When executed properly, a blog can be a great way to improve SEO, build your brand, and create ongoing customer loyalty. A well-executed blog is comprised of a good topic, a catchy title, sufficient keyword use, good images, appropriate links to your website and, of course, good content, right?
You can have all of these elements, but if your first paragraph does not grab people from the get-go, nothing else really matters.
In order to get the full benefit from your blog (ROI if you want to use business-speak), it must be read. There is far too much content available online today for people to read past the first paragraph of a post that does not draw them in.
There are many techniques to help you create the hook that you need. The tricky part is using the right technique at the right time plus matching it to the content and tone of a particular post and the intended audience.
The following are some proven ways to get readers past your blog intros:
Tell them something they would not expect; debunk a popular thought. The “right/wrong” approach used in the first paragraph of this blog is one method of doing that. You could also flat-out tell them something is different from commonly believed, such as this potential first sentence, “The world is not flat.” Several centuries ago, that statement would have created quite a stir—and an interest to know more.
Brian Clark of CopyBlogger does a great job of this in Does Your Copy Pass the “Forehead Slap” Test?, starting out as follows:
One of the most repeated rules of writing compelling copy is to stress benefits, not features.
In other words, identify the underlying benefit that each feature of a product or service provides to the prospect, because that’s what will prompt the purchase.
This is one rule that always applies, except when it doesn’t.
Come on, admit it, you’re dying to find out when this rule doesn’t apply. I can’t imagine a single copywriter or content marketer who wouldn’t be.
Akin to surprising readers is creating controversy. Where the surprise approach is really more of a hook to get people reading something you are pretty sure they will agree with, the controversy approach really makes people think—and they may or may not agree with you in the end. Nonetheless, they will be intrigued enough by what you have to say that they read on to the end.
In a way, you could liken this to an editorial in which you can espouse either a completely new point of view or a not-so-popular one and make your case for it. Doing this can help you establish some serious thought leadership.
Care should be taken with this approach, however, because your brand is always at stake. Avoid moral, political. or social topics opting instead for industry-related subjects that simply go against conventional thinking.
Matt Walsh gives us a great example of this in his blog titled, Dear fellow customers, here’s something we should all stop doing forever:
Dear fellow customers,
I know we all get a kick out of complaining about ‘bad service.’
It’s quite the release, isn’t it? It’s a great way to make friends, too. If you want to break the ice with a bunch of strangers, all you need to do is strike up a conversation about the Denny’s waitress who took 8 minutes to bring your drink orders last week. EIGHT MINUTES, can you believe it? You LITERALLY almost died of thirst. DIED. OF THIRST. LITERALLY. Others in the group will shake their heads in commiseration and console you for having been forced to endure such a heinous (not to mention potentially fatal) assault against your dignity. Next thing you know, everyone will be sharing their own harrowing dramas of inhumane persecution at the hands of inattentive customer service personnel.
Throughout the blog, Walsh makes the case that obnoxious customers are just as bad—if not worse—than employees who fail to live up to some set of expectations and he challenges people to stop criticizing service. What? In this age of reviews and social shares that border on peer pressure? Really? Food for thought? You betcha.
Want another great example that deals directly with SEO/Content Marketing? Look no further than Mark Schaefer’s controversial blog titled, Content Shock: Why content Marketing is not a sustainable strategy:
This post will demonstrate in simple economic terms why content marketing — the hottest marketing trend around — may not be a sustainable strategy for many businesses.
This post went viral, and for good reason. It’s a piece of content on a marketing blog that refutes content marketing, yet is a prime example of content marketing at its finest. Mull that over for a few minutes.
Cite the Numbers
While blogs can frequently be subjective and opinion-based, that does not negate the need for credibility and facts. Give a true stat that is so lopsided it blows people’s minds. The use of statistics offers an easy way for bloggers to grab the interest of readers as well as prove their own legitimacy. Certainly the source for any numbers should be reliable and the more well-known it is, the better.
Right out of the gate, Gene McKenna did this in Experiment Shows Up To 60% of “Direct” Traffic is Actually Organic Search this summer. With very few words, she successfully set up the premise of her blog. I don’t know about you, but my interest was piqued at the thought that a majority of direct traffic comes from organic search.
Make ‘Em Laugh
Laughter is the best medicine, they say. Well, it turns out laughter may not only be good for what ails you, but may also be good for your business—or at least your blog intros. Whether in the form of text or graphic, the use of humor can be a highly effective way of hooking readers.
Care should be exercised, however, when taking this approach as the line between funny and offensive can be quite fine—and crossing that line can do you more harm than being on the right side can ever do you good. It’s better to be corny than potentially off-putting.
A blog by an Internet marketing agency called Imforza pulled it off well in their post Internet Marketing Humor Part 2 which focused solely on this topic. However, humor does not need to be the ultimate point of a blog but a vehicle through which you can create a voice, retain reader interest and make your point.
Make Seemingly Odd Connections or Analogies
Content creation is like fishing. Huh? Both activities are essentially intended to get the attention of someone or something. These types of analogies pique the interest of readers by being different from the rest.
Pop culture offers many opportunities for these sorts of connections as its true value is its ability to bring people together. Of the people you know who watch the Superbowl every year, how many are actually football fans? Make sure you do not get too esoteric, however—the emphasis is on the “popular” portion of “pop culture”—it must be widely recognized to be effective.
Coupled with your imagination, clichés, quotes, movie or book titles provide great fodder for your blog intros. Use them as is or adjust them just enough to fit your topic but still be identifiable. “All’s well that starts well” could be applicable to this blog post, for example.
A semi-recent Moz Blog post entitled Bacon, Burritos, and the Future of Marketing grabs readers from the title with its odd connections and carries that through with great elegance in the introduction:
You heard it here first: Burritos are the new bacon.
Bacon is *so* last year.
Not so long ago if you wanted to create content to capture the hearts and minds of the internet at large, bacon would be your topic of choice.
However, today, dear friends, you might be better off working burritos into your content.
The author continues to write a thought-provoking blog about marketing trends and their capacity to come and go—just like bacon and burritos.
Tell on Yourself
Personal accounts are highly popular and give your customers the chance to relate to you as one of them. No longer are you a nameless, faceless company but a human being, a person. The emotional connection that is created when you do this is priceless.
Copyblogger’s 53 Freelancing Mistakes That Are Costing You Clients, Cash and Credibility starts out like this:
I don’t know about you, but when I started freelancing as a writer, I made a ton of mistakes.
And by “a ton”, I mean everything I did was pretty much a disaster.
Let’s face it, everyone loves to read about other people’s foibles. Some folks play it cool, saying they want to learn from someone else’s mistakes but secretly revel in that slight feeling of superiority that comes over them because they would never do *that*. Others outwardly laugh at the missteps of others without daring to admit that they, too, have done such things. Either way, they read on—and that’s the point.
If you are particularly stuck, think about your own experience. You no doubt read plenty of blog intros and other online content. What interests you? What makes you want to keep reading or rush to click that red X in the top right corner?
Consumer as well as B2B companies must find ways to relate to their customers. Blogs are one vehicle that makes this easier to do than ever. They are affordable, help your SEO and, when well written, really can help lead to that big catch.