What is Direct Response Copywriting? – 9 Key Lessons & Takeaways

May 20, 2019 | Sean Foo

Direct response copywriting is the exact opposite of the branding and advertising messages you see on billboards, televisions and magazines.

It is copywriting that focuses on the here and now and has only one aim – to get your reader to take action towards a goal you desire.

While brand copy is great at building awareness and getting your company known over a long period of time, it doesn’t drive sales or conversions the way direct response copywriting does.

Direct response copywriting essentially is ‘salesmanship in print.’

When you use direct response copywriting in your marketing materials, you want your reader to take action immediately after reading your copy.

These can include actions such as:

– Leaving an enquiry

– Making a purchase

– Signing up for your email list

– Downloading your ebook

And in order to accomplish this consistently, you will need to appeal to their emotions while logically convincing them of the benefits and taking away any fears they might have.


Direct response copywriting sells you money at a discount

While the art of direct response copywriting started out decades ago with masters of the craft such as Gary Halbert and John Carlton pulling in millions of dollars from direct-mail, it is still applicable in today’s modern marketing.

When done right, direct response copywriting helps your marketing systems campaigns become predictable profit generating machines.

Just imagine getting $2 for every dollar you put in, how incredible is that!

David Ogilvy, the father of modern advertising, has this to say about direct response copywriting:

“The trouble with many copywriters is that they don’t really think in terms of selling. They have never written direct-response; they have never tasted blood”

Whether you are selling a luxury experience to the rich or a Saas product to entrepreneurs, always remember you are marketing to people.

People whose buying decisions are made with emotions and then justified with logic.

If you are writing for landing pages, Facebook ads, website copy or any other type of digital marketing content where results matter, you can’t afford to be boring – you need to be an attention-grabbing hero well-versed in crafting direct response copy!


9 Key Lessons & Principles of Direct Response Copywriting


1. Write a Magnetic Headline to Draw in Readers

Your headline is the first thing your reader will see and if it doesn’t capture their attention while arousing their curiosity, the rest of your copy won’t get read!

In fact, legendary Ad-man David Ogilvy couldn’t have said it better:

“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

So how do we craft killer headlines that grab attention while compelling readers to read the rest of your copy?

This classic headline example comes from an ad written for the Merchants National Bank and Trust Company by perhaps the greatest American copywriter in the 1980s – Tom McElligott.

The headline of the ad “In 1966 he made half as much and it was twice as easy to save” is perhaps one the most effective headlines due to four core reasons:

The problem facing the reader is clearly highlighted:

How it is much harder to save today.

It ignites curiosity in the reader:

‘If people are earning more, why are they saving less?’ ‘Am I saving less compared to people in the past?’

It provides tangible and useful information:

By highlighting the downward savings trend, readers know that savings is something to pay attention to.

The benefit is cleverly implied within the headline:

If you are earning more today, perhaps this solution can help me save even more than in the past.

This is one such headline that will make readers want to know more and read the rest of your direct response copy and eventually take action at the end!

This next example is a headline on a direct response landing page of SEMrush.

Short and concise, their headline “Try the World’s No.1 Marketing Tool Free!” does a wonderful job and it’s easy to see why:

It tells the reader exactly what it is about:

It is a marketing tool, it doesn’t hide its purpose on how it can help the reader.

It builds confidence and curiosity at the same time:

What makes the tool so superior that it is considered the world’s best?

It lowers the barrier to take action:

Direct response is all about taking action and with the word ‘Free’, the headline spurs the reader to immediately hop onto the free trial just below.

Spending hours or even days crafting your headline is worth it, a well-written headline will ensure the rest of your copy gets read – that’s what you want!


2. Craft a Compelling CTA to Drive Action

The end goal of direct response copywriting is to get your reader to take action or ‘convert’.

A fantastic call to action (CTA) acts as the final push to get the reader to act now – instead of clicking away!

All great call-to-actions sections have 4 characteristics that truly make them effective:

– They remind the reader of the big benefit (or what they truly desire)

– They showcase what you will get once you take action

– They make it crystal clear what exactly you should do next

– They remove any last minute doubt

Clickfunnel’s CTA is a perfect example of how a direct response copy should end: with an irresistible offer to get started.

Its CTA provides an obvious big blue call-to-action button that is clear as day and is filled with compelling copy to get the reader to click.

Instead of a weak ‘begin now’ or ‘get started’, the button copy it tells the reader to get cracking and start their free trial – which is also the immediate benefit they will enjoy!

On the bottom and on the right, they showcase the big benefit and exciting features that await the reader once they take action.

The reader knows exactly what they will be getting.

And for those who are still hesitant, the CTA section demolishes any last minute resistance with the copy ‘No obligations, no contracts, cancel at any time, 100% risk-free’ directly below their big blue button.

Crafting an effective CTA doesn’t have to be complicated, just ensure you make it highly actionable, benefit-driven and remove away any potential resistance.

Want a more detailed guide to crafting call to actions that convert?

Check out our guide on writing awesome call to actions that close sales!


3. Focus on The Customer & Their Desires

While branding and big advertising focus more on the product and company itself, direct response copywriting focuses ruthlessly on the customer and what they want.

While it is important to always define your customer before you write a single word, your copy needs to be angled towards fulfilling their desires.

They need to experience a transformation of their situation (and themselves) and the positive emotions that come with it!

Many businesses make the mistake of showcasing how awesome their product or service is but they do it in a self-serving way that hypes up their own brand while forgetting about the reader.

Great direct response copywriting brings the reader through a journey that focuses on them, which is exactly what Barkbox does when promoting one of their themed doggie treat boxes.

Barkbox’s copy talks directly to the wants and desires of your reader using words like ‘your’ to get them to think of themselves and what is important to them.

In this case, their dog and its enjoyment of course!

Ideas and concepts (such as ‘Take a stroll’) are also often written down in a second person point of view that allows them to experience it and immerses them in the journey you are bringing them on.

This is key to bring them into the action immediately without beating around the bush.

Always make it about them, not just when it comes to showcasing the benefits, but also in the way you write.


4. Utilize Long Form Copy to Persuade & Convince

Direct response copywriting is all about generating results and to do that you need to provide as much information possible.

Long form copy allows you to engage your reader with more information

The more complex or novel your solution is, the more you will need to showcase to convince your reader, from features to benefits.

Long copy allows you to use storytelling to connect better with your reader

People identify with stories, especially if it is similar to them. By writing more copy, you allow your reader to identify with your narrative helping to form a stronger emotional bond

Long copy gives you the chance to pack in lots of testimonials to boost your credibility

Showing evidence of happy customers that are similar to your reader is key to maximize your conversions. Especially if your product is expensive, you will need more testimonials and long copy helps with that.

Need some proof of why long copy works?

The team at Conversion Rate Experts used long-form copy to generate a 52% improvement in sales for Moz and within just 4 months of work, they helped Moz increase annual revenues by $1 million!


The new page was approximately 6 times longer than the original. It allowed Moz to tell their complete story and hit on every point that really mattered to their audience.

In fact in our agency, by writing long form sales copy, we helped increase sales for one of our clients selling consultations by 600% and he charges $715 an hour!


Long-form copy works – it persuades deeper, convinces your reader faster and leads them towards the sale quicker.


5. Provide Ample Social Proof

If you can’t build enough trust in your product and brand, the sale won’t happen.

In order to inspire action from your reader, they need to know your solution does what it says and your company itself is credible to deliver it to them.

When it comes to direct response copywriting, utilizing various forms of social proof is key to build that much-needed trust factor.

Take this famous 1961 Hathaway Shirt ad by David Ogilvy – the headline and the subheadline uses the power of social proof by connecting the brand to a historical figure (influencer) and institutions, Elihu Yale & Yale University.

However today, things are much more competitive when it comes to direct response marketing – you will need to inject in various forms of social proof.

These include:

  • Customer testimonials
  • Customer and brand logos
  • Media mentions and features
  • Influencer endorsements
  • Ratings and reviews

Sumo, uses a hybrid of customer testimonials and influencer endorsements on their landing page to build trust in their audience.

If you want to maximize your conversions that direct response way, strategically insert social proof throughout your copy.

Want to fully understand how to use social proof?

Discover the 8 types of social proofs you need in our article here.


6. Pre-empt & Banish Away Objections

If you have been in any sales role, you will have encountered objections and mental blocks that are holding your prospect back from buying from you.

This is especially so in when you writing copy – whether it is a print ad or an online landing page.

Direct response copywriting is all about giving as much information as possible to your reader for them to make a decision there and then.

If you want to maximize your sales, you need to bring forth the potential objections your reader might be thinking and address it directly.

For a great example, let’s look at Russell Brunson’s sales page for his physical book, Expert Secrets.

Towards the end of the landing page, Russell begins to address various worries his audience has – ‘What if I don’t like the book? How can I get my money back? How much of a hassle will it be if I ask for a refund?’

By putting up a Money-back guarantee with no questions asked, the landing page immediately lends confidence to the reader to know that they are protected in case his book isn’t a good fit.

The sales copy goes one step further by removing another core objection the reader might have – ‘What if my credit card details are misused and I get enrolled into some bogus membership program?’

This time by just simply bringing it up and addressing it directly.

When it comes to addressing objections, target key points in your copy to inject it in – such as in the final CTA section or just before your CTA buttons.


7. Use Powerful Language & Words

Using the right words is powerful – especially if you can tap into the emotional hot buttons of your reader.

Finding the right word to use can make the difference and drastically increase the conversions of your direct response copy.

Here are 15 examples of power words you can use to supercharge the effectiveness of your copy:

Trust Building Words

  • Guaranteed
  • Proven
  • Award-winning
  • Trusted
  • Endorsed

Benefit-Driven Words

  • Winning Formula
  • Results Focused
  • Profit
  • Instant
  • Bargain

Curiosity Building Words

  • Revolutionary
  • Sensational
  • Proprietary
  • Ultimate
  • Extraordinary

Looking for more power words and the psychology behind them? Check out this resource by Kajabi that goes in-depth into why certain words trigger specific emotions.

Want a monster list of powerful trigger words? Here are 189 of them curated by Buffer.


8. Build a Sense of Urgency Throughout Your Copy

There is a reason why limited edition products sell out the same way people rush to buy presents during a holiday sale – it’s the urgency to act.

Without a pressing need for urgency, your reader might very well ‘think it over’ and click away – you don’t want that!

Direct response copywriting is all about making your audience take an action, so use urgency to give them that final push!

The two most common types of urgency to cultivate is FOMO (the fear of missing out) and scarcity.

A great example of the scarcity principle in action is on Backlinko’s call to action on their SEO course sales page.

They use both scarcity and FOMO beautifully here:

Scarcity – By highlighting the fact they only open enrollment twice a year, they clearly show their course is exclusive and scarce.

FOMO – The words ‘Will Open Soon’ adds a level of uncertainty to the reader, giving them that added push to join the waiting list to be notified once the course opens.

Utilizing a sense of urgency is part and parcel of direct response copywriting, it gives your reader an added push to take action and convert!


9. Always Keep Testing Your Copy

Just because something works today doesn’t mean it works just as well a month later.

Direct response copywriting is all about measurable results and this can be tracked to the various sections of your copy.

Are people prematurely existing your sales page? Maybe your headline isn’t strong enough.

Are conversions suddenly dropping over time? Maybe you aren’t addressing a growing concern.

Is your price too high? It could be that there just isn’t any urgency for the reader to take action.

Direct response copywriting is all about ruthless testing that covers every aspect of your copy – from the headlines and the call to action to the story itself.

By testing various elements of a landing page’s sales copy, Copyhackers more than doubled revenue for an e-commerce client.

The elements they modified and tested included:

  • The overall order of messaging
  • Using more specific copy
  • Optimized call to action buttons

But were they satisfied with just a single test?


Copyhackers did yet another test on the Sweatblock page that tested:

– A new formula Pain-Agitate-Solve (PAS) for the overall copy

– More social proof (the number of products sold)

– Removing their 4 step demo

This additional test resulted in an additional 49% increase in paid conversions!

There is always room to improve, there is always something new to test.

As Ogilvy said:

“The most important word in the vocabulary of advertising is TEST. Test your promise. Test your media. Test your headlines and your illustrations. Test the size of your advertisements. Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”


Level Up Your Results With Direct Response Copywriting

Whether you writing up a sales page on your website, a landing page or an email newsletter, using elements of direct response copywriting helps to spur your reader to take action.

The 9 lessons we went through earlier will help you effectively utilize the power of direct response to drive you results that really matter – conversions, leads and sales.

Looking for more examples of direct response? Check out these 3 resources that we absolutely love:


Need a Direct Response Copywriter?

Writing effective direct response copy takes considerable time and years of expertise – thankfully we have both!

Discover how we can help your business craft results-driven direct response copy in the areas of landing pages, website sales pages and email sequences.

Get in touch!

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