Why Are Questions Such a Powerful Copywriting Tool?

Using questions in your copy can be really powerful but there’s more to it than that.

The moment your brain sees a question it answers it – you can’t stop it – which is why questions are so effective. You simply can’t ignore them.

Don’t believe me? Let’s give it a go.

Can you remember what you had for dinner last night?

Did you find your brain thinking back, picturing your meal?

That mental reflex is called instinctive elaboration. It’s completely automatic and takes over our focus the moment we hear a question. If you’ve read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, you’ll recognise it as our brain’s System 1 at work.

the power of using questions in copywriting

Now, can you spend a few seconds thinking about what you were doing before you opened this blog?

What was the last drink you had?

Did you feel your brain switch from the first subject to the second without you doing anything?

Hardly a rigorous experiment but hopefully that was a ‘yes’.

I am now in control of your mind!

Why are questions such a powerful copywriting tool?

If you ask readers a question in your copy, their brains engage with it straight away.

But questions are even more powerful than that – you can actually change someone’s future behaviour by asking a question and measuring their intentions.

Asking someone if they’re going to do something makes it more likely that they’ll do it – it’s called the question-behaviour effect. But it only works if they view that behaviour positively.

It’s not some sort of crazy mind control that makes people do things they don’t want to do, but it can be used to get people to do something they do want to do, like go to the gym.

question behaviour effect

The question-behaviour effect was first identified in 1980 and since then several studies have been carried out to test the theory.

Research shows that asking people about their intentions, such as “Are you updating your car this year?”, “Are you going to vote in the general election?” or “Will you donate blood in the next six months?” affects their future behaviour and will increase car sales, voter turnout and blood donations.

It’s a small but statistically significant change and was strongest when researchers asked a simple yes/no question. Amazingly, asking someone about their intended actions can affect their behaviour for more than six months.

How and where you use questions matters

It’s not as simple as changing any phrase or title to a question to make it more powerful. Yes, you’ll make someone answer it automatically but they might not answer it the way you want them to! There aren’t any ‘this always works’ rules.

I saw an article online recently called Are you going to read this article? The writer was trying to use the power of the question but they’ve missed the point.

My brain answered the question with a ‘no’ because I had no idea what the piece was about and the title didn’t pique my interest enough to find out.

If it had said Do you know why questions are hard to resist? or Want to know why your brain is already answering this question? I might have read it.

According to this Copy Hackers’ post, you should either ask:

– simple yes/no questions

– more complicated questions that intrigue the reader

‘Yes/no’ examples:

  • Are you happy with your level of fitness?
  • Do you want to make more money next year?
  • Are you splashing out on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday this summer?

‘I don’t know but I’m interested’ examples:

  • How often do you *really* need to post to boss social media?
  • Are you spending more on your weekly shop than you need to?
  • Do you know how the world’s most successful designers got to where they are today?

The article also explains that the copy under the question should not just be relevant but should work with it. Asking a question might draw someone in but if you go off on a tangent or ask them to do something totally unrelated you’ve lost them.

Questions are only powerful if they keep the reader reading.

When it comes to titles, the key thing for me is to never be clickbaity. Unless your sole objective is to get lots of opens (not lots of reads or engagement) there’s no point in getting someone to open a post only to realise they don’t want to read it – it can devalue your brand and might stop someone bothering to open your next post or email.

So, are you going to use more questions in your copywriting? Do you have any questions for me? Are you answering these questions in your head as you read them?!

As always, thanks for reading. I hope you found this interesting.


P.S. Here’s a quick guide to writing must-open blog titles if you’d like some more tips.

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