Blood, sweat, tears. Hours of research are poured into the erudite river of words you’ve created. The witty remarks, clever pop culture references and valuable insight, all wasted….because no one is getting past the intro.
It stings, doesn’t it? The indifference, the lack of engagement, the monstrous bounce rate and an average time on your blog of 12 seconds. That sudden warm feeling deep in the pit of your stomach when you finally get an email from WordPress to say ‘YOU’VE GOT A COMMENT ON YOUR BLOG’, followed by the crushing realisation that it’s a robot telling you that no one is looking at it.
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The problem is, we’re all idiots, looking for the next shiny thing in an ocean of shit. The average time it takes people to get distracted is 8 seconds: if you don’t grip them IMMEDIATELY, you’ve already lost.
However, with a bit of love and affection – wining and dining – you can keep them reading.
Whet the appetite of the reader
Award-winning journalist, the late great Ken Ashton, knew a thing or two about the value of a great intro:
‘You can begin your feature with any kind of anecdotal line that makes the reader feel ‘I want to read this.’ Some of the best features’ intros come from writers who have a tale to tell.’
It’s about nailing that all important first impression. A snappy intro is the hook, it’s the difference between an a la carte meal for two at a snazzy Jay Rayner approved restaurant, and eating a Happy Meal with your hands. As a grown up. In your car. By opening with a sharp anecdote you’ll sidestep predictable formality and keep the reader’s interest.
Imagine going on a date where the person opposite reels off the information you can expect to receive during the date, before spelling out the reasons you should find them attractive.
Now imagine an erudite and interesting raconteur, regaling you with hilarious, dramatic and engaging stories. Who are you more likely to have a second date with (metaphorically speaking)?
Make it personal
It can be difficult to know how much to give away in the introduction. Not enough and they’ll move on. Too much and they possibly won’t feel the need to look any further.
So make your intro personal and relatable. By drawing from your individual experiences and telling a story that relates somehow to the theme of your blog, you are utilising that one special unique thing that separates your writing from the rest. That’s right, brave unicorn, your life.
Neil Gaiman is unarguably the Prince Of Stories, so listen when he says
“The more things you see, the more places you go, the more lives you touch, the more you will be able to write truthfully.”
Seeding the intro with purposefully emotive language may sound insidious, but allowing the reader to connect emotionally can elicit a stronger gut reaction than appealing to rationality. Humans are emotional creatures, and our feelings inform our decisions.
For example, consider this article. A feel good story about a baby girl saved by a heroic pooch called Duke. The author leads with a highly emotionalised version of the facts. They’ve focused on the child’s age and the fact that Duke was a RESCUE (read unwanted) dog. The facts of the story are compelling, but it’s the story they tell that connects with the audience Tug on the heartstrings.
If this is a business article, chances are you’re instructing on how best to organise their breadwinning, their livelihood. If you can’t squeeze a few tears out of them using that information, you might be in the wrong business.
Gently gently, but not too gently.
Nobody likes being patronised, but they also don’t like to be immediately bombarded with a lot of jargon from the off. It can be difficult to find the happy middle ground between making a reader feel supported and encouraged in their specific venture-related learning, and talking so far down to them they’re wondering if they’ve stumbled on to the GCSE Bitesize website.
Engage with the reader by addressing them directly. Go back and read the first part of this article, you’ll notice I was talking directly to YOU. I got you this far in by making the intro more about you and less about me. Thoughtful, right?
Don’t give it all away up front. Treat that opener like a first date. Romance your reader a bit. Drop some knowledge and show a little class. Engage with the audience by asking a targeted question that appeals to their sensibilities or interests in the subject matter. How many movies have you skipped because they already gave everything away in the trailer?
Hold a little something back to keep the reader interested and engaged right until the very end. This article isn’t the trailer, or even the film. It’s a long running TV sitcom that people watch three times a week and don’t even know why. Consistency is key to keep people reading, and if you’re writing for a blog; to keep them coming back.