How to Use “Filter Words” to Attract the Customers You Want (and Repel the Rest)

by Celine Roque

Last updated on March 8th, 2018

This is not for you.

What would you do if a company told you that about their products? What would you say if a salesperson said this to you as you were picking an item off the shelf?

Maybe you’ll get offended. Maybe you’ll think the store is elitist and snobbish. But, one thing’s for certain – you’ll be curious.

We may not notice it, but businesses are always subtly telling us that their products are not for them – if we aren’t among their target customers. The Most Interesting Man in the World subtly tells you that Dos Equis isn’t the beer for you if you prefer predictable, monotonous lives. Or, based on the Get a Mac ads, a Mac may not be for you if you’re buying a computer to use it mainly for spreadsheets, business, or office work.

What these ads do is “filter” the unlikely customers out, while inviting the ideal customers. Traditional ads use this through their imagery and words, but you can also do it with your website’s content.

Here are some great examples of using “filter words” in your website:

Filter Words from Saddleback Leather

Saddleback Leather is a company that sells fine leather products such as bags, wallets, and belts. As soon as you look through their homepage, it’s easy to see the filter words they have in place, as well as the audience they intend to reach with those words.

Let’s start with the name, “Saddleback Leather”. It evokes the idea of a saddle, most likely on a horse. But that’s just the beginning. Saddleback Leather goes a bit further to reach their ideal customer:

Filter #1: “They’ll Fight Over It When You’re Dead”

This is their company tagline, and they use it on almost all of their marketing materials, such as ads on other sites. Like the company name, the tagline reminds you of gun-slinging cowboys in old Westerns. This makes the site more attractive to men, especially those with an adventurous streak.

Filter #2: “Mexican bullfight”

On the Saddleback Leather homepage, there’s a teaser for “The Saddleback Story”, which is the company’s history. It starts this way:

“I got my first exposure to real tough leather at a Mexican bullfight and I was the one fighting the bull…”

This teaser is extremely intriguing for men who are into travel and adventure – the exact people who might buy from Saddleback Leather. While it can be argued that some women will also be intrigued, they’d need to be adventurous as well. After all, a 30-something female accountant who knits sweaters during the weekends is unlikely to be interested in Mexican bullfights.

The thing is, the bullfight story has nothing to do with the products or the company – but it’s a great filter that engages Saddleback Leather’s target customers and repels the rest.

Filter Words From Haute Wines

Another business that has many great examples of using filter words is Haute Wines. The name of the business itself implies elegance, but the filtering gets more specific throughout the website’s copy.

Filter #1: “Stilettos” and “Looking Fabulous is the Best Revenge”

First, their tagline is “Fashionably Elegant Wines”, but where most of the filtering happens is their opening paragraph. Haute Wines brings up vivid imagery of Cleopatra and Marie Antoinette pampering themselves. It ends with:

“Enjoy while wearing your favorite pair of stilettos. Or nothing at all.”

Who do you think will be drawn to stilettos and images of powerful women in luxury? It’s likely to be women. And not just any woman, probably a professional woman who is assertive, savvy, and loves fashion.

Notice how there are many references to fashion via the words “fashionably”, “thigh-high boot”, “fashion statement”, and “looking fabulous”. These are words that may not appeal to women who are uninterested in fashion. In fact, these words don’t even appear that much in men’s fashion magazines, which tend to use “style”, “well-dressed”, and “tailored” instead.

Filter #2: “Shoe pairings”

You’ve probably heard of wine and food pairings, but what about wine and shoe pairings? Haute Wines definitely includes both food and shoes to go with each of their wines. If you’re not into shoes, this kind of suggestion is bizarre. But it just goes to show that Haute Wines knows how to appeal to the women who are part of their target market.

Based on these filters, do you think the consumers who buy from Haute Wines will also buy bags from the earlier example, Saddleback Leather? Not a chance.

Filter Words from I Will Teach You to Be Rich

For our final example, let’s take a look at I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. His blog, book, and courses focus on personal finance and behavioral change. Who is his site for? The following filter words are a clue:

Filter #1: “Guys”

Sethi’s readers are mostly 20-35 year old males, according to his speaking kit and an old reader survey. He further asserts this demographic as his key readership by reiterating – rather harshly at times – that his site isn’t for everyone.

Also, both in his blog and his videos, Sethi calls his audience “guys”. For example:

  • “Hey guys, it’s Ramit Sethi.”
  • “I thought you guys might want to check it out.”
  • “I love meeting you guys in person.”

Note that he doesn’t say “people”, or “men and women”, and not even “men”. Since he’s targeting men who have recently graduated or joined the workforce, “guys” is the most appropriate word to use. He also often uses the word “dominate” when he talks about competition, which is a very “guy” thing to do.

Filter #2: “Top Performer”

Sethi uses the word “top performer” to describe high-achievers in their field who look for data, test their assumptions, and do the bit of extra work that most people don’t do. By describing an ideal in this way, Sethi attracts people who want to fulfill that ideal when it comes to work, personal finance, or entrepreneurship.

Apart from using “top performer”, Sethi also has several words for the opposite. These words include “losers”, “whiny complainers”, “dumb people”, and “delusional people”.

For those who don’t follow the site, this kind of language may sound offensive – but that’s why it works. As far as Sethi is concerned, he doesn’t want to attract visitors who are obsessed with meaningless tactics or are in denial of their own psychological weaknesses. Maybe because they aren’t the type to buy the materials he produces.

Filter #3: “Saving Money”

Unlike the filters above, this phrase is a “reverse filter”. Its absence filters out the people that Sethi doesn’t want on the site. Notice that his main navigation lists several resource pages on how to earn more and how to negotiate, but it doesn’t have anything on saving money – an unusual omission for a personal finance site.

This is deliberate, since Sethi’s materials are all about how to earn more money, whether it’s through investing, entrepreneurship, or through your job. He doesn’t seem to want to attract readers who are only interested in clipping coupons or making their own laundry detergent.

How to Find Your Own Filter Words

While these examples are informative, they don’t necessarily tell you how to get your own filter words. Here are some ways you can do that:

a) Find out who you want to attract vs. who you’re really attracting.

Use your website analytics to find out where your buyers are coming from, which search terms they used to find your website, and basic demographic data on who your current customers are.

Now, compare that to your ideal or intended customer. Are they the same kind of person, or are they wildly different? If it’s the latter, then you haven’t used the right “filter words” to get the customers you want. Or, it’s possible that your existing website copy uses “filter words” that attract a completely different target audience.

b) Listen to your customers.

When they email, call, or write about your product or service, what exactly do they say? What words do they regularly use to describe you?

If you go through enough customer testimonials and feedback, you’ll start seeing some words or phrases that are repeated often. You can use those repeating words or phrases in your website copy, since they’ll attract more of the same type of people who already buy from you.

c) Conduct target customer surveys.

Listening to your current customers is useful, but what if you don’t have enough customers yet? Be very specific about who your target customer is. How old are they? What’s their gender? What profession are they in?

Once you have a clear picture of your target customer is, conduct a qualitative survey asking them a few questions, such as the following:

  • What is their biggest frustration regarding your topic? For example, if you’re selling wine like in the above examples, ask your target customers what frustrates them the most about buying wine.
  • What have they tried before and how did it work for them? Again, using the wine example, ask them how they make their choices when buying wine. How did they pick wines and how did they feel about their picks?
  • What’s their number one goal regarding your topic? Put your target customer into a hypothetical positive scenario to ask them about their goals. If they could experience a pleasant wine buying experience, what would be the end result? What do they want their guests to say about the wine they chose?

While getting your “filter words” in the first place may sound like a lot of work, at the end of the day they can help separate your potential paying customers from the passive bystanders.

Do you use “filter words” on your website? Can you share some examples?



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Celine Roque

Celine Roque writes about business, entrepreneurship, and the web. You can follow her on Google+.


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  1. January 7, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    Love this article! Filtering is genius.

  2. Navi says:
    November 22, 2013 at 12:30 am

    This article was very helpful.
    Can you suggest me some words for my photo studio bussiness?
    I’m doing a brochure but I didn’t get any new & intersting words.
    Thank you.

  3. Soniya says:
    September 16, 2012 at 2:15 am

    Thanks for the post. Really helpful guide. These words are also reffered ro as power words. has a pdf with a list of power words which i find really helpful.

    • Russ Henneberry says:
      September 16, 2012 at 8:58 pm

      Interesting. Thanks Soniya!

  4. September 12, 2012 at 3:45 am

    I really liked this article 🙂 You chose some fantastic examples and made your point about the importance of the right words so clear. And it’s a really smart tactic to utilise on your website because you can save a whole heap of time if you only attract the people that you can serve / help best.

    Great stuff 🙂

    • Russ Henneberry says:
      September 12, 2012 at 8:16 am

      Thanks Georgina! This is one of those concepts that (once you see it) you notice that it is everywhere. Good copywriters are indeed priceless.

    • Celine Roque says:
      September 12, 2012 at 3:41 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Georgina. Glad you liked the article. I find that some entrepreneurs seem a bit timid to do this because they are worried about alienating possible buyers. But, in the end, you’re absolutely right – it does save more time and energy to just attract the right people in the first place.

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