The Art of Keeping Your Audience Coming Back for More

image of Dashiell Hammett quote

We’re starving for stories.

We’re dying to know what happens next.

From those nights thousands of years ago flapping our jaws around the fire, to the hypnotizing work of J.J. Abrams and Charles Bukowski, a particular plot device has hooked us all more deeply than any other.

It’s arguably the most powerful tool ever used to keep fiction, film, and poetic audiences impatient, twitchy, and breaking down the doors for more.

And we see clearly now that it was tailor-made for content marketing on the web.

There’s a lot that goes into a great marketing story, but what we’re talking about here is the ancient literary workhorse called …

The cliffhanger

Traditionally, the cliffhanger is a striking event that happens at the end of an episode, chapter, scene, or season of a story. It leaves doubt in the reader’s mind — usually regarding the fate of the protagonist — and all but forces them to come back to see what happens next.

In terms of online content, you want each “scene” to lead your readers deeper and deeper into the movie of your business.

In this media-cluttered world, your blog, emails, social media outposts, and offline activities have to be undeniably good — but that isn’t enough.

You’ll hook readers with a terrific headline … but you’ll get them to read your next piece with the way you wrap it all up.

Every piece of content has to leave them wanting more.

Arthur Conan Doyle put us (and Sherlock Holmes) through the wringer week after week in the pages of The Strand Magazine.

They couldn’t keep enough issues on the stands.

What if you ended each message in your email autoresponder with a fascinating teaser about all the great beneficial content they’re going to get in the next message?

The writers of Dallas (ask your parents) knew exactly what they were doing when they wrote the line “Who shot J.R.?”

Tortured viewers had to wait all summer to find out if the show’s wicked but charismatic main character lived or died.

What if you built mystery, anticipation, and fever around the release of your next product by building something that does so much for customers that they can’t wait to get their hands on it?

Fans of Lost were so impatient for next episodes of the show that they started posting their own scripts online to try and slake their thirst for it.

What if you sold something so valuable, and with such style, that your customers couldn’t help but become creative partners in the marketing of your store?

If you think you’re in the contracting, software, retail, graphic design, copywriting, or dry cleaning business, you’re wrong.

You’re in show business baby.

All the Internet’s a stage, and all the content creators merely players.

No matter what business you’re in, the best story wins. And one element of a great story is to leave ’em hanging.

So who did shoot J.R.? Find out next season in the comments below …

About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse.

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Reader Comments (64)

  1. says

    I like the cliffhanger idea. May be tough for my site but I’ll have to do some brainstorming for ideas.

    • says

      It’s a great idea and an idea I totally forgot about! Cliffhangers always suck me in and make me want more .. Going to test them out in my future posts.

  2. says

    I think the idea of treating your content like a movie teaser with cliffhanger’s and suspense is a great way to keep readers coming back and wanting more. However, besides having a great headline and content to go along, I’ve always heard that your first sentence/opening paragraph needs to be killer in order to hold your audience and have them want to continue reading. You can loose them if the beginning doesn’t bring them in. What are your thoughts?

  3. says

    Great post Robert! Cliffhangers are a powerful tool.
    You see this plenty in night time television. (Desperate Housewives).
    Itโ€™s like dangling keys in front of a baby.

    P.S. This is great dating advice too ; )

  4. says

    I had tried in the past announcing the content for the next mail. Now, with your post, the idea of creating a mystery is something that I think I could try with my list.

  5. says

    This post was so helpful. It can be hard to think creatively when you’re also focusing on content marketing. Business doesn’t have to be boring! I’ll have to keep brainstorming and referring back to this article.

  6. says

    I love the idea of the cliff-hanger and it is definitely on my list of “what I need to do with my content”…along with “improving headlines”. One step at a time I guess…

  7. says

    Great post today Robert.

    “You’re in show business baby” is so true. Our audience is not just starving for a story, they’re starving to feel something that engages them and lifts them up.

    Joe ๐Ÿ˜€

  8. says

    As the resident raconteur Robert, it behoves you to know how to write.

    Fans of Lost were so impatient for next episodes of the show that they started posting their own scripts online to try and slake their thirst for it.

    There is a grammatical error in that sentence. Can you identify it?

    I am exceedingly tempted to write a “7 Grammar Mistakes Copyblogger Forget to Tell You.” This is bad news.

    But other than that, a very, very fine article. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • says

      As an up-and-coming blogger who is trying to attract people with a “friendly but professional approach,” it behooves you, Martyn, to learn how many o’s to include in the word “behoove” and to adopt a less aggressive, more constructive mode of editorial criticism.

      Just sayin’…

      At least we can agree that this post rocked…

    • says

      7 Grammar Mistakes Copyblogger Forget to Tell You? Forget? In addition to misspelling behooves?

      And there is no grammatical error in that sentence. Or do you not know what “slake” means?

        • says

          Without professional editing, it’s impossible to catch every grammatical and spelling mistake. My wife has two English degrees, and she’s the only person I know that can catch all of them.

          She also gets annoyed that professional news sites now frequently publish articles with spelling and grammatical errors. It seems that the speed of electronic publishing has increased the number of errors that slip through the cracks. That’s just the way it is.

          With that said, it’s in a bloggers best interest to cut down on as many mistakes as possible to maintain an air of professionalism. And, as Brian said, there’s a difference between grammatical errors and conversational copywriting. Conversation is better than convention when it comes to copywriting. Brian, would you agree?

  9. says

    A great way to apply this is by splitting post ideas into a series of articles.

    Let’s say your post is called “3 steps to Irresistible Sales Pages”.
    For article 1 you can write about the first step. At the end of the article slip in a “stay tuned for next time when we’ll talk about the 2nd step…”

    and repeat this at the end of the 2nd article to entice the reader back for the 3rd step.

    -Readers come back to your blog multiple times building their trust in you
    -It’s easier on the reader because they can concentrate on one tip at a time

  10. says

    Oh funny, Robert – that “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger had me hanging on and showed up front and center for when the season started again (and I was only around 7 years old). It was THAT good! I had forgotten too, Barbara. I don’t even remember Kristen’s character.

    Ha – the link to Apple’s keynote. I was thinking the same thing when I watched that… how a company can create such raving fans that the event can be seen as the “red carpet event” of the business industry. Apple has genius planning. Amazing.

    Love your teaching in this post.

  11. says

    Hi Robert,

    I really like the posts on Copyblogger that remind us to use storytelling for marketing. Cliff hangers are a great way to do that.

    This was a great post and I look forward to more.

  12. says

    The cliffhanger definitely keeps me coming back for more in movies and books. The hook that pulls me along…. :O)

  13. says

    Wow, great minds think alike! I recently wrote a similar post on my blog about how running a business is a lot like show business. I love Copyblogger’s articles, they’re always entertaining and informative.

  14. says

    great post Robert! One thing this highlights to me is the need for an overall content strategy. If you’ve got no strategy then you probably don’t know what your next post is going to be about, making it tough to create the ‘cliffhanger’. Is there a particular ‘cliffhanger’ instance you’ve seen in content marketing that’s really caught your eye?


  15. says

    this is exactly in-line with a thought I have just had earlier today, it was to do a week long series with a post a day and ask readers to subscribe to keep up with the series. I think this will have a great impact on the blogs subscription conversion rate.

  16. Sarah Russell says

    I’m trying to do something like this with my email autoresponder series in terms of prompting people with what to expect next week, but then I actually have to plan ahead and figure out what’s coming next… :)

    But great reminder, thanks. A lot of people have been writing about the power of stories lately and it’s such an important thing to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing!

  17. says

    And not unlike the winning formula for AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad. But I also see where iterations of the cliffhanger effect at work in the marketing world. I used to work for Brooks Brothers–known for its fierce and loyal client base–and the anticipations that hinged on the new seasonal line kept customers coming back each season.
    Yep, that’s all I got. Back to work.

  18. says

    The cliffhanger idea is a fun one, but what you’ve really described here is a teaser. A cliffhanger would assume that you’ve left something very important out until next time — which is most cases you probably don’t want to do! But the idea of encouraging folks to come back is a smart one. The teaser at the end is an interesting idea, but it will only have an impact if the article itself is good enough to make the reader want to check out the next part in the series.

    Using sidebars and links within the text to related content is another form of this, and might even be more effective in the long run.

  19. says

    In Cliffhanging….Internet Marketer Andrew Lock (‘Help! My Business Sucks’ Guy) is doing such a great job. He’s doing in a very entertaining and teasing way.

  20. says

    Bless you for referencing Dallas. I had completely forgotten about it! You make your point very well. Furthermore, you give me yet another challenge to try with my blog. Thank you! This is definitely worth the read. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  21. says

    Mr. Bruce, you seize to amaze me with these classic articles. I’m loving them. Bringing these age old, classic lessons of advertising, marketing, and storytelling to our content production.

    As the Black Eyed Peas say, “I just can’t get enough.”

  22. says

    “The writers of Dallas (ask your parents)…” Ouch! I don’t have kids, but it’s always nice to be reminded that I am old enough to. I do take some solace in the fact that they would likely be too young for copyblogger.
    Your advice is always helpful. I’ll give the cliffhanger a whirl. I’m not a trained writer, so it makes absolute sense that I would be tasked with writing our blogs. Your guidance has been essential. Thanks!

  23. says

    Great tips, Robert and you do walk the talk indeed with the J.R. teaser :).
    Definitely building excitement will make readers devour your content and I guess it’s equally important that every time they really get something valuable out of it.
    It’s like adding one piece of puzzle at a time so that they would feel they’re moving forward and will sooner or later solve the mystery.
    Another thing I would add is that this kind of writing requires a lot more of work. It’s like creating an outline of your entire article series ahead of time. It may sounds like a daunting task but I believe the rewards are well worth the time and effort you put into it. I will give it a try for sure. Thanks a lot. Your article was a joy to read :).

  24. says

    Brilliant idea! I never thought of bloggers being in show business. Loved the line

    “All the Internetโ€™s a stage, and all the content creators merely players.”

    Hope to use the cliff hanger idea on my blog soon !

  25. says

    Love this cliffhanger idea. What I did is to break up a big blog post into smaller parts and ask readers to watch out for the next one.

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