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

They’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 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:

Ticks are eye-catching and make your points look more like a checklist.

They work well with lists of features or benefits as they reinforce the idea that you meet the reader’s purchase requirements.

Ticks stand out more if you make them a different colour ().

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

Ticks are eye-catching and make your points look more like a checklist.

They work well with lists of features or benefits as they reinforce the idea that you meet the reader’s purchase requirements.

Ticks stand out more if you make them a different colour ().

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 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 :
list only the features
list only the benefits
highlight features in some bullet points and benefits in others
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:

Buy in the comfort of your own home. With our FREE no-obligation home consultation service.

Shop at a time to suit you. We offer flexible appointment times including evenings and weekends.

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:

FREE fitting. No hidden costs and no nasty surprises.

FREE no-obligation home consultation. Why come to us when we can come to you?

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:

FREE fitting
No hidden costs and no nasty surprises.

FREE no-obligation home consultation
Why come to us when we’ll come to you?

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:

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 EdwardsTwo crafty conversion tricks copywriters can learn from eCommerce | Write OnlineDoes your SEO copy leverage the rule of three? | SEO Copywriting
About 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.