A weak introduction will lose readers faster than spilling hot coffee in their lap. Well, not quite, but you get my point. A great introduction, on the other hand, works like a flambéed Crème Brule: you light a match and it bursts into flame.
It’s captivating, and once the flames die down it’s ready to eat. So while a great headline will get readers to your page, it’s the introduction that hooks them in.
The surest way to hook your reader? Open with the most important or interesting thing you have to say—or at least, the most important thing to you. Spend your capital fast, as you’ll only have moments to reel them in.
State the problem—the underlying conflict—succinctly and in a way that’s compelling. In good writing there’s always a conflict, whether you’re writing a novel or blogging.
In fact, we bloggers can learn a lot from great fiction writers. Take the following lines, for example. Each of them encapsulates within itself the main point of the piece that follows:
“Their plans were to develop the valley. My plans were to stop them.”
(Rick Bass, “The Days of Heaven,” 15)
“Regarding love, marriage, and sex, both Sitting Bull and Shakespeare knew the only truth: treaties get broken.”
(Sherman Alexie, “Assimilation,” 1)
“The first time I cheated on my husband, my mother had been dead for exactly a week.”
(Cheryl Strayed, “The Love of My Life,” 291)
“I have devoted my life to slime molds.”
(John Tyler Bonner, “Life Cycles,” 3)
These are just a few of many, many examples, all of which provide hooks to the stories that come after. And the more great writing you read, the more your writing will improve.
The same concepts can be used for blog introductions as are used in fiction. At the same time, a lot of research has been put into how to keep readers on your page, and much of it, in the end, boils down to the following openings:
How to Write an Introduction
The Empathetic Opening
The Empathetic Opening, first coined by blogger John Morrow, gets the readers attention by acknowledging a problem they already have. It comes from the point of view of the reader themselves. Here’s a classic one from Morrow himself:
“So your site’s about as popular as a fart in an elevator, eh? I’ve been there, and well…it sucks. And worst of all, it’s not always clear why it’s happening.”
(John Morrow, “Why Your Site Gets Such Pitiful Traffic”)
The Empathetic Opening is one of the most powerful openings you can use, precisely because it makes an instant connection with your reader. It shows that you really grok the reader, really know what they’re going through. You’ve been there before and know how to come out the other side.
That in itself is a trust builder—one that makes the reader want to continue through to the end to see if you have a solution that will work for them.
Of course, the key to making this opening really work well is to truly know your reader. Not sure if you do?
Try making a list of all the things your readers are feeling, thinking, and experiencing. Getting into the mind and heart of your audience is the surest way of being able to reach them, not just in your writing but in sales as well.
The “Shock and Awe” Opening
The next style of opening is the called the “Shock and Awe” opening, one where you make an unusual claim or state a strange and surprising fact. It gets our attention because humans love mystery, and telling us the world is not what we think stimulates our intrigue.
Here’s one from Lexi Rodrigo in “How to Choose an Online Learning Platform: 5 Steps to Find the Ideal Tool”:
“Choosing an online learning platform is like online dating. All the prospects say they’re the best. They only show their best angles. And checking their online profiles doesn’t ensure the best match.”
To use this style of opening you’ll need to do a lot of research on your topic. Look through statistics, research studies, lists of facts—whatever information you can find.
You never know when you’ll find that trivia gem that will make for an attention-grabbing introduction.
The Question Opening
Starting a blog post with a question is a tried and true method of hooking our interest. When we hear a question, it’s really hard for us not to want to answer, sometimes even before we know what we’re doing.
And, depending on the content you put into your question, you can also stimulate our intrigue (“Shock and Awe”) or empathize with us (“The Empathetic Opening”) at the same time.
Also, if you can get your readers to answer “yes” to what you’re asking, it’ll be much, much harder for them to stop reading.
Here’s another one from Lexi Rodrigo:
Is your website traffic going downhill?
Are you desperate to halt the sharp drop in your site’s unique visitors? Stop your subscribers from deleting your emails before they click through? Or maybe just get more visitors to actually read your posts, instead of clicking away in just a few seconds?
(“Content Marketing: Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead?”)
This opening will grab anyone who’s experiencing this phenomenon—which, let’s face it, is most at one time or another. If we’re looking for solutions to this—or worried it might happen to us—he’s got us. We’ll more than likely read on.
Be careful, though. For this to work you’ll need to avoid like the plague questions that the reader will give a “no” or a shrug to.
“Have you ever wanted to eat flambéed Crème Brule while sailing?” Well, um, no. I haven’t. And I don’t really care.
The best way to get a “yes” is to really know your audience. Not sure whether the question will sail or not?
Again, try the list exercise I gave above—put yourself in the reader’s shoes and write down everything you believe they think, feel, or go through on a daily basis, at least as it applies to what you’re writing.
Another thing that helps a question opening work is being as specific with your question as possible. Instead of “Do you want people to think positively about you?” try something like:
“What do people say about you when you’re not around?”
(“How to Make People Love You When You’re Not Around – Be A VIP!” by David Wright)
The second question is not only more specific, but it zeroes in on the core conflict in a way that’s bound to get a twinge from anyone who wants others to think positively about them. In essence, it cuts to a deeper level, one where our emotions are more likely to be strongly tied up in the answer.
The Story Opening
Story openings, when done well, hook your reader in by getting them emotionally involved. It’s a tricky way to start, as it’s tempting to be overlong (and therefore risk losing your reader’s attention).
But if you can find a short story that fits your topic—especially a success story or a personal anecdote, you’ll spark the reader’s curiosity—they’ll want to know how things end, and before they know it they’ve read the whole post.
Here’s an example from Neil Harbison’s “10 Simple Tips to Get 250,000 Page Views Per Month”
“When we started our business 16 months ago we decided to use a blog as the central marketing tool for our business. We did it because we didn’t really have any money for advertising and we never really believed that attending networking events would work for us. We placed the blog at the center of our website and only had one commodity on our hands to make it a success….time.
It’s been a long journey but 16 months later we now get 250,000 pageviews to our site per month, in the last year we have brought in over $500,000 in business as a direct result of the blog and the business operates in 2 countries and our content has been picked up all over the world.”
If you’re savvy, you can add in a number of different hooks to the story. For example, this one by James Clear plays with our love of mystery (wanting to know what happens at the end):
By the summer of 1830, Victor Hugo was facing an impossible deadline. Twelve months earlier, the famous French author had made an agreement with his publisher that he would write a new book titled, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Instead of writing the book, Hugo spent the next year pursuing other projects, entertaining guests, and delaying his work on the text. Hugo’s publisher had become frustrated by his repeated procrastination and responded by setting a formidable deadline. The publisher demanded that Hugo finish the book by February of 1831—less than 6 months away.
Hugo developed a plan to beat his procrastination. He collected all of his clothes, removed them from his chambers, and locked them away. He was left with nothing to wear except a large shawl. Lacking any suitable clothing to go outdoors, Hugo was no longer tempted to leave the house and get distracted. Staying inside and writing was his only option.
(“The Akrasia Effect: Why We Don’t Follow Through on What We Set Out to Do and What to Do About It”)
Of course, finding the right story for your post can be challenging. Some bloggers keep story banks, adding them into a set of bookmarks or a text document whenever they come across one that really grab them.
You can do this for stories from your own life as well—write down all the ones relevant to your topic and use them at need. You can even poll your family and friends and collect any interesting tidbits they have to share. What matters is that there’s a hook (i.e. mystery), the story is succinct, and that it’s relevant to your topic.
There are other opening techniques as well, but these four are my favorites—they’re the ones that hook me in most consistently. What are yours?
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Bonnie Skott is a creative writer who left her full-time job at a publishing company to pursue her freelance carrier. Currently she helps a photography software company Skylum to manage their blog. She really likes planting, so if you want to chat about that or ask any questions, feel free to drop her a message!