through those is probably one of the major themes of my blog, in fact. :)

    One of the things that first drew me to Brian is that he’s really mastered the art of using those time-tested direct response copy techniques without sounding cheesy. It’s a skill well worth acquiring.

    To change the subject, with a little luck, the Internet at large will think that very pretty woman in the photo is me. :)

  10. says

    I am a blogger by night and an interactive copywriter by day. You’re absolutely right. “Click here” is necessary because a majority of internet users still don’t really “get it.” You have to make that call to action clear as a bell.

  11. says

    As Jonathan from Freelancefolder suggested in one of his older posts, I always try to end a blog post with a question that requests feedback.

  12. says

    This is a keeper, Sonia. Not only because I love the word “bombastic”, but because in a very real way good copy is a map to the treasure. “X marks the spot”, big arrow with “dig here”, and a drawing of the jewels…all very good ideas.
    Loved reading this.
    All best, Jan

  13. says

    Great tips! Others have aimed at it, but you’ve really nailed the topic.

    When I wrote for newspapers, we aimed at a 6th grade reading level because readers are too distracted by life to give up much more of their attention, not because they cannot read. Now, I check the reading level and ease ratings for all of my articles, then go back and re-write as much as possible to keep the topic easy to ‘get’ quickly!

  14. says

    Great advice! I’ve known many people who are too afraid to ask for exactly what they want to happen. People can’t be afraid to ask for their users, readers and anyone who happens upon their site to do something — especially online! In the online universe, there’s quite a remarkably smaller barrier to entry than there is buying something in a store. There, you’ll see an ad in a magazine, think about it and then have to head to the store. Online, it’s all right there. 😉

  15. says

    Copy can be the most difficult part of a blogger/online marketers “job.” These are absolute essential for effective online copywriting, especially for online marketers.

    Great job!
    Maria :-)

  16. says

    Hmmm, some interesting points to ponder. My take away from this is to remember that you most likely don’t have your readers 100% attention. The TV’s on, the kids are crying, the dogs barking, etc. You need to keep it straightforward for these people. Thanks for the post!

    – Dave

  17. says

    Great article, Sonia! I’ve been teaching a lot of web-writing classes lately for my day job and really had to stress to the students that writing simply or using reading level algorithms in order to reach a sixth grade reading level was NOT dumbing down their content.

    I also really like how you ended with your own advice! Excuse me, I now have to go persuade somebody to hire a blog consultant… 😉

  18. says

    Wow, It’s very interesting! My blog has a section for the readers to receive their jobs by email but most of them forget to confirm the subscription, and I think it’s because I don’t explain it very well. Now I have learned that wonderful principle!
    Thank you for the post, Sonia Simone!

  19. says

    Hi Sonia,

    Great advice…and fun to read too! I like your “bombastic”! I have a choir director who speaks with this “new language” as well…and it certainly makes life more colorful! Thanks again.

  20. says

    Great article. I’m going to use these tactics for a click through to an affiliate product. I wonder if it will work. Too often, copywriters get stuck on the creativity part of creating an ad–trying to make something really creative and interest–but keeping it simple is an important thing. Thanks for the reminder.

  21. says

    Great post, but you forgot to give the step by step call to action at the end :-)

    “Now go to your own blog. Add a new post. You will see a blank space. Write in it. Don’t to ask your readers to act on your call to action.”

  22. says

    This is such great advice. When I first started, asking my readers was a little embarrassing. But it works. People respond in a very positive way when you’re specific about what you want them to do.

  23. says

    In a kaleidoscope of conversion seeking presentations, focus is fleeting. Why not ask? Empowering advice delivered with an enlightening perspective!

  24. says

    Great advice, Sonia. I have just recently started to implement this into my own blog writing, so I will be curious to see how it turns out :)

  25. says

    This is great advice. I have yet to include an “insane level of detail” in my copy but I think I am going to try it. It doesn’t feel natural but if it gets the results I want, then it won’t matter.

  26. says


    Thanks, that helps, I need to write descriptions for dresses, but I want to description to be a call to action in itself. Your article pointed my nose in the right direction :)

  27. says

    Great article, I think many times folks can get caught up in all the other aspects of writing good copy, they forget to ask for the sale! Also, some still have a mental block when it comes actually time to sell something, they don’t want to get that “negative rep” for being a “salesperson”, and this stops many from simply asking for the sale.

    Thanks for the article. I have some catching up to do on here.

  28. says

    Very informative, thanks so much.

    I love to write with great attention to detail, as you will see from my blog, and it’s good to know that this is important.

    I am still trying to break into the freelance writing business, and hope to get somewhere before the end of the year.

  29. says

    I love, love, love, this article! This really puts things in perspective for me as a fledgling blogger. Thanks so much for the insight!

  30. says

    Dammit Sonia – i love that call to action in the last sentence at the end. Subtle, effective, actionable….

    think i’ll go ahead and ask you not to stop writing. Ever. Please.

    – thanks!

  31. says

    Great advice for this blogging newbie. Especially the quote from John Caples. I know I am so busy these days with a job, raising labradors, and trying to write that I skim what I read. I only take the time to read something completely if it is absolutely essential to me. Thanks!

  32. says

    People feel relief when you tell them why you’re calling. I get 3-4 sales calls a week*, and most people ask “how I am,” and they are either strangers or very nearly so. It chaffs my soul. I can’t deal with it, it feels sleazy. I got a call from someone recently that was “hey, I’m calling to see if you need me to design a FB fan page.”

    Much better & more direct. So it works in normal sales.

    *this is a result of having a profile at Active Rain.

  33. Maria Sansalone says

    Hi Sonia: So nice to stumble upon blog commentary that’s expert and solid and, try as I might, I haven’t found what it is you’re selling – oh, wait a minute, maybe you’re not selling anything, or, at least as refreshing, it’s not so in my face that I had trouble ignoring it… Maria Sansalone

  34. says

    Sensational advice Sonia
    I clear message and call to action is essential no matter what type of advertising medium you are using.
    The last thing you want is a reader ready to take action but confused as to tp what they should do.

    Cheers Adam

  35. says

    Great article Sonia.

    I’ve always avoided using “click here” like the plague for the reasons you stated especially for the actual hyper link. Guess that become I come from a technical background and learned that this was a practice to be frowned upon.

    You’ve changed my mind now, as getting action is more important that being politically correct!

  36. says

    You have made a believer of me. Up until reading your article I would have felt icky about telling my readers what to do. You did such a good job of explaining this point, and using the example about the details and what the buyer can expect once he clicks, etc – has really opened my mind. Also, the point about intelligence v. the intelligence that will actually be trained on our text is excellent.

    Thanks a million!

  37. says

    Great advice Sonia. Loved your Ron Reader story.

    I’m guilty of forgetting basic copy rules when I write something that isn’t an ad – like a blog post. That’s why my posts can turn into rambling shaggy-dog stories without any punch-line.

  38. says

    Call to actions are missed so much in local business ads. Not many businesses use them just because none of their competitors do and on it goes lol.

    Great article, thanks.

  39. says

    Sonia. Thank you so much for all that you do on this blog. I am starting a small business providing training for musicians using the software Ableton Live, but I also work as a rhetoric instructor. I find your tips immensely useful not only for my website, but also for my classroom. Keep up the good work!

  40. says


    Thanks for this post, you make some very good points here. I especially like the way you closed this article by suggesting that we make our ads simple, not because our readers aren’t intelligent, but because they’re busy and we’re fighting for their attention. Definitely something we should never lose sight of.

  41. says

    I found this incredibly compelling, as I’m just getting into copywriting for a company blog. I tend to write in complex sentences and have been swallowing my pride a lot lately when my boss copyedits a draft that decimates my prose. Keeping it simple, not because of the expectation of the reader but his or her fractional intelligence available, is something I never considered, and frankly refreshing.

  42. says

    This has shed some light on the matter for me definitely and I intend to use this in the future. Well done a very simple and concise post. Looking forward to learning more from reading your blog.

  43. says

    The John Caples advice is golden. Aspiring internet marketers would be well served to study the advertising trailblazers like John Caples, Claude Hopkins, and Robert Collier. There is an incredible amount of advertising and marketing wisdom in their books. I sometimes think web entrepreneurs forget the “Marketing” part of Internet Marketing.

  44. says

    Put at least one unambiguous call to action into every piece of persuasive writing you create. You’ll see results.

    I suspect that one line has more than made these past several hours of reading your posts that much more worth it.

    I am going back and putting a call to action in everything.



  45. says

    Ditto Frank J.Kenny I am fairly new to the online writing circuit. I was completely amazed at the contents of that very same sentence. Thank you for all the great tips. when people visit my site at: “Write Talk Right” they will be totally Blown Away by my website cos it’s nothing like this at all, that’s right! nothing like this at all If you are just a bit curious,


  46. says

    “click here” is a great call to action, but when it is so overused I think information consumers shy away from it a bit. Nonetheless a great article!

  47. says

    Most of us are way too shy about a clear call to action. Your entertaining illustration drives the point home very well, though. I even see myself in it…finding a page at the end of the day that I had opened in the early morning and started reading, thinking to myself, “Man, how did I get pulled away from that.”

  48. says

    Thank you for sharing this informative article. This is a great tip for anyone wanting to improve their copywriting skills. Once readers are told exactly what to do, any writer will manifest immediate improvements with their copy.


    Stacie Walker

  49. says

    I absolutely agree. As a PR gal for authors, it’s staggering the number of people that don’t want to include to ask their readers to vote for them, click, or just flat out buy the book if they’ve enjoyed the excerpt. It’s not nagging as long as you do it tastefully and are not bombarding people. It’s closing the sale. And plenty of that is what keeps the lights on. (Just think – drivethrough fast food people *obviously* don’t have the same mental block, hmm??? :)

  50. says

    I posted an article this morning and saw little traction, I read this article and “How to Write Magnetic Headlines” and then changed my articles headline…two minutes later I began to see activity! Thank you! : )

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