A 3-Step Formula for Captivating Your Audience With a Few Opening Lines

Peacock seduction

You’ve worked so hard.

You’ve written an incredibly helpful post.

You know your audience will be delighted, as your tips are easy to implement and you’ve proven they work.

You’ve tweaked and polished until you found the perfect headline. It grabs attention. It arouses curiosity. It’s powerful. You’re happy.

But then a nagging doubt creeps in …

What if your opening is so boring that nobody reads on? What if your opening sucks and everyone clicks away?

The thought can paralyze even the most experienced bloggers.

You can do it

As writers, you and I are battling for attention in a distracted world.

We need to work damn hard to captivate and then keep our readers’ attention. We need to mesmerize them so they ignore the emails popping up. We need to hypnotize them so they don’t hear their phones ringing.

Sometimes it may feel like an impossible task. How can we pull readers into our blog posts so they keep reading?

Well, it might be easier than you think.

In the past two years I’ve studied hundreds of blog post openings and I’ve found a simple 3-step formula that almost guarantees your opening paragraph will be hypnotic.

Sound good?

Lesson from a master seductionist

Let’s look at a quick example first.

It’s from a post by Jon Morrow:

Ever feel like all of the “good” topics in your niche have already been worn out by more popular blogs?

A post about getting more blog traffic or living more frugally may be interesting the first time you read about it. Maybe it’ll even catch your attention the fifth or tenth time you see it.

But what about the 50th time? Or the 100th? Doesn’t it get a little … tired?

Sure, you can go to the content crossroads for new angles and spins, and it works … for a while. If your niche is super crowded, eventually it feels like even the devil couldn’t find you a new angle. And you start to wonder: how are you supposed to stand out, writing about the same old stuff?

You’d think it would be impossible, but it’s not. You just have to be a little sneaky …

Can’t resist the urge to read the remainder of Jon’s post? Just click here. But please do come back to learn how to write an opening paragraph that’s as seductive as Jon’s.

Ready?

Step 1: Empathize with your reader’s struggle

Jon starts with a killer question that addresses you, the reader, directly: Don’t you feel like all the good topics have been taken?

He pulls you into his post because he seems to know exactly what you’re struggling with. And he empathizes with your feelings.

As a reader you find yourself nodding your head in agreement with Jon’s points. Yes, I do feel the good topics have been worn out. And yes, I do get a little tired reading so many posts about the same stuff. And yes, of course, I do wonder how I can stand out in a crowded niche.

When readers start nodding yes, they get into an almost hypnotic state. They can’t help themselves — they have to continue reading, because they feel the post is written especially for them, to solve their problems.

Have you noticed how often Jon uses the words you and your? This is how he makes you feel he’s speaking to you directly.

This type of blog post opening only works if you know exactly what your reader is struggling with. You need to understand the problems he’s facing and you need to offer specific help to solve them. Your opening paragraph will immediately fall flat when a reader thinks I don’t have this problem; this is not for me.

When you start writing your opening paragraph, picture yourself writing to one person only: an imaginary friend, your younger self, or your favorite reader. When you act as a personal coach for one reader, you find it much easier to picture and describe the scene in which your reader is struggling.

You also avoid using a condescending tone, because you’re talking to a friend, a real person. Your writing immediately becomes more conversational, more empathetic, and more seductive. Your writing draws your readers into your post because they feel you understand them and you’re going to help them.

Step 2: Promise your reader a benefit

Why would readers make an effort to read your blog post and follow your advice? Why would they care?

The answer to these big why questions is what Chip and Dan Heath call a destination postcard. A postcard shows your reader where he’s headed: a wonderful holiday with white beaches, sunny weather, and delicious cocktails; or a life where your reader is not struggling anymore with problems like living frugally, finding a good blog topic, or writing an opening paragraph.

In the example above, Jon hints at your destination: you can stand out even if you write about the same old stuff. Jon promises you that he’ll help you. You just need to read his post.

Your opening paragraph opens up a gap between where your reader is now (how to write about the same old stuff) and where he’d like to be (you can stand out even if you write about the same old stuff).

As a blogger, you address your reader’s struggles, empathize with him, and then promise him you’ll help.

Your reader doesn’t want to waste his time reading your post because so much other content is waiting to be read or watched. Your reader wants to be sure that he’ll get something out of your post.

So, you have to tell him his destination: either his problem will go away, or he’ll become smarter or happier once he’s read your post.

Step 3: Provide reassurance

You’ve now learned the two most important steps of writing an opening paragraph.

You know how to empathize with your reader and you know how to promise something good. Now, there’s one more potential issue you need to address.

Quite often as a blogger you touch on issues that seem far too big to solve in just one 1,500-word blog post. Can you really learn how to stand out when writing about the same boring old stuff by reading Jon’s post? Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?

This doubt may put readers off. But Jon takes it away. He reassures you that it’s not impossible, you just have to be a little sneaky …

We’re all a little lazy. We love solutions that are simple, straightforward, and seemingly effortless. So when your reader starts thinking this sounds too difficult or too much work, you have to reassure him that you’ll offer a simple trick, a secret tip, or an easy formula.

Of course, you can’t just promise it in the opening … you need to deliver it with the rest of your blog post.

Now, let’s have a look at how to apply this formula to your writing.

The 3-step formula in action (plus a bonus tip)

When you next write an opening paragraph, think about your ideal reader. Picture him struggling with the problem you’ll address in your blog post.

Your ideal reader should be so real that you can see him huffing and puffing, and pulling silly faces because he doesn’t know how to solve a problem.

Last year I wrote a guest post about email marketing -— it was the most shared Copyblogger post in 2013. To write the opening paragraph for this post, I imagined one Copyblogger reader sitting behind her desk getting frustrated with email stats:

  1. I empathize with her frustration
  2. I promise her a destination where she’d be happy with her email stats
  3. I reassure her that writing engaging emails doesn’t need to be too hard

I applied the 3-step formula as follows:

We’ve all been there …

You’ve carefully crafted an email. You’ve polished each sentence. You’ve racked your brain for the very best subject line.

You hit publish with a sigh of relief. That’s done.

But when you look at your email stats, you notice that the opens aren’t as good as you’d hoped, and the click-throughs are disappointing. It’s depressing.

Does it feel like a big challenge to get people to open and read your emails? And then to go on to click through?

It doesn’t really need to be so hard. You’re about to learn the most important advice I’ve found for writing emails that get opened, read, and clicked.

This opening paragraph uses one extra trick: it starts with a super-short sentence.

Short sentences are easy to gobble up in one bite. They don’t require any effort from your readers. They only require a glance, then your reader can move on to the next sentence.

By making it so easy to read the first sentence, your opening becomes more seductive. Readers effortlessly glide to your second sentence and then on to the next sentence.

That’s how you seduce readers to keep reading. That’s how you get them to yearn for the tips and tricks you’re promising them.

The art of seducing your readers

You might think you’re a blogger.

You might see yourself as a writer.

But to pull your readers into your posts, you need to become a psychologist.

You need to sneak into the minds of your readers so you know exactly what they’re struggling with. You need to understand their feelings of frustration, worry, and despair.

Writing a good blog post means simply persuading a reader that this post is for him, that you’ll share your best advice to help him, guide him, and comfort him.

And once you’ve given him your best advice, you only need to kick his butt to get him to implement your tips.

So, come on. You can do it. Go write a seductive opening for your next post! :-)

Editor’s Note:

This blog post is based on a chapter of Henneke’s upcoming book Blog to Win Business. Sign up to her list so you don’t miss the book launch.

Flickr Creative Commons Image by doug88888

About the Author: Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent marketer and copywriter on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook and to add sparkle to boring business blogs. For more writing tips, join her Enchanting Marketing newsletter.

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Comments

  1. This reminds me a lot about writing advertising copy. Short, bite-sized sentences do you wonders.

    If you pick the right ones, you’ll have people feeling for your article within the first couple sentences. Crafting your posts as if it was explicitly written for them alone is definitely one of the best tactics, too.

    • Yep, you’re absolutely right.

      A lot of techniques for writing direct response advertising are also applicable to writing blog posts.

      :)

    • James,

      You are so right. My editor is on me because I ramble on and on. The other day she deleted 5 words out of a 10 word sentence. Short and to the point is my new goal.

      -Renee’

    • I’ve been reading Joseph Sugarman’s “Adweek Copywriting Handdbook,” and I love how he simplifies things to this:

      “The purpose of the headline is to get you to read the first sentence of copy.”

      “The purpose of the first sentence of copy is to get you to read the second sentence of copy.”

      And so on.

      This was a real eye opener for me! : )

  2. Henneke,

    This may be one of my favorite posts from you. I especially like the destination postcard concept.

    And this post does something beyond the words you’ve written. It’s an example for bloggers who struggle with writing about the same topics over and over. You focused on one small part of a blog (the opening) and the benefit that comes from doing it well (getting people to read your whole post).

    It’s almost magic. Narrowing your focus can turn “nothing new to write about” into three, four or five incredibly rich blog posts.

    • Yep, I love the idea of the destination postcard, too. It’s so visual, isn’t it? Chip and Dan Heath discuss this in their book Switch – highly recommended!

      And you’re absolutely right. Once you’ve written enough blog posts about the bigger picture, it’s time to go more in-depth. Google loves it when bloggers do that, too. :-)

  3. Wow! Thanks for the inspiration! I think I CAN do that. I’m going to get to work on writing a seductive opening paragraph for my next post and will keep the 3 step formula in mind now every time I write a new post!

    Great stuff here, Henneke! And now I’m going to sign up for your newsletter and new book launch because you inspired me and I want to hear more from you. Thanks!

  4. Love this post.

    I am a strong advocate of doing your market research so you can identify better with your target audience.

    Writing copy becomes soooo much easier once you understand the conversation that is already taking place in their mind.

    Seduce them to the solution…great post and thank you!

    • Yep, you’re absolutely right. When you don’t know whom you’re talking to, it’s difficult to seduce them ;-)

  5. I really love the idea of the postcard.

    It shows the destination of a beautiful place and makes the viewer feel something special even if he isn’t there at the current moment!

    That gives me some thought on how your posts (specially the introduction) should paint them a picture of the final result of reading your post through.

    I’ve also believed that the easier, most entertaining, short introductions will leave the best impressions.

    Create hypothetical situations that your audience can relate to and spark emotion through that to what their reading.

    Be you, use the word “you”, show them you care, be creative by use of words – your readers will notice you’re keeping them glued to your words.

    Thanks for writing Henneke.

    - Sam

    • Yes, I’m a big fan of brevity, too. If your intro is too long, readers are going to wonder when (or whether!) you’re finally going to tell them something useful.

  6. This is very timely! I’m just starting out trying to translate all that’s in my head to carefully crafted blog posts to show that I can really help if you would just finish reading my post. ;)

  7. Empathize, promise, and reassure – three great paths to a successful opener! And this blog explained and touched on all the points most succinctly. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed the read!

  8. Hi Henneke,

    Beautifully articulated. I can vouch for this approach.

    Of late I’ve been adopting a similar approach. Before writing a blog I actually imagine myself sitting across the table from one of my readers. I empathise with them (it helps to actually create an empathy map).

    I actually imagine that person’s frustrations and challenge and then I ‘speak’ to that person in conversational tone as if I was speaking to him/her across the table.

    The results speak for themselves. My reader engagement has gone up since I’ve used this approach. Readers are spending more time on the site and the average page views are creeping up.

    Thanks for the beautifully articulated post.

    • Sounds great!

      And yep, I agree – writing in a conversational tone really increases reader engagement, too.

  9. Funny how to do stuff that works without knowing really why it works. I think I’ve done this a few times by mistake and the results were golden. Good to know how to reproduce the results now.

    • Yes, I know the feeling. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly why something is good. It took me a while to figure it out.

  10. I told my japanese friends about your blog and I will spread the word for you, thanks again for the powerful blogging tips, I’m loving it!!!

  11. This is the perfect post for me at the perfect time. I just started a podcast and I am going to use these ideas in the writing of the podcast too. Thank you much for the great inspiration.

    -Renee’

  12. The idea of the destination is great. I think making that clearer is important. I can think of numerous (as in hundreds :) ) emails where I might not have pointed the way, so to speak. I’ll have to go back and read a few of these and see, now that they’re “cold”. The idea of the destination is kind of like putting arrows on detours to make sure travelers are reassured they’re still on the right path.

  13. Hello

    Very well-articulated and your this blog post sticks to the message that it intends to deliver.

    Although I tend to be a bit wayward when I’m writing on my own blog or website, I actually apply this method when creating landing pages for one of my clients (there is just one client that gets landing pages from me) – think of the most pressing problem the person accessing the landing page is facing and start from there. You can either acknowledge that you understand the problem and hence you have a solution or directly begin with a solution.

    Empathy is very important because it gets you on the same page as your reader.

    Visiting this blog after a very long time and I observe the quality here still remains unmitigated.

  14. This post was extremely helpful for me. As recent college graduate trying to push my way into the online marketing/blogging industry, I am always looking for new and fresh ideas to push my writing further! Thanks a lot!

  15. Henneke,

    What a delight! You certainly walk the walk. You connect with the audience in such a fresh and personal way that it is pure pleasure to take a pause with you. A walk down that garden path…whether or not the final pay off is there, the trip is reward in itself.

    Why? Because you were such a wonderful student of Jon’s. For that brief moment, you understand ME. That connection is priceless…and pay off enough. The fact that there is more just seals the deal and justifies my taking the time.

    Honestly, I’ve been peeking at your writerly journey for many months. I’ve seen you guest post on Copyblogger. Caught you on Boost Blog Traffic and a couple of other guest gigs. I even gave you my email a couple of months back.

    Didn’t take me too long to connect the dots and figure out that the blooming of your natural talent was in part due to your hanging out with a cool crowd of mentors.

    Another path I’ll be happy to follow you down.

    Another post well done.

    Cheers!

    • I feel more like a stalker than someone hanging out with a cool crowd ;-)

      Thank you for your kind words, Lori. I feel grateful that you’re allowing my emails in your inbox!

  16. Blog posts written like sales copy – works a treat every time !

    This is an awesome post, Henneke – loved it.

    - Razwana

  17. For me this post is profoundly depressing. The message is: if you’ve nothing interesting to write, here is how to get people to read more of it anyway. I’m not a blogger but wouldn’t the world be a better place if you wrote nothing until you had an angle or perspective that was worth sharing. Why not measure your success by whether you are actually writing something worth reading?
    If you read Dear Sugar (http://therumpus.net/sections/dear-sugar/) or Mr Money Moustache (http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/) or one of many fabulous blogs, you’ll notice they do great work. They build their audience by engaging their readers with great writing, making you visit even when they stopped writing 2 years ago – in the vain hope another article has posted.
    My counter-advice to bloggers would be to write something worth reading every week for several years and leave the cheap tricks to the vanity metric junkies.
    Now back to writing a speech which follows your 3 rules with bonus tip…

    • Simon, thanks for commenting, but I could not disagree with you more. The message of this post is that there is a simple formula for engaging your readers right off the bat … so that they will keep reading your angle and perspective that are worth sharing. It goes without saying here at Copyblogger — or should, at this point — that you have to have a valuable piece of content. No headline tip or blog-opening tip means anything if it’s not drawing people to a great piece of content.

      • Dear Jerod – Thanks for replying, I’m going to end up working late due to commenting…

        If you want to engage readers from the start, start in the middle, “I did not eat your jeans. Well, not on purpose anyway”. (Pat Jennings)

        The opening statements and critical example in this post are aimed at, and are about, people who have nothing to say and are wondering how to make people read their work. My view is that is what this article is about.

        It is also true that it presents a formula which supposedly engages an audience which is backed up by an analysis which anyone reading the comments this far down has already forgotten. That isn’t what the article is about because none of the signalling leads you in that direction. Look at the other comments, they are from people who identify with the predicament of the person the opening statements are aimed at.

        Simon

        ps. I am still going to hypocritically steal this approach for a speech I’m making in 2 weeks time.

    • I’m sorry if that’s the impression you get. That’s not my intention at all.

      Bloggers should never waste their readers’ time. Bloggers should always provide value in return for readers giving up their time and making an effort to read a post.

  18. Great advice. Going try this for my next post. I just fear that it will look like I’m trying to be witty and clever when actually it’s not so people won’t like what I write

    Jenni

    • Your opening should feel as natural as having a conversation with your reader.

      Sometimes it helps to read the post aloud and hear how it sounds. If it sounds too clever than try to simplify it.

      Good luck! Hope it works.

  19. I’ve read a lot of content. A lot has impressed me. A lot has also made me nauseous. Here’s the diff between “good”, “great” and “WOW-fantastic!”:

    “Good” makes sense.

    “Great” has flow, narrative, and maybe some stats.

    “Fantastic” has the meat and potatoes (aka stats, figures, etc.) intertwined with the gravy, peas, and carrots (oh, and cranberry sauce.) In other words “fantastic” has the facts and figures AND the storyline.

    If fantastic writing (or a great presentation) could be described as food, imagine that dash of salt and pepper on a nice, juicy lamb chop; that sprinkle of cinnamon on top of whipped cream (on top of a pie); a single mint leaf coupled with just one blueberry for a homemade vanilla yogurt; that sprig of something green on any kind of plate; that last zesty touch of a lemon peel.

    In other words, the levels of good-great-and-fantastic writing has to do with the “Wow!” factor of a finishing touch which is a conclusion that is only as charming or undeniable as a great intro and main story.

  20. Thanks for the well articulated tips. I especially appreciated your enthusiasm about seducing your readers. It really is a craft and a joy to be a writer, and we are so lucky to do it!

  21. I try to do this, but I do not like to offer suggestions, I like to analyze things in principle, readers find their own solutions.

  22. Nice Post… These are very Nice Tips to the writers…I like the art of seducing Readers… Thanks For Sharing

  23. Great insights, Henneke. While your post is aimed at writing copy, it is also essential for writing fiction. If you don’t get a reader engaged on the first page, most will put your book down. Short sentences and deep point of view engage the reader quickly and hook them to keep reading chapter after chapter. Can’t wait to read your book.

    • Yes, that’s so true. I’ve recently realized there are quite a lot of similarities between blogging and writing fiction.

      If you enjoyed this post, then I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy my book. Stay tuned :)

  24. Great and clear post! I will use this in my class. Your advice provides a pragmatic approach to Aristotle’s rhetorical means (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-rhetoric/#means) .

    1.Empathize with your reader’s struggle (pathos)
    2.Promise your reader a benefit (logos)
    3.Provide reassurance (ethos)

    Your method is succinct and efficient!

    • Very cool to relate this to Aristotle.

      It makes sense…

      Philosophers like Aristotle and Plato understood human beings and how they interact with their environments.

      No wonder the principles they distilled are helpful in modern day modes of communication like blogging, marketing, and copywriting….they’re timeless!

      • Yes, I agree with Melissa.

        Aristotle didn’t know about Twitter, blogging, or search engine optimization. But we can still learn from the old philosophers. Despite technological innovations human desires and fears have remained the same.

  25. Hello Henneke,

    Thank you for this very useful article. I always have troubles writing the first few sentences of my articles.

    I learned a lot about writing headlines, but I do realize now that the introduction is just as important. Otherwise people won’t read the rest of your article.

    I will use this three step formula to create the intro’s of my new blog posts.

    A good choice to take John Morrow as your example. I read so many blogs but he is definitely one of the best at writing viral/seducing/engaging copy.

    Cheers,

    Bastiaan

    • Jon Morrow is indeed a master seductionist – I’ve learned so much from studying his blog posts :)

  26. Another great post, Henneke!

    I really appreciate the breakdown of the 3-step formula. It makes it so much easier to implement!

    I also enjoyed the discussion of really getting into a reader’s head and promising to solve a problem.

    I’m in the middle of writing a blog post for a client’s jewelry company. The post is a creative piece about Isis – an Egyptian Goddess – because my client’s first handcrafted piece was a silver cuff with an etching of Isis.

    In reading your words, it hit me that, even in a post on Isis, I can apply these principles by working with the emotions that the content evokes.

    For instance, many people feel that there is a certain something lacking in our modern, over-stimulated culture. Inviting creative and philosophical elements of ancient cultures into one’s life and surroundings can bring some flavor of a more simplistic and free-flowing way of being.

    Thanks, Henneke! I’ve got a post to work on!

    Melissa

    • Sounds like you’re working on a great blog post, Melissa!

      And yes, this technique can work for (almost?) any topic.

      Good to see you here :-)

  27. Great information. Good insight. Only now we need to make sure that the content is just as intriguing and interesting..

  28. This is really excellent. And simple. Just 3 steps. And… for me, at least, it makes sense. That’s sort of my guide – not how slick or impressive or how many ‘likes’ it has. And no magic bullet. But, does it make sense?

    Thanks!!!

  29. Hi Henneke!

    Great post!
    I think one should start by slogans, motivational lines, surprising stories and much more things like that which make the reader curious..

    These things have always worked for me :)