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If this headline were a question, you wouldn’t click on it

December 18, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More

Questions in copy can be so dangerous…

Do you agree?

No.

And there you go, my question is answered.

Just like that, it’s all over.

Sorry to waste your time. I’ll speak to you another day.

OK. OK. What happened there?

Well, I asked a question…

You had an answer, and hell…

I wouldn’t blame you if you couldn’t be arsed to find out why I was asking the question in the first place.

What kind of questions is “do you agree?” anyway? What’s the answer matter to you?

This is the problem with questions…

And this is why – when understanding how to handle them in direct-response copywriting – you have to first remember that your customer is a seriously busy beaver.

Though more cynical readers out there might argue otherwise, people DO NOT sit around waiting to be advertised at.

Instead, people are busy.

They have limited time.

They have limited patience.

And they don’t want you asking stupid bloody questions.

So, whether you’re planning on using one as a headline for a long copy sales letter…

As a slogan for a poster campaign…

Or if you’re using one as a subject line in an email auto-responder series…

Think twice before you do.

Chances are it’s a mistake.

I’ll use email subject lines to explain why, but the principles are the same no matter what copy you’re writing.

You see, any closed question that can be easily and quickly answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ will NOT be very effective.

Imagine, for instance, you open your inbox in the morning and there’s thirty emails vying for your attention. You’re in a rush to go through them, so you do a quick visual scan.

You spot one subject line that asks:

Are you fed up of being ripped off by the bank?

You’re actually very happy with your bank, so you think ‘no’ and that email is deleted.

The copywriter has failed in their mission.

It’s as quick as that.

Alternatively, in such a situation that you DO feel you’re being ripped-off by your bank you’d think ‘yes, I am fed up’ and then that email is deleted.

It’s as quick as that.

The copywriter has failed in their mis…

Hang on!

Why would you delete the email when you ARE fed up of your bank ripping you off?

Because even though you agree with the sentiment, the subject line merely asking the question doesn’t do anything to suggest opening the email will help you stop being ripped-off.

Oh, you though it inherently suggested that?

Get lost.

And sharpen up, god damn it!

Your readers aren’t EVER going to give you that much thought. Don’t pretend they are.

As I said before, people are in a rush. You have a matter of seconds to get a reaction and such a generic question will NOT work half as well as it should.

Yet this kind of question is used so often in copywriting – for subject lines, for headlines, for so many things.

And it’s a real shame.

So, don’t do it.

At least, don’t be so damn lazy and generic.

I mean, don’t get me wrong…

There are rare occasions when a closed question that relies on the natural curiosity of your reader will work well.

One of the best I’ve seen in action is what I call ‘the fake meeting’ question.

It’s particularly effective as a subject line, but the concept can be adapted and used in other copy too.

How’s it work?

Well, when used as a subject line in an email, it’ll look something like this:

Are we still OK to have that chat on Friday?

If the email is from a person, rather than a company name, it’s even more effective, as you can imagine.

You see what’s going on here…

Sure you could answer yes or no to this, but more likely you’re going think: hold on, what chat on Friday? When did I arrange this? Shit, I better check…

And bang… you open the email. Job done!

But alas, this is a rare exception to the rule.

More often than not, despite your better judgement and despite the fact that questions always seem nice and easy and a quick way to pretend to be targeting your customers more directly…

The real answer is…

They’re not.

Where possible you should avoid using closed questions to try to grab people’s attention. Instead, rearrange your question to form an intriguingly bold statement – it’ll almost always win.

Best,
Glenn

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Category: Technicals

About the Author ()

Glenn Fisher is a professional copywriter, founder of AllGoodCopy.com and author of Write Better Copy. He is an expert in long copy sales letters, having written copy that has so far generated more than £10 million in revenue. Born in Grimsby, he now lives in London.

Comments (1)

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  1. Glenn, great tip. I just changed my “Who Else…” headline into a “How…” statement and it reads so much better already. I can easily see it drawing more readers into the copy. My first time here (thanks to John Ford article) and I look forward to learning more from you.

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