How To Be a Scientifc Copywriter

  • Use proven formulas
  • Write your copy using facts
  • Apply the psychology of persuasion
  • Split test everything
  • Measure and document

Copy Hackers Blog Post Science CopywritingCopywriting is NOT an art.

Sorry, let me rephrase: Effective copywriting is not an art.

It’s a science, first and foremost.

As John Caples teaches in Tested Advertising Methods (only $9.64!), copywriting should be approached the same way an engineer approaches the building of a bridge.

The same way a surgeon approaches triple bypass surgery.

The same way Heisenberg/Mr. White approaches his pure blue meth.

Once you know what to do, do it.

Do it exactly the same way every time.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Follow the steps.

Stop wordsmithing.

Stop trying to impress yourself.

Just stop it already!

Do yourself and your site visitors a MASSIVE favor, and start “scientific copywriting”. That means taking a serious hiatus from being “creative”. That means looking at your website like a lab, not an easel.

If converting people with your copy is important to you.

Allow me to explain…

Follow the Exact Same Process for Writing Every Single Time

Let’s get this straight: There is no muse on the top of the mountain.

You do not have to wait for your spirit to be moved by the words.

You just need to follow a proven process. The way a scientist follows the same process when setting up an experiment.

Here is the process I follow to write conversion-rate-optimized (CRO) copy:

Joanna Wiebe Copywriting Process Copy Hackers

When you follow this process EVERY time, you never need to worry about whether you “like” something or not. (See my post about this)

You throw subjectivity out the window.

Remember: This is not an art. It is a science. Be objective.

Now let’s talk about the most obvious and necessary way to be a “scientific copywriter”…

Use Headline Formulas

Why would  you write every headline from scratch when there are literally 100s of headline formulas to choose from?

And why, after finding a few headline formulas that work for your market and are easy enough for you to write, would you cease to use those few formulas?

Are you a masochist?

Do you have nothing but time on your hands?

Are you trying to set a record for number of headlines composed and trashed?

If you’re unfamiliar with headline formulas, go here, here and here to find a bunch – and check out some easy-to-complete ones below:

The Only Way to [Do Something Desirable] Without [Doing Something Undesirable]
The Only Way to Turn Off the Lights Without Clapping or Getting Out of Bed

[Do Something Hard] in [Period of Time] or [Promise]
Tune Your Piano in 15 Minutes or “Piano Tuner App” Is Free

[Do Something Desirable] Like [an Expert] Without [Something Expected & Undesirable]
Learn to Play Chess Like Bobby Fischer – Without Any of the Crazy!

Notice how the first and the third formulas are similar?

You could use both formulas as headlines on your site, and only the very observant visitor would notice that they sound similar – and he probably wouldn’t care! The first could be on your home page (since it’s essentially how to write a value prop), and the third could go on your “How It Works” or “Tour” page.

There would be no need to go searching for a new formula!

You do NOT have to reinvent the wheel every time.

So repeat after me: “I will not try to dream up new headlines when I can use proven headline formulas”. (Yep, that’s a tweetable!)

Next up……..

Be Direct and Specific

Scientists live in a world of facts, evidence, proof, precision and specifics.

When you’re copy hacking, you should, too.

  • Never ever ever ever ever EVER summarize when you can be SPECIFIC
  • Wherever possible, let the numbers tell the story – we’re talking “Join 46,700 Others” and “Save $3500 in 16 Weeks”
  • If you make a claim, immediately support it with some sort of proof or evidence
  • Use social proof, like testimonials, to make your points for you

FreshBooks uses very specific data in a direct, memorable way:

Instead of using some sort of summarized “Learn More” button, we at use this precise, specific button on our home page: uses social proof in a very bold, impossible to miss way:

PopSurvey Social Proof

Speaking of social proof, let’s get into a little Cialdini with the next point…

Apply What You Know About the Science of Persuasion & Influence

Cialdini Influence for Kindle EbookHere are the 6 persuasion principles Cialdini discusses in the must-read Influence:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment / Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Authority
  5. Liking / Likability
  6. Scarcity

Read the book (Kindle version right here!) to learn the ins and outs, all of which are based on academic studies. Muchos recommendedos.

In addition to the proven ways to persuade that Cialdini discusses, a handful of scientific ways to persuade with your copy – and design – include:

  • Loss Aversion
    The benefit of moving from free to paid may be “Don’t lose the data you’ve entered” rather than “Save your data”.
  • Diagnosis Bias
    Use a testimonial from an authority as your home page headline to improve initial value judgments.
  • Contrast / Context Effect
    Make big prices look smaller by comparing them to even larger prices.
  • Pygmalion Effect
    During support calls, tell customers they’re going to have an easy time going forward, and they’re more likely to.
  • Conformity and Herd Behavior
    Make any decision other than using your product sound like it’s outside the norm.

Lance and I discuss quite a few of these on our ancient (but never outdated) 30 Days of Persuasion blog, and you can learn more by reading books like Sway, Habit and The Paradox of Choice or by taking HFI’s Persuasion, Emotion, Trust (PET) Course, which I took a few years ago and really liked.

Read the FREE Copyhackers persuasion ebook >>

Split-Test, Obviously

You’ve followed a sound process, used formulas, used specifics and applied decision-making principles to the copy you wrote.

Now you can simply roll out copy that is low risk / highly likely to perform well (because it is based on triangulated data)… or you can split-test everything possible.

This works best when you’re doing a redesign of a site rather than launching a new site. For example, I’m currently working with a client on revising their entire site in increments, with a new page tested every week. (Their traffic can bear it, lucky devils.)

When you split-test, be scientific about it – this is no time to start getting sloppy:

  • Have a sound hypothesis or research question for every treatment/recipe other than the control
  • Worry less about “winning” (or proving yourself right) and more about “learning” (which you can actually do something with)
  • Run to statistical significance, even if it feels like a royal pain
  • Don’t introduce new variables while running the test
  • Be aware of the impact of factors beyond your control, like seasonality and promotions, impacting the results
  • Use a proper testing tool, like the ultra-easy VWO (which now includes stuff like click-tracking, too)

IMPORTANT: When the test is complete, take the time to document what you’ve done and learned, as I’m about to discuss in this final point…

Head on over to for more about testing & optimization >>

Measure and Record Everything So You Can Learn

Let’s say you tested Headline Formula A against Headline Formula B.

You learned that Headline Formula B beat the control.

So what?

Do you just push the test to 100% of traffic and sit back, counting your cash?

Or do you take 20 minutes to WRITE DOWN what happened in the test so you can learn from it and, with any luck, repeat your success? You should note:

  • The hypothesis (pre-test) and the key learning (post-test)
  • The creative / recipes tested
  • Which test won
  • The people the test was exposed to (e.g., “Landing page for PPC Ad Group B”)
  • The start date and end date
  • The % significance reached
  • Any anomalies or unusual test occurrences, like having to stop the test for a day for some reason
  • Takeaways and recommendations (e.g., “Repeat test next on landing page for PPC Ad Group C”)

I know that seems like a lot of work, so I’ve gone ahead and made the worksheet I use available to you. You’re welcome, young copy hacker.

Once you’ve mastered the science of copywriting, then and only then you can start THINKING about the art of messaging to sell.

But I don’t know why you would.

After all, scientific copywriting works so well, is measurable and is repeatable, I can’t imagine why you’d want to get creative or artistic. Just take up a watercolor class at the local YMCA, and think like a scientist when you’re copywriting.


 Tweetables to Impress Your Followers (or Fill Your Buffer)

Tweet this: “Copywriting is not an art. It is a science. Be objective.”
Tweet this: Are you trying to set a record for number of headlines composed and trashed?
Tweet this: “I will not try to dream up new headlines when I can use proven headline formulas.”
Tweet this: Never ever ever ever ever EVER summarize when you can be SPECIFIC.
Tweet this: Persuade with loss aversion, diagnosis bias, context effect, pygmalion effect…