It’s frustrating and we’ve all been there.
- You might have done better research.
- You might have written better content.
- Your content might even have been designed better.
But, your competition still gets more traffic than you do. 🤷♂️
Have you ever taken a step back to think why that may be the case?
The answer might be better headlines.
You might be in denial and argue that headlines can’t be the sole reason you struggle to grow your website’s traffic, but the truth is headlines are important, and we can prove it.
Famous copywriter – David Ogilvy – even said the following in his book Confessions of an Advertising Man.
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
That quote was meant for the print publishing industry where the content is available just below the headline. In the online world, where the content is one whole click away, the headline is the thing that differentiates the winners from others.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at:
- The Anatomy of a Great Headline
- What Is a Power Word?
- Types of Power Words
- 3.1 Seductive Power Words
- 3.2 Emotional Power Words
- 3.3 Sensory Power Words
- Why Do Power Words Work?
- Where Can You Use a Power Word?
- What Are the Benefits of Using Power Words?
- Power Words and Search Engine Optimization
- Power Words and Google
- What is the 80/20 rule? Why do SEO experts swear by it?
- Tips to Avoid Google’s Wrath
- Some More of Power Words Being Used in the World
- List of Power Words
- Summary: Power Words – It’s Your Turn
1 The Anatomy of Great Headlines
Much research has been done to find out what makes a headline a good headline. The two most common characteristics of a good headline are specificity and emotion.
Specificity just means that the headline is crafted with your target audience in mind. The goal is for your target audience to feel that the headline was written just for them. To that effect, the word “you” on its own is considered to be one of the most persuasive words in the English language which again goes to show that keeping your target audience in mind is extremely important.
The second most important factor that makes a headline work is emotion. Headlines with emotion not only gather more clicks, but they also get more shares from websites and social channels.
With all the talk about incorporating emotions into headlines, we’ve talked little about how to go about doing so.
The easiest way to make your headline or call to action more click-worthy is to use power words.
2 What Is a Power Word?
Power words are words with strong meaning that smart copywriters (as well as marketers) use to trigger a psychological or emotional response.
As you might’ve guessed, they’re considered to be powerful words because they are persuasive words that they push people to take action – whether that is to purchase your products, join your email list, contact you or click your headline in SERPs.
Some of you might find it hard to believe that a single word even has the potential to make such a big impact, but don’t worry – this is something that we’ll get onto later in this article. It is also important to note that in addition to singular power words there are also power phrases – one such example would be the phrase “without lifting a finger”, “life-changing” and “eye-opening”.
We’ll get onto the specific use cases and where you should start using power words later in this post, but here are just a few examples of where bloggers and marketers have been using them for years:
- Email Marketing: such as email subject lines to increase open rates.
- Landing Pages: this can be on sales pages & pricing pages can help persuade potential buyers into making a purchase (boost conversions).
- Social Media: this helps attract the attention of people who are just scrolling through their social networks’ feeds.
- Content Marketing: It goes without saying that they have a big place in any content marketing strategy, especially in headlines because (as they do for email subject lines), they increase click-through rates as well as increase conversion rates.
3 Types of Power Words
There are many ways of categorizing power words, but from our perspective, there are three types of power words.
- Seductive Power Words
- Emotional Power Words
- Sensory (or visual)
Let us tell you the different ways these power words can be used and are used.
3.1 Seductive Power Words
These words have magical powers. By using them in your copy, your customers are irrationally drawn to take action. Just like being seduced, these power words override logical reasoning and compel users to do what you intend. Here are some examples of seductive power words.
In most people’s minds, “new” translates to “better.” A new model, new course, new post—these are all ways of attracting attention and keeping it. Just notice how many companies use “new” in their advertising or website copy.
Apple does it.
So does Samsung.
Once you start looking, you’ll find “New” being used everywhere.
The word Free works on people’s brains differently than other words. By offering something for free, you can push people into taking action with much less resistance. Sometimes people will ignore better value offers just because they are getting something for free. E-commerce companies use this tactic all the time. Think of this example.
Offer 1: $3 Product + $1 Shipping
Offer 2: $5 Product + Free Shipping
Which offer do you think made better sales?
There is also a real-world example. Back when Amazon introduced free shipping, they didn’t do it in France. Instead, the shipping costs there was just 1 Franc, which was the equivalent of 20 cents.
France was not on the list of countries that got a dramatic sales boost. Eventually, they reduced the cost of shipping and made it free.
As you’d expect, customers were delighted, and an increase in sales followed.
Your “Because” – Give People A Reason
Sometimes, all you have to do to make copy effective is to mention why users should take action. The best example of this is the Copy Machine Study.
In 1977, psychologist Ellen Langer and her team conducted a simple experiment. The goal? To cut in line at the copy machine.
To conduct the experiment, a researcher would walk to the copy machine with the intention of cutting the line. To do that, they asked the person in the front one of 3 questions. They were:
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush.”
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
You’ll notice that:
The first question is just a request.
The second question gives a real reason why the person should let them through.
The third question gives a not-so-good reason which might not be a reason at all.
And, the results of this experiment were:
Version 1: 60% of people let the researcher skip the line.
Version 2: 94% of people let the researcher skip the line.
Version 3: 93% of people let the researcher skip the line.
Not only did giving a reason increase the probability of skipping the line by 50%, but the actual reason didn’t matter—as you can see with version 3.
So take note and start using this tactic in your copy because it will give you better results.
Practical knowledge is a great way to compel users to take action, and also share your content, and using how-tos is the best way to demonstrate practical information. The next time you do a Google search, notice how many blogs start their posts with the word how-to.
Using how-to is great for sharing as well. It is one of the 20 most retweeted phrases.
But there is something important to remember. When using how to in your copy, make sure your content delivers on the promise or the strategy may backfire.
3.2 Emotional Power Words
We may see ourselves as rational beings, but study after study has proven that humans consider emotions when taking action then justify it with logic.
Jonah Berger, in his book “Contagious,” concluded that strong emotions drive people to share content. To quote him exactly, here is what he says.
“Anger and anxiety lead people to share because, like awe, they are high-arousal emotions. They kindle the fire, activate people, and drive them to take action.”
There are hundreds of emotions humans can experience, and not all work in the same way. Anger may cause someone to share something, but not purchase a product or a service. Fear, on the other hand, may work oppositely.
This Wikipedia article gives interesting segregation of emotions and how they work.
You might not have noticed emotional copy is being used around the web, but there is one type of emotion almost all of us have seen being used.
Popularized by Buzzfeed and similar websites, emotional curiosity has long been used to drive clicks to articles and capture users in an endless loop to keep reading.
No wonder website like Upworthy write over 25 headlines for a single article before testing and finalizing one.
Not only that, but they also write different headlines for different platforms as user intent on each platform is different. You can learn more about the process in this insightful blog post.
3.3 Sensory Power Words
Imagine you’ve been sitting at home, watching Netflix for a few hours when you hear your stomach growl. After contemplating it for a while, you decide to walk up to the fridge and fix a meal when suddenly, you hear your roommate walk in. With Pizza!
Intoxicated with a fresh aroma, you open the box to smell the deliciousness and take a big bite into the cheesy goodness. Then you close your eyes for a few seconds to enjoy all the beautiful flavors.
See what we did there? That’s the power of sensory words.
Sensory words help paint a picture in your readers head. Not only that, they help trigger a sensory response and make your reader see, hear, smell, taste, or feel your words.
Just with all types of power words, how you use them is what makes them powerful. A simple example is how restaurants use sensory words to describe menu items and increase sales.
4 Why Do Power Words Work?
Till now we discussed what power words are, and how do you use them in your copy. But, we haven’t discussed why they work.
In the time-tested book Cashvertising, Dr. Eric Whitman mentioned the eight fundamental desires of a human being. They are:
- Survival, enjoyment of life, life extension
- Enjoyment of food and beverages
- Freedom from fear, pain, and danger
- Sexual companionship
- Comfortable living conditions
- To be superior, winning, keeping up with the Joneses
- Care and protection of loved ones
- Social approval
He says that humans are born with these desires, and every human everywhere has all of these desires at all times, no exceptions.
And then he mentioned the nine learned desires. These desires are what society teaches us, rather than what we were born with. They are:
- To be informed
- Cleanliness of body and surroundings
- Expression of beauty and style
These 17 basic desires are what make power words work. Power words, when used correctly, tap into one or more of the 17 desires that every human being has. By triggering an emotional response, combined with the specificity of your headline, readers cannot help but click and take action.
5 Where Can You Use a Power Word?
Power words are everywhere. Whenever a copy is written for someone to take action, you’ll find the use of power words. Usually, you’ll notice them on billboards, magazines, newspapers, online articles, and flyers. Don’t believe us? Here are a couple of magazine covers, see for yourself.
You’ll find power words sprinkled on the web as well. But, most of the time, you’d see them in headlines, ads, and email subject lines and on landing pages.
The reason is simple. Whether you’re writing an ad, a blog post, or a title for the SERPs, you have one goal.
To get a click.
Getting more clicks is a great way to beat the competition.
- Better clicks mean higher revenue.
- Better clicks mean higher rankings.
- Better clicks mean a better bottom line.
It might not seem so, but power words can make or break a headline, which in turn may make or break your business. That is why we’ve included a test in our SEO Plugin Rank Math that checks headlines for the presence of power words.
6 What Are the Benefits of Using Power Words?
As we mentioned, there are tons of benefits of using power words in your titles and other parts of your copy. The first and the most obvious benefit of using power words is that you’ll get higher click-through rates in the SERPs and other parts of your website.
That single benefit causes a lot of other benefits, similar to a snowball. The better your headlines are, the better the other benefits will be.
7 Power Words and SEO
SEO or search engine optimization is one of the most consistent sources of traffic that your website can have. While copywriting and SEO may seem poles apart, they are deeply connected. Understanding how they are connected will give you and your business an unfair advantage that your competitors won’t be able to replicate.
Not only will you be able to get more clicks using copywriting knowledge and power words, but you will also be able to increase the overall number of website visitors using SEO.
8 Power Words and Google
It’s been long debated that your click-through-rate affects your website’s rankings. In simple terms, if people click your website’s links in the search results more than the other links, then Google promotes your website in the SERPs and gives it higher rankings.
And how do you write better headlines? Use power words!
It’s a win-win situation.
Once you write better headlines and get a better click-through rate, your traffic will go up. Soon enough, Google will improve your rankings, and your traffic will go up even further. And, even after improving your rankings, your website will continue to get a better click-through rate because of better headlines.
It’s a loop that keeps on giving. And, it fits perfectly into the 80-20 rule that most marketers swear by.
9 What is the 80/20 rule? Why do SEO experts swear by it?
The 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle simply says that 80% of your results come from just 20% of your efforts. By contrast, the remaining 20% of your results come from 80% of the work.
By always focusing on that 20%, you can consistently get better results while lowering your efforts.
In the case of SEO, that 20% is headlines.
Think about it.
You can invest all the time in the world to make better content, but if you can’t attract users to it, then you won’t get results. That is working 80% and getting 20% results.
Compare that effort to creating better headlines. By simply changing your headlines with the principles we’ve highlighted here, you can make dramatic improvements to your website’s traffic, and your business. That is 20% effort and 80% results.
10 Tips to Avoid Google’s Wrath
While the principles outlined here can work wonders, you have to be careful of the “over promise and under deliver” phenomenon.
The idea is that you shouldn’t write a headline that falsely represents your content. You can write a headline like “How to make a million $$ in 30 days for free” and get tons of clicks, but those visitors won’t stick around.
Worse, as soon as they click your SERP result and don’t see what they clicked for, they’re going to “bounce” or click the back button. This phenomenon is also called pogo-sticking, and it’s bad for your website.
Just as Google measures your click-through rate, they also measure your user-engagement. If they find that users frequently click back once they are on your website, they will demote you in the search results, and all your efforts will be in vain.
To avoid a situation like this, always make sure your headline only says what you can back up with your content.
11 Some More Real-World Examples of Power Words In Action
Well, that was our short introduction on power words and how they can help grow your online business. But, there’s nothing like a few good examples to drive the point home. And, who better to analyze than Internet marketers who are on top of their copywriting game? Here are some examples.
If you don’t know Neil Patel, you should. He is a sensational marketer, SEO specialist, and blogger who helps fortune 500 companies grow their business with SEO.
His first blog was Quicksprout.com, but now he mostly writes on Neilpatel.com. Both his websites are read by hundreds of thousands of visitors per month. Here is what appears on the home page of Neil Patel.
Try to find all the power words that you can find. Done? Here is our analysis.
- Advanced: Internet Marketing is full of webinars. The word “Advanced” shows that it is not fluff, but just the good stuff.
- How to: How-to works, and we’ve already discussed it
- 1,702,148: The oddly specific number helps drill down the scale in the mind of the reader
- Free: “It’s Free, what have I got to lose?”, thinks the reader
- Cheat Sheet: The word cheat-sheet indicates that the tips won’t be available elsewhere
- Button Text: The button text is cleverly worded so that you feel you agree to attend the webinar as you read the statement. Pretty clever.
These findings might be nice, but there’s more. Once you scroll down on the page, here is the screen that you’ll see. This time, we’ve already highlighted all the power words.
Let’s analyze the four sentences and why they work.
- The 1-Critical factor your business needs to have to dominate Google. This is a masterful statement. In the marketing and SEO world, there is too much information floating around. The “1-critical” word increases curiosity while pushing for the action.
- The Little-known way to increase your traffic without writing more content. The “little-known” works the same as the last statement. It makes the user feel, “this is it, this is what I need” while the “without writing more content” immediately addresses the biggest objection/myth that people have that you need to write more content for more traffic.
- How to rank higher without building more backlinks. The “rank higher” brings users closer to the action while “without building more backlinks” immediately addresses the first myth/misconception/objection that users might have.
- How to increase rankings in less time: This statement works just like the others. Promises “increase rankings” while taking away the biggest objection.
Brian Dean of Backlinko
If you’ve remotely heard of SEO, it’s likely that you know Brian Dean. He’s been making waves for a few years by effortlessly ranking for ultra-competitive keywords. And he’s a 1-man band.
Here is what you see once you reach Backlinko.com.
Unlike Neil, Brian encourages you to sign-up to his email list. The copy is simple and effective and uses the power words “free” and “proven.”
That’s not all though. If you scroll down, you’ll find a few testimonials which help build authority and trust. After which you’ll see a small sales letter disguised as a blog post which encourages you to download a case study of a “simple, 3-step formula” for better rankings. We’re not going to cover it all here, so head over to Backlinko.com to see for yourself.
Jon Morrow of SmartBlogger
John is a master blogger.
He’s responsible for the massive success of SmartBlogger (previously BoostBlogTraffic), and he’s also the driving force behind a few of the most successful blogs in the industry.
His story is incredible, and so is the copy he uses on his website. Have a look for yourself.
The whole page is filled with power words and other goods. Let’s analyze.
- Grow Your Blog. Make More Money: That’s the essence of SmartBlogger in 2 simple lines. Jon wants to teach you how to make more money from your blog. The simplicity and directness of the statement make a profound impact.
- Want to learn…: There are three important things to note in this statement. Jon wants to teach you how to grow your blog to $1000 a month in passive income.
Last, but not the least, John’s picture with his current income ($100K a month) builds intrigue, curiosity, and authority.
That’s not all. Once you scroll down on the page, you’re greeted with brilliant articles with brilliant headlines. You should be able to see the clever use of power words in the headlines.
12 List of Power words
Here are some power words you can use in your post titles to make them more “catchy” to click on in SERPs and on social media.
|A Cut Above||Absolute||Absolutely Lowest|
|Begging||Behind The Scenes||Belief|
|Harsh||Hate||Have You Heard|
|High Tech||Highest||Highly Effective|
|In The Zone||Incapable||Incapacitated|
|Know It All||Lame||Largest|
|Lascivious||Last Chance||Last Minute|
|No Obligation||No One Talks About||No Questions Asked|
|No Risk||No Strings Attached||Non-controlling|
|Searing||Secret Agenda||Secret Plot|
|Should||Shrewd||Sick And Tired|
|Strongly Suggest||Struggle||Stuck Up|
|Toxic||Track Record||Trade Secret|
|What No One Tells You||Whip||Whopping|