In journalism, the first paragraph or two of a newspaper or magazine article are known as the “lead paragraphs” or simply “the lede”. More time is spent writing that those few words than the rest of the story.
Why? Because if you don’t catch the reader’s attention, they won’t read the article.
The same applies to blog posts: after the headline, the most important words you write are in the lead paragraphs. If you want people to actually read your post (and thus come back to your blog for more), you need to focus on that lead.
A great lead should do the following things:
- Grab the reader’s attention.
- Make the reader want to read more.
- Set the tone for the rest of the post.
- Summarize what the post is about.
That’s a lot of jobs for just a few words. Many leads won’t accomplish all four tasks, but the best ones will. You should strive for as many of the four goals as possible for each of your leads.
Here are some tips for doing that:
- Start with a story.
People love an engaging story. Now, you don’t want to tell a long story, but a short and catchy anecdote that illustrates your main point will often get your reader wanting to read more. You can tell that story in a paragraph or two, but much longer and you’ll bore the reader.
- Be concise.
Again, you don’t want to bore the reader. Say what you have to say in a few sentences, and then get into the meat of the post. The mistake many bloggers make is rambling for a few paragraphs, which will lose many a reader.
- Shock them.
The humorist Maddox knows how to shock readers, and gets them wanting to read more. And he does it in the opening paragraph. For example, in one article he asks, “Why are parents afraid to beat their kids?” I don’t advocate trying to shock your readers every time (although it works for Maddox), but once in awhile this might be effective.
- Ask a question.
Why do question headlines work? Because they engage the reader, making the reader think about the answer to the question, and making him want to know the answer. Don’t start every blog post with a question, but there are many times when a question lead would work extremely well.
Don’t spend all day writing your lead before you get into the rest of the post. Just write what you think is a decent lead, move on, and finish the post. Then come back and look at your lead with a critical eye. And rewrite it, making it more concise and more engaging.
- Get them curious.
Asking a question is one way to get a reader curious, but there are many others as well. You want to share something with the reader in the first paragraph or two that doesn’t complete the picture, leaving the reader wanting to find the final piece of the puzzle. If you tell them that there are four reasons that reading this article will boost their career, they will most likely want to know what those four reasons are. But be sure to deliver — don’t tease and then leave them hanging.
- Paint a picture.
Start a post by getting the reader to imagine an image, painting with vivid detail that image in the reader’s mind. With such an image, the reader will be engaged and immersed in the world you’ve created with that picture.
- Use a staggering stat.
Don’t fill a post with a whole bunch of stats, or you will lose the reader. Three stats in a post is a good limit, but one stat in the lead is enough. Just make sure it’s a great stat, that blows the reader away. 10 million acres of rainforest were cut down during the time it took to read this sentence. Of course, you shouldn’t make stats up like that, but you get the idea.
- Make a promise.
If you tell the reader how you will solve a problem for him, how you will make his life better with this post, that’s a promise you’re making that you need to deliver on. But that promise will send a clear message to the reader that this is going to be a very useful post to him, and make him want to read the whole post. Again, be sure to deliver.
- Use a metaphor.
Actually, a metaphor is just a way of painting a picture, but it’s a specific technique that really works. And its imagery, if done right, can capture a reader’s imagination while making your point much clearer.