At Last, Discover the Ultimate Secrets of Proven Power Words, Now! … a guest post by Cheryl Goldberg, of High Tech Communicator.
How many power words are stuffed into this headline?
Power words are words that allegedly boost the readership of an ad, document, or white paper dramatically and compel people to act. Articles and blog posts abound that claim these words are virtual hypnotists, commanding people’s fingers to click and read further or, even more astoundingly, get people to “throw money at you.”
I have to admit, anytime someone says that something as simple as words like proven, at last, discover, ultimate secrets, and now will compel my customers to not just cautiously call me about my services, but “throw money at me,” my skepticism meter hurls into overdrive. So I looked into the proof points that these articles gave for these words working so well.
The proof points generally fall into two categories:
- Anecdotal observation. People tell you to look at ads that seem effective and keep a list of the words they use. This is certainly a valid, though unscientific approach to finding words that you might try in your headlines.
- Serious academic research. Unfortunately, the source of this research is difficult to pin down. Some people have attributed “proven” lists of words to studies at universities that range from the University of California, Duke, and Yale. I was unable to find anyone who cited the actual studies.
Lists of Power Words
Let’s take a look at the actual words themselves. The following are on a few of the lists I found all over the blogosphere:
Guaranteed, money, save, new, easy, love, discovery, results, you, proven, health, safety
Another list includes:
Announcing, advice to, yes, insides secrets of, love, new, amazing secrets, discover, only, break through, do you, free, which, how much, now, life, how would, amazing, here, this, facts, sale, at last, bargains
And another list of words that sell includes:
Improve, trust, immediately, discover, profit, learn, know, understand, powerful, best, win, hot special, more, bonus, exclusive, extra, you, free, health, guarantee, new, proven, safety, money, now, today, results, protect, help, easy, amazing, latest, extraordinary, how to, worst, ultimate, hot, first, big, anniversary, premiere, basic, complete, save, plus, create
You can find another 186 power words for selling here.
Why They Might Work
Clearly, while there’s no single list of “power words” that capture people’s attention and compel them to act, the words on this list do have a lot in common and it makes sense that some of these things may well encourage people to act:
- Emotion: Powerful words create emotions that drive people to act. The most commonly evoked emotion in these lists is clearly fear. For example: safety (fear of getting hurt); proven, guarantee, sure fire (fear of risk), last chance, urgent (fear of missing out).
- Curiosity/news: Curiosity about new things can definitely draw someone in to read further. Words that evoke curiosity or provide news on these lists include: astonishing, inside secrets, how to, discover, learn, understand, breakthrough, new, ultimate, amazing, surprising, latest.
- Superlatives: I think the appeal of superlatives is in their curiosity factor: rare, unparalleled, outstanding, unsurpassed, terrific, unique—who wouldn’t be curious about a product that possessed these qualities. For other people, these words derive their influence because people covet “the best.”
- Greed: People want to make money or, better yet, get something for nothing. That’s why words like free, money, profit, bargain, bottom line are perennial inhabitants of power words lists.
Proceed with Caution
Of course, many marketers do use these words quite effectively. Indeed, very few technology marketing materials go out that don’t promise to improve your profits, ROI, bottom line, or other terms for making money. It’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for compelling marketing copy that works and to develop a swipe file of words and phrases that have proven to be effective that you can use in your white paper headlines.
The problem is that many so-called power words sound unbelievable and, quite frankly, like spam. When you have a well-educated, skeptical audience like IT buyers and you use words like these, you better back them up carefully or they’ll ultimately backfire.
The Bottom Line: Test, Test, Test
The bottom line is that the only definitive way to answer whether a title will work is to test, test, test. Speaking of testing, I’ll let you know after this post has been up for a few days whether my six “proven power words” really work.
What’s your experience with power words?
About our guest author:
Cheryl Goldberg is principal of Goldberg Communications, located in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. She’s written white papers, case studies, web content, email copy, articles and other marketing communications that propel IT buyers through the buying cycle for more than 25 years.
For more information, go to her Web site and blog, High Tech Communicator.