What’s the most underrated element of a blog post?
Well, it’s definitely not the headline.
Google returns 595,000 results for the phrase “Headline Templates,” so it’s safe to say that headlines have been covered extensively, whether in step-by-step guides to headline writing or experiments with multiple headlines for one post.
But another key element that is often overlooked is the introduction—you know, the lines you’re reading right now.
It’s these words that entice a reader to want more. It’s these words that determine whether you—yes, you—keep scrolling to read my key points or open a new tab and browse Reddit instead. (Obviously my hope is that you keep scrolling!)
The first words of an infographic, SlideShare deck, blog post or any other type of content can make or break the piece.
I’m sure you’ve pressed play on a YouTube or Facebook video only to turn it off because the introduction was just too long. The same can happen when you’re creating an Infographic or a research driven visual asset …
…which is why I’m going to end this intro while I’m ahead. So let’s get right to it: Here are five great ways to catch your audience’s attention so they’ll keep reading, viewing or scrolling.
1. Begin With A Startling Statistic
It’s one of the oldest attention-grabbing strategies in the book, but it still works. Introduce your content by sharing stats that truly blow your audience’s mind. The best part is that the stat doesn’t have to be directly related to your industry—you can grab a statistic on just about any topic and find a unique angle to connect that stat back to the overarching story you’re trying to tell.
As an example, on one of my early SlideShare decks, The Ultimate Guide To Snapchat, I intentionally included surprising metrics about Snapchat’s user base at the time in my first few slides:
At the time, Snapchat was still an untapped marketing channel and one that many brands were still skeptical of. By showing that more than 30 million people were using the platform, I hoped to catch readers’ attention and entice them to read the deck.
It worked. As of this blog post, that deck has been seen by more than 100,000 people, and the number continues to grow.
2. Tell An Interesting Or Unusual Story
People connect with people.
Whether it’s a story that tugs at our heartstrings or a funny anecdote that makes us chuckle, we love hearing about personal experiences. If you can tell a story or give your readers a chance to put themselves in your shoes, it’s easier to hook them into wanting to read more.
It doesn’t have to be a traditional story about an individual. Some of the best infographics and other visual assets hook readers by posing an interesting question, like, Is 30 the new 20 when it comes to Olympic athletes?
The story here is simple:
Track and field athletes are getting older (aren’t we all?) and the topic connects with people who don’t want to believe their prime is behind them. It’s an insightful piece but more important, the story here hooks you immediately and entices you to keep reading.
Another great way to use this strategy is to say something like:
You’re walking down the street and…
Asking the reader to imagine themselves in a scenario puts them at the forefront of the story. The only thing that people like more than reading about other people is reading about themselves. In this example, you’re taking your readers on an introspective journey where they become the main character.
3. Ask If They Want To Achieve Their Desires
What if I told you this one tip could 10x your content engagement?
Would you be interested?
The copywriting tactic I just used is another approach to capturing your readers’ attention. You can use this strategy with any content intended to help people or businesses improve. Here’s an example of this in action in my Slideshare deck: How to Generate Your First 20,000 Followers On Instagram.
The intent here is to focus on the fact that the readers WANT more followers and have been wondering what the answers are to these various questions. It’s done with more than one slide as it entices them to answer the question or look for an answer on the slide to follow.
Here’s the key takeaway:
Focus on something specific your audience desires—if they really want it, they will likely keep reading, and if they don’t, then you just filtered out a reader who wasn’t a good fit for your content.
Here are a few examples of how this could work for content in other industries:
- Are you tired of cold calling and want the leads to come to you?
- Do you want to eat delicious food but still get in shape?
- Want to craft a resume that is sure to get a phone call?
4. Take A Stance Against Something Relevant
It may be a bit controversial, but this approach for introducing content can work wonders.
In a 2012 study entitled “When, Why, and How Controversy Causes Conversation,” researchers from the Wharton School identified some powerful insights for communicators—in particular, that low-level controversy can stir up discussion (but anything beyond moderate controversy actually subdues conversation).
As an example, recently there was a heated debate on Twitter about whether you should store butter in the fridge or on the counter. This is low-level controversy that stirs up debate amongst a wide range of people without anyone losing their job.
When using controversy to introduce your content, remember that the spectrum ranges from butter storage to religion and politics. If you can find something in the middle, it’s safe to assume that your topic will catch your audience’s attention. If you go too far, you may turn off your audience instead and end up with a high bounce rate or a lack of engagement entirely.
A visual designer who always knows how to stir up a conversation by taking a stance on something is The Oatmeal creator, Matt Inman.
Some of his most popular pieces take a stance on something. As an example, he’s created a visual that explains why Nikola Tesla was the greatest geek to live and another that explains how to suck at religion. For some people, his work can be a little bit much but for his fans (me included) his content has the perfect amount of sarcasm, wit, controversy and creativity to keep you coming back for more.
Another great example of a visual asset taking a stance on something is Eugene Woo’s post: 6 Facts That Prove That The Oscars is More Racist Than You Think. This interactive visual stirred up tons of commentary online and generated more than 600 shares on the Venngage blog. In addition to generating traffic, the visuals were picked up by the media site attn where it went on to reach thousands of other people around the world:
You also need to ensure that you’re not taking a stance just because it seems like the popular thing to do. For example, in the marketing industry, you’ll see a lot of blog posts that start with sentences like these:
Email is dead.
Content is dead.
Infographics are dead.
Social media is dead.
Twitter is dead.
These statements have become so overused that they’ve essentially lost their value.
That’s why it’s important to ensure that what you’re saying is both shocking and something people can buy into. Take a stance that you can support with the rest of your blog post or infographic while hooking the readers with a surprising statement.
5. Show Them What Success Would Look Like
The fitness industry leverages the attention-grabbing hook better than any other industry I can think of. The before-and-after visuals of someone who has changed their look is a popular tactic that has worked wonders for the industry because it’s shocking—and it showcases potential success. Your audience will immediately connect to that potential.
When you understand what your audience wants and can show them that it’s within reach, they take notice. As an example, when I created this guide on growing your Instagram following, I started by illustrating potential success:
In another example, Nadya Khoja leverages this same strategy in an article about growing blog traffic:
It’s that shaded line that hooks the reader immediately.
And it’s that WOAAAH!! overlaid on the Google Analytics chart that helps the reader visualize what this could look like for them. Furthermore, the chart adds a bit of credibility to the claim, convincing the reader that it’s worth their time to keep reading.
Wrapping Things Up
So there you have it—five simple ways to hook your audience from the start!
But of course you have to deliver on what you promise in your introduction. You can use great headlines and great hooks, but if the content doesn’t deliver value, you’re missing the point (and disappointing your readers).
What do you think of these tactics? Would you be willing to take a stab at the controversial hook approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts—leave a comment below!