The Art of Irresistible Copywriting

image of ogilvy rolls royce ad

I’m going to tell you a secret.

It’s a copywriting secret that the immortals — from Aristotle to Ogilvy to Draper — have known, but few have stated as directly as I’m about to.

By now, you know the standards of effective copywriting

Know your audience. Know your product cold. Research. Nail the headline. Write plainly, in the language of your audience. Research more. Write fascinating bullets. Craft a great offer. Include a strong call to action. Et cetera.

These elements are the standard for good reason. They get the job done.

This little truth I’m about to tell you is the foundation that makes all the rest of it work.

Ready for it?

Every sentence you write must make your
reader want to read the next sentence you write
.

Yes, this entire business of copywriting, persuasion, and sales can be boiled down to that simple statement.

The headline only exists to get the first sentence read.

The first sentence only exists to get the second sentence read. And so on, pulling the reader right through your page, story, bullets, and call to action.

It’s that simple. And it’s that difficult. The secret is in the line.

The headline of this post makes use of the word “Art.” I didn’t choose that word arbitrarily. Copywriting is art as much as it is science.

A great headline is followed by a single compelling sentence that engages the reader’s interest. And then another, followed by another, and another.

Don’t worry, you won’t be able to pull it off all the time. Hell, you won’t even pull it off most of the time. Even the copywriting greats didn’t write perfect sales pages.

But many got close.

If you keep the raw horsepower of The Single Line in your mind and in your gut as you work, you’re going to make something good.

And when you make something good, all those lines are going to go to work for you, day and night, for a long, long time.

So write urgent, unique, ultra-specific, and useful headlines.

Demonstrate the benefits, not the features.

Make an offer they can’t refuse.

And do it all by deliberately crafting each sentence to honestly, accurately, and entertainingly tell your product’s story.

Difficult? Sure.

You’d better get to work.

About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse.

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Comments

  1. It’s interesting how many people overlook the important of a headline. It is the first tug on an enticing bait, that keeps them reading on to your next potent tug. Great article!

  2. I did indeed read through to the end of the post, so your theory holds true. I tend to write in paragraphs that are a bit too verbose – I need to break them up and focus more on the single line. Great advice!

    • You’ll be amazed at how much more readable things become simply by breaking paragraphs up. But yes, keep looking at those sentences — make them clear and readable, without dumbing it down.

      • You know I write the same way…

        …but someone called me out the other day, and told me it was harder to read.

        And for them, that might be true, but for the masses, this one sentence thing works like a charm.

        • Everyone has their little peculiarities, but most people have an easier time reading paragraphs with more white space.

          A longer post or landing page with only one-sentence paragraphs might get a little much. But keeping paragraphs to between one and maybe five lines (word count will obviously vary depending on your line width) seems to work best for most readers.

  3. Make every word count! I think a lot of bloggers and site owners are looking for the “magic number” of words to make their content more appealing. It doesn’t matter how long or how short something is if it doesn’t pull the reader in! Ever read some of the 6 word stories? Some of the best pieces of content you’ll ever find.

  4. The point to take away here is definitely “Every sentence you write must make your reader want to read the next sentence you write.” Whether it’s the titles, or body connect (text/images) it needs to be one the connects with your audience, so that they find value in it. Again you don’t need to write pages and pages, even if its short posts, but good quality post.

  5. I have a sales copy that I’ve probably rewritten over 150 times.

    Having this article would have been a huge time saver haha! But it’s true that every single pixel on the page needs to be there for a reason.

    It’s like an artist painting a picture, love it!

  6. Breaking the paragraphs is something I learned, the hard way. I’d rather divulge in something important, short and interesting rather than writing copious amount of words and bore the heck out of my readers. Great tips as usual :)

  7. Hello Robert,

    I think headline plays important role to get hold visitors on our site visitors and also it helps to reduce the bounce rate .

    As I have seen many post which is highly informative but visitors just bounce as their title is not catchy or attractive or meaningful.

    • Absolutely. If you don’t snag that attention in the first place with a good headline, then keep it with good design and layout for that micro-second of decision about “will I read this,” you lose the reader. Even if your content is amazing — she’ll never know because you didn’t capture and keep her on the page.

  8. On this principle alone (Every sentence you write must make your reader want to read the next sentence you write) is the book Cashvertising based on.

    Excellent read!

  9. One of the most overlooked ways to do what you’re talking about is with the effective use of transitions – sentences that encourage, and even cause, the reader to want to continue reading.

  10. Good reminder about the purpose for writing in the first place. Each line is another step to get your prospect closer to the sale.

    Ruth, Sonia and Kiran’s points about breaking up copy into paragraphs are also well taken, and something that many of us have to unlearn from school (e.g. “minimum three sentences”).

    It’s also a comfort to know that even the best of us can’t do it every single time out. But the more we do it, the better and more consistent we get. Even when it’s just writing a comment in response!

    By the way, I’m intrigued about the amateur recluse part of your bio! Who would you consider a professional recluse? I’m guessing Salinger would qualify. Thanks for the tips, Robert!

  11. You know I’m going to print this.

    I CAN NEVER REMIND MYSELF OF THIS ENOUGH…I’m hoping it’ll be habit one day.

  12. Very true. Each sentence needs to propel you into the next, but there’s more to it than driving people from word one to the final line.

    Think people are reading your copy intently from beginning to end? HA! We live in the age of the skim. We’re surrounded by information overload, and on the internet in particular we have a billion pages an easy click away. So where in your copy do you need to hook your reader?

    Copy needs to grab the reader no matter their entry point. Every sentence is an entry; every sentence is an exit. Instead of over-relying on a complex, beautiful logical build up, any point of copy should be able to excite, intrigue or inspire the reader.

  13. At first I didn’t understand what copywriting was, but I now the basics and more, I will definitely implement it into my blog, Appreciated.
    Dann,
    AStarMe.com

  14. Headlines are so essential… I find that one way to attract is to appeal to the senses. I work mostly in the food industry, so the senses are super important there, even when trying to sell to distributors or restaurants.

    I’m a way better seller on paper than I ever was in a store!

  15. Your article reads almost like poetry.

    Short crisp paragraphs with a single thought.

    I feel myself moving through a momentum-gathering list of compelling evidence.

    :D

  16. Well you got me! I read your essay all the way through and by the time I was done, I fully agreed with you. I remember this adage from many years ago: “People don’t buy things for what they ARE, they buy them for what they DO.” Yes, some technical details may be necessary but only if they can be connected to a benefit.

    Robert, you are a very wise man. (Ta-dah! Your reward for reading to the end.)

  17. Before I studied copywriting I used to write with an academic style using long, wordy paragraphs so boring even I didn’t want to read it after I’d finished writing it.

    Copywriting has completely changed the way I write. And I’d have to say the number one thing I do differently is to make my paragraphs (and sentences) shorter. I love the one liners, bullet points, all that good stuff. Clear and to the point so the message doesn’t get lost.

    Anyway, great article Robert. For seasoned copywriters, this is something they should revisit again and again. For newbies, it’s an invaluable lesson.

  18. It’s so basic yet so powerful! Your copy is a road map for your reader. Every point must be interesting enough for them to complete the journey and accomplish what you hope them to do!

    Thanks for the reminder, Robert!

  19. I agree writing the perfect ad is darn near impossible. However this Rolls Royce ad written by Daid Ogilvy
    himself was as near to perefect as it can get. Especially being the ad brought in an overwhelming flood of new orders for the custom made car. Forcing the Rolls Royce Motor car company to have their factory employees go into overtime. To get these fine automobiles out on time, to their customers around the world.

  20. As I’ve admitted many times, I didnt “get” copywriting until I understood this, and one other thing. The other thing I reveal in the Premise Guide to Effective Copywriting.

  21. This is so true. I’ve been writing a lot and this is something that I have yet to master. But I’m wondering if there’s a format or a writing style that makes the reader want to read the next sentence, and then so on.

  22. Most online copy is atrocious, especially when it comes to sales.The fact that somebody commented that they didn’t know what copywriting was and that they have now implemented it into their blog is testament to this(no offence to that poster but I assume that if they are reading this their blog is promoting something, even if it is only themselves).

    The internet has actually taken us back to a place where headlines, image and body copy are relevant again. You want to do it right? Start at the beginning. Buy D&AD Copy book or any old One Show annuals. Read up on Bert Bernbach. Watch Art & Copy. Read Luke Sullivan’s “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This” ( you won’t find a better copywriting guide than this, ask anybody at your agency, if they don’t know it you should consider your options)

    I like that Ogilvy ad but Abbot Mead Vickers Economist work is a better place to start if you want to see a headline(no body copy) sum up and sell a brand. Not linking. Google it and you will find some other great work while you search.

    • Headline with no body is not our recommended way to sell anything — it’s a staple of magazine ads, but online (unless you’re in the pay-per-click world) different techniques are called for.

      I completely agree with you — steep yourself in as much copywriting advice as possible. To your list I’d add successful writers who focused on direct response — Eugene Schwartz, Drayton Bird, Gary Bencivenga, Joe Sugarman, etc.

      See comment below. :)

  23. Thanks, Joe Sugarman.

  24. Thanks a lot! Now I have to go and try to write some really great copy! ;)

  25. What I like about copyblogger is that I can always expect to read something valuable, but not only that…

    They set a perfect example and practice what they preach!

    I tend to ramble in my sentences and construct them in mixed up convoluted ways. It’s so hard to craft a sentence while simultaneously communicating complex ideas. Anyone else have this problem? Certainly not the writers at copyblogger.

    If no one reads to your call to action, I don’t think you’ll drive many sales.

  26. This is very interesting, add a new dimension. I only thought of getting readers to want to read the next paragraph, but you went to next sentence.

  27. Compelling heading even can compensate your ill designed blog. People try to browse your blog at-least once and if your heading is able to catch their attention. Then your can force them to read another line.

  28. Ha the secret was revealed long ago in copywriting 101 :p

    http://www.copyblogger.com/do-not-read-this-post-or-the-kitten-gets-it/

    But this advise is so good, it should be repeated and then again :)

  29. I found myself nodding my head through this entire post. If there would be one rule of copywriting this could be it. It’s hard to do it but I’m going to try to remember this every time I am putting pen to paper or more likely fingers to keyboard.

  30. Robert, you are also the host of the podcasts, I believe. (GREAT voice). Love this reminder (I had heard it somewhere before from how great novelists write their masterpieces) and it is true that we need to pull the reader to the next sentence. It can be so overwhelming to think about that when you write. It takes away, I imagine, from creativity and flow of writing but maybe that comes during the edit process. Will keep in mind for that next blog post. Or heck, let me read my comment and see if I am interested in reading the sentences that follow ;)!

  31. Hi,
    I am disabled and would like to know if you know the name of any critique groups. I can’t drive because I am
    disabled so I would like a good one that can relate to.I have alot of books that I need edit Verna

  32. You’ve both nailed and pegged it. Best, simple post I’ve read about “how to write”. Happily retweeted and posted to Scoop.it also.

  33. Every now and then I need to be smacked in the face with simplicity. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  34. great piece. informative, effective and well-written.

  35. Never met an amateur recluse before. I’m fascinated. But I do love the post. You take stuff I know and make it compelling enough to read it anyway…..and share with my colleagues.

  36. Good post, great advice! ‘Don’t worry, you won’t be able to pull it off all the time. Hell, you won’t even pull it off most of the time. Even the copywriting greats didn’t write perfect sales pages.’

    It’s so easy to get caught up in what a perfect piece of copywriting should be, this post has boiled it down and made it feel more manageable. I’ll hold onto that sentence…

  37. Awesome post, Robert. You’re so right, you’ve got to be interesting when writing because every sentence you write must make your reader want to read the next sentence you write.

    Thanks for the tips. Make it a better than terrific day!

  38. Brilliantly simple. Not so easy to do. Worth the effort.v This tip forces value and good thinking which will no doubt raise the standard of blogging. Thanks

  39. Great post Robert, and a great ad example.
    AJ

  40. I love a challenge, and this is the first article I’ve read in a long time that I know is going to keep me on my toes. You’ve got me already picturing my next sales page… my next sales email. I’ve never thought of this concept the way you put it. It makes so much sense and is so simple, yet it’s going to be a huge challenge to put the flow in action. I’m inspired to get to work revising my sequential emails now!

  41. Hello Robert,

    I find your reminder about criteria for writing headlines using the four “u’s” (urgent, unique, ultra-specific and useful) quite helpful and an acronym I have ‘sticky-noted’ on my desk. Very useful!

    Thanks,

    Pam

  42. Great information, I always need reminder of how to write good content.