Many of us were raised on fairy tales where magic words were real. Wizards could say something like “abracadabra,” and the world would change however they wanted.
While magic may not be real, some words are almost magically effective. In marketing, these words are known as “power words,” and they act as a kind of psychological shortcut.
What Are Power Words?
Power words are descriptive, persuasive words that trigger an emotional response in your readers. Using these strong words well can encourage your audience to take action, whether you want them to buy a product, read a book, or download a file.
There are eight main types of power words. The categories depend on the kind of emotion you want to evoke:
No brand or article will need to use every single item included in the power words list below. However, careful and intentional use of these words can help you guide your audience through your content and convince them to take action more often than not.
How Many Power Words Are There?
There are more than 500 of these powerful words that you can use in your marketing materials. We’ve put together a comprehensive power words list that you can refer to whenever you want to punch up your writing.
Whether you want your writing to be riveting or your titles to be tantalizing, the following list—segmented by type of power word—will help you find the right word for every occasion.
Curiosity Power Words
People are fundamentally curious. Studies suggest that curiosity is part of what makes us human. It’s hard to resist the idea of gaining “forbidden” knowledge or learning something that other people don’t know.
That’s why curiosity power words are so effective. These words hook into the impulse to learn new things or get into a secret society. A great place to use these curiosity words is in your headlines and email titles. They’re key to “clickbait”-style headlines since they literally bait people into clicking through and learning more.
For example: The headline above uses the word “psst” to make the article seem exclusive. It also refers to potential readers as “nerds” to imply that readers are part of an elite group. The result is an article that encourages a particular audience to click the link and read.
If you’re looking for other intriguing magnet words, these might help:
Greed Power Words
Greed isn’t necessarily negative. It’s only natural to want to get a good deal or get more out of your time. Power words that focus on encouraging your readers’ desire to save money or get something are fantastic for boosting sales.
These words work for a couple of reasons. They can make an article sound more valuable, or they can make a product sound scarce. Either way, greed power words push readers to act quickly to avoid missing out.
In the US Weekly title above, there are several greed words in play. “Don’t miss out” and “rarely ever” both make the boots seem like they’re in short supply. The goal is to push readers to purchase the “iconic” boots to avoid paying full price later.
Other great greed power words include:
Fear Power Words
Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear of being left behind, fear of missing out, or fear of some other kind of pain or loss can motivate people to take action. Using fear power words effectively shows your audience what they stand to lose by not taking the action you suggest. Just remember to give them something to do!
In this CNBC headline, the word “embarrassing” is used to succinctly imply consequences for leaving up your old tweets. It also gives an immediate solution: reading the article to learn how to delete them.
Other powerful words you can use to encourage a response from your readers are:
Encouragement Power Words
Getting people energetic and excited is one of the best ways to build buzz. People like reading blogs and articles that help make them feel better or offer them ways to improve their lives. Words that provide encouragement or tell readers that they can change their lives can boost their engagement with your work.
This Refinery29 headline uses “booming” to build a story about the Primally Pure founder. Readers understand that reading the article will help them learn how another person managed to transform their career, something many people want to do.
Other encouraging words to elevate your writing include:
Lazy Power Words
Do you like doing more work than you absolutely have to? Probably not. Neither do your readers. Power words that tell your readers they can do less work are a great way to snag their attention. Lazy power words can also suggest that you offer resources no one else provides that your products are more useful than a competitor’s.
The word “effortless” does a lot of work in this Motley Fool headline. Saving for retirement is often portrayed as difficult or time-consuming, so making it “a little easier” will appeal to many people.
Other power words to make life seem more manageable are:
Lust Power Words
The word lust has some strong connotations—but it can be applied to anything that people really, really want. A lust power word adds a touch of the forbidden to your content. If you’re writing about something that taps into people’s cravings, compels attention, or feels a little “sinful,” then lust power words can attract the attention you want.
The Inverse review of a Netflix miniseries applies the word “thrilling” to add an immediate, intense sense of emotion to the title. It includes several other power words, as well. “Cult” is a curiosity power word that implies exclusivity, while “leaves” adds urgency as a fear power word.
You can also use these other great lust power words to tempt readers:
Anger Power Words
Angry people like to take action. Studies show that anger makes people want things more, so judiciously encouraging anger power words can help push your readers to take the next step.
In this clear headline from Feeding America, the words “fight” and “waste” are both excellent anger power words. The title encourages readers to think about food insecurity as a fight that can be won before it’s followed up with a plan to achieve their goal.
If you want to stir some anger in your readers, try these words:
Safety Power Words
Last but not least, people like to feel secure. Safety power words are a great way to assure your readers that they aren’t losing anything by taking action. A good safety power word can give more timid readers the nudge to take action that they need.
The title above uses the terms “try out” and “before committing” to reassure readers that they don’t have anything to lose. This encourages the reader to learn more about the product even if they don’t usually buy designer clothing or other high-end menswear.
It can’t hurt to try some of these other safety power words, either:
Ready to Take Your Writing Above and Beyond?
It’s all too easy to get stuck in a rut when you’re writing. If you notice that you’re having trouble finding new and exciting ways to engage your readers, power words can be the tool to turn your writing around.
Whether you’re looking to write better headlines or keep readers enthralled until the last word of your written work, the power words above can help. Bookmark this page and come back to it whenever you want to add more emotional, powerful words to your writing.
This article was written by Compose.ly writer Gabrielle Hass.