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How to implement the science of persuasion in copywriting

Copywriters are the SEO world’s Jack-Of-All-Trades. Good copy educates, explains, entertains, but above all it persuades

To create persuasive content, fluent writing is only half the battle—an understanding of the human psyche is the other half. Sound like a tall order? We’re simplifying it. 

Persuasion is an art, and the real master of this particular art is Robert Cialdini, author of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” Published in 1984, this book explores the psychology behind the decision-making process, focusing on purchasing and consumption decisions. 

Four decades later, Cialdini’s principles of persuasion are more relevant than ever. If you look closely enough, you’ll find them everywhere you look: Instagram, Youtube ads, on the side of online newspapers, and at the top of search engine results pages. Hello, internet marketing!


  1. Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion—reciprocity, authority, scarcity, commitment, liking and social proof—will help you create much more persuasive copy.
  2. Reciprocity: give actionable and practical advice for free, and your reader is more likely to buy something from your site. 
  3. Authority: humans have a tendency to obey authoritative figures. Show your reader you know what you’re talking about with assertive, data-driven copy. 
  4. Scarcity: many of our actions are dictated by FOMO, so emphasising the exclusivity of a product/service is much more likely to persuade readers of their need for it. 
  5. Commitment and consistency: urge your reader to make little commitments (like signing up to a free newsletter) and they will be more likely to follow through for the sake of appearing consistent. 
  6. Liking: building in a sympathetic tone adds a human touch to your copy which persuades readers from the heart. 
  7. Social proof: incorporate that ‘join the club’ mentality by describing how many users have previously benefited from or recommended your product/service. 

From using straightforward soundbites to exploiting the human tendency for FOMO, let’s look at each principle and see how you can apply it to your copywriting. 

What are Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion? 

And how can I implement them in my copywriting? 

  1. Reciprocity: the writing tactic for encouraging the reader to take action 

Reciprocity is all about giving back, a principle which is at the very core of marketing. If you’re offering something of value to your potential customers, they will be more incentivized to take a desired action. Consciously or not, we’re all very aware of a need to give (back) when we take. 

The content you’re offering might be a free demo, a checklist, a guide, or a listicle of top tips, but whatever you’re writing, make it clear that you’re offering something valuable to your reader for free. With phrases like “Download our free guide” or “Register for our weekly newsletter” you’ll master the art of exchanging valuable information for, at the very least, an email. 

Let’s take a look at an example by our very own in-house writer Cris, in an article for leading B2B SEO agency Skale entitled “The Best SaaS SEO Checklist for Creating Optimized Content”: 

SEO for SaaS companies checklist by Cris, involving a list of SEO best practices for encouraging lead conversion.

Right from the get-go, Cris is clear and factual. She immediately outlines the problem: the need to optimise SEO to increase lead conversion rates, and the solution: this checklist. She’s setting the scene for a reciprocal relationship. If readers feel they have learnt something valuable, particularly from a free resource, they will feel grateful and will be more likely to learn more about what Skale can do for them. 

Top copywriting tip! Tone is everything. Telling the reader what to do creates a one-sided dynamic which can come across as patronising. In order to persuade as best you can and encourage a sense of reciprocity, do what Cris does here and offer “a hand to guide you through the SEO process” rather than a definitive list of dos and don’ts. This top tactic makes the reader feel like they have a part to play, encouraging them to feel empowered as well as well-informed, and more likely to give back. 

  1. Authority: the writing tactic to boost your credibility 

Authority is central to the science of persuasion—and copywriting. The truth is that copywriters are not always experts on their subject matter, but if you talk the talk, you can still inspire your reader with confidence that you really do know what you’re talking about. 

Let’s take a look at authoritative, persuasive copy in practice with dslx founder Ray’s website copy for Layla Electric

An example of content marketing for SaaS companies, with a short description of the product benefits, in this case an app which automates the energy use of your real estate business

Persuaded? I am. Here, Ray has weaved authority into his copy, emphasizing the shiny offer with the declarative phrase “Save up to 20% on yearly electricity costs,” which is followed immediately by a concise explanation of how the brand plans to achieve this: “Layla will tweak or turn off those appliances you’re not using yet remain using your electricity.” Brand responsibility is key to asserting authority, convincing readers that the brand you’re writing for can and will deliver on their promises.

You’ll also notice that Ray has strategically placed his copy directly above an image which proves his point. Screenshots which back up an explanation and visually demonstrate how the product works, are particularly persuasive to a reader on the fence particularly for apps and online services. A solid knowledge of the product or service will help dispel any mystery or misconceptions. 

To produce copy that seems credible and valid, you must also provide reliable information and sources. Tracking down trustworthy statistics may be time-consuming, but quality is important and credibility even more so. One exaggerated fact or piece of misinformation can really damage your brand’s integrity. If you’re not sure, leave it out.

Top copywriting tip! If you’re looking for a little bit of extra authority, ask an influencer or a business expert for their input. Authority tactics are the lifeblood of effective influencing: if a respected influencer recommends a brand, people are going to check it out. 

  1. Scarcity: the one for copywriters to urge their readers into action

Phrases like “limited edition”, “selling fast” or “last chance” are like catnip for potential customers. Why? Because scarcity creates desire. The more exclusive an offer appears, the more we want it. The law of supply and demand demonstrates that a low supply will typically increase demand. 

By how much? you ask. Well, 94% of Americans would take advantage of an exclusive offer

This staggering statistic proves Cialdini’s Principle of Scarcity as a persuasion tactic, which is still used today across industries and sales channels and continents. It transforms someone’s perception of wanting something into needing it. A capricious desire becomes a necessity, and we become slaves to our sense of FOMO. 

In your copywriting, keep the four types of scarcity in mind: 

  • Exclusivity 
  • Rarity 
  • Excess demand 
  • Urgency 

Use special offers for the first however many new customers, and subtly weave in a sense of urgency (any flashing red “Only four items left” slogans come to mind?)  that presses readers to act now. Introducing scarcity is a nudge to get someone to take action. 

The Scarcity Principle is used much more often in e-commerce or B2C than SaaS, as there’s rarely a lack of a digital service. So, let’s take a look at an example from household name’s website copy: 

This example uses not one but three uses of the Scarcity Principle 

  • “4 people are looking right now”
  • “In high demand!”
  • “Booked 27 times in the last 24 hours” 

Feeling like you should book that holiday to Boston? Me too. The trick with incorporating scarcity into your text to increase its persuasive power is to make it seem like you’re giving the reader the intel to help them get the best offer. If the reader feels like the company has their best interests at heart, they’re more likely to respond to your CTA (does the principle of reciprocity come to mind?)

You’ll also notice just how much information has crammed into a small space, all geared towards persuading a potential customer. With this segment, we know it’s been rated as “Excellent”, we know its proximity to the centre, we know the price for a week’s stay, and we know it’s a popular destination. 

Top copywriting tip! For the purposes of persuasive copywriting, using scarcity means emphasising your product or service is exclusive. There are five foolproof ways to achieve this:

  1. Quantity: only a few exist or are available. “Just 100 of these limited edition commemorative prints have been produced.” 
  2. Competition: act now or others will get there first. “Demand will be high, so register your interest to get to the front of the queue now.” 
  3. Threat: the opportunity will not arise unless you act fast. “This exclusive offer is based on usage patterns. Use it or lose it!” 
  4. Time: urging your reader to move quickly. “Make the most of our biggest ever sale with only 10 days to go.” 
  5. Profile: offer is only available to exclusive customers. “As a loyal customer of ours, we’d like to show our appreciation with a 20% off voucher. Offer ends 31st January.”
  1. Commitment and consistency: the writing strategy to encourage your reader to stick to buying decisions

Cialdini’s fourth principle of persuasion is consistency, which means always behaving or performing in a similar way. This principle links back to authority: those who act in a consistent and regular manner are more likely to be considered dependable and decisive. 

In order to foster a sense of commitment among your readers, you need to make sure your writing style, as well as what you’re writing about, remains consistent throughout. Consistency increases credibility, professionalism and makes your core message much more memorable. 

Encouraging commitment from your readers is an essential part of nudging them through the sales funnel. The commitment principle in marketing is based on eking out a series of “yes’s” from your readers. This tactic is often used in phone campaigns when appealing for charity donations. 

For example, a canvasser might preface a plea for a pledge to the RSPCA with the question “Are you an animal lover?”. If you answer yes to this, you’ll likely answer yes to “Are you against all cruelty to animals?”. Leading on from these questions, a refusal to donate would be inconsistent with your self-proclaimed position. 

As copywriters, we don’t have the opportunity to speak directly to those we want to persuade. However, we have other ways to encourage a reader to commit to a position. In copywriting, you might achieve this by asking questions that are really only expecting one answer, such as “Looking for an AI-driven software to automate your payroll?” or “Sick and tired of manually carrying out accounts payable processes?”. 

With little affirmatives, readers make almost unconscious ‘micro-commitments’ to the product or service you’re nudging them towards. It’s a tried and tested tactic in the marketing world, helping you convince your customer of their needs. 

Let’s use an example from one of our clients, Levity, who provide no-code AI-powered software to automate text, document, and image data. 

This extract starts with a question—to which the answer is so clearly “yes”, the writer doesn’t even have to include the word, just acknowledges an affirmative with “You’re not alone.” This tiny commitment from the get-go is essential to keep them interested and engaged throughout. It’s an easy, genius, ultra-persuasive copywriting tactic. 

Top copywriting tip! People want to be seen as committed, so if you encourage someone to share their commitment to your brand publicly, they're more likely to commit to it for longer. You might create a shortcut which allows them to share your brand on their socials, using copy such as “Happy with your purchase? We’d love your support - click here to recommend us to your network.” 

  1. Liking: the copywriting technique to get them on your side

This one might seem obvious—maybe almost too obvious—but boosting your likeability is a major part of successful copywriting. The easiest way to a customer is through the heart. In a world of large multinational corporations, customers increasingly value a touch of personality, something they can relate to. 

In terms of how to arouse sympathy in your target audience, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Just focus on the human element of your message, and aim to get through to your readers on an emotional level. 

Let’s see the principle of liking in practice, with an article for leading UX design platform Uxcel by dslx writer and pro copywriter Ella. The title is “What Degree Do You Need for UX Design? And Is It Necessary?” 

One of our case studies is this screenshot from Uxcel's blog page, where Ella introduces her article on whether you need a degree to become a UX designer.

This is a prime example of how connecting with your reader can make a piece of copy much more engaging—and by default more persuasive. If someone has clicked on this article, it’s likely because they’re looking to start a career in UX design, but aren’t sure where to start, or perhaps they’re worried that the qualifications they have aren’t sufficient. 

Ella’s very first sentence empathises with the reader, admitting “getting involved can be overwhelming” and gently ensuring the reader feels understood. Understanding your target audience is half the battle. 

Ella intuitively includes questions which are likely to resonate with the reader, “Do you need a degree? Will employers request one of you? Are there any alternative routes to becoming a UX designer?”. If the reader feels that their problems are understood and addressed, not only will they read on, but they will also feel grateful (ahem, reciprocity, anyone?). It looks like a virtuous circle. 

Another persuasive tactic Ella has used is to address the reader directly: “Let’s explore your options.” Copy that feels personal is much more persuasive. The question and answer format “Do you need a degree to become a UX designer? Put simply: no” is also a great way to get across a sense of authority (see what she’s doing here?) it’s simple, it’s clear and it’s helpful. 

Top copywriting tip! A great way to create persuasive, likeable copy is by incorporating your “brand values’ into every piece of copy you create (and keeping it consistent). People love authenticity: in fact, the Harvard Business Review discovered that 64% of customers who feel they have a brand relationship say that shared values are the main reason for it. You can connect through humour, happiness, even sadness, encouraging people to decide with their hearts. 

  1. Social proof: how copywriters increase their brand’s credibility

A staple of the art of persuasion, social proof is all about relying on the opinions and experiences of others in order to make decisions. It follows the ‘Join the club’ mentality that ties back to the principle of scarcity: “Join 29,034 fellow marketers and sign up to our exclusive newsletter today.” It’s a yes from me. 

Social proof is the beating heart of marketing strategy. In fact, 97% of customers admit that previous customer ratings influence their purchase decision. Turns out most of us really do care what other people think, particularly when it comes to deciding where to put our money. 

Drawing attention to positive feedback is key to persuasive copywriting. Customers are more likely to trust each other above all, so make sure you’re platforming helpful reviews. If you’re a well-established company, make use of the years of experience you have, and the number of customers you’ve had in the past. When it comes to persuading a reader, nothing works quite as well as marketing yourself as reliable and dependable. 

Take the dslx website for example

This is the landing page of DSLX, B2B content marketing specialists offering SEO for B2B marketers

This is the landing page, so it’s the first thing new potential SaaS customers (or writers!) will see, and right under the logo is our social proof. This example shows that social proof doesn’t have to be too obvious or in your face. A group of recognisable logos tacitly proves your company’s reliability and endorses your reputation. Show off without actually showing off. 

Further down the page, we’ve included a customer review which, combined with rock-solid figures, are further proof of our trustworthiness. 

Social proof is everything—and it’s everywhere, subconsciously persuading you to read on. 

Implementing these tactics in the real world

These six principles of persuasion have been used for decades to transform you into a paying customer. They’re constantly shape-shifting, visible in both text and images, across many different types of media. 

When you’re writing persuasive copy, you must answer three questions:

  1. Who is my reader? 
  2. What am I trying to get them to do? 
  3. How can I convince them?

Everything, including tone, style and content, should be geared towards your final goal. The ultimate tip for persuasive copywriting is to use a varied strategy that speaks to each of the six principles. Influence and persuasion are some of the most powerful skills in the marketing world, and a solid understanding of these principles will be hugely valuable. 

Don’t underestimate the power of suggestion: you can nudge your reader into making specific decisions with transparent and credible copy, whatever you’re selling. Readers want to get the message quickly, so make sure your copy is easy to read, and points the reader in a specific direction. 

guest writer
Olivia Millard
Olivia Millard became a senior writer and editor at dslx just after graduating from Cambridge Uni with a degree in French & Spanish. For Liv, a remote job with dslx was a golden opportunity to travel and work, so she spent her first year with the company in Barcelona, La Paz, and Buenos Aires! Liv is interested in all things writing, as a lifelong bookworm with a background in journalism. Now back in London, she’s still writing part-time for dslx, alongside a Master’s in Human Rights at LSE.

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