Don’t Read This or the Kitty Gets It!

Copywriting 101

Poor Fluffy. I asked you not to do this, and you’ve gone and broken the rules.

Things don’t look good for this cute little kitten I’ve taken hostage in case my demands were not met. She is awfully sweet, though.

We’ll just have to wait until later on in the article to decide the fate of Fluffy. But first, we really do need to discuss the ultimate goal of good copywriting.

Stick with me and I’ll go easy on the cat, deal?

Let’s get started. What is the primary purpose of any piece of writing that you put out online — whether a blog post, a networking email, a sales letter or a tutorial?

For starters, to get what you’ve written read, right?

Makes sense.

So, what’s the primary purpose of your headline, your graphics, your fonts, and every other part of the content?

The simple, surprising answer is…

To get the first sentence read.

This may seem somewhat simplistic to you. Or maybe even confusing.

For me, I came across this way of looking at copywriting later in my studies. I had spent plenty of time trying to master the art of writing a perfect headline, or properly conveying product benefits, or learning how to craft a compelling call to action.

But it all came together for me when legendary copywriter and direct marketer Joe Sugarman shared his secret for becoming a great copywriter:

Every element of copy has just one purpose — to get the first sentence read.

In his seminars, Sugarman would quiz his students on the purpose of various copy elements: the headline, the graphics, the sub-headlines, etc. Why are they important?

“What is the purpose of a headline?” Sugarman would ask.

Every time the student started with some complicated, jargon-filled explanation, he would cut them off.

“The purpose is to get the first sentence read,” he would counter.

“And the purpose of the first sentence is to get the second sentence read,” he continued.

And so on, down a slippery slide that leads to your offer and the sale.

This is an extremely valuable way to go about structuring any writing, and it’s crucial to writing intended to persuade or sell. Many times we find ourselves so eager to arrive at our conclusion that we forget that the essence of making a persuasive point (or causing any action) is how we get there.

Step by step.

Now… how do we get there?

With this simple framework in mind, the stage is set for drilling down deeper into the nitty gritty of the “step by step.” We’re now in a better position to more fully appreciate the specific techniques that apply to all of the various elements of strong copy.

For example, we can now see:

  • why a strong, compelling headline is critical;
  • why immediately focusing on the benefit to the reader is so crucial;
  • why you must make a promise to the reader that you later fulfill; and
  • why you must back up everything you’ve said with very specific proof.

If no one reads, all is lost.

And the key to getting someone to read is one sentence at a time, so compelled by that sentence that they want to read the next. In other words, how you say it is how you get there.

This is the first of the 10-part “Copywriting 101 series” From here we’ll examine the core principles and elements that take a reader from the first sentence to the sale, subscription, download or other action.

And while I did get you to read this entire article, I wouldn’t exactly recommend the strategy employed here. It worked, but pulling cheap stunts like this won’t help you in the long run.

Besides… my four year old daughter staged a daring rescue of the kitten when I wasn’t looking.

Kids!

Go back to the Copywriting 101 series.

Subscribe to Copyblogger to learn how to apply these basic principles to your online marketing efforts.

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Reader Comments (84)

  1. says

    Just found your site — very sound advice and very vividly explained! I’ve just subscribed and can’t wait for more (I’ve almost finished reading what’s up here so far :)). Cheers! -Lux

  2. says

    Excellent points presented by someone who clearly knows what they’re talking about.

    There’s been plenty written on the subject of “hooks” and “killer titles”, but it’s still always refreshing to read a post by someone who can present clearly and concisely why this is essential and hwo to do it.

  3. says

    Good site. Isn’t it funny how education is never ending. Thank God for dear Internet, am learning something every day.

  4. says

    Great headline, good article. What I’m missing, however, is a step by step process, in which you would walk a reader through the steps of generating a headline similar to the one you used. I’m sure there’s much more to it than getting your customers to “read your first sentence”. Otherwise, look forward to reading your future posts!

  5. says

    People need a teacher at times, and I have found a one. Your articles are very educational in every sense of the word, for you put sense in copywriting.

  6. says

    Brian,
    Have you studied anything by John Carlton? I’ve heard nothing but good things, and just want to learn from the best. I’ve looked at purchasing his materials, still deciding on the 2K price tag. Any other recommendations?

  7. says

    Copywriting 101, is a great tutorial. I stumbled upon your site today and I was reminded of a cliche that I’ve heard on many occassions “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”, need I say more!

  8. says

    Jackie,

    Great point – I had stumbled across copyblogger a couple of times in the past, thinking it was just an average ‘me too’ site (linked from ProBlogger), but just yesterday started to look more closely and found this to probably be the most useful site available on how to write good copy for one’s blog.

    Excellent work, Brian – looking forward to a lot more additional and useful content.

  9. says

    I guess that makes sense… If the headline and the first sentence does not grab the readers attention, then the rest of the story is useless… Interesting…

  10. says

    Hi Brian,

    I’ve been a reader and fan of copyblogger since I’ve stumbled across it. Have been immersed in your latest posts and did not venture beyond. But now that I have, there’s treasure lying in your earlier posts too.

    Looking forward to peacefully complete and apply all the principles in Copywriting 101.

    Thanks Brian, keep blogging.

  11. says

    Hi there. I’ve stumbled across Copyblogger in the past and shrugged. Now I’m all about studying copywriting and I see it’s power.

    I can’t believe the wealth of copywriting information you have on this blog. There are a lot of direct response techniques I’ve been wanting to learn from all kinds of copy-masters, but I’m sure a lot of those teachings are within these pages.

    I’m looking forward to reading your blog like a kid in a candy shop.

    See ya,

    Jason

  12. Dan McCord says

    You say you don’t recommend the Kitty Gets It strategy. Well the January ’73 issue of National Lampoon magazine “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog”, is the American Society of Magazine Editors 7th best magazine cover of the last 40 years. It also got my attention enough that it was the first issue I ever bought! Maybe cheap stunts DO work!

    Thanks
    Dan

  13. says

    I spend much time here looking through your articles as careful as possible which help me a lot on blogging

    English is not my native language,so I just try my best to read and write correctly

    PS:is it ok to translate some of your article into Chinese?

  14. nancy says

    Just ran across this article and had to send it to the other copywriters in my marketing/advertising teams. Love reading your stuff–keep doing what you do!

  15. says

    hm, I never realised that it is so important to get the first sentence read, but makes sense when I think about it. Gotta look through my sites now and optimize that.

  16. says

    i think i have been on this site in the past, but now i find myself on it again and this time i think i will be staying for a while. i recently discovered that copywriting is kinda fun, especially when you are getting paid to do it. – Stephen

  17. says

    I can’t resist a title with “don’t” in it, though glad fluffy made it ok despite my curiosity. Hope reading the copywriting-101 is going to help alleviate my writers block.

  18. says

    Sugarman really hit the nail on the head when he underscored the need for copywriters to get the first sentence read.

    You can have the fanciest fridge in the world but if it’s empty, what’s the point?

    Really enjoying the site and flicking through your animated and informative content. Cheers

  19. says

    Thanks. I’ve had some trouble adjusting to this as when I finish a post, I like to get it out as soon as I can. I’m sure a lot of others have this true. I’ve learned to now spend the half hour or so of writing a great headline, optimizing, deciding where/if to promote my post, etc. it takes to get my first sentence read more.

  20. says

    Don’t know about a cheap headline! It was appropriate in the situation and certainly grabbed the attention.

    An extention of this philosophy is that the first 5 words of a para summarise the para for the scanners.

    Thanks for the resource, it is certainly a good read.

  21. says

    Nice start, can’t wait to read the rest of the series. Social proof is extremely important – that’s why I’m here after all – a recommendation! If you trust or respect the person who advises, it is all the more powerful.

  22. says

    Getting the 1st sentence read is a great idea for your content. We forget how important that really is sometimes.

  23. Fouad Al Zomir says

    Dear Mr. Brian & Sonia,
    Appreciate very much this library which full of INFORMATIVE.

    Good luck & God blessing YOU.
    My best.

  24. says

    I like that you put a link back to the “Copywriting 101″ page. What a simple way to gauge whether people actually read the whole article or not!

  25. says

    This site inspires me. From the very first day when I discovered it I always know where to get information. The copywriting article is very good. Keep it up.

  26. says

    Meow! – Great point and great article. Joe Sugarman is one of my great inspirations along with Ray Bradbury…love how you began AND ended with the personal stuff, your cat and your daughter.

    Hellos and goodbyes are the most important part of any conversation. :-)

  27. role playing game says

    haha great article mate! Love the incorporation with personal life, and the satirical humour throughout. Also quite informative. cheers.

  28. Badruduja says

    This is a wonderfully rocking lesson. I am a starter. I could reconstruct my concepts about copywrighting and to build a new frame of this technique in mind now. I think this frame would come out side with in few days in it’s most beatiful shape.

  29. says

    “The purpose is to get the first sentence read” is such a damn simple idea. I’m sure it’s easier said than done, but what a novel concept. That just hit me in the chest like a side kick from a UFC fighter.

    Thanks!

  30. says

    It’s a such shame that we have to be shocked or amuzed to get our attention.
    We like to think we are clever but it is as simple as ” Killing a kitten”
    Thanks for the great blog
    Mike

  31. says

    First time caller; first time listener…

    I have been successful (to a degree) in getting my website listed and the SEO that I have. The thing that I missed is compelling copy.

    Oh the copy is good, but not compelling.

    And that is what brought me here, and I am so glad I did…so far. I think that I am going to be overwhelmed and embarrassed to go on further…

    Oh, and BTW…please release the kitty!

  32. says

    Brian,
    To melt Joe Sugarman’s teaching down to one sentence was genius. The rest should be a piece of cake. Even this early in the series I can tell it will be easy to digest and act upon efficiently and effectively. I can’t wait to read the follow ups.
    Thanks.
    All the best,
    Tim Stanforth
    PS Catch you on twitter: @affasttrack

  33. says

    Hehe. I love the fun approach you took with this article, Brian. You even got me chuckling a few times!

    This is absolutely huge and something I think many aspiring writers, entrepreneurs, and bloggers struggle with – making each sentence so enticing that the reader will want, and even need, to move on to the next sentence. And yet, it’s the most important aspect of writing copy.

    And this is especially true if you write for the Web. There are far too many scanners surfing the Net, making writing captivating content even more important today than it was 50 years ago.

    Enjoyed the beginning of the Copywriting 101 series and look forward to reading all the way to the end in all 10 lessons!

    Christina

  34. Janet says

    Ahh, but easier said than done! Brilliant post, my appetite is now whetted for the rest of the course. Thanks.

  35. says

    That was fantastic! I’m not sure I have anything meaningful to add, I just wanted to give praise; that’s how much I loved this article.

    The kitten tactic was cheap and fun. While I agree that it’s not a good long term tactic, it’s a fantastic one off!


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