Trade secrets: How to craft bullet points like a superstar copywriter

The secret to writing successful bullet pointsThey’re one of the most powerful copywriting tricks you have at your disposal.

They can transform your writing from sterile, weak and lifeless copy into high-impact content that everyone wants to read and share.

But do you really know how to use bullet points properly? And do you know how to exploit them to their full potential?

Not quite sure?

Then I’ll show you some of the deviously clever ways superstar copywriters turn boring, everyday vertical lists into super-charged bullet points that leap off the page.

But first of all let’s quickly recap the basics, starting with why bullet points are so effective.

Why do bullet points work?

They liven up your writing

Just like subheadings, callout boxes, diagrams and pictures they help break up your copy and present it in more manageable bite-size chunks.

They’re easy to scan

People tend to scan web pages rather than read every sentence word for word. Bullet points work well because they make it easy for readers to consume your content quickly and efficiently.

They capture your visitors’ attention

This makes them ideal for highlighting your most important points, such as product features and benefits.

Sneaky copywriting tipSneaky tip:

The first and last items in a list generally grab the most attention. So, unless your bullet points are in some kind of logical order, use the start and end of the list to convey whatever is most important.

How do I construct bullet points correctly?

OK, so we know we should be using bullet points in our copy. But that doesn’t mean to say we’re doing it right.

In fact, many copywriters still screw up big time. Instead of making their writing simpler, they somehow end up throwing readers with illogical, inconsistent and confusing sets of bullet points.

And most of the time they run into problems simply because they fail to follow these three fundamental guidelines:

  Keep each list item parallel in structure:

What do we mean by keeping list items parallel? Well, basically it means ensuring each item follows the same type of grammatical construction. Let’s take an example:

Whenever you write a blog post you want to:

  • not use excessive jargon
  • include internal links to other posts on similar lines
  • to write a compelling and attention-grabbing headline
  • you need to proofread it carefully before you publish it

Grammatically, each of the above items is different. The first one starts with a negative, the second with a verb, the third with a preposition and the fourth with a pronoun.

Now look how much clearer the list becomes when you maintain the same pattern throughout:

Whenever you write a blog post you want to:

  • avoid excessive jargon
  • include internal links to other posts on similar lines
  • write a compelling and attention-grabbing headline
  • proofread it carefully before you publish it

  Ensure each item follows on from the platform statement:

Bullet points usually come with a few introductory words, known as a platform statement.

In most cases the platform doesn’t make any sense on its own. But when you complete the statement with any of the list items it should read as one whole meaningful sentence.

So let’s go back to the first example:

Whenever you write a blog post you want to:

  • not use excessive jargon
  • include internal links to other posts on similar lines
  • to write a compelling and attention-grabbing headline
  • you need to proofread it carefully before you publish it

Can you see what’s up with the third and fourth points?

You’re dead right.

The third point reads ‘Whenever you write a blog post you want to to write a compelling and attention-grabbing headline’. And the fourth reads ‘Whenever you write a blog post you want to you need to proofread it carefully before you publish it’.

Both are pretty painful to read aren’t they?

So remember: Whenever you write a list of bullet points, read each one over again and make sure it forms a complete sentence with the platform statement.

  Stick to consistent punctuation throughout:

It’s totally up to you how you style your vertical lists. But one thing you should always do is keep punctuation consistent.

Now I’m sure you’re fed up with seeing the same example, so here’s a new one:

As the successful candidate for this new position, you will:

  • manage a creative and lively team of in-house writers;
  • Contribute regular content to our company blog.
  • work to tight schedules and strict project deadlines

The first item ends with a semicolon, the second with a full stop and the third with no punctuation at all.

Readers find it easier to follow a regular pattern. So whenever they come across deviations like this they readily get distracted.

And did you notice anything else?

That’s right.

The second item starts with a capital letter, whereas the other two don’t. In other words, keep capitalisation consistent too.

So what are the special tricks of the trade?

Smart copywriters don’t just focus on how they word their lists. They also think about how to style and format them. This is because the way you structure and present your messages makes a big difference to how well they perform.

So here are three of the most common tricks copywriters use. If you know some HTML and CSS or have access to a web designer then you can use them on your website too:

1. They experiment with different symbols

Bullet points don’t necessarily have to be solid disks or squares. You can use dashes (–), triangles (▶) or anything else that helps give added impact.

For example, the following list uses ticks or check marks:

Check Mark [Display] Ticks are eye-catching and make your points look more like a checklist.
Check Mark [Display] They work well with lists of features or benefits as they reinforce the idea that you meet the reader’s purchase requirements.
Check Mark [Display] Ticks stand out more if you make them a different colour (Check Mark [Green]).

And here’s the list again, but adding a checkbox to the tick:

Check Box [Display] Ticks are eye-catching and make your points look more like a checklist.
Check Box [Display] They work well with lists of features or benefits as they reinforce the idea that you meet the reader’s purchase requirements.
Check Box [Display] Ticks stand out more if you make them a different colour (Check Mark [Green]).

Another symbol that can really bring your lists to life is the arrow (). It helps convey a sense of action. So this makes it perfect for lists of instructions, action points or commands.

Sneaky copywriting tipSneaky tip:

Symbols and graphics, such as arrows and check marks, can help enhance subheadings too.

To add a simple arrow to your website copy you can either (i) copy and paste the character into your text or (ii) insert the Unicode character → directly into your HTML code.

Similarly, for a simple check mark, just copy and paste the character into your text or insert ✔ into the HTML code.

2. They kill two birds with one stone

Imagine for a moment you’re writing a list of features and benefits of a product. How would you go about it?

You could :

  1. list only the features
  2. list only the benefits
  3. highlight features in some bullet points and benefits in others
  4. break up the features and benefits into two separate lists

Now, as every copywriter knows, the problem with the first option is that benefits sell NOT features.

But the second option won’t work either. You’ve listed the benefits but still need features to support them.

The third option is no better. Mixing features and benefits like this is just confusing.

And we can rule out the final option too. By highlighting your features and benefits in separate lists you immediately break the ties between them.

So what’s the answer? How do you kill two birds with one stone? Well, here are three ways you can break free of boring one-dimensional bullet statements:

  Lead with your benefit:

Start each bullet point with a benefit, make it stand out by highlighting it in bold then back it up with the feature that supports it.

Here’s an example similar to one I once did for a UK window blinds chain:

Check Mark [Display] Buy in the comfort of your own home. With our FREE no-obligation home consultation service.
Check Mark [Display] Shop at a time to suit you. We offer flexible appointment times including evenings and weekends.
Check Mark [Display] Avoid hidden costs and nasty surprises. All prices include the cost of fitting.

  Lead with your feature:

Sometimes your copy is shorter and punchier if you lead with your feature instead. Take our window blinds example. This works better because each feature statement follows a simple and familiar pattern:

Check Mark [Display] FREE fitting. No hidden costs and no nasty surprises.
Check Mark [Display] FREE no-obligation home consultation. Why come to us when we can come to you?
Check Mark [Display] FREE out-of-hours service. Flexible appointment times to suit you, including evenings and weekends.

  Break up each bullet point entirely:

We often use different text styles, such as bold, italics, headings and subheadings, to break up our main body text. But we can do the same with our bullet points too.

Here’s our list once again, but making better use of space, colour and font size:

Check Mark [Burgundy] FREE fitting
No hidden costs and no nasty surprises.
Check Mark [Burgundy] FREE no-obligation home consultation
Why come to us when we’ll come to you?
Check Mark [Burgundy] FREE out-of-hours service
Flexible appointment times to suit you, including evenings and weekends.

3. They let their bullets do the talking

People love visuals. It’s why infographics and video posts are so incredibly popular.

So why not go all the way and give one of your extra special lists a complete visual makeover?

To see what I mean, let’s look at how I did this on my own home page:

List of SEO copywriting features and benefits
Notice how each image conveys a clear positive message and sums up in an instant just what each bullet point is about. What’s more, the whole thing looks good too, especially compared with your typical, everyday bullet point list.

Now maybe you could argue these are not really bullet points at all. Yet stop and think about it and all you’ve actually got is a basic list of three items – each one made up of two individual components.

But, quite frankly, do you really care whether they’re technically bullet points or not?

Because if they help get your message across and get you regular sales or enquiries then that’s all that really matters.

Do you agree that vertical lists are too often just plain boring? If so, then please share this post or leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

If you like this, you might also like:

One HUGE Reason Your Web Copy SUCKS, and How to Change it NOW! | Jarvis Edwards
Two crafty conversion tricks copywriters can learn from eCommerce | Write Online
Does your SEO copy leverage the rule of three? | SEO Copywriting

In our next post: Discover 10 super easy ways you can identify your own USP.

Blogger ProfileAbout the Author

Kevin Carlton is a freelance SEO content writer and blogger based in Stafford in the UK. He is the owner of the Make every word work for you blog and website copywriting service Write Online.


         

30 comments on “Trade secrets: How to craft bullet points like a superstar copywriter

    • Neither did I Jon.

      It was only when I was doing research for the post that I discovered this.

      I guess it makes sense that people look more at the first and last points in a list – just as they look at the heading and PS in a direct mail letter.

      Like you, most writers will start with the most important point. But I imagine many don’t realise just how important the last point is too.

  1. Well that was very informative Kevin, thanks!

    I know that everyone says to do bullet points because people scan your content anyway but I also didn’t realize they mostly look at the first and last one. Not me, I look at them all because I feel they’re there for a reason ya know!

    I can always do better with forming mine I agree and I don’t always use them either. I try though when they’re called for but will be sure to remember what you shared here the next time. Wish me luck!

    Thanks for this and have a great week Kevin.

    ~Adrienne
    Adrienne recently posted…Does The World Really Need Another…My Profile

    • Come to think of it, Adrienne, I guess you don’t often use bullet points in your own posts.

      OK, I’ve got vertical lists fairly well taped myself now. But I could do with more of that warm, natural writing style you have.

      Nevertheless, I’ll keep working at it.

  2. Pingback: SEO and content writing tips: Week ending March 4, 2014 » SEO Copywriting

  3. Thanks Kevin, I think the beauty of the bullet point is that it immediately draws the readers eye and (to me at least) indicates that within that little list lies a gold mine of useful information. Like Jon, I didn’t know you should put the most important points first and last in the list but was pleased to say I’m following all the other rules right to the letter!
    Shauna recently posted…How to DIY your SEOMy Profile

    • Shauna

      I’m not sure how much eye-tracking research has gone into bullet points. And I didn’t know this little fact about the first and last items myself until recently.

      But when I write bullet points I tend to write them intuitively.

      And, more often than not, I write them in groups of three.

      I’ll want to start the list strongly. So I’ll make my first item the first or second most important point.

      Similarly, I want the list to finish strongly too. So I’ll do the same for the last item in the list.

      In other words, I guess I’ve been following this guidance without even realising it.

      Likewise I wouldn’t be surprised if you were also doing the same without realising it too.

    • As it happens, Kate, I’ve picked up a trick or two by studying your own website.

      I love the way you pay close attention to both the words and the visuals.

      Not sure how many other copywriters realise just how important this is.

    • Loads of people have picked up on that point – in the comments here and elsewhere.

      So I guess it’s worth reminding people that quite often certain list items logically follow on from one another. In other words, making your bullets points easy to read and assimilate is as much a consideration as getting your most important points across in the right places.

  4. A true blogger always keep handy dandy bullets with him, whenever he or she writes blog. And true to what you have said, some readers don’t actually read. They just simply want to get the thought of things and their done. Bullets will definitely removes boredom to readers as they get to encounter the whole thing you have posted since it summarizes the thought that you want to tell. Thanks for sharing this!

    • So true, David, some readers don’t actually read.

      We know this because we often do it ourselves. We scan through posts and only read the stuff that stands out and grabs our attention.

      Often I’ll make the decision whether read a post in detail based on what I see in scannable bits such as subheadings and bullets points. I’m sure other people do the same.

      And, yep, bullet points definitely help remove the boredom factor – love that point.

  5. Wow, Kevin, brilliant article on bullet points. I found your site through Adrienne Smith’s blog and I was so impressed with your comment there that I had to check out this article. Boy, am I glad I did.

    I use bullet point in nearly every article, though I haven’t been using them as effectively as I should. You did a fantastic job of showing us and telling us how to make the best use of bullet points. Well done.

    I also greatly appreciate you providing us with the codes to create the symbols. In WordPress, Visual view, you can access the arrow symbol by clicking on the Omega symbol in the dashboard when you’re drafting/editing the text. They also have a square root symbol that looks a bit like a check mark.

    Thanks again for this amazing article.
    Carolyn Nicander Mohr recently posted…Here’s How to Find Your Next Favorite Book — Ebook or Print!My Profile

    • Hi Carolyn

      Thank you very much for your great tip about the Omega (Ω) button in the WordPress visual editor.

      Shame the square root symbol is the best it offers for a check mark. Nevertheless, there are loads of other handy symbols, which I didn’t know were available at the click of a button.

      As it happens, the ✔ code for a ✔ symbol doesn’t work in older versions of certain browsers. But, as this only affects a very small number of users, it’s hardly worth worrying about.

      So glad you dropped by.

  6. Hey Kevin:

    I just found your excellent post and blog, as a direct result of reading my Coach and Mentors blog, Adrienne Smith!

    And boy am I glad I did! I’ll definitely be dropping by and studying your excellent content more often going forward!

    You point out three incredibly simple truths, about effectively using bullet points, just like the superstar copywriters do!

    They definitely liven up your copy! And they are extremely easy to scan!

    And they definitely capture your readers attention! Great job! And thanks for sharing your expertise!

    I’ll make sure I share this on twitter and Google Plus!
    Mark recently posted…Three Really Simple Changes That Will Definitely Increase Your Online Sales!My Profile

    • Along the lines of your own blog, Mark, we can also conclude that ‘Effective bullet points mean effective business’.

      Now with a web page or blog post, sometimes it can be difficult to tell what things perform well and what don’t.

      But from my own experience with direct mail, using these tricks really does help – because the conversion rate’s been fantastic.

  7. Kevin:

    There is so much use able material in this one incredibly informative post, that one could easily create multiple “how to” post and videos and a couple of really powerful free “how to” lead generating special reports and or a free 5-7 part e-course!

    Thanks for sharing! And thanks for pointing out how to strategically position your first and last benefit laden bullet points for maximum impact! Great stuff! Definitely will start sharing your highly informative content!
    Mark recently posted…Marketing Techniques: Three Things Too Many Small Business Owners Do That They Really Shouldn’t!My Profile

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  9. Bullet points are certainly very effective! I teach high schoolers and find that simplifying complex information is key. Thanks for writing this, very informative.

    • Too true – bullet points make it so much easier to assimilate complex information.

      And I’m sure they make the learning experience more enjoyable too.

      Thanks for your comment Naomi

    • Hello again Atish

      I guess another great thing about bullet points is that they lend themselves really well to keyword-rich content.

      So they also have positive implications for SEO.

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