How to Capture Your Reader’s Attention

image of a peacock

Getting attention is the most important part of online marketing.

No matter how brilliant your ideas are, you can’t even offer them to your prospect unless you’ve made her look in your direction first.

You have to get your prospect’s attention before you can turn her into a reader, let her know how wonderful you are, or sell her something.

Do I have your attention yet?

Good. Now I’ll show you how to get someone else’s.

Your reader can’t pay attention to everything

The brain is funny like that — in order to understand, the brain has to focus on specific information.

Attention helps us screen out the irrelevant and choose which information will enter, and stay, in our awareness. Our attention decides what to “pay attention to,” because human focus is limited, and we just can’t give our attention to everything.

Your reader’s minds are very selective. So we have to give them a reason to pay attention to our content instead of everything else out there they could be listening to.

There are many obstacles in the path to gaining your reader’s attention

Even if you have the best product, service, or information on the planet, it’s still difficult to get people to give you the time of day. Here are some common obstacles to getting your prospect’s attention:

  • The relentless proliferation of available products, services, and information
  • Increased and increasingly better competition
  • The multiplying methods of distribution
  • Buyer sophistication
  • Information overload
  • The desire for instant gratification

These are all roadblocks you face in the attention-getting game, so you’ve really got to be good at showing readers why their limited attention should be directed to you.

Try these attention-grabbing strategies

  • Help them see what you see. You might be focusing on yourself when creating messages about your business, thinking that everyone sees things the way you do. But they don’t. People won’t “hear” you, or pay attention, until they perceive what you perceive. So you’ve got to make your position crystal clear — help them to see what you see, using storytelling, description, personal experiences, case histories, and anything that will put the prospect in the right position to understand your message.
  • Make it personal. When you make your writing personal, you make it important. Personally interesting or perceptually meaningful information can grab attention, bring clarity, and help it slip right into your prospective client’s awareness. You don’t have to do a lot of explaining to tell someone his house (or his hair) is on fire — because it’s so personal to him. You immediately get attention.
  • Use emotion. Emotion is a great way to bring clarity to your business messages while making them personal. Emotion also comes with the triple bonus of adding clarity, giving clients a reason to talk about you and your business, and triggering the circuits in the brain that activate behavior and decisions — emotion is much better at that than logic is. Emotional messages get attention.
  • Don’t take chances with attention

    You only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention, so don’t take chances with clever, cute, or insider language or visuals, which are often lost on people. Don’t use inside jokes or industry terms, either, unless appropriate for narrow niche marketing. These tactics only tend to confuse audiences, if only for a few seconds, which is all it takes to lose them — and a confused mind does not pay attention.

    Follow up with a strong second

    Once you’ve managed to capture your reader’s attention, don’t waste it. Getting your reader’s attention is like the first strike of a One-Two punch — if you don’t land the second part, you’re not going to knock them out (and I mean KO in the good way).

    Make sure your second punch, the actual information or message for which you grabbed her attention in the first place, is worthwhile.

    If it’s valuable, you’ve paved the way for easy entry into her attention with future conversation.

    If it isn’t, it’ll be that much more difficult to capture her attention the next time, as your prospect’s brain has already filed your information under “not worth our attention.”

    About the Author: After being in the trenches herself for over 25 years, Marcia Hoeck now helps entrepreneurs create businesses that will run without them. Get a great free report 5 Power Shifts You Can’t Succeed in Business Without at her Breakthrough Business blog. (Oh, and yep, you heard right — she’s Johnny B. Truant’s mom, and lives a normal life anyway.)


    Want to learn more about how to capture a reader’s attention — and how to translate that into sales? Sign up for the Internet Marketing for Smart People newsletter. It’s free, and it’s packed with advice on how to grow your business effectively, without hype, sleaze, or silly games.

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Reader Comments (53)

  1. says

    Hey Marcia

    The first strategy I think writers need to address is the Headline.

    There are numerous posts on Copyblogger – and I think it was in last week’s Podcast – about the vital role that Headlines play in grabbing people’s attention. I agree with that, and think it all starts with the headline.

    Then you’ve got to follow up on the attraction of the headline with an engaging post – and you can use all the tactics you talk about in your article.

    But I’ve really come to believe that Headline comes first.


    • says

      @Paul, I get what you say about the Headline and it really is a crucial part of grabbing attention; but a great Headline is not going to KEEP attention if the content does not deliver on the Headline. And that is what a lot of writers fail to appreciate. A great Headline and even greater content grab and keep attention.

      Great post Marcia. I particularly appreciate the one about inside jokes; nothing puts a reader off more than that.

  2. says


    Grabbing attention is paramount to getting people to read anything – whether Twitter tweet, blog post, copy headline or about anything else.

    Reminds me of an old Warner Brothers cartoon, where someone found a singing frog. The money light bulb went off. They rented a theater and nobody came. So the signing frog finder put up a sign:

    “Free Admission” – Nobody came.

    Then he put up another sign – “Free beer”. As soon as he put up the sign, he was trampled on by a mob. But the theater was full. He got everyone’s attention.

    Good thoughts for today.


    • says

      This works, but only as long as there’s actual beer! I see way too many people using these kinds of attention-grabbers without actually following through on what they promise. If you offer free beer (or free business advice, or whatever), and then bait-and-switch people with a singing frog, all you’re going to get is a bunch of dissatisfied visitors.

      • says

        Excellent point! Delivering on promises made is is imperative to establishing and maintaining credibility.

        Conveying sincerity hinges upon credibility, and sincerity is generally the best way to capture a prospects attention. If people believe you’re earnest, you’ve got a food in the door. But fail to deliver, and you’ve probably burned a bridge.

        Free beer always sucks me in!

  3. says

    Great points here. I especially like the third bullet, using emotion to trigger a reaction. I think that with emotion, you invariably communicate the first two. Well done.

  4. says

    Thank you for the very informative post Marcia. Since I’m just getting started on understanding the importance of copy writing and the emotional techniques you have to employ to gain readership, these strategies will help immensely.

  5. says

    Ha! You almost had me with the hair is on fire line. Until I remembered… there’s no grass on the field!

    Great tips on how to capture and keep your reader’s attention. We live in an instant gratification, visually stimulated world, so knowing how to get into the mind of your reader is paramount.

    I agree with Paul in that the headline is the first stop on the journey. Without that you’ve lost your audience before they become an audience. And of course that’s not enough, it must stay engaging through to the end.

    “Your hair is on fire” was humorous and I like Randy’s story about the free beer. And I remember that particular cartoon too. That singing frog was always a favorite of mine.

    But Randy and the Time Warner cartoon demonstrates the power of giving your audience what they desire. Keep it focused on them and provide a benefit. It’s sure to attract a mob of eager readers.

    It also brings up one more point that I remember Joe Vitale speaking about. Pain and fear is a great motivator, and some would say it’s more powerful than the promise of pleasure. But Joe said he felt an obligation to bring positive thoughts and feelings to his readers. That perhaps, as a writer, we even have an obligation to do so.

    Your hair is on fire! had me in a frenzy making sure that I hadn’t spontaneously grown hair and that it had caught on fire, but the free beer gave me the warm and fuzzies. Personally, I like warm and fuzzies.


  6. says

    Good article. As well as the copy itself, other cognitive factors come into play when trying to get someone’s attention:

    – Size (large headlines, banners, buttons, billboards etc.): generally the larger, the more noticeable

    – Colour: certain colours grab more attention e.g. Copyblogger red navigation bar, post titles and sidebar buttons

    – Shape, texture, and that dreaded attention grabber, movement/animation, also play a part (distracting flash ad banners, alert boxes etc). ‘banner blindness’ is a result of all that type of interruption marketing.

  7. says

    You are the queen of capturing attention Sonia! I learn more about writing from your every post. Thanks!

    All to often I come across writing that lacks the knock out punch. All flashy headline then no follow through. It’s like they get the headlines from a swipe file then are at a loss as to where to go from there.

  8. Lonnie @ My Income Lab says

    It’s important that article/post follows up on what the headline offers or else you can lose credibility with the reader and more than likely, will not be coming back.

  9. says

    These are some great points on getting readers’ attention and they all work. I personally find emotional messages to be the most effective as they create a sense of affiliation between the reader and the information that they are reading.

    Images/pictures are also a great way to grab a readers attention and they are not as intrusive and annoying as flashing banners. Humans are generally drawn to things that are aesthetically pleasing. The peacock beneath the headline of this article is a perfect example!

  10. says

    Very, very good information here. I love your strategies of using storytelling and personal connections to capture your reader’s attention. I think you need to also be genuine. Emotions that are faked are pretty easy to spot.

    Another thing that I would add to the cautionary “Don’t take chances” section would be to not use gimmicks that are in poor taste. Don’t send emails with scammy sounding subject lines. Someone told me recently about an email she received saying that someone had died. You’ll lose respect very quickly that way!

  11. says

    Attention is the fundamental. We are bombarded by headlines, calls to action and other likes on daily basis, because attention is the most valuable thing we have and everybody around us wants to get ours for as long time as possible.
    Great article.

  12. says

    Hi Marcia,

    Much like your post. Also in B2B marketing (for the complex sale) it is all too easy to focus on the technical content and forget that we are not communicating with ‘business people’ but with people making business decisions. A good reminder to make it personal and realise that also in this segment emotion is relevant.

  13. says

    Thanks for the post!

    I totally agree with your point that capturing your readers attention is very, very important. Why would they read on if your hook is boring?

  14. says

    I get what your saying, I have been looking for that trick for a minute!!! I decided to just give everything I can away for free. Why? Because it seems that many highly successful bloggers want to share some details, but the real details that we need to succeed they are keeping to themselves. My view is that if I really want to help other bloggers succeed than I need to tell them what I have had to learn the hard way, so they do not. In the end I believe that I will have a more dedicated following than most which will allow me to grow financially, my question is will those whom choose to lead on the newbe’s still be around?

    Thanks for getting my heat up
    Patrick Simpson

  15. says

    Great post.

    You’re right, the brain needs specific information and to be directed in a definitive way. I’m totally aligned with the idea of engaging human emotion! This underlies a lot of what we do.. in fact.. most of it!

    Awesome post, quality stuff.


  16. says

    Reminds me of the art of fly fishing…

    The fish will bite if the lure is attractive. (benefits = needs)

    And if the lure is in the right pond of hungry fish… (Good SEO or PPC)

    Happy fishing!

  17. says

    Hi Marcia,

    The idea of using emotion to grab reader’s attention would be really awesome. If we know they way to connect them emotionally then they will never get out of any business.


  18. says

    In this day and age, money isn’t always necessarily our most valuable commodity, more often than not, it’s time.

    From a marketing perspective, this reality makes “attention” is more valuable, and more difficult to capture, than ever before.

    Your “attention grabbing” strategies are excellent – tell a story, make it personal and use emotion are almost always the methods of approach.

    Great piece!

  19. says

    You reminded me of a true story. When I was in high school, my cheerleading coach was yelling at us about something (I’m sure we deserved it) when one of the girls gasped “Oh my God! Your hair is turning green!” All that followed was complete silence. The coach couldn’t even remember what she was upset with us about.

    It is hard to pay attention to too many things. Keeping it personal, speaking from your own experience and using emotion are all great ideas. Thanks for sharing Marcia.

  20. says

    Wonderful to see you here at Copyblogger again, Marcia! Have they freed up a cubicle for you yet? A little bird told me they’re making up a nameplate for your desk and a sign for your door. :)

    Loved this piece. You could use the information you’ve shared as “Step 1″ for almost any kind of content you’re producing — online or off.

    Everything starts with a “hook”.

    The “intro” to any writing you do almost has to be as good as a late-night talk show host’s monologue! Because if it isn’t …

    You’re toast!

  21. anoop sathiapal says

    The idea described in the post is very good. Capturing readers attention is very much important

  22. says

    It’s interesting to suddenly read this having just come off some SEO sites (which I am v. bad at) because whilst they preach all sorts of SEO wizardry, they are not too good on the personal and emotional stuff.

    But I suspect that’s a tribal thing…at least I know where I belong :)

    The challenge is that good emotional copy comes with practise; otherwise is risks sounding forced or banal.

  23. says

    We live in the attention economy. It’s called “paying attention” for a reason – people can pay only so much of it.

    Paris Hilton and other celebrities get paid well, because they capture and hold the attention of many people.

    Thanks for the post, Marcia

  24. juliana says

    a. special feature or discount.
    b. answer to reader’s problems.
    c. unusual headline, statement, fact.
    d. thought provoking.
    e. writing comment/ familiar saying.

  25. says

    Great article, Couldn’t agree more with adding emotion to grab attention to readers. Article writing and doing it propertly is something i need to improve as I am so involved with SEO writing and content that I have forgotten these great points you have given.

    P.S Free Beer is a great idea ha!

    Thanks for this post!

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