How to rivet your readers with "primal" ad copy

PerryMarketing Blog98 Comments

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Today I’d like to share one of my fave copywriting secrets. This secret helps me connect with you and other readers on an emotional level. It keeps you hanging out in Planet Perry long after you’ve abandoned the other haunts.

The secret is this:

Don’t make people think. Except when you really want them to think.

In sales, making people think is generally a no-no. Stir peoples’ hearts ’til they open their wallets, right?

But I do make you think. The other day a customer said, “When you get an email from Perry, you know it’s going to take some work to follow where he’s going.” Heck, in Maui I spent the first hour talking about Fibonacci numbers.

If I didn’t make people think, I wouldn’t have so many members who earn high-six and low-seven figure incomes. Nobody ever said business is easy – not if they’re telling the truth.

But the reason I can get away with this is….

You never have to waste your brain power dissecting my sentences.

Almost everything I put out reads at the 5th to 8th grade level (age 10-13). The lead article in USA Today this morning reads at Grade 9.4. New York Times: Grade 9. Huffington Post, 9.8. This article you’re reading now, 4.5. An average 9 year old can read it just fine.

If you want to be welcome in peoples’ email boxes, you need to pay attention to this.

I made you a Free tool at

Bookmark the page!

…and I use it all the time. You can paste your text into the box and see the grade level instantly.

When your copy reads at a 5th grade level, it’s primal. Gut level impact. It sails right into your reader’s brain and sticks. Your reader spends his brain cells digesting your ideas, not your sentences. One of the reason Gary Halbert’s copy was so seductive was, it seldom read above 6th grade and often 3rd or 4th.

What is "80" and what is "20" for your business right now? Take my 2-minute quiz and I'll show you where you'll get the highest compound interest on your time and money!

Right now I’m writing a new book about very complex ideas in biology and it’s never above grade 8. Which means when the book comes out, people will understand what I’m saying.

You achieve this by….

  • Never using a 4 syllable word when a 2 syllable word will do
  • Using short simple sentences that get right to the point
  • Making your paragraphs short and punchy

Keep your copy in the Grade 4-7 range, and even white papers and tutorials below 9. You’ll buzz past the competition and only you will know why. Since age = grade level + 5, you’re ensuring that any 14 year old can understand what you’ve written.

Now there’s one more secret that will help you write great copy. It’s the “You to Me ratio.”

In copy, you should always talk about your reader (“You” – “Your”) more than you talk about yourself (“I” – “me” – “my” – “we” ). 1.5:1 is good. More is even better.

It’s much easier to listen to somebody who’s talking about YOU than somebody who constantly talks about themselves. It’s more fun and it’s less work. Many times you can twist a sentence around and speak from the reader’s point of view. See? Just did it again.

The You:Me ratio of this message is 1.8:1. Which is one reason why you’re still reading now.

Enjoy this tool, and do your friends a favor – tell others about it too:

Perry Marshall

P.S.: You can use this tool for email subject lines, tweets and Facebook posts too. I recommend Grade 4. Today’s subject line, “How to rivet your readers with ‘primal’ ad copy” is Grade 3.7.

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About the Author

Perry Marshall has launched two revolutions in sales and marketing. In Pay-Per-Click advertising, he pioneered best practices and wrote the world's best selling book on Google advertising. And he's driven the 80/20 Principle deeper than any other author, creating a new movement in business.

He is referenced across the Internet and by Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, INC and Forbes Magazine.

98 Comments on “How to rivet your readers with "primal" ad copy”

  1. Perry,

    Thanks for this amazing tool.

    It is a discipline to write simple. This tool just makes it so easy to stay on track.

    Now, it makes sense to study children’s books and see how to write simple.

    Here is a list of Newbery Medal Winners:

    If anybody wants to see what grade 3-5 reading level looks like – check these out.

    I recommend Neil Gaiman. He shows superb use of action verbs which are gold for copywriters (as per John Carlton).

    And Avi is a personal childhood fav author of mine.

    Anyways Perry, just wanted to thank you and share some of my thoughts with everyone else here.


  2. How would this work with stories, where it is a personal story. Does this mess up the you:me ratio? Obviously the story can be a powerful tool of influence so just wondering as my latest email says I’m talking about me 14 times more then the reader.

  3. Just for fun. I checked my last comment and it had a grade of 2.5.

    Guess it’s easy when it’s a short comment. But I have no clue about the grammar, style and tone.

    I rely mostly on how my writing sounds like to me!

  4. I’m no writer so I outsource all my articles. Now I have a tool to check which writer is doing a good job.

    I’ve read all the comments so far and I’m learning a lot. So much value here.

    You’ve converted me into a follower.

    Thank you so much.

  5. I recently switched to Mac. To my shock neither Pages nor Open Office seem to offer the readability scoring that Microsoft Word includes.

    So your tool is good timing.

    Feels like a video game where you want to aim for a lower and lower score.

    I’m actually going to run a split-test on this with a client. He has sales copy that scores Grade 10. I’m going to bring it down to at least 5.9. Run an a/b split-test and let you know how it does.

      1. We just started the split-test. I’ll let you know how it goes.

        I’ve continued to use the tool a lot. One suggestion I’d like to make to improve it is to have it treat colons like periods. Write now if you end a sentence with a colon it doesn’t consider the sentence ended. This increases the grade level. Sometimes I’m grading individual bullets or paragraphs or short catalog copy, and find that if I change the colon to a period the grade level drops by 2-3 grade levels.

  6. I’ve decided I’m going to join a band again and just say good bye to all of my friends and family. Big cigars and pizza at midnight.

  7. Talk about providing valuable information! This tool is great. I’m going to use it from now on. I just used it to check 2 of my posts on my blog. The results were very interesting and prove your point.

    1. Post number 1 read at 8.7 and had a “You me ratio” of 1.7 to 1

    2. Post no. 2 read at 5 and had a “You me ration of 11.1 to 1.

    The results. Post 2 had many more comments. Additionally, Post 2 had many more Facebook Like’s. The people have spoken & my eyes have been opened.

    Thank you for this great information and this priceless tool.

  8. Reminds me of the old quote along the lines of ‘I’m sorry this letter is so long, but I didn’t have much time.’ Writing simply takes more thought!

  9. Perry,

    Thank you. (again).

    I knew about newspapers writing at a low grade level. Today I understand why they do it. Thank you.

    BTW that is a great tool.

    1. I am having a blast reducing the grade level on my most read blog post.

      It takes a little practicing but its not hard.

      I just wrote a post that had a 2.4 grade level. Yeah baby!

  10. Some really well made points here Perry, today the general standard of copywriting is so high on the top sites it is really hard to stand out from the crowd. It is vital that your audience is communicated to at the right level and understand your message. It would have been great if you could have expanded on this, maybe your views on the copywriting language tone between B2C and B2B especially with you early experience in the acoustics industry.
    Thanks for a great tool.

  11. Perry!

    With this one email you have done more for my education in advertising than the rest put together. It has been a few weeks of practise, but my copywriting is now down to around 5 or 6. More importantly, my visitors to my crummy website are staying longer :-)

    More importantly, you have given me the confidence to do it! That and your online webinars have shown me that the basics are not only very simple but that they are much mis-understood. But that does not change the fact that you are good at copywriting -for that stands above the technical ins and outs. That is the art of your work, indeed it is the bit that gets noticed.

    In short, WOW!!

    (PS will yesterday’s teleseminar be re-broadcast for those who didn’t phone in?)

  12. A very nice tool, I’ve just checked my website with it, interesting results. My outsourced articles where at grade 9, and my sale copy written by me, is closer to grade 12. I guess I will be downgrading my copy and check the results.

    Thanks again for the tool.

  13. Really neat tool. I certainly be using it, but wonder about getting hung up on the process and end up and tinkering (procrastinators dream)

    That said I will use it but limit myself.

    Thanks for bringing this app to our attention.

  14. Thanks Perry. I just shared your new tool with a friend of mine who is building a new website. He is a mortgage broker and the website that he is presently using scored a 11.7 on the Grade Level…I told him to simplify it with shorter sentences and words with less syllables.

    By the way, the website that he has been using was made for him and he has been renting it for $220/month. I checked the back links to his sight and he has only one after renting it for 2-1/2 years. No wonder he can’t be found!

  15. Wow! Thanks for the tool – and more importantly, for the reminder to KISS. Since English is NOT my first language, I think it will definitely come in handy.

    I hate to say this, but I am actually more than a bit nervous to go back and run all of our articles through the grading tool – I nearly passed out when I ran them through a spellchecker AFTER they had already been online for a few years. Yikes!!!

  16. There’s always something valuable to learn from you Perry. This is why everyone needs to tune into you, when striving to know about how online advertising and writing compelling web copy works!

  17. Hi Perry,
    I don’t know if this is what you meant but I entered the entire text for a new sales page for my writing service. Score: Grade 6.6. You Me Ratio: 30:1; Fog score: 9.7…which you didn’t cover. Does that mean there are too many 50 cent words in there or my sentences were too long?

  18. “Put the cookies on the bottom shelf where the kiddies can get to them.” –Dr. Harry Ironside

    Your “bottom shelf” explanations of marketing and religion have been very helpful to me.

    Would LOVE to read your biology book once it’s out.

  19. I’d argue, though, that technical papers (and white papers) should not be at that level either. But knowing that there’s a choice gives you a very important tool in your writing arsenal.

  20. Thank you for this tool. I am a bit confused by my result. In one of the comments above, you said the tool only counts syllables. My score for the article I pasted in was 1.47 syllables/word, you:me of 22:0; but the Flesch grade level was 9.8. So if my syllable score is low, why’s the grade level so high?

    Maybe I missed something as I did not read every comment (sick child at home today).


  21. Don’t make people think. That is a sad, sad comment.

    I pasted one of my pages in this tool and it gave me a Gunning-Fog score of 16, meaning you’d have to be a college graduate to get it on the first read.Wow. The general vocabulary has really slipped. The sad thing is that this writing would have scored
    10th grade back when I was a kid.

    My basic public school education required me to constantly expand and add richness and nuance to my vocabulary.

    Sigh. All that advanced education to turn around and write for 9 year olds.

    Ah well, my primary goal is to makes sales, not to lower general ignorance, so this result does ask for serious consideration (er, duh, I mean serious thinking about).


    1. Rodney,

      I totally understand how you feel. It might help to remember that there’s a place for intellectual discourse and there’s a place for selling and they’re often not the same thing. My approach is, the latter funds the former. And if you know how to do both then you’re in very good company.


    2. I get it too. But look at it this way: You’ve learned to recognize the difference.

      Now you can apply the “correct” intellectual level to whatever you’re writing – 8th grade for ad copy and the like and 16th grade for your doctoral thesis and technical papers.

      I’d argue, though, that technical papers (and white papers) should not be at that level either. But knowing that there’s a choice gives you a very important tool in your writing arsenal.

  22. thanks for all of your advice and knowledge is greatly appreciated!

    you said to make people think but to make it read at a 5th-8th grade level? that right?

    I guess you want us to K.I.S.S.

    thank you for your time!


  23. Perry great stuff.

    Thank you for teaching me about keeping my writing at the middle school level but the You to Me ratio is brilliant.

    Your tool is very useful, how does one increase the You to Me ratio without sounding unnatural?

      1. Some of my “writing” acquaintances and I often say, “It doesn’t scan right”. If you trip over the words when you re-read your work, imagine what the reader will do.

  24. Neat idea, great tool. I have used Whitesmoke in the past but found I preferred to do my own thing. I tend to speak in a more NLP approach where I always want to connect people with what will heal them. I will bounce in and out checking how this scores me, it should be fun.

  25. I like this free tool, I am still learning to blog. I find this tool useful. I am checking all my content with it before posting it.Do you know any grammer related software?

  26. “Your reader spends his brain cells digesting your ideas, not your sentences.”


    Make your readers read Ideas not sentences.

    Thank you Perry.



  27. OUCH!
    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 10.8
    Gunning-Fog Score 12.9
    Coleman-Liau Index 12.8
    SMOG Index 10.7
    Automated Readability Index 11

    This text has 8 sentences, with 153 words (19.13 per sentence) with 1.61 syllables per word.

    You / Me Ratio :

    0 : 6 You did not talk about your reader at all

  28. I love this and it is so ironic because it goes against everything you’re taught in school.

    Write using crazy vocuabuary words
    Make your paragraphs long and thorough.
    Never use I or you.
    Write longer sentences.
    Convoluted long winded essays

    Online and in communication it’s:

    Use easy language
    Keep it short, sweet and direct.
    Use more short paragraphs.
    Blog posts

    It’s a sad state when people who actually spend thousands $$$ on education come out even farther away from being able to communicate well with people!

    1. Oh, absolutely. You’re right. Many times, the more educated people are the worse their writing gets. Reminds me of a girl I knew in high school – gorgeous voice, sang beautiful songs. Then after 4 years of music major she sang this weird stuff that nobody could relate to.

      To add a twist, though: Typical person has a functional 10,000 word vocabulary. Shakeseare’s plays have 20,000. But every word is there for a reason. Shakespeare isn’t trying to impress people. He’s just delivering great theater.

      1. These two ideas: Omar’s and Perry’s are very closely connected. The written word presents something of a conundrum.

        A writer has only the words on paper to convey the message: the mood, the ambiance, tension, action. It is up to the reader to engage with those written words and when sitting down to read the story, the reader has already made something of a commitment to the act.

        It’s a little different in ad copy because the reader does not necessarily want to make that commitment. You need to engage the reader very early and build a relationship, a feeling of trust. To do that, you have to talk about you and me.

        In literature you can use that 20,000 word vocabulary to paint beautiful word pictures. In building relationships in ad copy, you need to get to the heart of the matter directly and minimize the intellectual baggage of excessive language.

        KISS really does apply.

  29. Perfect timing.

    I was just telling my clients how they should be aiming to write for ten year olds. That way almost anyone can understand them.

    I’ve sent the link to them. I think you may have won me a few more brownie points with this neat little tool.

    Thanks, Perry.


  30. Sorry, I am being a pest today! What is the effect of pictures? I use a lot of photos of my work to demonstrate that (for one thing) I can do what I say I can. Tooo many Is. Never mind, you have given us a fantastic insight. You have really made my day, heartfelt thanks from across the ocean! Gem

      1. Thanks for the answer, Pery! When you say “caption” do you mean that they should have a title underneath, or as in a web-page, a wording that shows when the image cannot be shown for some reason? Gem

        PS This has been one of your best articles yet. For me at least. Actually it is the sort of thing that keeps me reading your stuff: you are happy to share ideas and thoughts. I live in a country where that simply comes at a price – and gives me an advantage to do what many simply won’t.

        1. Normally pictures, if they belong in sales copy, have words underneath to elaborate on the meaning of the picture.

          Glad you like this tool!

          1. Thanks Perry, you seem to have so many of those little secrets up your sleeve …

            I don’t really use the words underneath pictures, when your copy only runs to a dozen sentences or so – my thinking is that the copy and pictures run together.

            In the mean time I have gotten my Dutch copy down to around 6,8 but of course the I:you gives me a null ;-) … putting a few of your comments through at random, you still get an impressive 5,3 or so. HOW DO YOU DO IT!!?

  31. Gotta say that getting my readabilities down below seven is really tough!! My “yous” are sky high though.

    This is a brilliant tool, you have done us proud this time Perry!

  32. Hi! Perry,

    Thanks so much for the tool.It´s really great and fun.I´ll be using it alot from now on.

    Thanks again!

  33. Just to mention I have plugged in a few paragraphs from my website – natural Dutch has a rough score of 1,64 syllables and the translated English 1,54.

    however one thing it did bring out was that I did not speak to my client directly, as in “you” – this will get immmmmmediate attention!

    What an amazing tool, quite as simple as the idea! Good stuff Perry. Loads of thanks, Gemma

  34. Dear Perry,
    as always you come up with a little treasure. You have that ability to look around corners before you get there, if you know what I mean?

    When dealing with customers, my focus has always been on them – too much in many cases as when I got my new flat I had not a clue what to do and knew there was something wrong. After a while I realized that there was no client. I borrowed Agnes instead and we had some fun then!

    What I was going to say was that I am always careful that they understand what I am saying or doing, It is part of what you said about being an expert only this time it is about how to communicate your own thoughts into language that they can also understand.

    This makes it easier to be conscious of.

    Many thanks, Gemma

  35. Great stuff!

    As a copywriter, I’ve used this for years, but it’s always good to see other very smart folks, like YOU, sharing it with your readers!

    You’re very appreciated.


  36. Can not afford a copywriting expert 24/7 to monitor the grade level and “You to Me ratio.” of my writing. This tool you’ve provided provides those functions, and can do so on a 24/7 basis – at no cost. No one could ever accuse you of not providing your subscribers with first-rate free content.

      1. This technique applies to oral presentations as well. Just this past weekend I workshopped one of my signature presentation pieces and ended up completely reworking it.

        Before the rewrite it was a 6.4 on the readability index which is pretty good and had a you:me of 1:1. Actually, this was lower than I thought.

        After the rework, it went to a readability of 3.8 with 16% fewer words and you:me of 2.8.

        That’s all statistical. What was palpable was seeing the actual level of engagement of the audience soar the second time around.

        As Troy suggested, use the readability function in your word processor and turn on “style” so that you’ll know when you drift into passive voice – the last thing you want in ad copy and engagement.

        1. Dear Ron Guttman,
          could you explain the “style” thing in the word processor, please? I have never come across it (and my word processor speaks Dutch too!).
          Thanks for the tip, Gemma

          1. In Word 2010, when you click on Review/Spelling and Grammar, you get a dialog box with a button (lower left corner) that says “Options”.

            When you select Options, you get the Proofing Options (which are also accessible from File/Options/Proofing.

            In the section “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word” there is an option labelled “Writing Style”. This gives you two options: 1. Grammar (default) and 2. Grammar and Style.

            Selecting Grammar and Style will enable reporting of things like Passive Voice and many other things.

  37. It makes sense to me except for companies who market high-end products. I’ve also read articles that for this market you want to sound intelligent and sophisticated.
    What approach do you suggest for this market?

    1. You can sound intelligent and sophisticated and still have 80% of your sentences be simple and easy to read. Take a look at our AdWords books – all the sophistication and jargon is there but we still make it straightforward and simple.

  38. Interesting concept, so true!
    any idea how to grade copy in French???
    or hints regarding where to look for or what to look into for creating such a tool for other languages?

    1. I don’t think the language matters. The grade tool only counts syllables. You can use this to grade french too. But it won’t work for the you/me ratio.

      1. You could always change the French yous to English yous and so on, then it would give you an answer that counts. That is what I will be doing with my Dutch.

      2. Another thought on languages: if for example you are speaking German and you come across a very common word that just happens to be very long, like Hochgeschwingdigheitsgrenze then split it up into its component parts like this: Hoch geschwindig heits grenze (which means “maximum speed limit”). The Germans are very keen on that sort of thing, but it does not mean that the word is über-technical :-)

        1. Even in German you want to avoid long words like that. These long words are primarily used in laws and by people who want to sound intelligent even if they are not.

          Instead of “Hochgeschwindigkeitsgrenze” you’ll say “Höchstgeschwindigkeit” or even “maximale Geschwindigkeit”. Much easier to digest. When the speed limit is a specific number, we abbreviate even more. E.g. if the speed limit is 30 km/hour we just say “ein Dreissiger.” which literally means “a thirty”.

          When it comes to French, you’ll have to do more than just counting syllables of individual words. In French, the syntactical equivalent of compound words are seperate words connected with the word “de”. So, when you have a sequence of words which are connected with “de”, then you should add up all syllables of such a sequence.

          If you use Perry’s tool with French I suggest to remove all occurrences of and ” de l'”, ” de la “, ” du “, ” de “, … with a text editor before putting it into Perry’s tool. ( important: remove the blanks around those sequences too, so that the words are connected )

          1. Christian,

            I would very much appreciate your take on why readability in French would be improved with less “de la or del’..” as you suggest and by what you would replace them.

            As in for example, hochstgechwindigkeitbregrenzung , limitation de vitesse, 4 and 3 syllabes becoming “limitationvitesse” 7?

            Btw, when taking crash course German at Berlitz in Paris before moving to Hamburg in 75, “hochstgechwindigkeitbregrenzung” was for me the perfect example of the “génie” of the German labguage, the ability to create words in order to express a concept… despite the difficulty in deciphering such words as “schlafwagengesellschaft” on a train car or “geschaftfuhrendergesllschater” on a business card.

  39. Wonderful new tool – thanks!
    And it’s free – mega-thanks!!!
    Very-very effective. Meaning, super easy to use.
    In a minute I got the blog post referred to in my URL from Grade 6.1 to Grade 3.6
    It doesn’t just read better to them, it reads much better to me, too.
    I’ll be back often :-]

  40. I really really liked this one! I have read before about making it all about the reader but this is the first time someone, you, have shown me how.
    Will try and apply some of this to my blog posts in future.

  41. I love it Perry! I took a comment I had posted to my Fb site and checked it and loved the grade! Very cool and very powerful! Everyone should use this who is writing anything! Thanks Perry!

  42. Love this. Have pasted in all my last submits to article sites to see what grade I write at. Plus I am English so have no idea what the grades equate to. Addictive stuff – thank you. Most useful.

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