Beyond Headlines: How to Get Your
Audience to Read Every Word

image of speedometer

Whether you’re trying to get on the front page of Digg or just angling for a sale, writing magnetic headlines that grab your readers’ attention is everything.

But once you have their attention, you need them to read every word that you write.

You need to craft an opening made up of an enticing string of sentences that whet your readers’ appetites, set up a need, and prime them for action.

Easier said than done, right?

Well here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to do it:

Establish rapport with an “agreeable” opening

People naturally lend their attention (and loyalty) towards those with similar tastes, whether it’s a matter of liking the same sports team, driving the same model of car, or sharing a political or ideological stance. If you can communicate an insight that your reader can agree with, you’ve elevated your chances of capturing their ongoing attention.

You’ll see many writers use this approach with opening paragraphs like:

  • “I’m sure we all can agree that eating well is critical to good health . . .”
  • “As bloggers, we know how important a reliable, affordable web host is . . .”
  • “All savvy car buyers know that paying sticker price is for suckers . . .”

Agreement-based openings can make readers feel smarter when they see that their own opinions are being positioned as widely accepted fact (which will make them more likely to want to continue reading).

If you lead in with an “agreeable” statement that sets up your content, you’re starting out strong.

Set up a need with your next sentence

Once you’ve coaxed a bit of a agreement from your reader, you can trigger a sense of need that compels them to keep reading.

The simplest way to do that is with a statement that establishes that what they just agreed on isn’t enough, or isn’t the final answer . . . and that they’re going to miss out if they don’t keep reading.

This isn’t hard to do and you’ve no doubt seen it before:

  • “But a healthy diet alone isn’t enough to prevent heart disease . . .”
  • “Choosing the right web host is only the first step to building your blog . . .”
  • “Even if you know the MSRP of that new car, you’re only halfway ready to negotiate . . .”

Set up the need, and you can be sure that people will continue to read, if only to see if they already know what you’re about to reveal.

Prime them for action with a promise

Your winning headline should have set up a promise of valuable information. This is your opportunity to reinforce the benefit they’ll receive when they read every word that you’ve written.

A good closing sentence for your first paragraph puts them into “forward-looking” mode, where they can envision themselves using the information to gain some immediate benefit (the more immediate, the better).

Once you’re aware of how copywriters use this pattern, you’ll notice it everywhere:

  • “. . . you’ll have 3 ways to reduce your risk of heart disease that you can use right now.”
  • “. . . you’ll be ready to build a blog that’s popular and profitable from day one.”
  • “. . . you’ll know exactly how to get the lowest price on your next new car — today.”

Once you’ve established a connection with them, convinced them of their need and given them assurance of an immediate take-away, the stage is set for them to read down to the very last word.

Now it’s your turn: How do you start off with a bang?

These three steps are a sure-fire way to keep people reading what you write — but they’re not the final word on the subject.

Got a favorite “pull-them-in” opening strategy? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author: Dave Navarro is the product launch coach of choice for online marketers and has a special message for Copyblogger readers.

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Comments

  1. Pretty useful stuff, I especially like the first advice to connect your reader to a broad audience. Its important to start strong !

  2. These are awesome steps to pulling your reader in and keeping them reading. It is definitely a challenge to keep visitors reading if your post is more than a couple hundred words.

    Developing a connection (and also establishing authority), setting up the need, and giving a solution is one of the most basic writing strategies. It’s strange that it is so easy to forget to apply this powerful method to blogging.

  3. Nice to see examples for each step of the process.

    Sometimes I like to start with a quick anecdote that I can weave throughout the piece. I think it makes the article easier to write and the finished piece is more cohesive. Plus, it gives the reader a simple way to remember what they read.

  4. Nice examples! I’ll be sure to put them to use. Personally, one of my favorite lead-ins is the bold, potentially controversial statement. It makes the reader want to read on to see if you can support it.

  5. These are helpful tips. I find that I often get stuck on a headline. However once the headline is created, often the piece will write itself. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Oh also, the phrase “set up a promise of valuable information” really hit home for me because as a blogger, I am constantly trying to give valuable information but the trick is to get readers to notice it. Thanks again.

  7. This is how I will remember:

    Establish Appeal
    Define Need
    Answer or Solve Need

    Hope I got it right?!

  8. Great information. Thanks for making the writing process a little bit easier!

  9. Great stuff, Dave–super-simple and effective. Sometimes I’ll start with a quote from someone notable to establish the like-minded connection. For example, on a recent site offering a book on storytelling for change-makers I started with: Plato said, “Those who tell the stories rule society.” Then the reader’s belief in the power of compelling stories is reinforced and they know we’re on the same page.

    Thanks for the post!

  10. Thanks for your tips. Your blog has inspired me to start my own!

  11. I like to think of it like a good story… Captivating title, intriguing beginning, page turner middle and killer (or surprise) ending – and sometimes the comments can provide that for you!

  12. Yes, the lead is so important. Thanks for bringing this to our attention again and giving us some great tips.

    I was reminded me of what a copywriting guru said-

    The headline gets your foot in your prospects door. The lead paragraphs either keeps your foot there, or cause you to lose your footing.

  13. I’m always crafting my first paragraphs to capture my readers’ imaginations. These are some great tips to keep in mind, though I would say that not every post needs this type of paragraph.

  14. I gotta query! Every day you guys have a topical photo at the top of the page, where do you source them please?

    Many thanks,

    BB

  15. Establish, set-up and prime? Sounds easy enough. I know the importance of a great headline and a great first paragraph. The first paragraph is usually the hardest for me.

    I know I need to be short and concise while trying to outline what the meat of the post is about. But I just tend to run on and on without ever sharing completely what the post’s main topic is…I keep remembering from high school English …”the main idea”…”the main idea”..

  16. A great blueprint for successful copy. Thanks for sharing, Dave.

  17. @BB, the photos generally come from either iStockPhoto.com or BigStockPhoto.com. Both great resources for very inexpensive & high-quality images.

    You might also take a look at an earlier post I did on finding great images for blogs.

  18. Dave, don’t you think if everyone will follow your recommendation we all will read similar posts in similar blogs?

  19. THANK YOU~Juicy stuff to mentally dine on! Since my PoSivity (deliberately mis-spelled) Day Blog begins 10/1 with a dynamic Mind, Body Abundance 11/18 Triathlon training, this info is quite timely. As a veteran Symbologist, I support the mainstream/metaphysical person’s wellness-journey using the ancient art of Feng Shui. Your article assisted me to identify, clarify, and amplify~Great good fortunes to you and many thanks.

  20. well i’ll be damned, you’re sounding scientifical – i’m thinkin there’s more to the launch coach then we’ve been led to believe ;-)

  21. Great points. Here are the questions I make sure I cover to keep people reading beyond the title:
    1. what’s my point?
    2. what’s in it for the reader?
    3. what structure works best? i.e. tips, anecdote

  22. You also included the reader by using “we” and “you.”

  23. You should have charged for this article – I’ve been looking for this solution! I also like using a “crossroads” anecdote as Brian Clark likes to teach as my opener. I’m also having to do all this in Spanish as I am reaching out to people in Mexico, Argentina, etc. A little hard but it seems to pay off!

  24. @Satya, you’re just figuring that one out? Dave is a pretty sharp cookie. :)

    @Fernando, it’s so neat to get little glimpses of your project!

  25. Hi Dane, it is great article and blogger are always hungry for readers so three things is very important to attract readers.

    1)Headline
    2)Beginning of writing
    3)Ending of article.

    This important parts is so important and this will attract people to grab the feed.

    Thanks Dane for sharing this information

  26. Awesome tips! Bookmarked. Thanks.

  27. My favorite “pull them in” strategy has to be starting with a personal story that relates to the topic I am blogging about.

  28. Dave, maybe you should stage a coup at some of the major news agencies. Just imagine – a headline that encourages readers to dig into the story.

  29. (and to finish the thought, now that the dog has stopped screaming at the cat that just walked through the yard)…

    – a headline that encourages readers to dig into the story, instead of giving the impression the headline *is* the story. It’s often tough to do that, but a good headline often makes the rest of the process you describe a lot easier. If I can focus on what will intrigue my reader, the writing flows more naturally.

    (Apologies for the fractured comment – as many of you know, working in a home office can be “interesting” at times.)

  30. I believe it’s crucial that people understand that though titles are important, they aren’t everything. Every sentence needs to lure the reader cleanly to the next sentence. We plan on addressing this at http://www.desigdevmag.com I’m glad I got professional insight on it from Copyblogger though! Great work, keep it up!

  31. The article should be short and meaningful . So user will read all words .

  32. An excerpt to one of my best articles reads:

    You are worthless! You will never amount to anything! And above all, DO NOT read this article now!

    Playful negativity worked in this case.

  33. I usually like articles with title as the article’s summary – or something to that effect. Ending paragraph that leaves me thinking is great too. Combine it with a blasting opening paragraph, then you got a killer article.
    Nice post, very concise.

  34. Great tips Dave, I think the key is in the headline. You need the hook to get people but in, but agree that there are ways you can make them read on. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for those posts that have taken your advice.

  35. Hmm, very useful post. Thanks Dave. I think I need to focus on better closing sentences for my first paragraph.

    My tip? I’ve found great success by interweaving practical advice with stories (mainly about my own experiences or those of my clients’) that my readers can relate to. It’s always nice to know that someone understands what you’re going through, even if they’ve come through it before you. I’ve noticed that the posts where I share personal experiences do far better than those that are purely fact based, no matter how valuable the content.

  36. Hmm, this post appeared at the perfect time. I was just annoyed that an opening to an article I’m writing now sucks. I rewrote it according to your tips and it looks a lot better now. I like to use ‘you’ in the opening and through the article, relating to my reader and kind of having a conversation with him/her. Much easier to write if you speak to a friend.

  37. This is an awesome resource – well done Dave and well written too.

  38. Thanks for the great tip….

  39. Sonia, the great thing about iStockPhoto.com too is that if you subscribe, they have a free downloadable image per week. And after a few months you’ll have a nice database of images.

  40. i really enjoy your posts, dave. copyblogger is so solid in terms of driving our success.

  41. Great information! I’m sure I will be rereading this post several times and putting it into practice immediately.

  42. Thanks for another great post!
    I really enjoy reading your posts!

  43. Fantastic article. It seems very easy when broken down into these steps yet seems so difficult when you sit down to write your own.

    I’m sure this formula will prove helpful in writing future articles :-)

  44. I’m always relieved when I read posts like this. These things come naturally and I do not alway recognize I’m even doing it. I like the addition of “today” and “now” in the last line of the first paragraph. I’m going to add that to my next piece.

    Thank you!

  45. Thanks for a great post.
    Great story telling is something which is so alluring to readers. When you achieve it the readers can’t put your story down until they’ve read it all

  46. Very nice tips. I start to read many articles and begin to skim down the page as the first paragraph wraps up and I see eight paragraphs without any bullets or headlines and I am on to the next website.

  47. Thanks for the great writing tips!

  48. I agree with the magnetic headlines and the open with a bang idea. But I think including a picture or a video would make the post a little more enjoyable for the reader. It would certainly be more helpful for me if I get visual solutions for my problems rather than having to read them online.

  49. Terrific advice. The catchy headline is definitely critical in this conversation and I was reminded recently when one of mine bombed. LOL! ;-)
    I had chosen an academic, pithy headline that would work at a high brow conference but not for a blog and reader interest dropped like horse turd. Experience is a great teacher .. and I will remember this advice. Thank you! :-)

  50. Thanks for these great tips. I enjoy reading this post.

    Regards

  51. Great post and very nicely explained with examples

  52. Climber_Seeker :

    Dave, this is good stuff. I am a freelance writer in my beginning stages and do appreciate anything that can be a positive step in the “write direction”. Thank you.

  53. I found this very useful. This reminds me a little of Joe Sugarman’s slippery slide theory. The whole purpose of the first sentence is to get them to read the second. And the sole purpose of the second sentence is to get them to read the third. And so on…

    I’ve been doing this formula in my writing unconsciously. Seeing it explained clearly really helps me be more focused when writing to a specific audience.

    To further expand upon this formula, I would add:

    1. Agreeable Statement
    2. Offer A Supporting Fact
    3. Create a Need
    4. Amplify that Need (Make the pain worse)
    5. Make a promise (to solve need/remove pain)
    6. Article content