Do questions work in copywriting, or are they overused?
What’s the secret of healthy-looking hair? Do you like driving? Do you have a sore throat? Do you want to show a perfect smile?
In social media, we browse every day we are asked over and over the same questions from our favorite brands that try to persuade us to buy your product or service.
But … do questions persuade you?
Of course, when you think about whether or not questions work in copywriting, you obviously think about he “Got Milk?” campaign that lasted more than 20 years. The “Got Milk?” slogan was created in 1993 for the California Milk Processor Board by the ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The first ads featured a man with a mouthful of peanut butter trying to answer the question “Who shot Alexander Hamilton?” on a radio call-in show. No one understood his cries of “Aaron Burr!” because he didn’t have a glass of milk to de-stick his palate.
Sometimes it can be annoying to be bombarded with questions that you cannot answer directly.
Recognize it, once you have been taken out of your mind:
- Do you feel bloated all the time?
- No, I don’t feel bloated !!!
Lately, I am seeing that many of my clients ask themselves this question when they work on their websites copywriting.
Should you use questions:
- in the title
- in the body of the text
- in headings
- in subs
Are questions really effective for selling?
If everyone uses them, it means they are, correct?
Questions are another rhetorical resource when writing our texts that, when used correctly, can strengthen our message and make it more attractive. Helping your audience to conclude by themselves can have a more significant effect than merely telling them what they have to do.
However, when questions are not used properly, they can ruin our message and make people distrust our brand. And it is more common to see the latter than the above.
You will sound the typical “Do you want to get easy money?”, “Do you want to lose X kilos in X days with hardly any effort?”
You have to be very careful in the way to use questions because sometimes, they can appeal to the absence of intelligence from a potential client. And it’s is usually not a good idea.
So, be very careful when using questions in your texts because it is not easy to do it correctly, and you can easily scare away your reader.My God, and now what do I do ?!
Quiet. That a question has the desired effect on your audience depends on you.
Much of the secret is in how well you know your ideal client. And for this, you need to use an Avatar… If you are going to use questions in your text, in order to recognize when they will be most effective, it is essential that you take the time necessary to clearly define what the objective is and how your audience will react to it.
Only you know if there is enough confidence to ask your audience.
What are the different types of questions?
Take a look at that question:
Want Healthy Bleached Hair?
When used in your headline, that literal question raises a concern that the rest of the copy needs to address. Its success rate depends on how the audience is caring about the answer to the question. Additionally, it also depends on your ability to provide that answer in a compelling way.
No headline should include a question the customer can’t answer.
Literal questions can also be used to presale a long form landing page. When used at the start of a paragraph, they draw your customer’s attention into a thinking mode rather than just passively letting them consuming your content.
Those are Yes/No questions like:
- Do you want to save money on your home insurance?
- Does your memory let you down?
Those leading questions above push your reader to a particular answer. By answering to that question, even if only mentally or subconsciously, your prspect signals that they are involved with your message.
Yes / No questions are also called closed questions because there are only two possible responses: YES or No.
When forming a Yes / No question, you must include one of these verbs:
- or any modal verb.
It is impossible to ask a Yes / No question without one of these verbs.
The expected response to closed questions needs to be a resounding ‘YES’, since ‘no’ is a ‘stop word that we don’t want popping up in the reader’s train of thought.
When the anticipated answer to your question is ‘no’ when you want them to say ‘yes’, you need to turn the question upside down so that the answer is a YES.
If they answer NO to your question, then the ad isn’t relevant to them anyway. It doesn’t matter if they stop reading because they won’t buy your product.
It doesn’t really matter how evident the question is. Truth is, the more straightforward the better. You don’t really want the reader to have to stop and think for the answer. You just want them to agree with you.
By answering ‘YES’, your customers give their consent to the next step in the purchasing process. That next step might just be reading the next few words, but it’s still a step forward. The “YES” response aligns the reader with what they’re reading, and the voice of the brand they’re touching.
By answering ‘YES’, they come into an agreement with the product.
The sell here is predicated on the well-known persuasive principle of consistency. By answering ‘yes’ to the question, the reader acknowledges that this message is relevant to them. Having made that admission, it would be inconsistent for them to disregard the rest. They must read on in order to align their actions with their commitment.
That the sort of questions like:
- Where do you want to go today? (Microsoft)
- What’s in your wallet? (Capital One)
Open questions invite speculation or reflection. By asking an open question, you draw the reader into a place where they think about their own situation and how they’d like to change it.
Open question also bring your customer into the “Product-Aware” phase of the 5 phases of awareness, as described by Eugene Schwartz.
Thanks to that, you have skilfully insert your product into their thought process, linking it with something they already want (you hope).
The most useful open questions usually begin with ‘What’ or ‘How’. These words encourage divergent, wide-ranging thought patterns, as opposed to the more pointed ‘Why,’ where a simple ‘because’ response leads directly to closure without reflection. (‘Why?’ ‘Because I say so.’)
Some open questions, like the Capital One example above, are fairly blunt and literal. Others, like the Microsoft line, are more metaphorical or metaphysical. The headline begins with ‘Where,’ but this is really an elliptical way of asking ‘What do you want to do on your computer today?’ By comparing the working day to a journey, the sell is taken into a more poetic realm.
- ‘Who knows the secret of the Black Magic box?’ (Black Magic chocolates)
- ‘Is she or isn’t she?’ (Harmony hairspray)
- ‘Can you hold your laptop like this?’ (Asus computers)
Those rethorical questions are also very well know by copywriters because they are part of the figure of speech quiver known as erotesis. They imply a strong affirmation or denial. Also called erotema, eperotesis and interrogation.
The only questions you should ask in your copy are those that prompt your prospect to give the answer you want.
Rhetorical questions are open questions that don’t need an answer. Instead, they generate an aura of mystery around the product being marketed. The implication is that a product that raises questions is intrinsically interesting.
Rhetorical questions must be used with care; otherwise, they’ll elicit the response ‘who cares?’ In other words, the value proposition offered by the ad or copy must be strong enough that the question is plausibly compelling in context. A rhetorical question about something the audience isn’t interested in is simply an irrelevance.
When to ask questions in copywriting
Ask a question only when you can predict with some accuracy what the answer is going to be a YES.
Simply saying “yes” has a positive effect on your reader’s brain. It also predisposes them to say YES when we will propose to purchase our product.
If they say YES 5 times during your copy, then, most probably they will say YES to purchasing your product because they will be predisposed to do it.
That’s because when we answer yes to a question, we are more receptive. The reader recognizes that the message is relevant to him and gives his consent for the next step.
We are bombarded with messages throughout the day. At the minimum, we will want to bang them. Making the reader think can be very enriching for him and for us, and at the appropriate time and place it could have a great effect. But if it is not essential, avoid cumbersome questions or that require too much effort to answer.
Include the response in the question
One way to make sure your audience answers yes to your question is to include the answer in it.
Let’s try this question:
Time flies, right?
The normal thing would be to answer with a “YES; time flies by”.
Thus the sale argument of a life insurance company could perfectly begin.
If the reader responds that it simply may not be your target audience.
When a question is an obstacle
Let’s see now when we should not ask a question.
1. When your audience is looking for information
The questions work with people who read the text from pe to pa. If someone is scanning, they will not have the same effect.
The problem is: asking ANY question that could easily be answered in a way that runs counter to your (and your prospect’s) goals is a disaster.
When we look for information we tend to scan the text. We already have our own questions. The last thing we want is more.
2. When you want a potential client to perform a specific action
Consider carefully every time you prepare to ask a question if with it you facilitate or hinder the response to the call to action that you have prepared for your potential client.
Questions in copy, especially in headlines, work best when the answer is almost absurdly obvious.
For example, you want to register for the program you just launched and intend to attract their attention with a call to action like this:How do I register for the program?
I insist on the above. Come on always catch
We are always caught in time. At the slightest opportunity, we will send to the club all that message that wants to play with us in hiding.
How do I register for the program? It is not decisive and implies that it is I who take the initiative.
Instead, a call to action such as:
Sign up in three simple steps.
It sounds lighter and has more ballots to gain my attention.
The first option does not include an answer, as we said before, it is not obvious. The second does tell me about the registration process: it’s simple. I want it!
Whenever you write a question, stop to analyze it and consider whether rewriting it as a statement could have more impact.
Be attentive because if you abuse the questions, you can hinder and slow down the comprehension of the text. Clearly mark the path you want your reader to follow because otherwise he will take the one he decides most appropriate, and it may not be the one you expect.
It is another type of question (a FOMO) that is used as an action call in incalculable situations, and that says absolutely nothing.
Let’s look at another example of when a question could be an obstacle between the reader and what you want him to do once on your website.
3. If the message is strong in itself, the fewer questions the better, & vice versa
There are strong messages with the naked eye that quickly generate a positive response from the audience.
“Register and receive my ebook for free”
“Buying more than three products shipping is free”
When you send such a powerful message, it would be a mistake to bury it in questions.
However, when the sale seems more complicated, it would be more appropriate to help you with questions to capture and direct the attention of the public.
Let’s imagine that you sell toys and want to increase sales in low season for Christmas. The message you have launched is the following:
“Make your purchase now and avoid the lines that are formed with last-minute purchases”
It is a concrete statement that also responds to one of the main objections that the client has.
Now I want you to imagine it with one of these questions in front:
Do you hate shopping in full parties?
Do you find it overwhelming to have to queue for so long?
Wouldn’t you rather be in those moments with your family and fully enjoy your vacation?”
Now you have the attention of the public. The impact is even bigger. You put him more easily in a situation by encouraging them to reflect and answer yes to your questions. In this way they will be more receptive to the idea of buying Christmas toys in the offseason.
However, accumulating a successive series of “yes” does not necessarily imply a sale. Your proposal must be of value and must cover a real need of your reader. Again, it is you who best knows your audience, and you should gauge what would be the best way to reach it and what kind of proposal may interest you the most.
Base well the use of the questions you ask and if in doubt work again in the structure and objective of the text until you find an appropriate and adjusted approach to your target audience.
The art of asking questions
Or the art of generating answers?
It is important that you know the answer to the question you are going to ask, or at least narrow as much as possible the margin you give. It prevents your reader from responding to what you don’t want so as not to generate the feeling that there is nothing on your page for him; or that your page will not be able to give you the solution you are looking for. Anticipate and eradicate any doubts that may arise.
One of the best tools of a copywriter is persuasion. It is necessary, as a lawyer would do in a trial, to use the appropriate questions to convince a jury (in the case of a copywriter to his audience).
A good lawyer always knows the answer to the question you are going to ask. Always avoid these two rookie mistakes:
Ask open questions.
answers that will not say what you want or are looking for.
As in this example, the lawyer knows who he is addressing and how he has to do it, get down to work, and define your field of maneuver.
Last but not least…
It may seem simple, but including effective questions in a text can be very complicated. Prepare them carefully and include them with discretion in your writing.
The questions work in copywriting if:
- You know clearly what message you want to convey.
- You know your audience.
Once you are clear about your target audience (meaning you have defined your avatar), be sure to ask specific questions.
Xavier Lannes is the CEO of MyAdGency.Com & has several specialties: Graphic Design, Copywriting, Facebook Ads, Funnels, Sales Pages. Xavier's job is to attract, retain & monetize customers but find that copywriting, content creation & graphic design are the most rewarding parts. He has a BS in On-Line Publishing, a Master in Languages & certifications in copywriting. He also enjoys skateboarding in pools & bowls. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org