Notes on The Laws of Copywriting

My favorite takeaways from Dave Gerhardt’s course


  • People buy with emotion and then justify with logic.
  • There are eight primary desires that we are programmed to have: Survival and enjoyment of life, enjoyment of food and beverages, freedom from fear, pain, and danger, sexual companionship, comfortable living conditions, being superior, winning, keeping up with the Joneses, care and protection of loved ones, and social approval.
  • Then there are nine secondary desires: To be informed, curiosity, cleanliness of body and surroundings, efficiency, convenience, dependability and quality, express of beauty and style.
  • When designing a campaign, start with human desires and then layer on marketing tactics.
  • New York Times example: “Because you’re informed, you’ll have all the fun facts and stories to share with colleagues”
  • Another New York Times example: “Because you’re informed, you’ll have a better knowledge of investing your money in the stock market”
  • Cognitive biases screw up how people make decisions. Anchoring bias and Recency bias are a couple to keep an eye on.


  • People think about themselves first and foremost. They subconsciously ask themselves: “What’s in it for me?”
  • Shopify → Free yourself from the corporate grind
  • Salesforce → Crush your quota and drive a sports car
  • Rogue → Own a world-class gym in your home
  • One trick you can use is filling in the blanks to: “Use [Product], so you can [Benefit]”


  • Most people know this is important, but don’t know how to do it.
  • Steve’s framework: Tell a story to bring the audience in, pose a problem, offer a solution to that problem, describe specific benefits for adopting that solution, and then state the CTA.
  • Andy’s framework: Show the undeniable shift happening in the world, show that there will be winners and losers, tease the future, and what’s possible in this new world, win on aspiration.


  • Forget the rules of grammar. The goal is to write to be understood.
  • Read it out loud. Would you actually say that?
  • People obsess over email personalization but the best way to do this isn’t with complex tools and branching logic — It’s to be personal!
  • Something like this example beats 99% of personalization methods: “P.S. I sent this email from 30,000 feet above on a JetBlue flight while drinking a Diet Coke. What is it Diet Coke that tastes so good on an airplane?
  • Fill your copy with pronouns like “You” and “I” when you write.
  • Always write as yourself, not the organization.
  • Prefer plain text emails. They feel more personal and stand out in someone’s inbox. Most emails shouldn’t be highly designed.
  • One last powerful tool is showing your face. A quick picture can show that a real person is behind the message.


  • Use the customer’s words to signal trust. You don’t want to sound like an outsider.
  • Find their words in email responses, reviews, social media, and more. Then use those direct quotes in your marketing.
  • If you’re just starting out, check out comments for related products to get started.
  • Consider these 10 questions to ask before you start writing: What keeps them awake at night? What are they afraid of? What are they angry about? What are their top 3 daily frustrations? What trends are occurring in their life? What do they secretly admire the most? Is there build in bias to their decisions? Do they have their own language? Who is selling something similar and how? Who has tried selling something similar and why did it fail?


  • The goal of the first line is to get people to read the second line. The goal of the second line is to get people to read the third line. And so on.
  • Think of it as a hand-holding process to get people to the CTA.
  • Lines are easier to read than paragraphs. Space out your thoughts.
  • “So I was thinking about” or “I realized that” can be good starters to provoke attention in the first line of an email.


  • Be descriptive in your copy by going a layer deeper.
  • When you include lots of detail, you paint a picture in the customer’s mind.


  • The headline is the most important part of marketing. Period.
  • However, most people spend 99% of their time writing, then 1% on the headline.
  • How to [achieve the thing they want the most] without [doing the painful stuff they want to avoid].
  • Ask a question that’s semi-controversial.
  • Longer headlines that are very specific for more tactical stuff.
  • Think about the headline first and then work through the article.
  • Like anything, the secret to winning the headline game is to practice a bunch. Write 10–20 headlines per post and pick the best out of those.


  • Nobody wants to be marketed or sold to. Your job is to know that and prove your pitch.
  • Case studies and testimonials are great, but often better is real commentary from social media. Check out Basecamp’s wall of love for example.
  • Actual words are usually going to be better than what a copywriter will come up with.
  • Keep a folder where you save screenshots of people saying nice things about your product.


  • We all like the waiter that says, “Don’t get the fish, the chicken is really good here”
  • Admitting any kind of weakness may be a counterintuitive way to establish trust, but it’s effective.
  • Your goal with copywriting should be to drain any objections.
  • Ask your sales team the top 5 reasons people don’t buy, then answer them in your marketing.

Growth at Hugo. Previously data science at Squarespace. Writing here now:

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