Make no mistake. Humans are weird.
On the plus side, this means the field of psychology has some super helpful principles that can make you a better copywriter for websites you're creating.
This is pretty handy. Because creating your own website can be fun. Easy, even!
But writing good web copy... sometimes isn't.
How do you convince someone to read what you've written? How do you persuade? Convince? Convert?
Let's get into some principles of psychology that can help us all write better copy:
7 principles of psychology that can improve your copywriting
1) Help people skim your website
Most of us tend to skim-read websites until we get to the nuggets of information we need. Make this easy for your reader:
Use descriptive headings.
Maybe bold some important text.
Have a logical format that people can follow easily.
You may feel like you're making it easier for visitors to skim to what they need and leave.
But weirdly (humans, you see), by helping people get to the information they need faster they may actually stick around for longer.
2) Exploit the curiosity gap
The tendency to skim is partly because of a fairly well-known psychological principle called the curiosity or “information gap”.
This principle basically says, “Make someone aware of their lack of knowledge to make them more curious”.
It's the reason so many click-bait headlines exist. “15 super-secret recipes to seduce your partner”. “Do you know this one trick to get a better bank balance?”
But you'll also see it in movie scripts and novels and even not not in certain articles about copywriting for websites that you're reading right now.
This is not to say you should hide the information nuggets from the reader (quite the opposite). But – chiefly in a good title – awareness of the curiosity gap can help us write better copy.
3) Be more positive
The old adage is that fear sells. In all honesty, it probably does. The fear of not having the latest gadget. The fear of not having hair as shiny as the next person.
But being positive sells too. In the past decade, pretty much everything seems to be on a bit of a downer.
This means positivity, empathy, and offering empowerment can help you stand out.
Try and respond positively as much as possible too. No matter what someone says, try not to say they're wrong.
At the very least, you can say, “Yes, but”.
It's similar to how psychologists work. Or, to the geekier among us, sort of like how you're supposed to Games Master or MC a role-playing game.
Empathise without correcting.
4) But also... Fear Of Missing Out is definitely a thing
Okay, so... yeah. Selling through fear is a bit on the dark side. It's also kind of traditional. Largely because it's so effective.
You can do it without getting into moral grey areas. The simplest tactic is to have a little sale. Offer a small price reduction with a countdown timer – or a voucher with a use-by date.
Yes, there is a reason why that shop on your local street always seems to be having a “going out of business” sale but never seems to close.
Sure, they might really be in trouble. But telling someone there is a deadline after which they might not be able to purchase is a sure-fire way to make them act faster.
Just don't go crazy with it. And make sure your website copy is gently compelling rather than fifty exclamation marks of crazy imperative.
5) Use social proof
Most people like doing something more if they think other people do it too. Or that someone else has done something first and liked it.
Sorry, human. I don't mean to insult you. But... we might have more in common with herd animals than most of us would like to admit.
About 9 out of 10 of us check out reviews before we make a purchase. Maybe 8 out of 10 will ask family and friends what they think before we buy.
Luckily, exploiting this to become a better website copywriter is easy:
Write case studies showing off past successes
Feature numbers and percentage improvements your services have delivered
Advertise your membership in professional bodies
Show off your expertise with engaging blog posts
6) Keep it simple
This one is about ensuring you're not engaging in anti-skimming writing or design practices.
The actual principle of psychology we're talking about is either cognitive load or cognitive fluency.
In short, if you give people too many options or have them make too many decisions, they either can't or won't.
This means in most web copy, shorter is usually better. Shorter sentences. Shorter paragraphs. Having a shorter name for your business even.
Use infographics and images too. Overall, try to make sure you have a central theme that you stick to, both visually and in the copy itself.
7) Tell a story
We humans lurve a good story.
Psychologists have gone ahead and studied how stories affect the brain. The science sounds pretty complicated to me, but there is a short version:
Neuroscience. Brain chemistry. Trust. Positivity. Improved memory. It's all good stuff.
Telling a story when you're copywriting for the web isn't always easy though. Especially if you want to keep it short.
But you can try to at least bear in mind that your copy should:
Have a central character – almost certainly your target audience. An unlikely hero struggling to write good web copy for their website, for instance.
Define a point of conflict – “These websites have oppressed us for too long!” What challenges do our heroes and heroines need to overcome?
Use emotion – numbers work well as social proof. But storytelling needs an understandable emotional hook (or sometimes flaw) that takes people along for the ride.
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