be smart about building your bullet points

Bullet points make you a stronger content marketer?

Absolutely, if you’re good at writing them. In fact, being a master at writing exceptional bullet points is one of the most important copywriting skills around, second only to headline writing.

The goal of strategic bullet points is primarily to keep people reading. You’re highlighting easily digestible bits of important information, which keeps your reader’s attention focused and breaks up dense pools of text.

The downside is that if you write weak, boring bullet points, you give the reader an express invitation to leave. People scan content to decide if they want to keep reading, but also as a way to justify not reading.

So let’s write some better bullet points.

1. External fascinations

These types of fascinating bullet points are usually found in sales copy for information products and membership sites, and they function like headlines that prompt a purchase or other action.

Also known as “blind” bullets, they hint at the content of a product or service and create curiosity without revealing the actual substance.

You can also use these bullets to prompt an opt-in or subscription tied to a free report, audio, or video.

Here’s an oft-cited example from ace copywriter John Carlton:

“The amazing ‘Towel Hanging’ trick that increases the strength of your erection … plus your lovemaking stamina … allowing you to supercharge your love life in a very short time! (You have to experience these kinds of ‘rocket-burst’ orgasms to believe they’re possible! See page 139.)”

I don’t know about you, but that got my attention.

2. Internal fascinations

Internal fascinations are pretty much identical to external, except they’re designed to persuade people to continue reading the content they’re currently reading.

If you have a long article that you want to sell people on reading all the way through, you might lead with some teaser bullet points that captivate the imagination.

For example:

By reading this article you’ll learn:

  • 3 counterintuitive activities that will improve your business
  • How to turn your process into a product you can sell
  • Why you’re not normal, and why that’s a good thing

3. Bullet chunking

Extracting bullets out of compound sentences helps you drive home a point while also increasing the usability of your content. Attention spans are short for sure, and reading dense paragraphs of text on a computer screen is still nowhere as easy as in print.

Don’t forget to begin each bullet point with the same part of speech and maintain the same grammatical form.

Here’s an example.

Fascinating bullet points are great for:

  • Drawing people back into the copy they skimmed
  • Prompting the download of a free offer
  • Causing the click of a link
  • Driving subscriptions to your website
  • Triggering the purchase of your digital product
  • Initiating a new client relationship

4. Authority bullets

Authority bullets are used to recite the data and proof that support your argument.

You want this information strongly presented in order to bolster the credibility of your content and your level of authority as a subject matter expert. As with all bullet points, try to turn dry, factual information into interesting reading if at all possible.

Here’s one approach.

Don’t believe me when I say reading is an uncommon activity? Check these facts:

  • 58 percent of the U.S. adult population never reads another book after high school
  • 42 percent of college graduates never read another book
  • 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year
  • 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years
  • 57 percent of new books are not read to completion

Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

5. Cliffhanger bullets

Cliffhanger bullets tease and foreshadow what’s coming up next or in the near future.

You can close an installment in a content series with a cluster of teasers that have people looking forward to the next installment, which can also spur subscriptions. You can also use cliffhanger bullets to lay the groundwork for an upcoming promotion, launch, or special content event.

Check this one out …

Next week on Copyblogger:

  • Discover how to ruthlessly cut words from your copy to make more sales
  • Learn two essential elements of irresistible content that can dramatically transform your website
  • Find out three simple questions you can ask yourself to craft better headlines

See you then?

Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on July 14, 2008.

65 Comments

  1. Ed Shaz/ NextInstinct says

    Swiped.
    Thank You once again for
    concise, CORRECT, information Brian.

  2. Alexa More says

    I came across this post just seconds after resolving (publicly) to spiff up my new writing blog using tips from the pros. Bullet points will be at the top of my list of improvements! Thanks for the useful and timely advice.

  3. Mark Stelzner - Inflexion Point says

    * Great post;
    * Nice examples/samples;
    * Wondering why I feel the need to get to Bed, Bath and Beyond for towels.

  4. Azam Khan says

    Hey,
    I’ve never commented on copyblogger before, but i’m a charter TS member and have been reading copyblogger for a while now. Honestly, although i’m young ive been using the net for a while now, and the stuff you guys produce is just ridiculously on point.
    Like it’s almost mindblending how useful copyblogger and TS are to me. Not just for ‘informational products’ or membership sites.. just everything. I apply this to my company.. to resolving disputes between my parents. I guess its really about tapping into the psychology of people and structuring correctly.
    I just wish there were exercises which I could do to warmup my brain. For example I’ll read an entry with the benefit conveyed in the headline, and the point will be obviously reinforced throughout the entry but at the end I feel as if I should be challenged to apply it somehow and I just get lost on what to apply it to. Maybe some kind of exercises to do here n there and people could reply through comments?
    thx again much love!

  5. Bamboo Forest says

    “see you tomorrow?” lol, love the ending.

  6. Sheryl Schuff says

    Copied, printed, posted on my wall to remind me. will definitely be back tomorrow! Thanks.

  7. Kristen says

    I love the Cliffhanger Bullets. It seems like such a common sense way to win over over readers, but I obviously needed the reminder. Thanks.

  8. James Chartrand - Men with Pens says

    The oddest thing: I can write bullet points for other people. Love it. I enjoy reading bullet points too.
    Damned if I can write them for myself.
    Must be that I’m using the wrong kind of towels.

  9. Michael Martine says

    I guess it all depends on the size of the towel.
    James, that’s because nearly everything you write is a story. What was the last story you read with bullet points? I can’t think of one.
    I knew what fascinations were in direct sales copy, but hadn’t known about some of these other techniques. Super-useful, Brian, thanks!

  10. Bucktowndusty @ FromThePen.com says

    Brian, very useful post.
    James, As far as bullets and towels go, dare I say, “sounds like you’re shooting blanks!” ???? (couldn’t resist that softball)
    EF’s are my fav, too.

  11. Sonia Simone says

    I just did a spit-take reading your towel comment, thank you James.

  12. James Chartrand - Men with Pens says

    @ Sonia – Brian started it.

  13. Blog Marketing Journal says

    This is great stuff – you are absolutely on point! We’d write our comment in bullet points but it’d be copying the other clever commenter.

  14. Janice Cartier says

    chuckling….
    Bookmarked. Thanks.
    note to self: bring towels tomorrow
    And by the way, great visual, the photo I mean. Sheesh..

  15. Very funny and effective. Thanks

  16. ConnieB says

    You know, the problem is, I do this so much now that I find myself doing it in emails to people. They ask me a question and I respond with three bullet points (because odd numbers work better for lists than even ones).

  17. OMG !
    This is me bowing down to your mighty words O’ Toweled One.
    You rule. Period.

  18. Ben Settle wrote something to expand on this bullet lesson:
    http://bensettle.com/blog/bullet-point-secrets/
    By the way, if you wanna see how master copywriter, also known as the greatest living copywriter does it, you can see it at http://www.bencivengabullets.com/b100dvd.asp

  19. matt cook says

    You really know where your towel is, you hoopy frood.

  20. I’ve always been a fan of bullet points. Thanks for pointing out their strengths. I’ve never used cliffhanger bullet points before. I’ll have to find some way of incorporating them. Thanks!
    Rick

  21. Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Map says

    You are right. I see now the power of the mighty bullet. I’m going to have to use more of it when I write my articles.
    Thanks!
    Evelyn

  22. Ari Herzog says

    Folks, if navigating the blogosphere is anything like hitchhiking the galaxy, a towel is always a necessity.
    That said, I have a question about authority, bullets or not: When you (not necessarily targeted at Brian) include statistics or other data, how do you attribute the source? Or do you?
    I typically include [Source: {link}] at the end of the line or graf.

  23. Thanks a lot, very useful.
    alex

  24. Ulla Hennig says

    Brian,
    * nice picture going with the post
    * after reading your post I won’t forget bullet points and
    * try to use them in my blog whenever possible.
    thanks for the article!

  25. Rachel Lyle says

    For new blogger I know this is one great help. And one that they should do to have a great blog it should be written in a original content. Nice article you have here.

  26. guardian angel says

    Just as I thought that making sub-headings are enough to convince my readers to read my posts until the end.
    I remember this technical writing advise from my English teacher not so long ago. Bullets are very important to make your readers a bit more relax.

  27. BloggerNewbie says

    Yes – awesome graphic and the towel scoop really is great visual – too funny!
    I like the internal fascinations to keep people reading your post and the cliffhanger bullets to bring people back tomorrow. Both kind of like a great title or headline?

  28. Great article. So I’m no expert copywriter, but in my experience the intro paragraph, “the offer”, and the testimonials are the most important after the headline. So this is an awesome, awesome article, but I’d like to contend that bullet points are not as important as a lot of people think (although they’re great for outlining benefits). But that’s just my take.

  29. Brian Clark says

    Clay, good point. What I was trying to say was bullet-writing is the second most important *skill* after headline-writing. A lot of people have a hard time writing really good bullet points compared with laying out an offer or inserting testimonials.

  30. Yeah, it’s an important skill.
    I’ve seen some really good bullet points where the benefits are friggin’ stacked. The use of parenthesis can be used well for this (I’ve seen studies showing that, in some cases, people pay more attention to text within parentheses than normal text). Like 10 benefits (many of them implicitly stated) in one bullet point.
    On the testimonial bit… there’s definitely a skill there too. It seems there’s an art to gathering good testimonials, or creating an environment for good testimonials. Or whatever. Testimonial interviews, etc. But I guess that’s a whole other conversation

  31. Ben Settle says

    “I’d like to contend that bullet points are not as important as a lot of people think”
    Clay, I’m gonna have to wrestle you on this one : )
    I argue bullet point writing is THE single most important skill a copywriter can have bar none.
    Even more important than headline writing.
    Why?
    Well (and I admit, I didn’t really “get” this myself until hearing Ken McCarthy teach it), what is your headline but your best bullet (or variation of your best bullet)?
    Heck, if you can write a good bullet, you can write a good headline.
    You can write a good subheadline.
    You can write a good P.S.
    You can write a good order form.
    You can write a good first paragraph.
    And so on, and so forth.
    This is why so many top copywriters start off by writing bullets first. Those bullets — even if they don’t end up as actual bullets in the ad — become the “fodder” for everything else.
    Anyway, just something to think about.
    Ben
    P.S. If you want to write “super bullets” dig up some Mel Martin ads and study them under a microscope. He was the master bullet writer. You can find a few at http://www.infomarketingblog.com.

  32. OK, so first off I think this is a great article with lots of value….
    Ben,
    Alright dude, I’m going to argue that **if you can write a good headline** then …
    –you can write a good P.S.
    –you can write a good intro sentence, etc.
    –you can write a good [insert whatever]
    So yeah, a good copywriter is a good copywriter.
    I’m with John Carleton on all this bullet point stuff for sales letters.
    But really it’s all just an empirical question that can vary on a product-by-product basis.
    Just split test and do what works best for you.

  33. Ben Settle says

    I hear ya, Clay.
    And frankly, the more tests I see, the more I realize that “rules” truly are made to be broken anyway. (I once saw an ad that had lots of hot bullets fail compared to an alternate version with none. Same with an ad that had testimonials versus no testimonials — the one without testimonials out-pulled the one with testimonials. Strange indeed…)
    Ben

  34. Michael A. Stelzner says

    Brian;
    In my world (white papers), the most common bullets are lists of benefits.
    The second most common are the use of what you refer to as chunking (breaking a sentence into bullets).
    Good work.
    Mike

  35. “80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.” Wow, it is no wonder that Americans seem to be losing focus to what is important. If everyone just read 3-4 books a year, we as a whole would be much more intelligent. Instead we watch 1-2 TV shows a day!

  36. Melody Campbell, The Small Business Guru says

    *I LOVE bullets!
    I’m very visual and when I have to read massive amounts of text I love to be able to skim the bullets first to see if I even want to spend time reading the whole gob of words.
    *Draw me in with the Sizzle
    I’m the kind of reader that wants to get right to the juicey stuff. I’ll skim the bullets and go back to read the ones that get my attention first – in otherwords I don’t always want to read thru the whole thing in a linear fashion. That’s exactly how I read this post.

  37. Sandy Naidu says

    As always another great and a very informative post…

  38. What is Your Landing Page Doing? Headlines and Welcomes says

    This is very useful information, especially with Internet Readers who are seeking instant gratification, bullets can certainly keep your readers reading to the end.
    I love bullets in all writing they can entice, make writing concise, provide clarity and emphasize main points.
    I think I will post a link to this as one my Blogosphere All Stars!
    Thanks Brian,
    JR

  39. Lucas Conley says

    Loved it. Small topic, big help. Thanks, Brian.

  40. Nice article – perfect length and visual appeal.
    I’d like to add one other usage: Humor. Sometimes information that could be parsed off with commas or extra sentences doesn’t hit the funny bone like bullet points. I think it has something to do with the way you can quickly absorb each bullet point as a unit, more like a picture.
    To summarize, bullets are good for:
    – Being authoritative
    – Making cliffhangers
    – Using a towel to increase the girth of my boner.

  41. Ari Herzog says

    Using this thread as a guide, I wrote a blog post yesterday, titled, Wrestling with Cultural Heritage Tourism, that you can see is riddled with bulletted and numbered lists.

  42. Andrew Cavanagh says

    Great post.
    Also if you observe your reaction to the bullets in this post notice that the ones capturing your attention most include on or more of the following:
    1. Specific names or titles. For example the “Towel Hanging trick”.
    2. Specific numbers eg. “58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.”
    That specific 58% drags you into the bullet.
    3. Ideas that appeal to the reader and entice him to read or keep reading (that’s kind of obvious).
    Using specific names, place names, numbers facts and figures makes for far more compelling bullets and copy.
    Kindest regards,
    Andrew Cavanagh

  43. I love the Cliffhanger Bullets. It seems like such a common sense way to win over over readers, but I obviously needed the reminder. Thanks.

  44. Infor Marketing says

    Great article Brian.
    Very interesting satistics, I wonder if the rest of the world is the same?

  45. Palashtd says

    I have been blogging for 6 months here at gosview.com. In my short blogging journey, I have read many tips about SEO & content marketing. But this post is really helpful for me to improve content marketing effort and better SEO.
    Thanks for sharing these tips.

  46. Steve Williams says

    Brian,
    Thanks for reposting.
    I can now use bullet points with different angles.
    Off to share your post.
    Steve Williams

  47. Daniel Nyairo says

    Hi Brian,
    I just started my own blog. And at the moment there are only two posts published there; one is bulleted the other isn’t.
    The interesting thing is that the bulleted one has about 14 comments. The unbulleted one (though I personally think is the better one) doesn’t have any, several days after publishing.
    I can see the power of bullet points right there. And now I am going to make them even better with what you’ve shared here.
    Thanks!

  48. Sam Routsis says

    You have no idea how relieved I am to read this post. More blogs, and even business publications in general, need more bullet points.

  49. Great article Brian,
    I’m a big fan of bullet points, especially when you need to write long content. Also, in this fast paced world there are a lot of people who simply skim read articles. Bullet points give them something to anchor on.
    I like the idea of using the authoritative bullets to support an argument. I haven’t done this in the past but will definitely look at doing it in the future. Thanks for the article.

  50. Anthony Tornambe says

    Very helpful post to use your quality content on blog.

  51. John Annavi Olorire says

    Very useful tips. I guess am a real fan of bullet points.It rarely escape my mind in marketing campaigns.

  52. Amar kumar says

    Hey Brian,
    Bulleted content should be introduced with short, catchy phrasing that draws the eye of the reader quickly. They not only tell the reader what each section is about, they’re like bookmarks that make it easy for them to scan the entire piece and return later for more information.
    Bulleted content is the perfect place to add high-value keyword phrases to our piece. Search engines tend to give bulleted lists a little more clout, because we know that the content has higher importance. As always, must sure to entice our readers with compelling and relatable content that portrays us as an authority on our respective topic and drives our readers to take action. By Using a parallel structure when creating our bullet points. Or we may say that, stay consistent grammatically with the wording our use to introduce bulleted list.
    With best wishes,
    Amar kumar

  53. But i like bullet points. Sorry liked ????

  54. Linda Joyce says

    Hi Brian,
    Thanks for a great post that includes action items! I use bullets extensively in my blog posts to communicate information clearly and concisely while improving readability. But your post demonstrably proves that I am not yet using them to full effect. Love the tips! Good work!

  55. My reminder is up. will definitely be back tomorrow! Thanks.

  56. Jennee Rasavong says

    Hi Brian,
    Thank you for this. Have always been a big fan of using bullet points in my content. These are great tips. Glad to know that I’m on the right path when I use them.
    Wish I could have shared this today with my teammates. Had a departmental meeting and every slide had bullet points…used in the worst way possible

  57. Kayleigh Toyra says

    Another great insightful article! I love it when you guys re-publish old content, just shows how relevant all this stuff still is.
    Just reading a classic web copywriting book right now and it’s talking about the power of the “benefits bullet point”. Bullets are simple, effective and persuasive.
    I love your cliffhanger ones…definitely trying those next!

  58. Michael LaRocca says

    These are all excellent examples of the types of bullet points that convince me not to read an article. They’re just padding, making it hard for a reader to get to the author’s actual message. Just say what it is you have to say, without all the hype.

  59. Abhishek Kalra says

    WOW! That’s great Brian. I love authority bullets. Thanks for sharing these incredible points. Really helpful

  60. Greg De Tisi says

    Truly special content. It has re-inforced my belief in pointing out bullets as I love them and always appreciate them. It also shows us that, when we are sharing great value we should be proud of the fact that we are emphasising the most powerful areas for action or awareness for the reader. Great post Thankyou!

  61. manju rai says

    Thanks For the post! I always adore bold bullet points in a blog. Addition to this i noticed one thing that the bullet points with odd number work effectively as compare to even number of bullet points.

  62. samdani says

    Very useful tips and These are all excellent examples of the types of bullet points that convince me not to read an article. I Just reading a classic web copy writing book right now and it’s talking about the power of the “benefits bullet point”. Bullets are simple, effective and persuasive. Thanks a lot for sharing this content with us.

  63. Timmy Brain says

    Brain and the Cliffhanger (new movie).
    I love all the five bullet points tip, they are very helpful to me at this stage in my writing. Thanks.

  64. Hi Brian,
    First of all I congratulate you about the photo that you have chosen for the post, it really adds more value. As for content I can’t describe it, it’s just so marvelous.

  65. Idan Rubin says

    I couldn’t agree more, Iv’e experirnced this first hand on my projects. The more proffessional the writer was the more bullets he used and less overall text.

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