Imagine this. Browsing through Amazon, a book catches your eye. The title of the book is compelling, the topic promises to help solve a problem that you’ve been experiencing for awhile, and the price is right. So you order it, download it to your Kindle app and open it up. But as you begin to read, you find your mind wandering. Instead of devouring every word on the pages in front of you, you’re thinking about lunch, mentally making a grocery list, or even worse…
Finding yourself getting pulled away by the temptations of checking Facebook just one more time. Is it just that you’re distracted? You lack focus? Are you procrastinating on reading the book? No. In fact, this isn’t even your fault. Just like if the first few pages are boring you aren’t going to finish the book, nobody will finish your articles if you don't know how to write an introduction.
If the first few pages of the book were interesting, you’d be captivated by the words on the page. It would engage you, get you excited to read the rest of the book, and capture your attention. And if nobody reads your articles:
- nobody will sign up for your email list
- nobody will leave a comment or share your post to social media
- they definitely won’t come back for more.
So how can you get your readers not only to read every word of your introduction… But also devour every word of your article thereafter? In this guide, I’ll show you the exactly layout of the perfect introduction how to keep your readers on the page, sell your article in your introductions and lead your reader to your calls to action… Every. Single. Time.
6 Questions to Ask Yourself to Write an Intro That Doesn’t Suck
Have you ever heard Abraham Lincoln’s saying, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”? Writing a strong article intro will be nearly impossible unless you understand a few key things. These are axe-sharpening questions you must have a grasp on to get the best possible intro out of your fingers and onto the screen. Bonus: you also can’t write an article worth its salt without knowing these.
- What is the main idea of the article? What do you want your reader to get out of the article?Ex: I want you to be able to write an amazing intro to your next article – one that readers gobble up and makes them actually want to read the rest of your hard work.
- What problem are you trying to solve? All good articles solve a problem. Even if that problem is boredom and your articles are meant for entertainment.Ex: This article is trying to solve the problem of not getting enough sales, email subscribers, or traction on your articles. It’s also trying to solve the problem of wasted time – if you spend hours writing an article and nobody even gets past the first sentence, you’re in trouble.
- What do you need to “sell” to the audience to get the most out of it? I needed to sell you on the importance of having an engaging intro for you to get the most out of this article.Ex: Unless your audience is sold on attachment parenting, your article about how to discipline within the attachment parenting philosophy won’t attract much interest.
- What pain points is your audience experiencing? Are they looking for a solution to a problem, entertainment, connection?Ex: If you’re writing an article about how a new mom can get back into shape after she has her baby, chances are looking good for a first date isn’t on her mind. She’s probably struggling with body image, feeling like herself again, her libido, and depending on how much time has past since she had her baby, maybe even discomfort getting down on the floor and playing with her little one.
- What have they tried unsuccessfully to fix their problem? You might use this to echo back to them what they’ve tried. Empathy is a powerful tool. I use this to demonstrate that I know what my audience must be feeling, and to identify other possible solutions that aren’t the ones I’m presenting. This helps further sell what I’m writing about.Ex: Maybe the mom who is trying to get back into shape has tried cutting calories, Weight Watchers, and cutting soda but none of it has worked.
- Who are you writing for? Know your audience. Be crystal clear on this.Ex: When I'm writing for Unsettle's audience I try to avoid terminology like “conversions”, because Unsettlers usually aren't there yet. I remember how frustrated I was when I started and overly marketing/business-y terminology was used. Write for your audience. On SumoMe, I can use “conversions” and “A/B test” without explaining what they are, . Knowing this in the intro will help you bring this through to the rest of the article.
When I first started writing, I found it useful to go through these questions at the beginning of every article. Now that you know the answers to all of these questions, you can begin to lay out your perfect introduction.
The Layout Of the Perfect Article Introduction
Have you ever clicked on a great headline but left the page before you even read a word? I know I have. No matter how strong the value proposition of the article, or how useful the content could be to me, or how strong the arguments in the post… all of that is useless if I don’t even read the first word.
So why does this happen? And how can you make sure that your visitors get to your value proposition within the first 10-20 seconds? You do so with a visually appealing layout. You wouldn’t even bother beginning to read an article that looks like this:
The Great Wall of Text – a formidable force that keeps you off the page like the Berlin wall. Your readers won’t, either.
This is the exact type of thing that will force your visitors off the page before the even read the first word. Here’s the ideal intro structure.
Hook the Reader With The First Few Sentences
The first sentence of your article is like the first bite of a meal. If that first bite is bland you’re probably not getting to the end of the meal unless you’re starving. There are very few audiences starving for information with all of the content available at our fingertips, so you need the first sentence of your post to satisfy a craving. If your visitor reads the first sentences of your content, they’re far more likely to read the rest.
There are several studies to support this, but one of my favorites is the foot in the door phenomenon, which came from a study about human behaviour and consistency. It proves that if you can get people to say “yes” to a small request, they’re more likely to say “yes” to a larger request. In this case, if you can get them to read the first sentences, they’re far more likely to read the rest of the post.
Your initial request of reading the first few sentences, however, is only a “smaller” request if you don’t throw a Great Wall of Text at them. So that’s why should start with a short, punchy, attention-grabbing first sentence. This is called the lede. In formal writing, a lede is the first paragraph that covers what the article is about and the main points of the story. But you’re not writing a news story or an editorial, so in your case the lede serves one purpose: grab reader’s attention in a relevant way to draw their eyes down the page. Brian Dean from Backlinko cuts straight to the chase in this awesome lede:
The lede in this article is “Imagine this.”
Aim for a 1-sentence lede that hooks your reader in. Then…
Shorten Your Line Lengths to Keep Readers Engaged
Remember how I said short line lengths increase the read rate of your article? That’s why you need to start with a punchy lede to capture attention, followed by short, attention-keeping paragraphs to strengthen your opening point or tell more of the story. But that doesn’t always do the entire job.
Derek Halpern from Social Triggers shows the perfect content width is 40-55 characters per line. That’s short. So how can you make the content width fit the bill without hacking your paragraphs to oblivion? You can create the illusion of shorter paragraph lengths to draw your reader’s eyes down the page with images. Smart Blogger does this with a left-aligned image at the top of the post:
The preference is to have an image that actually supports the post and adds value to it. Screenshots in marketing, before/after pictures in fitness, diagrams in science… all of these images do this. Some pro bloggers give the top image a free pass. Like my example above, they use images of human faces (which are especially compelling for us), especially if they use directional cues, or “lines of sight”. See how the man’s arm seems to point toward the intro? That’s a “line of sight” that draws the eye to the text. If you can make your image useful, great. If not, you may want to try using a generic image with directional cues and (or!) human faces.
Steal a Popular Copywriting Formula
After you’ve started with a short lede and a few narrow paragraphs at the top of the page, it’s time to sell your reader on finishing the article. You can do this with the copywriting formula commonly referred to as problem-aggravate-solution. You can start to cycle through this formula by “reading your audience’s minds”: echoing the problem they’ll come up against with the topic you’re writing about.
Then, you’ll aggravate that problem. This is where I like to add:
- expert opinions
- raw numbers.
These elements make the problem extra painful. What can happen if your readers don’t fix the problem you just identified? Then, you’ll communicate the solution. Be clear with the reader that the solution is within your article (if it is, in fact, within your article — which it should be). Here’s how I’ve done this:
- Problem: You don’t have enough traffic to your site.
- Problem: You don’t have any previous connections to drive traffic to your site quickly
- Aggravate: You don’t have a budget to spend on marketing. You don’t have an email list. You don’t have a social media following. And the biggest traffic spike you may recall ever having on your site was not much of a traffic spike at all.
- Solution: You can grow a brand new website (that doesn’t even have a landing page up yet) with zero traffic to more than 10,000 visits in under 30 days. Even without all of these things.
The key in your intro is to propose the solution as your content — what you’ll be sharing with them in the body. Protip: Throughout your intro, make sure you’re talking to the reader, not about the reader. Never write “many people” – swap that out for “you”.
Add Authority for Social Proof
I hate to say it, but… Your word is not worth much to the average visitor. At least, not at first. If you’re not using social proof in your intro, you’re trying to convince people who hardly even know you to trust you. If I were to have told in this article that there were just “a lot of websites” on the internet, rather than 1 billion:
It wouldn't have been as effective, right? Sure, it would have been the same message. But something about it isn’t as compelling. The human brain loves proof, statistics, and numbers. Back up your introduction with at least one of these. And yes, this works in almost all industries. It may be more difficult to find these numbers or quotes in some niches, but still find them. Find high-authority sources with a simple Google search to back up your point:
Do not quote Wikipedia. Go for the highest authority source you can.
Get Your SEO Pants On
I’ll cut right to the chase because this part is a bit boring: For Search Engine Optimization purposes, you should have the keyword in the first 100 words — and the keyword should be linked. What do I mean by that? Well, if my keyword is “learn marketing”, I want people looking for resources about how to learn marketing to find my content. So, I include the keyword within the first 100-200 words of the article and link to the keyword.
It’s better to link to internal articles than external resources, but if you don’t already have internal content that is relevant to the keyword you’re targeting, you can link to externally. Just beware of linking to others who are targeting the same keyword.
Sell Them On The Rest of Your Article
Your intro sets the tone for the entire article. You’ve just spent the last couple of paragraphs selling your reader on the rest of your post. So now, you need to manage their expectations and tell them exactly what they’re going to get. Get the reader amped up and excited to read more. Tell them what you’re going to teach them or show them in your article. And sell it – don’t be dry.
See how I’ve promised to show you “exactly how he did it in this guide” for the above article? This shouldn’t last more than 1-2 sentences and should flow from your beginning paragraphs.
Add an Enticing Call to Action
When you’re growing an online business or a blog, you’re not publishing your articles for your health. There’s usually a means to the end. For example, maybe you’re:
- Growing your email list through content
- Selling a product or service or acting as an affiliate
- Creating content to grow your traffic for SEO or community building purposes.
In any of these cases, you want your readers to do something. To grow your email list, you want your visitors to opt in. You want them to exchange their email address for your content upgrade or maybe (and misguidedly) just out of the goodness of their own hearts. You need a call to action. To sell your (or an affiliate) product or service, you probably still want their email addresses. Or maybe you’re bold and sell out in the open and cold on your site to anybody who lands on your content.
Either way, you need a call to action. And if you’re creating content to grow your traffic – whether that’s for SEO or to build your community — you need a call to action. Probably for your readers to link to, share, or otherwise push out your content. And it’s a shame to let your call to action wither away in the conclusion of your post. Since only 20% of your visitors read your entire article, the other 80% won’t even see that call to action. So that’s why including your CTA in your introduction is crucial. Include a call to action right before the first point, at the end of the introduction:
Your call to action should be a content upgrade, and it should be highly relevant to your article, so if you’re worried about this being relevant, reconsider your CTA. Even if your reader opts-in to your CTA and doesn’t finish reading your post, your article still did it’s job. It captured your reader’s email address (so you can start building a meaningful relationship with them). Remember: one email address is worth 1,000 passive visitors.
Stop Letting Your Introductions Lose Readers like a Sieve
You could write the most amazing blog post on the planet. It could have viral potential. It could be fit for being framed in a blogging hall of fame. It could be the magic, life-saving, cancer-curing potion. But if your intro falls flat, the entire article was pointless. So instead of writing article after article and chalking those sad stats to a lack of traffic, start writing engaging introductions. This is the most important part of your articles yet the one aspect most bloggers neglect.