Essential Copywriting Formulas Every Writer Should Know (and Why)

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Last week I did a Google+ Hangout with Max Minzer. During the interview I argued that everyone — especially experts — could benefit from learning how to write direct response copywriting.

Of course I first defined what direct-response copywriting is: the ability to write something to get action, and then measure that action. That feedback will tell you what is working … and what is not … helping you write in such a way that your best ideas get noticed, shared, and acted upon.

During the interview I mentioned a popular formula I use for creating persuasive copy: the four Ps. If I had more time I would have shared even more. Well, I can do that now on my own blog.

Ready? Let’s go. 

Four Cs

Everything You Need to Know About Creating Killer Content in 3 Simple Words

This was only the second post I’d written for Copyblogger. But it summed up what I’d learned in the preceding eights years of studying copywriting, web marketing, usability, and SEO.

In the following three posts I expanded on each on of the Cs.

Writing Clear Copy: The Only Rule You Need to Worry About

The number one rule when it comes to web writing is this: what you write must be clear. So how do you write copy that makes sense? Fortunately the answer is simple.

The Art of Writing Concise Copy

This is my process for editing web copy — from omitting useless words to abandoning a post. This is where you make your money.

How Cancer and Death Can Make a Dull Product Irresistible (Compelling)

We have to get to the heart if we want people to care. If we want people to respond. Here is how one company did that with their query-free insight discovery tool (I know, right, so exciting!).

Four Ps

Gimpy Web Copy? Use This 4-Step Formula to Make It Killer

Your prospect doesn’t care about your product. He just wants to know how he can solve his problem and turn his life around. He’ll worry about the actual product once he’s picked up the phone and called you. Great object lesson using ugly men.

Four Us

The Art of Writing Great Twitter Headlines (using the 4 Us)

Sure, this post is geared to Twitter headlines, but it’s a great introduction to the four Us approach to writing headlines.

Two Ways to Add Urgency to Your Headlines Right Now

The question I most often get asked when it comes to the four Us is this: “Can you explain what you mean by urgency?” I finally set this in print.


Problem-Agitate-Solve: Best Formula for Writing Potent Web Ads

Absolutely love this formula across the board … but found it particularly useful when writing short content like product or meta descriptions.

A Formula for Controversy

5 Ways to Write Something That Catches Hell

Kicking up controversy is something every writer should know how to do. I don’t recommend you build your bedrock content on controversy, but once in a while it won’t hurt.

Over to You

The most notably missing formula is AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action). I find that one confusing because I always get the interest and desire parts mixed up. Besides, the four Ps says the same thing … but better.

Got any formulas you use? Please share in the comments.

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  1. says

    I was really confused — until I figured out the orange copy indicates hyperlinks, not subheads only. Gotta slow down and drink some water.

    Now, I’m wondering … can I demand a refund from that writer’s school and just follow the D-man?

  2. says

    Chief, I think you did a workshop on each of these during your “famous televangelist” time period. I have never forgotten them.

    Glad you didn’t include AIDA back then…it sounds unnecessary when you have these other secret codes in your pocket.

    Looking forward to the next “writers series” blog. :)

  3. says

    Love the picture. The inner geek in me is trying to figure out the equations :)!

    I learned a valuable concept at one of my old companies. It was called Precision Q&A.

    The idea was make your Questions and Answers so precise that you could answer them with either Yes, No or a Number.

    It’s a bit extreme but what it taught me was asking a precise question is the best way to get the answer you want.

    I apply that to copy and headline writing by simply crafting each headline or blog post to get the reader to either agree or disagree (no real numbers except maybe this is worth X$ to me) with the post or headline quickly. That way, the reader can decide quickly what to do.

    I guess it’s akin to your write clear and concise copy just put another way.

    • says

      Jarie, yeah, asking questions in a headline is a great way to stir curiosity … and it’s a great way to keep the conversation going in the copy, too. Thanks for sharing that great tip.

  4. says

    well, i dont know any other formulae but i know one thing which is very simple and obvious.
    “Make the readers happy and give them what they are looking for. And don’t even try to make them look dull.”

  5. says

    Hey, Demian; great formulas. I love Clear / Concise / Compelling. Gonna include your 3Cs quote in my “Best Marketing Quotes of the Week” post, coming out this Friday. Also loved cruising around your story. Somewhere in there I found another gem that represents the way a LOT of us are beginning to feel: Write compelling copy and just let the seo take care of itself. Yeah, maybe a bit oversimplified, but the point is very well taken!! Thanks.

  6. says

    Thanks for this post Damian – you know your stuff.

    That discussion about the AIDA formula — here’s what I know.

    A current Wikipedia search of AIDA —
    attributes the birth of what would evolve into the AIDA formula we know today to American advertising and sales pioneer, E. St. Elmo Lewis in 1898 —

    I first read about Attention – Interest – Desire – Action back in the 1980’s. I’m thinking it was a W. Clement Stone book.

    Here’s how it has stuck in my mind since then: –

    – arrest Attention
    – arouse Interest
    – convince and persuade (Desire)
    – get favourable Action

    … and that’s how I have always recalled it.

    Here’s a few quotes from some of the greats of copywriting:

    “Human nature is perpetual. In most respects it is the same today as in the time of Caesar. So the principles of psychology are fixed and enduring. You will never need to unlearn what you learn about them.” —Claude Hopkins, Scientific Advertising, 1924

    “Times change; people don’t.” —John Caples, “Caples on Copy”

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