One of the biggest sources of lost readers: the fluffy intro paragraph. Here’s why it’s costing you sales and how you can craft concise, powerful openers instead.
(See what I did there?)
I know it’s tempting, and it feels natural. I’ve done it my share of times, too, and paid the price. That’s how I know it sucks.
Readers don’t need to be prepped to read your article. Think about it: more than likely it was your title or a link from elsewhere that is the reason they’re reading your article. They already know what they want an answer to, and your title has already promised them that’s what they’re going to get. You don’t ever want them to wonder when they’re going to get to the good part, so give them the goods right away.
I don’t necessarily agree with the commonly repeated wisdom that readers decide whether to stay or go in 3 seconds, but you can definitely lose people if your article opens with a bunch of meaningless generalizations.
First, to be sure we’re on the same page, here are some examples of what we’re dealing with.
I was reviewing a salon website with an article about their services in the city they’re targeting, and for the first two paragraphs the article talks about the history of the city and why it’s a great place to live. What?
People looking for a salon and living in that city aren’t looking for a history lesson. If you open this way, the reader will wonder what the article is actually about and be bored by the time you’re talking about your actual services. Yes I know, they wanted to mention the city for SEO reasons. But losing your readers with a boring and misleading intro isn’t worth the small SEO benefit.
Writing an article about reducing violent crimes in California and opening with all the reasons the law is important and violence is bad.
The reader already knows this; anyone looking to read an article about how to reduce crime obviously believes the law is good. An opener about how violent crime has increased by X% over the last decade despite various legislation is actually a good start because it’s specific and relevant, and the rest of the article can follow that. Don’t restate the obvious at the expense of getting to the point.
So what makes a good opener?
We can get a good start by observing what newspapers and magazines do. Because headlines are competing for attention and the reader may only read the first couple sentences to decide whether they’ll read the rest, those first sentences have to be strong and specific.
Your articles don’t have to follow the triangle approach (i.e. start specific and get more general) throughout, but they should start that way. Make it clear right away what your point is and why it’s important — basically you’re selling the reader on why they should keep going. It’s a promise you’re making that you need to deliver on later in the article.
Declare the problem and why it’s a valid concern, then show how you’re going to solve it. If your article is more about challenging a view point or getting people to ask a question, then declare the view point you’re challenging, acknowledge why so many ascribe to it, then provide an alternative with an emotional hook if possible. Simple example: “Most people think that X, and it makes sense. But what if it didn’t have to be that way?”
Appeal to feelings, not simply facts or claims.
If you can be funny or appeal to the reader’s emotions off the bat, you’ve hooked them for at least the next couple paragraphs. Don’t just address the problem the reader has that you’re going to solve, but ideally hone in what the feeling you’re helping them to avoid.
If you’re giving tips on building wealth, focusing on never feeling helpless again or worrying that you can’t take care of your family is something people in that position can relate to. Simply promising them to make lots of cash doesn’t register emotionally, so there isn’t as much appeal.
…Or skip it.
When in doubt, skip the intro paragraph and get right into it. If your article title is something like “5 ways to ________” and you’re not sure how to craft the intro, don’t. Jump right into tip #1 and start writing. You can always come back alter into your draft and add an intro. And if you’re done writing it and still don’t have an opener, leave it out. It’s actually refreshing to read a tips article that contains only the tips and no BS.
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