Want to grab your readers’ attention?
Want your copy to drive more conversions?
Want to arouse and inspire your readers?
Want to draw prospects in?
Want to make your copy persuasive?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say the answer to all of those is a resounding yes.
Regular readers of this distinguished blog will know there’s more than one way to make your copy shine like a proverbial star. But asking questions is a great pro-copywriting trick to keep in your toolbox.
It’s a fine line, though. Yes – questions are a brilliant way to engage and involve your audience.
But like a small child who’s just discovered how to ask “why”, in the twinkle of an eye, you’ve gone from cute and engaging to weirdly annoying.
Want to know why questions work so well?
THEY MAKE YOUR READERS LIKE YOU
Yep – you can make your readers like you.
Psychologists agree that people who ask more questions are more likeable. And that translates to your copy.
Whether your words are going to end up as website content, in brochures, on social media, or in blogs posts, the basic premise is the same. You want your readers to go away feeling warm and fuzzy about you.
Have you ever bought anything from someone you didn’t like? Me neither.
Questions can help give them that warm feeling. The trick is to use them well. Make them serve a purpose.
QUESTIONING WITH APLOMB
I’ll let you into a little copywriters’ secret: you’ve got six seconds to grab a reader. Miss that tiny window and they’re gone.
So make your opener count.
And think about it: what better way to draw your readers in than by asking them a question? How better to hook them than with a compelling question that makes them think or conjures up an emotion?
Not that questions only belong in your headline or first paragraph.
Put them in the body of your copy and they add to the ebb and flow that keeps your audience glued. They can provide links between parts of the narrative. They can nudge your reader out of blindly skimming to actively thinking about what they’re reading.
Above all, they keep your reader engaged. Marketing Professor at Boston College, Henrick Hagtvedt, says that while statements convey clarity, questions do much more to engage the mind.
Consumers, according to Hagvedt, actually appreciate questions which invite them to think and form their own conclusions. They don’t need to be deep or complex, they just need to be enough to imply a little bit of ambiguity and – hey presto – you’ve sparked their curiosity.
So, do you dish your questions out as fast as you can type them?
Of course not.
Pose your questions wrong and they’re more likely to leave your audience wishing you’d mind your own business than pondering your perfect prose.
THE RIGHT TYPE OF QUESTION
The trick to using questions well is to know what you want the reader to do. Which means you need to ask the right TYPE of question.
- Literal questions: questions which you actually need to answer. They’re used most often in the header – you pose a question in the headline and answer it through the copy. Just make sure the question is one your prospect cares about enough to read the answer to. And, of course, you need to deliver – make sure you have answered the question.
- Open-ended questions: these are for prompting thoughts and emotions, so use them where you want to make your readers think. They’re a good trick for encouraging the reader to relate what you’re writing about to themselves. But use with caution: prompt too much in the way of free-range thinking and your audience has drifted off.
- Rhetorical questions: these don’t need an answer – their purpose is to make a point or for dramatic effect rather than because you want to know something. They’re very good at encouraging the reader to feel as if they’ve formed their own conclusion, which they have – except prompted by you.
- Yes/no questions: the very simplest type of question and are useful when you want to make a point. They’re often used rhetorically in copy, with a leading question leaving only one right answer. They can be a powerful way of reaffirming for the reader that yes, they’re in the right place and reading something which is relevant to them.
Which is what you want, right?
(Yes – nice rhetorical yes/no there.)
PAIN IS GOOD
Let’s try a little experiment:
1) Want to know about our latest software developments?
2) Want a quicker, easier way to monitor stock and save £££?
Anyone stick their hand up for question A? Didn’t think so.
Unless you want your reader to skip off to something far more interesting, ask questions that they can either empathise with or actually want to see answered.
Both questions in our little experiment are looking for the same outcome: the reader signing up to receive more information about your whizzy new product.
The first question, though, focuses entirely on YOU – your company and what you want to say. Chances are your prospect is too busy, even if they do want to know more. (And let me break it to you: they probably don’t.)
Question two focuses on the reader’s own needs and self-interest. Phrase your question cleverly, based on everything you know about your prospect, and you make it much harder for them to say no and switch off.
Like all great copywriting, the key is to know your prospect’s pain.
Pin-point their biggest problem, ask a relevant question and bingo – they’re hooked quicker than you can say “would you like a demo?”
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Sure, you want your readers to think.
You just don’t want them to think so hard they get distracted musing over the right answer.
Or even worse, you make them feel stupid by asking questions that are confusing or just plain difficult
The trick is to keep your questions simple. That means keeping what you ask straightforward and making sure their answer is easy, too.
A good rule is to stick to one question per question mark. That doesn’t mean only asking one question at all. It just means keeping each question very simple without adding on sub-questions that will confuse or distract.
KNOW THE ANSWER (AND ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION IN THE RIGHT PLACE)
The purpose of copy is almost always to persuade someone of something.
Whether it’s directly selling them a specific product or gently encouraging them to feel positively about your brand, you’re still trying to persuade them.
Which is why you should only ever ask questions if you can either predict the answer or – in the case of a literal question – can give it.
Asking the wrong question, one which makes it easy for your prospect to give an answer that isn’t the one you want, makes it easy for them to mentally switch off.
And even if you think you know the answer, it’s easy to inadvertently phrase so you get the wrong answer.
1) Ready to book your dream family holiday?
2) Dreaming of your perfect family escape?
The first question sounds like a great call-to-action, and in the right place, it might well work. But use that in a social teaser and you’ve made it too easy to for the reader who isn’t sat credit card in hand to keep scrolling.
Any question you ask should be about moving your prospect one step closer to you. Make sure yours don’t do the opposite.
Great copy is conversational. It should feel as natural as having a chat with someone.
And we can probably all agree that being interrogated doesn’t feel natural. You don’t want your copy to come across as the written equivalent of a cross-examination so be sparing with the questions.
Use them where they really add something, don’t shoehorn them in.
(Unless, like me, you’re writing a blog post about using questions in copy in which case it’s fine and dandy to use five questions in your opener.)
Yes, questions are a great copywriting trick to make a point or invite the reader to stop and think. It doesn’t mean that questions are the only way of doing it.
If you’re looking for more insider tips to make your copy sing and your prospects dance, why not check out our free copywriting e-book.