When I recently polled 132 copywriters on Twitter, the majority — 46% — agreed the intro is the toughest part of a blog post to write.
I’m not surprised. A lot rests on the intro.
You have to introduce the topic and explain what your blog post is setting out to accomplish, of course (usually while the cursor blinks accusingly at you on a blank google doc as you try to think).
But, more importantly, you have to do it in the most engaging way possible.
With more than 4 million blog posts hitting the internet per day, your intro needs to do some very heavy lifting. It’s got to hook your readers. Draw them in and make them want to read the next sentence.
And the next.
And the next.
Otherwise, your blog post will just be more white noise in that huge data dump we call the internet.
So how do you tame the beast and nail an intro that hits all the right notes?
If the mountain won’t come to you, you’ve got to go to the mountain
In an ideal world, inspiration strikes and the perfect blog post intro — or well, at least a serviceable one you can polish and improve on — falls into your lap.
I’ve found that this does happen on occasion. The problem is that the muse doesn’t like working to order (at least, mine doesn’t). So you may have to wait around a while, which isn’t always practical. You can’t tell a client you’ll be missing a deadline because your muse is AWOL, can you?
Bottom line: if you write copy for a living, you’ve got to find a way to consistently come up with the goods. Even when you feel uninspired and the muse refuses to cooperate.
And that’s where prompts come in.
Over the past few years, I’ve started using prompts to get my creative juices flowing when I’m struggling to find a hook. I think using these prompts has relieved a lot of the pressure, improved the quality of my blog post intros and made the process smoother and more enjoyable. So I’d like to share my three go-to prompts with you today. I hope they help you too.
1. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes
Empathising with your readers’ predicament is a great way to open a blog post because it shows them you understand exactly where they’re coming from.
You can relate.
You get each other.
And this builds trust.
If you have your readers nodding with you in agreement from the first line of your blog post, they’re much more likely to keep reading. Clearly, you understand their situation. You know what it’s like to have the very same problem that made them click in the first place.
So, surely, you’ve got answers too, right?
Clifford Chi uses the technique to great effect in this blog post on turnover rates:
"Seeing your employees leave for new opportunities can be a bittersweet experience. At first, you’re sad to see them go, especially if you’ve developed a close bond with them. But you also know that they’re moving onto bigger and better things -- and you're excited for them
However, if employee departure starts to become a regular occurrence at your company, the feeling should become more bitter than sweet, and eventually turn into concern.
Having a high turnover rate means your culture might be toxic, or your employees don’t feel fulfilled working at your company. Constantly replacing employees can also skyrocket costs and plummet productivity -- if your company is a revolving door, you not only have to spend money recruiting and interviewing candidates, but you also have to train new hires who need a significant amount of time to be able to tackle a full workload.
Fortunately, there’s a way to determine if your turnover rate and, in turn, your company culture is healthy. Read on to learn how to do it."
Of course, for an empathetic opening to be effective, you have to tap into your readers’ emotions. And you can only do this if you’ve got a good understanding of:
Who it is you’re writing for
What specific problem your blog post aims to address
How this problem affects your readers’ day-to-day lives and how this makes them feel
In this example, the intro assumes readers care about their employees’ future and well-being. It probably won’t have an effect on readers who don’t give a shit about turnover except how it impacts their bottom line.
2.Use a mind-blowing fact
Your aim here is to get your reader to go “Bloody hell, that’s mad! I’ve got to read on.” So, you have to commit to the research and dig deep. Find something interesting, unusual or downright shocking. And, it goes without saying, try to be as specific as possible.
Stats work particularly well, because they hit all these notes. A cold, hard number educates, shocks and persuades your reader. And, even better, it’s as specific as it gets.
In this post on natural language processing, stats on the growth of the smart speaker market and increasing popularity of voice searches drive home the importance of optimising your website for voice:
"Voice assistants are no longer “the next big thing” or “the wave of the future.” They’ve hit the mainstream. In two years’ time, Gartner reckons that 75% of American households will own at least one smart speaker. And 50% of online searches will be voice searches.
If you were still on the fence about the importance of voice search, these numbers should convince you. Clearly, the way we look up information on the web is changing before our eyes and — ahem — ears. Our interactions with electronic devices are becoming more and more like everyday conversations with fellow humans. Which means that optimizing your online presence for natural language search has never been more crucial."
Similarly, this post on how to stand out on Twitter kicks off by noting that 500 million tweets are published each day, which underlines how difficult it is to get noticed:
"500 million Tweets are apparently posted each day - that's a lot to compete with. So if you want to keep yourself registering on that Twitter feed, you need to keep on posting."
But numbers aren’t only useful for jolting your readers’ attention. You can also use them to dial up the empathy. For example, the stats in this post on turning saving into a habit that sticks serve to validate readers’ feelings:
"If you’ve ever found saving tricky, you’re certainly not alone. We’re not a nation of savers. In fact, 40% of working-age Brits have less than £100 set aside.
Yet saving is one of the most important things you can do for yourself financially. By having some money put aside, it can help you out in an emergency (without having to rely on expensive credit) and help set up a more secure future for yourself."
3. Tell a story
Let’s face it. Everyone loves a good story. Which is why ‘storytelling’ has become such a popular marketing buzzword.
Stories are memorable. They add context. And they’re great for adding colour and depth to your copy, especially if you’re dealing with a mundane or dry subject or something that’s been written about countless times.
Sometimes, the topic you’re writing has interesting stories or anecdotes built-in. You just have to find them. For example, this post on the evolution of fraud kicks off with a story about its first recorded instance:
"It’s 300 BC Greece, and a shipping merchant named Hegestratos is about to change the world. His attempt to con the insurers of a shipload of valuable goods – by sinking the boat but keeping the cargo, and claiming the loss anyway – is the first recorded instance of fraud in history. A trailblazing event in human society, and a harbinger of the financial arms race to come."
But you don’t necessarily have to use a story that’s on-topic.
The trick is to find something you can apply to the issue you’re tackling in your blog post.
For example, this intro for a post on choosing a Wordpress template kicks off with a story about a thought experiment:
"Ever heard of the jam experiment?
Back in 2000, researchers from Columbia and Stanford gave shoppers two choices: a table with 24 different types of jam or a table with only six types of jam. Most shoppers were drawn to the — ahem — more jam-packed table. But guess which table made more sales?
That’s right. The one with only six types of jam.
Wordpress themes are hardly as good as jam. And, seeing as there are thousands to choose from — TemplateMonster has 26,640 premium Wordpress themes, to be exact — the risk of choice paralysis has never been more real.
Luckily, there are ways you can narrow your search down. Which will make the process of choosing a premium Wordpress theme much easier and a lot less stressful."
Similarly, the famous story of how Betty Crocker cake mix initially flopped serves as a metaphor for the work that lies ahead if invisible payments are to catch on:
"At the start of the 1950s, General Mills launched a revolutionary new product.
The product was to be sold under the Betty Crocker brand, which was already a household name. It tested well with focus groups. And, most importantly, it was the height of convenience: you just had to mix it with water, put it in the oven and wait for your perfect dessert to emerge.
You’ll have probably guessed that we’re talking about Betty Crocker cake mix; a product which went on to transform home baking. The story of Betty Crocker’s success is well known, but what you may not be aware of is that it didn’t do well from the get go. In fact, despite the brand’s popularity, and the product’s quality and convenience, initially the idea was a commercial failure."
So there you have it. Three prompts you can use as a jumping-off point if you’re having trouble coming up with a good intro for your blog post.
Getting it just right will still require elbow grease, good judgement and creativity. But using one of these prompts will help kickstart the process and give you something you can work from.
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