Imagine you’re about to deliver an important speech.
It could be at your best friend's wedding.
Or maybe it's a make-or-break presentation at work.
Or you could even be accepting an award.
What matters is that all eyes are on you.
You clear your throat…
…and begin to speak.
Each well-rehearsed word rolls off your tongue and your delivery is on-point.
Your confidence is soaring.
But then, something unexpected happens…
One person stands up and leaves, pushing his or her neighbors aside as they make their way to the exit.
Then another person makes a beeline for the door.
Next folks start rising in pairs, and finally, groups begin leaving the premises in a hurry.
After a few short minutes less than HALF of the audience is still present and making eye contact.
Can you imagine?
How disheartening would this scenario be?
If you’re anything like most people, the answer is, pretty dang crushing.
It’s hard to see people disregard hours upon hours of work as they rush off to do something else; something they clearly feel is a better use of their time.
And yet, this is exactly what happens to the average blogger every single day!
That’s not a matter of opinion, either.
Chartbeat, a popular content intelligence company, analyzed 2 billion pageviews of popular media sites and determined that…
55% of visitors read for 15 seconds or less!
That’s barely enough to digest the headline and a couple of sentences!
So the question is, what can you do about it?
Well, a lot of the time, the answer is, “nothing.”
Some people will always leave your page shortly after opening it; there’s nothing you can do about that.
But what you can do to significantly improve your retention is to master the art of hooking undecided readers and convincing them they should stick around and keep reading (or watching).
Remember that everyone is busy and you're asking them to invest time in consuming your content.
Part of this equation to grow an online business is writing a strong lead, which you can learn more about in this post.
But even the best hooks only work if you create enough interest in the first sentence or two.
Remember, you're up against precious few seconds of your prospect's attention!
So if you don't grab them by the eyeballs right away, your audience will turn into a room full of empty seats.
So how do you generate rapt interest from the first words you write?
Well, it certainly doesn't hurt to start with one of the eight tried-and-true formulas you'll discover below.
You can think of these openers, or first few sentences, as a high-octane method of launching your reader into your content and creating the much-needed momentum that gets them to fully commit to reading (or watching, or listening to) your entire piece of content.
If you're spending time producing blog posts, videos, emails, or anything else, this is one of the most crucial aspects to optimize (right after the headline).
So let's dive in!
Formula number one is…
Generally speaking, you want your message to align with your audience’s viewpoints.
After all, you’re trying to demonstrate you can fulfill their needs, wants, and desires.
However, don't discount how effective a initial shocking statement can be, provided you quickly return to more comfortable territory.
For example, in this post on advertising templates, I open a phrase that, on the surface, may turn off a few people:
Creativity is overrated.
However, I make sure to very quickly follow up with a positive, the idea that even non-creative folks can create rockin’ ads:
Here’s some good news, though:
You don’t need to be a “Creative” to write great ads
Just be careful not to go too far with controversy.
A little of it can make people curious and interested, but…
Anything that offends people, or comes across as 100% wrong, will just make folks angry and/or erode your authority.
No one likes clickbait.
Another classic way to open a blog post is with…
On a biological level, we’re all programmed to ask ourselves, “what’s in it for me.”
Without this in-built self-interest mechanism, we wouldn’t get very far in life.
And when we feel the allure of something particularly helpful, we can’t help but follow the trail to see where it leads.
This is the logic behind the “big, juicy promise” opener which is based on giving readers a clear, definite benefit.
Here’s an example from Ramit Sethi’s blog:
Today, I want to share a quick thing that immediately added hours back to my day: Changing how I wrote and responded to emails.
Notice that Ramit doesn’t try to get fancy; he simply tells you exactly what you’re going to learn by the end of the post.
Needless to say, writing openers like this requires deeply understanding the pains and desires of your audience.
After all, if you don’t know what the readers want, you can’t promise it, right?
Fortunately, there are options that work regardless of who’s reading.
One example of a broad, universally effective opener is…
The word “imagine” instantly transports the reader’s mind into fantasy-land.
This makes it easy for you, as a marketer, to suggest a better scenario, eliciting interest and desire from your very first words.
Alternatively, you can do the opposite and get your reader to imagine an unusual, perhaps even thrilling situation to take their mind away from the mundane.
The second option is what I use in this blog post on writing compelling hooks, where I ask the reader to picture a situation unfamiliar to most folks:
Imagine you’re taking a journalism class.
It’s day one.
And no sooner than taking a seat, the teacher announces your first assignment…
You are to write the lead for a story.
This can be a fun thought exercise, as people like solving mysteries (thus the enduring popularity of “whodunits.”)
Words like “pretend” and “imagine” help your readers visualize what you’re describing; this, in turn, helps them feel engaged and continue reading.
Next up is another universal opener and a personal favorite of mine: the question-based opener.
Asking people questions, even if you’re just making small talk with “how’s it going” or “how’ve you been,” is a key part of social interactions.
After all, questions give folks an invitation to tell you about themselves; to be heard; to express themselves.
And while a blog post is one-directional, it still has the same effect.
For this reason, asking questions is extremely powerful, especially when they’re emotionally relevant to your audience to grow an online business.
Check out this recent example from Copyblogger.com:
What if we’re thinking about SEO all wrong?
Here are a few other curiosity-provoking examples from the Elite Marketing Pro blog:
- Why do dealerships bother selling new cars?
- How pure is your beer?
- Does sex sell?
- Do you stink at pooping?
- What are weight-loss programs really selling you?
- Can taunting your audience make for an effective ad campaign?
The next tip is all about crafting a first sentence that spikes curiosity and practically forces your reader to keep reading.
The secret, as you’re about to find out, is not using an entire sentence…
A blog is meant to be less formal and “stuffy” than, say, a newspaper.
In fact, ideally a blog is written in the same tone of voice you and I would use during a friendly catch-up session.
This means that you can do all kinds of stuff that’s “wrong” in literary English – like using one sentence per paragraph and starting sentences with “and” or “but.”
One particularly powerful “wrong” way to write is by doing the following:
Splitting a sentence into multiple lines or paragraphs.
Check out this example:
What’s the first thing you should do when you sit down to place an ad?
There are only 2 words in the opening “sentence,” because it’s really the first half of the second sentence.
And you can’t help but read the next line.
The human brain’s natural need for closure demands it!
This is an opener that you can use on its own, or in combination with any of the other examples you see on this page.
Now, for our next opener, we’re going to talk about something we haven’t covered yet:
The use of specific words that encourage users to keep reading.
All the previous openers are based on storytelling.
You pick a story, you structure a hook around it, then you craft a first sentence using any of the tactics above, and hot damn, now you're cooking with gas!
However, that’s not the only way to open a blog post to grow an online business.
Instead, you can invite people to do something immediately; something that we usually leave for the end of the blog post.
For an example of what I mean, check out this opener:
Let’s play a game.
I end up following up with a story, but the point is, I start with a command.
This works well because very few articles begin with a request for action – and when one like this does, it instantly grabs readers’ attention.
Another highly effective way to open a blog post is with…
Your audience may not know you, but if you speak to them using a quote from someone they trust, they will instinctively agree with what you’re saying.
Fortunately for you, there’s a myriad of quotes to support just about any point you want to make.
In the past, finding these was a matter of being well-read (or knowing someone who is)…
But today, you can use Google to search through websites like Wiki Quote or Brainy Quote and find something that works for you.
Avoid using quotes that don’t directly support your hook and overall argument.
Also, make sure to double-check any and all quotes you use.
Some of the most popular expressions around are misattributed to famous folks, and not knowing this can cause embarrassment.
For example: Einstein never said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.”
Here’s another technique from the Elite Marketing Pro blog:
“You’ve got two ears and one mouth.”
This isn't a direct quote; it's something readers of this post have likely heard, which creates instant familiarity.
Another way to use third-party information to get people reading through your entire article is with…
Like quotes, figures are highly persuasive in that they rely on data, which people trust more than opinions.
Moreover, the cool thing is that you can take a statistic and extrapolate on it, explaining what it means in different contexts.
For example: Australia’s humpback whale population is now at 90% of the pre-whaling era’s numbers, which shows us that marine animals can still live in modern-day oceans, if we stop hunting them to the brink of extinction.
But here’s the kicker:
We can use the same statistic to argue that tuna, just like whales, should be left alone for a few years (unless we want sub-par sushi for the rest of eternity).
Breaking down statistics in this way is a great way to open a blog post.
Here’s an example explaining how a study (that most people don’t have the time to read) pertains to marketing:
That’s how quickly your brain forms a first impression.
In fact, according to a study at Princeton University, participants crystallized a lasting judgment about the attractiveness, competence, and aggressiveness of a complete stranger in just one-tenth of a second!
For reference, it takes three-tenths of a second to blink your eyes.
And that’s it, you now have a eight formulas to open your next blog post!
Take any of these and integrate them with your snappy hook, and voila, you’ve set your content up for maximum engagement and retention.
The only thing that's left is driving eager sets of eyes to your page, where the first couple of sentences (and the rest of your post) can work their magic.
So if you need any help growing your audience…
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Elite Marketing Pro
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