I truly don’t care why you wrote your blog post.
It doesn’t matter that you were sitting in a coffee shop with your friend, Joe, when you were discussing some amazing idea. I don’t care that those of us who may know you may know that you’re committed to saving the manatees. I don’t care that you’ve been reading Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book, “And The Horse You Rode In On.” (Not a real Gary Vaynerchuk book.)
I want you to impress the hell out of me and make me want to read your post. And frankly, telling me that you were discussing the importance of light bulb recycling over a non-fat lemon chai with ginger sprinkles — which is Doug Karr’sfavorite drink — doesn’t impress me at all.
(I will admit that I am still guilty of these kinds of leads sometimes, but have committed to never do them again.)
An opening sentence in a blog, also called a lead — or lede if you’re a newspaper traditionalist — is supposed to grab your readers’ attention and fling them to the next paragraph (graf, if we’re still going old-school newspaper). The goal of that graf is to propel people to the one after that, and so on.
But you’re not even going to get out of the starting gate if your lead sucks.
When I took my Intro to Journalism class way back when newspapers were still thriving, our professor drummed the importance of writing good leads into us for weeks. “It’s the most important sentence in the entire article,” he would tell us. “Your lead tells people exactly what happened, but it does it with drama and flair.”
In short, your lead doesn’t blather about coffee shops and books. Your lead needs to grab people and intrigue them, or it needs to provide information, or both.
My lead — the fact that I don’t care about why you wrote your blog post — is a true one. I really don’t. Or if I do, I don’t want it to be the first thing you tell me. Drop it in later, if you want to give me the background. It can almost be an aside, but it shouldn’t be the thing you start with.
I think we get into storytelling mode when we write blog posts. We’re so used to “Once upon a time” that we think it’s important to our blog writing as well. Believe me, I love a good story. I love telling stories, hearing stories, reading stories. But when I go to a blog, I want to be educated and informed.
Chances are, your lead is buried under 3 – 4 paragraphs. You could get rid of the opening couple of paragraphs and be all set, although some writers will tell you — maybe a little cynically — that most people could get rid of the first half, and still be fine.
So when you write your blog post, start it any way you want. But then go back and start deleting paragraphs until you get down to the most important point in the whole piece. Lead off with that. If you need to add the old paragraphs back in for background information, do it. But do it later on in the piece.
As you get better, and your leads begin to surface sooner, you’ll reach the point where you’re writing that stellar opening lead right off the bat, getting your readers’ attention earlier, and propelling them all the way through the post. Time on site will go up, conversions will go up because people made it all the way to the end, and you’ll look like a genius.
And you can tell me all about it over a cup of coffee.
Photo credit: JudsonD (Flickr)