Readers make snap decisions about whether they will open your email, read your report or check out your blog. So you have to hook them right away.
First impressions count. So take the extra time, like you would for a first date, job interview or new school.
To do that, your title, subject line or head and the first paragraph or two should include:
1. a quick summary of what you’re going to explain
2. the most important details
3. the benefits to the reader
4. a balance of keywords and interest generators
5. how you’re going to explain
Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Chop up any unnecessary verbiage.
No setting the scene, providing background or personal chitchat. Cut to the chase.
For most people reading email, remember you start communicating with the subject line, then continue with the section that’s viewed in the preview pane, usually in text only. While the specifics may vary with the media, the most important part is always what people read first.
2. The most important details
Because so many people stop reading after the first paragraph or two, you have to pack in the vital information up front. Don’t wait to tell them which day your meeting will be.
Think about the W5s (Who, What, When, Where and Why) and make sure you cover all or at least the most important ones as soon as you can.
This creates an inverted pyramid style, where information is presented from the most important to least important. It works any time you think some people will not read through till the end.
3. What’s in it for me?
With so much writing clamoring for attention, you need to give readers a clear reason to start and continue by clearly stating reader benefits in the lead, or lede as some people still spell it.
Think about specific people you’re writing for or the people you would most like to read your work.
4. Keywords and interest
The challenge is to strike the right balance between an opening that captures the attention of readers and the bots. I favor the people, but thousands of SEO experts would disagree.
Ideally, you need clear titles and first sentences that help people find what they’re searching for combined with teasers, drama, memorable phrases and other ways to reel in readers.
Try balancing a catchy title with a first sentence with keywords or a simple title with keywords and a wild and crazy first paragraph.
Your title and lead will also introduce your logical structure. For example, you might be providing three tips to stay fit or five steps to set up your Facebook page or telling a story about a dog saving a baby from a cougar.
So you’ll need to know not only what you’re going to communicate and who you’re trying to reach, but also how you’re going to organize it.
This helps your readers and gives you a map to follow for the rest of your writing. Much easier than wandering aimlessly.
First impressions count most
Writing a great lead can be the most thought and time-consuming part of your writing. But by attracting readers and encouraging them to continue, it’s worthwhile.
It’s like spending extra time to get ready for a party or your first day of kindergarten. First impressions are everything.