Get updates on new articles, webinars and other opportunities:

Could This Old Bible Study Method Be the Key to Irresistible Web Copy?

by Demian Farnworth

In the late nineteenth century, Professor William Cleaver Wilkinson made popular the 3 Ws: What? Why? What of it? when it came to studying the Bible.

Eventually newspaper reporters noticed the usefulness of this method in researching and writing a news story, and eventually expanded the 3 Ws to the 5 Ws:

  • Who
  • Where
  • When
  • Why
  • What

By 1917, it was a staple of journalism–taught in high-school classes. But just twenty years later it was deemed old school, and fell out of favor in some circles.

Regardless, it’s still a very effective way to write compelling copy.

You can use it to become a better freelance writerUnderstand social marketing. And write for the web.

This is just one of many formulas that I train a new writer how to use, whether they are writing an email, article, text ad or photo caption. What makes it so wonderful is that it is simple, concrete, credible and easy-to-remember idea.

But once I teach a writer to use it, I don’t stop there. I then tell them why they should use it. Here’s what I usually say.

Don’t Make People Think

Like the law of gravity, the law of the web describes behavior.

The law of gravity says that what goes up must come down. The law of the web says that people rush headlong over the web like it were a highway. And about the only thing that they can do is look at billboards.

Everything else just melts away. And if they can’t understand your billboard, then they’ll keep on driving.

The 5 Ws reduces your visitor’s mental overhead and makes it easy for them to get the scoop fast. Use the 5 Ws to write the headline (see no. 3 below) and the lead and in one quick glance your readers understand what your page is all about.

They can scoop the essentials in less than four seconds.

Reward People With Intriguing Information

When it comes to algorithm changes and impacts on websites, Google’s Panda Update was a bruiser. Some of the highest ranking sites fell out of the ring. So did thousands of smaller sites.

The reason? These publishers were churning out page after page of content that wasn’t unique, useful or ultra-specific.

In the wake of that massacre Google suggested that sites think like a Google engineer if they wanted to create high-quality content.

You want people who visit your site to feel like they learned something, which gives them a reason to share, bookmark and return to your content.

Answer Obvious Objections

Anticipating and answering possible objections is a standard skill most professional sales copywriters master. They master this skill by understanding their target audience, their product and the interaction between the two.

You can use the 5 Ws in a number of ways when writing sales copy. For example, start with consumer research. Who are they? What do they want? Why do they want it? When? And where do they get it?

The 5 Ws template can also help you organize all of your landing page copy, or even your headline. For example, “Women: Get Him Addicted to You Now.” This headline answers the who, what, why, where and when.

  • Who: Women. But not just any women. Women in love. This is a very specific target audience.
  • What: They don’t want to lose their boyfriends. Instead, they want their boyfriends to be obsessed with them.
  • Why: It hurts being rejected.
  • Where: Not so important in this case.
  • When: Now. This is that urgency you need.

Approach Each Article Objectively

Credibility is huge online. One way to build that credibility is to organize your articles, arguments and case studies objectively using the 5 Ws. This won’t so much make your argument or article credible as will the exercise force you to look at all angles.

Using this approach will more than likely highlight your biases and personal objections. And if you are honest with yourself, you may be able to approach the topic

Write Clear, Concise and Compelling Copy

Your headlines, subheadlines, links, labels and navigation should all communicate clearly what lies in, under or behind them. Give readers control. Nothing clever or cute. Just give them want they want.

And you should give them what they want in the most concise terms possible. Cut obese paragraphs. Trim down gangly sentences. Trade in short, easy words. And shed entire pages if necessary.

Finally, tap into human emotions like love, greed and pride. Stroke the egos of your readers. Pluck their gut strings. Uncover what makes him or her tick. And punch their hot buttons.

This is compelling copy. And you can accomplish all of this by using the 5 Ws.

Your Turn

What other ways have you used the 5 Ws to create irresistible copy?

No Comments


Get updates on new articles, webinars and other opportunities:

Demian Farnworth

Demian Farnworth is a freelance writer who hustles the finer points of web writing at The CopyBot. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.


Comment Policy

Please join the conversation! We like long and thoughtful communication.
Abrupt comments and gibberish will not be approved. Please, only use your real name, not your business name or keywords. We rarely allow links in your comment.
Finally, please use your favorite personal social media profile for the website field.


Your email address will not be published.

Show Me My Heatmap

literally addicted to the stuff I'm seeing in @CrazyEgg. Such a fantastic piece of software! #Marketing #Content #Digital

Chris Vella-Bone