How to Rock Your Readers Like a Hurricane

Hurricane

What does powerful, engaging content have in common with the brutal intensity of a hurricane? Quite simply, they are both unstoppable, irresistible forces.

Powerful content must resonate so strongly with the reader that she can’t turn away. Likewise, once you’re caught in the torrential rain, crushing winds, and merciless storm surge of a hurricane, you’ve got no choice but to ride it out to the end.

It may seem strange to use an adversarial analogy when trying to attract and engage readers, but attention is an adversarial function. Attention is a filtering process, which means that people are looking for any reason NOT to read your content.

When bombarded with hundreds or thousands of messages daily, the human mind finds it much easier to flee than to surrender precious attention. So, your content must lash out with irresistible force against the filters and keep the reader engaged from beginning to end.

Let’s take a look at how the storm develops.

The Storm Hits: Headlines and Hooks

If your headline is weak, the reader is gone… he boarded up the windows and left town before traffic got bad. That’s because the filtering process is strongest at the headline, and why skillful headline and title writing remains one of your top priorities.

You don’t have to write Cosmo-style headlines to capture attention, but you better know how to write a headline that attracts the people you’re after. Remember the “4 U” approach from Writing Headlines That Get Results?

  1. Be USEFUL to the reader
  2. Create a sense of URGENCY
  3. Provide a UNIQUE benefit
  4. Be ULTRA-SPECIFIC

The unique aspect of your headline is also your hook. And the hook must be carried over into the opening in order to truly suck the reader into the storm.

Keep in mind Hemingway’s advice about beginnings: Use short opening paragraphs. Too often I’ll be sucked in by a headline, only to be slammed with an impenetrable opening paragraph. It’s certainly possible to get people to read larger blocks of text, but it’s much easier once you’ve gained momentum.

I’ve written about openings before, but here’s a strategy that instantly engages and holds attention throughout. Create an open loop by starting with a dramatic story or anecdote, but don’t reveal the resolution before moving into the body of the content. By leaving the reader hanging, you’ve created a psychological tension that keeps the mind seeking closure and naturally engaged with the content.

For Pulp Fiction fans, think of the shocking opening scene (video not safe for work). We don’t see or find out what happens to Pumpkin and Honey Bunny until the final scene of the film. That’s one example of an open loop.

Into the Eye of the Storm: Crystal Clear Body Copy

After battering away at the attention filters with our torrential opening hook, it’s time to ease up and deliver the promised beneficial information. The eye of a hurricane is the calm center of the storm characterized by low surface pressure, light winds and no rain, and it’s a good guiding concept for the meat of your content.

Body content is an easy place to lose a reader to scanning, so make things easy with crystal clear, action-oriented and direct language. Structurally, this is where subheads, bullet points and/or numbered items will make a big difference in reader comprehension and retention.

For example:

  • Use clear and unique subheads to provide promises of what’s coming.
  • Use verb-leading bullet points to create tight, action-oriented information.
  • Use numbered lists to outline a process or group of elements.

Above all, deliver value. The emphasis on clarity in the body of your content leaves little room for fudging. If you don’t know your stuff, the storm blows over before you can move the reader to inspiration or action with a powerful close.

The Torrential Tail End: Closing With Passion

Have you ever read a reasonably useful list post on a blog, only to be left with a sense of emptiness when it just stops? A strong, passionate close is a hallmark of persuasive writing, and returning to the hurricane model, impossible to avoid once the eye passes by.

Rhetorical masters understand that the close means everything. After catching attention by appealing to the interests of the audience and laying out the logical aspects of an argument, those well-versed in oratory launch into the most emotionally-stirring portion of the presentation to prompt action or gain acquiescence.

Take a look at the close of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech (excerpted here). Rather than trailing off, the momentum of King’s message increases to Category 5 hurricane force.

For most content, you’re not going to get that dramatic. But structurally, it’s a great way to think.

For example, if you used the “open loop” technique mentioned above, the beginning of your close is the time to launch back into the story and close the loop, which leaves the reader emotionally satisfied by removing the psychological tension. Then express how the illustration supports the points made in your body content, and ask the reader to take some form of action if appropriate.

The Battle for Attention is Never Ending

Publishing and marketing online is a battle for attention. And it’s not getting any easier.

The battle is not with your competitors. In fact, forget about your competitors.

They’re irrelevant.

The trick is to focus on providing insane value to your readers and prospects. But don’t forget about those ruthless filtering mechanisms that each person employs to save themselves from information overload.

This is where the battle for attention is fought and won by successful online publishers and marketers. So get yourself in the “hurricane mindset” to craft content that truly rocks.

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Good stuff, Brian. Very needed in the current environment.

    Good form!

  2. I liked that hurricane analogy. Indeed.

    Buck

  3. No one like you can write an article with such a sting.

  4. Adam with the first Scorpions reference for the win. :-)

  5. These are great points. I like and see the loop method in almost everything.

    Ever watch the news?

    They really work at keeping your attention and use the loop method all the time. They run pre-show commercials and also mention a news story “coming up” throughout the newscast.

    When do you get to see this story?

    You have to wait until the end. Thank you TiVo!

  6. Perhaps this post will bring about the winds of change. If not, that’s okay…I’m still loving you.

    It’s great when you get all rock star, Brian. Plus, the post was helpful, too.

  7. While it may only be recognized by a particular audience, headlines like this catch one’s attention, and even get the mind singing…

    It’s early morning
    The sun comes out
    Last night was shaking
    And pretty loud

    Rock on!

  8. After Katrina the magnolias went into an immediate blooming season to push forth new life after the devastation and altered landscape left by the storm. Copy that encourages new life in others? Imperative action…yeah that could be copy like a hurricane.
    I guess leaving your competition in your wake like tumbled live oaks on uptown streets is going to set you apart from the crowd, ….just make sure you leave your audience with a clear idea of where the boat is and how to get on it…. :)
    All best, Jan
    How could I not comment on this one?

  9. Jan, indeed. I miss the old New Orleans, but I’m proud that it’s still vibrant thanks to people like you.

  10. The truth is I already knew all of this stuff.

    Also, I constantly have to be reminded of the stuff I already know.

    Great Post!

    This is why I keep coming back to copyblogger. It is the best on the internet.

    The Masked Millionaire
    http://www.TheMaskedMillionaire.com

  11. This post is highly informative, as the Masked Millionaire says…Most of us know this stuff but the constant reminders are essential. We learn, but rarely do we put into practice the knowledge we have learnt.

    Many thanks for this fantastic post!
    Kind Regards,
    Fabien

    P.S. Web 2.0 is the age for tackling short attention spans!

  12. Brian,

    Great post. This is actually one of my favorite copyblogger posts of the past six months. And anything that references “Pulp Fiction” is automatically top-notch.

  13. Alright, look. I’m barely recovering from the Crossroads post and I’m haunted by it like you wouldn’t believe, and then you hit me with this one.

    I won’t sleep for a week. Thank you.

  14. Oh, and I have to add that the specific reason I won’t sleep for a week is the second paragraph. You watch. I’m going to make hurricanes.

    ;)

  15. just wanted to tell you that I love you guys! Holy cow do you give good advice and make it look easy!

  16. Rock on. I’m going to forever associate my blog posts with the immortal words of Honeybunny. Great reminders of the need for effective, persuasive, knock-your-pants-off copy.

  17. “A strong, passionate close is a hallmark of persuasive writing.”

    I think this point may be the most overlooked one of many writers.

    I love the close–it really is where you slam home your message, for good or ill.

  18. Excellent post! The point that really stood out for me is simply being useful to your readers. I’m striving to give my readers solid, resourceful content. Thanks for the tips!

  19. Great post Brian, thanks.

    I love the reminder about closing the loop. Lots of great songs close the loop musically. I just listened to Van Halen’s “Right Now” which opens and ends with the same piano theme. A nice way to sandwich the driving rock in the middle. Very satisfying.

  20. Good points here, especially about the closings, when people post good link bait pieces or top quality resource lists, they leave you feeling
    flattened, with no desire to take action.

    Thanks,

    Dan
    http://marketersrelief.com

  21. This is the best site to learn about writing for effectiveness. Thanks

  22. Thanks for the great article! I like the analogy.

    Cory
    http://www.politivine.com

  23. I have to say, I read the 4 U’s (which honestly has been a great mystery to me – until now), and compared it against my latest headline which I *thought* would do well — it didn’t.

    Why?

    Here it is: “Did cereal make me fat? You decide”
    1. It was not useful to anyone
    2. No urgency
    3. Not only was there nothing unique, but there was no benefit
    4. It was specific, but 1 out of 4 doesn’t cut it.

    Thank you. Revising my approach accordingly.

  24. I agree with Dennis, this is one of the better sites to learn about writing more effectively. Thanks! I have so much to read!

  25. Yes, Content is the king while readers are concubines :D

  26. Thanks!

    To improve your opening line skills, try reading the first lines of novels – out loud. It’s ok to be an eccentric author roaming around book stores on the weekend!

  27. Between the comments and your post, i think just exemplified your point. Is the “she” reference in the intro body a plant!?!? I foresee many backlinks regarding content strategy here :) great stuff!