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5 Direct Response Copywriting Techniques For Content That Converts

copywriting content marketing

Direct response copywriting, contrary to its indirect response cousin you might recognize from many a billboard ad, is about motivating immediate action rather than just top-of-mind brand awareness.

With direct response, you reap the rewards right away, it's easy to test and attribute the results, and—because of the nature of online media, landing pages, email marketing, etc.—you could say the internet is the best arena for this approach.

Now, I can think of several reasons why you shouldn't write content like you would write direct response copy.

For one, your mission with content marketing isn't to pitch your product outright—especially with top-of-the-funnel content. Another reason is that good copy can take more effort to write than content even though, in many cases, it's a fraction of the length. 

But what direct response copywriting does have in common with creating content is at least one important thing: a focus on grabbing attention and compelling action.

That's why some direct response copywriting techniques actually translate well to content creation.

Here are some main tenets of direct response copywriting that can help you better retain attention and inspire action within your content

Show the R.O.T.I—A.S.A.P!

Return On Time Invested (ROTI) is a concept often applied to landing pages to stress the importance of impressing immediate value upon your audience after they click onto the page.

But even with content, it's important to reassure your audience that they're in the right place and to do it right away.

Most visitors to your blog will judge your content at face value and for good reason. An overabundance of click-bait headlines and fluffy content has turned us into cautious clickers

The first thing many visitors will likely do when they land on your content is to scroll through it instead of reading right away as you'd probably prefer.

Structure your content strategically to avoid scaring readers away.   

Your headline should lead into your first line and introduction to satisfy your audience's expectations.

Treat subheads in your blog post or infographic like your table of contents: One look should give your readers a good idea of the value each section contains.

Similarly, bolding key phrases facilitates scanning and makes it easier to pull out information at a glance. 

"Larger subheads and bold font serve to increase visibility—readers will be able to navigate to find parts that they need and a quick glance of it will provide a clear sense of the entirety." 

—Jay Lee, UX Designer at Uberflip


Ensure the visibility of relevant value to engage both the readers and the skimmers, and then—once you've convinced your readers not to leave right away—focus and re-focus their attention throughout your content.

Give your reader cues to slow down

I know you’re not reading every word of this blog post. I'm not offended. Who's got the time for that?

But I’m doing my damnedest to not scare you away with:

  • Complicated language
  • Long-winded sentences
  • Walls of text
  • A bland writing style

I also know that, for those who choose to skim, there are certain ways I can re-focus your attention:

  • Subheads
  • Lists
  • Bold phrases
  • Hyperlinked text
  • One-line sentences
  • Pull/Block quotes
  • Images/Charts/Graphs

You can create a more enjoyable reader experience that's easy on the eyes by leveraging white space, effectively directing their eyes away from the back arrow and exit button.

But holding attention isn't enough. You need to encourage action.

Don’t simply call to action—provoke an immediate reaction

The main difference between direct and indirect response copywriting is the focus on generating immediate demand (not just awareness) knowing that the medium empowers the reader to act immediately.

The key difference in content marketing is that you're trying to generate demand for more content (attract subscribers) or more conversations (social shares and comments), and in some cases a demand for more product information (sales site traffic and free trials). 

To do this, you need:

  • Social sharing buttons that are immediately visible to readers.
  • Prominent, contextual CTAs  that can convert visitors who land on that specific piece.
  • Content recommendations to encourage further consumption, even if visitors don't convert. 

The user experience needs to be optimized for the above because—let's face it—not many will go the extra mile for you unless it's easy and right in front of them.

And that leads me to another relevant element of direct response copywriting: Its relentless focus on "you"—by that I mean your audience.

Write in the second person to put the reader first

Writing or speaking in the third person (he, she, they) generally establishes an objective voice by distancing the speaker from the topic.  But you can employ the second-person (you, your) to establish a direct connection with your audience instead. 

The journalistic third person is great for delivering information in an unbiased way and communicating to the masses. But it's not the most effective voice for connecting with specific readers and inspiring action.

By directly addressing your ideal reader (or buyer), you exclude the unqualified members of your audience, but your writing will resonate more with those who are qualified. 

Since content marketing for many brands involves creating content that teaches, the second-person is often the wisest voice to use. After all, the most engaging teachers talk to you, not about you.

More than just talking to your audience, however, you also need to understand what makes them tick.

Understand their pleasure, pain and pursuit of happiness 

Direct response copywriting emphasizes psychology as much as language. It's about figuring out how readers think, where their eyes will go when they land on a page, and what motivates them to act.

But at its core, you need to hook readers with something they really want or really want to avoid.

Likewise, the content you create should provide pleasure, alleviate pain or give your target audience some small slice of happiness.  HubSpot calls it "delightion" (not a real word, but it still works). 

The tricky part is figuring out how your audience defines their own pleasure. The only answer is to do the research, using any number of tools like BuzzSumo or conducting keyword research to leverage a little search engine empathy.

And, of course, there's the trial and error it entails. 

The ability to experiment, test, and analyze the results is considered the greatest asset of direct response copywriting.

You don't always know what's going to work until you try it. And when something works, you pick it apart to isolate why and iterate until you can develop a reliable working theory. 

Similarly, you can identify the pain and pleasure points of your customers and audience—through quantitative and qualitative data—to develop the buyer personas you need to create content with confidence.

Generate a demand for further action

In an era of content shock, it's worth looking at your content through a similar lens as someone writing a landing page or marketing email with a focus on retaining attention and motivating action.

If nothing else, reducing bounce rate is one of the first steps to increasing your conversion rate.

And while that's especially important for a landing page, it's no less important to carry some of these lessons through to the content you create—from the headline to the call-to-action at the end.  

When, where, and how should you call readers to act ? Watch our webinar to learn the best practices for creating high-converting CTAs.