The Persuasive Power of Sounds in Blogging
You stand on a hill and look at two lakes. One of them is Evellop, and another one is Zippeg. Draw their shapes in your mind. Done?
Let me guess:
Is your Evellop round, while Zippeg has angular, elongated, or rugged shores?
Okay, now we go on:
What if I tell you that two tribes live far behind Evellop, Zippeg, and mountains surrounding the lakes? One is friendly and beautiful, sons of soil; and another one is mean-spirited hunters, ready to betray for profit. One calls themselves the Grataks, and the other — the Lamonians. Can you guess which is which?
Oh, don't tell me the Grataks are bad!
What? Are they? Then, you've fallen victim to the persuasive power of sounds. For purposes of blogging, you can use it to influence consumers' perception and emotions they experience while reading your content.
Each sound has a meaning and triggers particular associations from people. Choose right words to write your blog posts, and readers will picture, reflect, and remember them.
How to master and use this power in blogging?
Phonosemantics claims that the same thought expressed with different words will influence and impress a reader in different ways. It suggests that a language is not about meanings only but hidden phonetical impulses of impact, either.
The theory explains why you considered the Grataks bad and ugly.
Hard /g/ and /k/ sounds, abrupt rhythm, and short vowels made the word sound rude. In the case of the Lamonians, soft /l/, /m/, /n/, together with gentle polysyllabic rhythm and long vowels, turned them into good fellows.
The idea that vocal sounds have meanings isn't new. It refers to sound symbolism, suggesting that each sound carries information and can act as a metaphor.
Let's take Bouba and Kiki by way of example:
They are two ancient gods maintaining balance in the universe. Can you tell from the picture who is Bouba and who is Kiki?
Ninety percent of people call the rounded one Bouba, regardless their mother tongue. German psychologist Wolfgang Köhler discovered the bouba-kiki effect a century ago, and today it serves as a palmary example of sound symbolism and its influence on our perception.
Why Kiki is spiky
It's about the connections between sensory and motor areas of a human brain. The visual shape of Bouba aligns with the shape our lips make to say the word "bouba" itself.
The same goes for Kiki: our lips narrow and our tongue makes a kinda sharp movement to pronounce the word. Such similarities increase Kiki's chances to be spiky.
Sound symbolism work for other letters/sounds, too.Thus, Plato suggested that /r/ was perfect to describe movement and activity; and Lomonosov advised writers to use words with more /e/ and /i/ when depicting tender subjects, while /o/, /u/, and /y/ would work perfect to describe concepts causing fear.
The trick is, a human brain doesn't leap to a concept when hearing a sound: we associate it with a color, an image, an emotion — and respond accordingly.
What does it mean for bloggers?
Choosing particular phonemes and combining them in particular orders when writing texts, you can influence readers' perception and emotions. In other words, you get the power to make people see, hear, taste, and feel your words.
Isn't that what we writers and marketers want to achieve with content?
How to Use Sound Symbolism in Blogging
First things first:
Here are characteristics of different phonemes and associations they trigger from readers, according to sound symbolism:
- /r/ - movement and activity.
- /i/, /ee/ - small size, tenderness.
- /b/ - round, big, and loud.
- /gl/ - shining, smooth, brightness.
- /o/, /u/, /e/ - powerful, strong, authoritative.
- /mp/ - force.
- /l/, /n/ - soft, gentle.
It can come in handy when choosing a brand name, writing a slogan, or crafting a headline for your blog post. Sound symbolism is a favorite weapon of poets: repetition and alliteration are great techniques to make words more powerful and memorable.
Don't hesitate to use the same techniques in blog posts so they could become sticky messages your audience will remember.
To write a powerful message for the audience, consider soundbites. They are phrases combining poetic techniques for communicating the essence of your idea.
And here's the kicker:
Soundbites are short!
Before writing a blog post, take a sit and think of its core idea. Do your best to describe it with simple words in one sentence. To make this task easier, answer the question:
“What is the one thing people would remember after reading my article?”
In journalism, they call it a thesis; in screenwriting, it's a logline — a one-sentence outline of a movie. Most specialists agree that your article/book/script will never be engaging if you can't describe it in one sentence. This skill will also come in handy for guest bloggers: pitches with one-two sentence outlines don't take much time from blog hosts but give a better idea of what they will get from you.
Once you've determined the core idea of your blog post, it's time to choose lexical items that would express it best. Use techniques like repetition, contrast, rhyme, and metaphors to make your soundbites attractive.
This one comes from Jon Morrow's blog post at Smart Blogger. What's from phonosemantics about it?
- Repetition (happened - happen - happen) to trigger associations with action.
- Rhyme (the end of the day - there’s only one way) to make it easier to remember.
- Phonemes /o/, /a/, /u/ to express the credibility of this information.
Another one is from Henneke Duistermaat’s blog post at Copyblogger:
- Frequent /r/ to express activity.
- Repetition and contrast (less - more, write - read, talk - listen) to attract attention and make this soundbite memorable.
Both examples demonstrate the best way of using soundbites: as the last sentence of your blog post for readers to remember, or as one-sentence highlighted paragraphs for the audience to notice and pay attention.
For your blog post to sound smooth, make its each line flow. Your instruments here are paragraph length/rhythm and transitional words.
We all wrote essays in college and read print books and media. It's not a problem to perceive big walls of text there. Like this one:
However, this trick doesn't work with online texts.
Different rules for structuring paragraphs work here: people have a short attention span, and they won't read anything that's difficult to scan. We read more from a screen than from print now, so the act of reading itself has changed. To persuade people into reading your blog post, make it look and sound attractive.
- First, write short paragraphs and separate them with spaces. A mere look at your article should create an impression that it will be easy to read.
- Second, consider switching between short and long sentences/paragraphs to create rhythm and make your article sound smooth.
- Third, use one-sentence paragraphs through your blog post to highlight ideas (remember soundbites?) and create a dramatic effect when needed.
Here goes a perfect example from Aaron Orendorff's blog post:
What do we have here?
He doesn't ignore phonosemantics: /b/ and /r/ emphasize on action, make this piece of content “alive.” Oh yes, the alliteration of /w/ in the last paragraph takes place too, making a reader “run” to the core idea.
One-sentence paragraphs aren't for soundbites only.
Use them as transitional phrases in blog posts for the audience to have a smooth reader experience, sliding down your writing.
The role of a transitional phrase is to make a person read your next sentence/paragraph. They don't convey any information but connect ideas through your text. It's like a chain linking your statements and making readers slide from line to line.
Another name for these words is bucket brigades.
They are many, and marketers use them in content for better SEO results (dwell time and CTR optimization). For blog writers, it's a powerful weapon to catch the interest of consumers and make them want to read, not scan articles.
That's what transitional words look in my blog post at SEMrush:
Power (sensory) words
Phonosemantics is about how your words sound in texts. So, do your best to choose power lexical items while writing.
What do I mean by power?
These are words, demonstrating action and describing our experience of the world. They relate to senses, explaining how we see, hear, smell, or taste everything around. When a person reads such words, they kinda feel your text, experiencing emotions and perceiving meanings through sounds.
In plain English, sensory words are those evoking any of five senses while reading. Henneke Duistermaat explains them best:
- Visual words (hazy, sparkling, vibrant)
- Auditory words (roaring, boom, humming)
- Smell/taste words (stinky, rotten, sweet)
- Tactile words (fluffy, slimy, woolly)
- Motion words (choppy, grab, paralyzed)
Savvy bloggers develop vocabulary on a regular basis for their writings to sound classy. We mere mortals may start with 1,733 power words, gathered from five most massive word guides online.
But far from all words have power. Many are flabby. Boring. Redundant. They turn your writing into balderdash, making your blog posts wishy-washy. So why not forget them?
Which words to avoid in your blog posts?
Start with passive voice and weak grammar constructions a la there is/there are. Avoid redundant -ly adverbs and empty words such as things, stuff, really, very, almost, actually, maybe, always, etc. This list of 297 flabby words will set a direction.
Long Story Short…
A valuable blog post has a million characteristics, and it's a writer mastership to weave in and out of them.
It would be wrong to claim that phonosemantics can drive marketing campaigns single-handed. All instruments come in handy for a professional blogger who needs to know and use them.
- Phonosemantics is a theory claiming that each word can influence our consciousness by its connotation, while its sounding influences our subconsciousness.
- This theory is not a magic wand. Sound symbolism works well when it comes to brand names and slogans, but it will hardly persuade people to fall in love with your product/service if it's poor.
- Phonosemantics can analyze both short words and long texts. It comes in handy when you need to generate neologisms for marketing goals.
Considering the power of sounds for blogging, don't forget about words meaning and context. Phonemes trigger feelings, but the content is what matters most. Phonosemantics is your faithful assistant in writing emotionally rich blog posts your audience will love.
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By Lesley Vos
Lesley Vos is a seasoned web writer from Chicago, specializing in data research, content planning, and web texts building. Contributing to many publications on digital marketing, copywriting, and self-development, Lesley helps peers develop the confidence and skills for better articles creation and promotion. Visit her blog at PlagiarismCheck.org to discover the world of plagiarism-free content, and don't hesitate to follow Lesley on Twitter.