How to Grab Your Reader’s Attention Immediately
‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen’
Great openers jolt you out of your everyday world with its myriad distractions. They pull you up short. Make you think. Take you somewhere else. The opening to George Orwell’s 1984 does even more. The first half of the sentence “It was a bright cold day in April” invites the reader to recall their experience of April; the second half of the sentence brutally shreds that reality. You’re left with a question – Where are we? – which the rest of the novel answers.
The American writer, Shirley Jackson, believed that readers can’t be trusted to be ready for your prose when they encounter it. There’s no alternative but to grab their attention for the few seconds it will take make them take to focus. Once they’ve scanned the intro (they’re not ‘reading’ yet) they can decide whether to commit or leave. Try one of these 5 examples in you next blog – and see what happens.
1. Make it Personal
Camus opens The Outsider with the words: “Mother died today. Or maybe, (June 25, 2021); I can’t be sure.” An extreme example of the personal approach, but don’t you just need to keep on reading? Whatever you think you’re writing about – digital marketing, climate change, the state of the world – what you’re actually writing about is human experience. A personal opening reminds us of this.
Here’s how Greta Thunberg opened her address to the UN Summit:
“I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. Yet I am one of the lucky ones. People are suffering.”
2. Ask a Killer Question
“Have you done anything lately that’s worth remembering?” Woosh! There it is, the killer question that stops you in your tracks. Our brains are hardwired to answer questions, so you can be sure of getting someone’s attention is you ask one. Ask a good one and they’ll want to read on. Killer questions are simple to create; they’re always the ones that provoke a conversation. Here’s 3 more:
- What would you prefer: less work, or more work you love doing?
- What do people say about you when you’re not around?
- When was the last time you tried something new?
Great content marketing is always about initiating a conversation with the reader, so why not invite them in right from the get go?
3. Inject a Bit of Drama
Jane Austen knew this was important if her readers were to take her – a woman – seriously, so she opened Pride and Prejudice with:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
It’s the literary equivalent of a double-take. Whether or not the statement is true depends upon who is saying it, and what gender they are. To find out why it matters, you have to read on. Opening sentences that make the reader wonder whether or not they agree, initiate a drama. We want to follow the trail, see how this turns out, find out where we stand.
4. Insert the Reader (or Someone Like Them)
The trick with this one is to make the reader the subject matter, rather than the blogger’s product, thesis, or opinion. There’s a couple of ways to do this.
- The Reader’s Question. For this to work it has to be a singular question; one which makes the writer work hard to find a solution.
- The Reader’s Problem. It’s a great gift to be able, with uncanny ability, to pinpoint a specific problem your reader has – the pain point. Even better if your blog is able to solve it, too.
5. Open With a Shock
“90.63% of all pages in our index get zero traffic from Google, and 5.29% of them get ten visits per month or less.”
The above is SUCH a shocking statement that Ahrefs actually used it as the title of their blog. Its power comes from blasting the reader with a brutal slice of reality. It’s a great opener but, word of warning, you need to start offering some solutions pretty quickly after presenting this. Perhaps you might want to follow up with more positive news:
“Adding a blog to your existing website can increase traffic by as much as 434%.”