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Do Those Magical “Power Words” Really Work to Improve Conversion Rates?

by Daniel Threlfall

Would you believe me if I told you that with a few simple strokes on the keyboard, you could tiptoe your way past your audience’s conscious objections, directly influence their subconscious minds, and instantly boost your conversion rates?

Just imagine if all that it took to see amazing results in your clickthrough, opt-in, and sales numbers were a few “secret” linguistic tricks people wouldn’t even realize you are using.

Now, I know that these are pretty bold claims to make.

But over the course of this article, I will prove the unlimited potential of ‘power words’ and teach you how to utilize them to create a revolutionary change in your business.

If you take this seriously and apply what I am about to reveal, you will be absolutely stunned by the results.

I guarantee it.

The Power of Words

Many of you may not realize it, but the above paragraph is laced with power words designed to pique and hold the interest of your conscious and subconscious mind.

I might have gone a little over the top, but I did so to prove a point.

highlighted words

There are certain words in the English language that have been proven (many of them through MRI testing) to affect the brain in ways that “normal” words simply cannot.

The irony of this is that many of these so-called power words are actually words we use in our everyday conversations.

Most of us simply lack the knowledge to effectively leverage them.

To illustrate this point, you need to look no further than the book that has been the textbook on persuasion for over thirty years.

In the book Influence by Robert Cialdini, he spotlights the power of one simple word by quoting a study conducted by Ellen Langer.

Langer’s study sought to determine the effect that words played in the outcome of a request by asking to cut in line at a Xerox machine using one of the three questions below.

  • “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine.” (control)
  • “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 some copies.”

Can you guess what the results were?

In the control test, she was able to generate 60% compliance rate among test subjects.

In the second test, by rephrasing her question to show her urgency, she was able to increase compliance to a whopping 94%!

But the real kicker comes when you look at the results of the third phrase.

Her statement “May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies”makes no logical case for any test subject to allow her to cut in line.

After all, the whole point of standing in line for a copy machine is that you have to make copies.

However, because of the structure and linguistic properties of the request, she was able to increase the positive response among test subjects from 60% to 93%.

no reason nonsense reason

Since Langer’s experiment, many other tests have been conducted to exhibit the power of word choice for achieving your desired outcome.

And while there is still a certain degree of debate among experts, scholars, and scientists alike, there is some common consensus on which specific words are the most powerful.

However, before I delve into which words you should use and how you should use them, I want to unveil the reasoning behind why these words are so effective.

Where Power Words Come From

Something that many writers forget in their marketing is that people are not as clever as we think we are.

What do I mean by this?

Well, we live in an era of unprecedented prosperity, ease, and accessibility.

Never before in human history have we had the access to the foods, luxuries, travel capacity, and social connection that we have now.

infant mortality rate chart

Data According to the CDC

average annual hours worked

average round trip

However, despite all of our technological achievements, and there are many of them, at a fundamental level, we are still living our day to day lives with the same programming and hardwiring our ancestors operated on thousands upon thousands of years ago.

Or in techie terms, we are running new software on outdated hardware.

So even though society and technology are advancing at a rapid rate, we as human beings are still largely the same as we have been for the past ten thousand years.

And when you understand this, you are able to understand the inherent nature of your audience at a much more primal level.

So how does this apply to power words, persuasion, and conversion?

Well, when you examine and market to our hardwired needs and desires, your messages will immediately catch your audience’s attention and pique their interest.

So what are these instincts?

Well, human beings, by default are greedy, lazy, and crave novelty.

This is not a judgment, it is simply the way things are.

Don’t believe me? Then consider the following questions.

If I offered you $1 or $1,000 and you knew it would not negatively affect me in any way, which would you choose?

If I offered you $10,000 for a year’s worth of work or one hour of work, which would you choose?

If I told you that you had the option to add five years to your life by doing the exact same thing every single day for the rest of your life, would you take it?

Sociopathic and incredibly quirky personalities aside, I think the answers are pretty obvious.

The 3 Pillars of Ninja Like Persuasion

Through countless hours of research and numerous studies, psychologists and social scientists have come to a consensus on the five most powerful words in the English language.

  • You
  • Free
  • Instantly
  • Because
  • New

Now, I have no doubt that most of you have probably used at least one of these five words in your writing or conversion optimization efforts.

However, as with most things related to sales and marketing, you need to understand where and why these words work so that you can create ads and CTAs like these:

easy email newsletters

adespresso

For our purposes, we are going to focus on the three power words out of this list that are the most relevant to our previous discussion on human nature.

Free, instantly, and new.

1. Free

Have you ever had a friend help you out with something that you didn’t ask for help with?

Maybe they came over to your house on the day that they knew you were moving out to help with packing.

Maybe they picked up the tab for dinner one night when you were out with your group.

Maybe they just sent you a small gift that they found at the flea market.

Whatever it was, if you are like most people, you probably went out of your way in the future to try and pay back the favor.

This is a psychological factor called the reciprocity bias.

reciprocation tendency

And while I could spend all day boring you with a drab, jargon-filled explanation of why reciprocity bias exists, I think it’s better if you simply take a look at the bias in action.

If you have ever shopped at a Costco then you undoubtedly familiar with the infamous “Free Sample” stations abounding throughout the store.

But what you might not realize is just how effective these giveaways are.

samplers vs non samplers

According to this data, samplers (a.k.a. Consumers affected by the reciprocity bias) were purchasing up to 25X the number of products compared to non-samplers.

And Costco isn’t the only retailer who has found success by leveraging the reciprocity bias.

In fact, other retailers have used the same tactic to increase sales by as much as 2,000%!

However, you need to be aware that this tactic does not work for all industries.

In a study from MailChimp, they actually found that using the word ‘free’ in the wrong context could damage your conversions!

use of free in industries

2. Instantly

The second power word in our linguistic “hat trick” is the word instantly.

While ‘free’ appeals to our natural greed, ‘instantly’ appeals to our natural laziness.

Neuroscientists have actually compiled several studies testing the brain activation when a subject envisions immediate gratification vs. waiting for their reward.

What they found is that immediate gratification lights up the midbrain like the fourth of July while delayed gratification resulted in heightened activity in the prefrontal cortex.

brain scan A

Immediate Gratification

brain scan B

Delayed Gratification

For those of you who are not neuroscientists, let me explain what this means.

When your customers are forced to delay gratification, the thought of waiting for their reward instantly causes the impulse control and judgment centers of the brain to activate.

This results in an immediate decrease in the odds of closing the sale.

By using the word ‘instantly’, you are able to streamline the sales process and overcome this psychological obstacle.

The word instantly causes audience members to envision their reward in the immediate future, activating pleasure centers and increasing your odds of success.

3. New

What is your favorite food?

Is it lobster? Filet mignon? Chocolate cake?

Now I want you to imagine that food in your mind’s eye.

Imagine the juicy details, from the layers of succulent meat to the crisp pattern on your slice of chocolate decadence.

Now I want you to picture yourself eating that food. Imagine the taste, the smell, and the texture as you take your first bite.

Now imagine eating that food day after day after day for the rest of your natural life.

Not so great anymore, huh?

Science has known for many years that novelty, or “newness” if you will, plays a vital role in releasing pleasure hormones and activating the reward centers in our brains.

Here’s an explanation from Dr. Emrah Duzel, a neurobiologist:

when we see something new

The appearance of the word ‘new’ across an article headline or Facebook ad will excite loyal audience members and increase the odds of a clickthrough or conversion.

However, you also need to remember that your audience craves trust and recognition as much as they crave novelty.

This means that the goal should be to maintain a homeostatic brand image and sense of company trust while injecting novelty into your marketing, content, and product base.

Other Power Words

Even though the three power words listed above are fantastic tools that will instantly boost your conversion rates and improve your copy, they are merely the officers in your linguistic army.

And to accomplish your mission of total destruction… I mean persuasion, you are going to need to call in the cavalry.

Which in the case of all things copywriting is the man, the myth, the legend, David Ogilvy.

black and white portrait

Ogilvy is kind of like the Mr. Olympia of the advertising and marketing world, and according to his estimation, there are 20 power words that stand head and shoulders above the rest.

ogilvys most influential words

Case Studies

So now that you have a basic understanding of what power words are, why they work, and which words will have the biggest impact on your conversion rates, let’s look at some examples of these words in action.

1. Pink Pest Service

Pink Pest Services realized the power of their word choice and decided to shift the focus of their opt-in form so that both the headline and the body of their CTA talked about their free quote.

And while it might seem like a redundant edit, this simple change brought about a 96% increase in conversions almost overnight.

request a free quote

2. Highrise

Another prime example of the power of word choice comes from the company Highrise who tested nearly 40 headline variations.

The winning variation “30-Day Free Trial on All Accounts” leveraged the reciprocity bias by using the word ‘free’ and increased conversions by nearly 30%.

highrise free trail

3. GoCardless

By tapping into the power of instant gratification, GoCardless was able to increase their conversions by 139%.

Their original copy read “Request a Demo” which would lead viewers to believe that they would have to wait for their request to be approved and sent.

Upon changing the copy to “Watch a Demo”, their conversion rate skyrocketed.

go cardless

Conclusion

Words have power, and if you can learn to leverage them for your business, there is no limit to the success you can achieve.

But this is up to you.

There are hundreds of power words that work differently for different industries and situations, so go out there and figure out what works for you.

What power words have you found effective in your own marketing?

*Featured Image Source

7 Comments

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Daniel Threlfall

Daniel Threlfall is an Internet entrepreneur and marketing strategist. As a marketing consultant, Daniel has helped brands including Merck, Fiji Water, Little Tikes, and MGA. Daniel is co-founding Your Success Rocket, a resource for Internet entrepreneurs. He and his wife Keren have four children and occasionally embark upon adventures in remote corners of the globe (kids included). You can follow Daniel on Twitter.

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  1. Anonymous says:
    January 21, 2017 at 8:29 am

    The irony of this is that many of these so-called power words are actually words we use in our everyday conversations.

  2. Ted Williams says:
    January 11, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    Okay, so this was an intense read! Absolutely fascinating. I don’t think I really understood power words until…now. You rocked this, man.

    • Daniel Threlfall says:
      January 13, 2017 at 4:06 pm

      Ted! Thanks for the comment!

      Words are insanely powerful. I was surprised by the research, too!

  3. Peter W. says:
    January 10, 2017 at 9:46 am

    Why YOU dont know how to use internal linking , dear Crazy Egg editors?! Kathryn Aragon did knew WELL, and used internal links a lot, when she was the editor.

    https://blog.crazyegg.com/2013/07/26/how-power-words-can-help-you-sell/

    https://blog.crazyegg.com/2012/10/25/power-words-online-advertising/

    https://blog.crazyegg.com/2016/01/12/62-power-words-help-sell/

    • Daniel Threlfall says:
      January 10, 2017 at 2:57 pm

      Good catch, Peter! 🙂

      Thanks for the links!

  4. Frederik Jørgensen says:
    January 9, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    I actually recently downloaded a pdf with hundreds of ‘power’ words and was wondering if they statistically work or if they just sound cool. Good to know. Great read Daniel!

    • Daniel Threlfall says:
      January 10, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      Hi Frederik,

      Great to hear from you!

      I’ve also wondered about the efficacy of power words. It seems sensational on the one hand, but also seems effective from a data perspective. I’ve certainly found it to be true!

      Thank you for the comment!

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