When chosen carefully, the right words can prompt an audience to invest in your cause and spread your mission to the world.
Why Use Power Words?
The right words in your online messages can directly impact your campaign’s success. But you have to understand why they are so influential. It goes beyond just the words themselves.
Take, for example, a project that Marketing Experiments worked on with Encyclopedia Britannica, who was having trouble with some of their headlines. One specific headline on the encyclopedia’s site read as an open-ended question: “Why Try Britannica Online?”
They changed the headline to: “Get Unlimited Access to all 32 Volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica during your FREE TRIAL…”
Notice how the second headline tells customers exactly what they could receive after taking action on this page. It is specific and incentivizing, unlike the ethereal question in the first headline.
The change in headline produced a “103 percent increase in conversion over the empty-question headline.” When the words changed, the entire emotional overtone of the headline changed—it became actionable.
It’s All About Specifics
This is why it’s so important to understand what a change in language does. No matter which power words you choose, it’s crucial that you have a specific intention behind everything you write. Otherwise, you just have a messy grouping of power words that leaves you nowhere.
Brian Clark from Copyblogger writes that “one of the most important characteristics of compelling, persuasive content is specificity. The more specific you are, the more credible your points, arguments, or sales pitch.” Or, if you’re in the nonprofit world, the more credible your appeal for donations.
Social psychologist Ellen Langer tested this approach in the real world, with her ask to cut in line at a copy machine.
She tried three different asks:
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?
The responses Langer got were:
- 70 percent of people said yes
- 93 percent of people said yes
- 94 percent of people said yes
Her study shows that if people can justify a requested behavior—that the other party is requesting it because of a specific reason—they will perform the task. That applies even if the ask is as small as cutting in line at the copy machine, or for a $10 donation. You need to pair specificity with power words in your asks for effective messages.
Know Your Audience
To incite action, you need to use the right words, in the right places, for the right audience.
For example, Michael Rosen writes that different generations of people respond differently to the word “innovation.” He cites Frank Lutz in his writing, saying:
“For a Millennial or Generation X audience, the word ‘innovation’ is powerful. While ‘new and improved’ was a phrase that once created excitement, today it is tired and worn-out.”
Identify your target demographic, its interests, and the language that speaks to them. It could make all the difference.
If you miss this step and don’t investigate your audience, all the intention and power words in the world won’t help you. It’d be like trying to get someone with no car to buy auto insurance: it simply isn’t relevant.
Where to Use Power Words
While power words can find a home in any part of your copy, they’re best used in places that stand out to your audience. The list includes:
- Titles: Use power words into your blog titles for better click-through rates from social media and through search engines
- Social headlines: Rework your titles to be short, snappy, and powerful
- Subject lines: Engage and encourage email subscribers to click with an intriguing subject line
- First and last paragraphs: Insert power words throughout your copy, especially in the places where they will stand out the most—the first and last paragraphs
- Comments: Tailor your comments on social media to include power words where appropriate
- Calls to Action (CTAs): Sprinkle power words in your CTAs on social media to let your audience know what you want them to do and push them to act
Remember that your words should always serve a purpose. Never let them sit and float aimlessly.
Best Nonprofit Power Words
Now that you’ve got the context around these words, why they’re important, and how to use them, you can start experimenting and integrating them into your work. This list of 30 power words can help you motivate your audience to work alongside you in accomplishing your mission:
- How to
- Tell Us
- Become a Member
Although power words can make a sizeable impact on your social channels, it’s important to not be heavy-handed with their use. If you overdo it, the words lose their power.
A good rule of thumb is to treat them like salt: use enough to enhance the taste, but don’t let it dominate the entire flavor. With the right touch and intent, you can acquire new donors, secure lifelong supporters, and drive recurring donations as you watch your campaigns grow.
This post was updated in September 2017 with new information.