Have you ever sat down to write and suffered from Opening Line Paralysis (OLP)?
It happens to me all the time—in fact it’s taken me about 15 minutes just to start this post. You know what topic you want to write about, and you might even have more main points in mind, but you just don’t know how to kick the post off!
If you suffer from OLP, you’re not alone—many of us bloggers do.
First impressions countWe all have a message drummed into us throughout life: people make snap judgements on you based upon the first impression you give. In many instances, those judgements are lasting ones.*
The same is true for your blog posts. Your opening line really does matter—readers will make a snap decision about whether to read your post by how you open that post, both in the headline or title and the opening line.
It’s no wonder that so many of us feel pressure to get our first lines right.
*It’s worth noting that you can bounce back from a poor first impression. For example, the first thing my wife ever said to me was, “Hi Michael, it’s nice to meet you.” Not a great opening … but I married her within a year!
How can you craft an opening line that will draw people into your post?
There’s no one right way to open a blog post. However, over the years I’ve experimented with a number of formulas that have worked for me.
Note that while I’m writing here about opening lines of blog posts, much of what follows can also be applied to blog post titles, too.
1. Start with a question
Lets start with the approach I took in this post—I asked you a question. The question I chose to ask in this post was one that attempted to make you remember a time when you’d faced a problem or need—paralysis at the beginning of writing a blog post (a fairly common problem).
This technique may not draw every single person who reads it into the post, but it will hopefully draw in those that can relate to the need.
There are of course other types of questions that can be used. Here are a few I could have gone with in this post:
- Did you know that 9 out of 10 of your blog readers don’t get past the first line of your posts? This line contains the shock factor, but also puts a finger on the need we’ll be addressing.
- How do you open blog posts? This type of question signals the topic to readers but also shows you’re interested in their opinions.
- What’s one of the most common problems that bloggers have when sitting down to write posts? This question doesn’t touch on the actual need, but is designed to intrigue readers and will hopefully draw them in to find out if they have the problem.
- Do you want to learn how to open your blog posts more effectively? This question only really has one answer: “yes.” Asking questions that have a “yes” answer puts your readers into a “yes” frame of mind, and hopefully one that makes them more positive and receptive to your solutions to their problems.
Let’s look at some examples from other sites.
Example: Does the traffic coming to your site come in a Yo-Yo like cycle of ups and downs that never really seems to go anywhere in the long run?—from 21 Ways to Make Your Blog or Website Sticky.
Example: “How do you take Portraits that have the ‘Wow’ factor?“—from 10 Ways to Take Stunning Portraits
Of course there are many other types of questions that you could go with. If you’ve used some in your opening lines I’d love to hear them in comments below.
2. Start with a statistic
“Only 1 out of every 100 readers Comment on your blog.” I used this opening line on one of my most popular posts here on ProBlogger. It’s a line that readers often quote back to me as a statistic that they’ve heard me say.
Stats can quickly and effectively communicate a need or sum up a topic in a way that few other phrases can.
3. State a need or problem
I regularly find myself staring at an empty Word document, wondering how to start my blog posts.
If your post is about helping people to overcome some need, problem or challenge that they have, a simple statement about your own experience of that need can be an effective way to go. Putting it in these personal terms shows your readers that you’re able to empathize with their need, and are writing from a more personal point of view.
Alternatively, you might not have the problem yourself. You could write in a less personal tone, but still highlight the need your reader might have.
4. Start with a reader’s question
I’ve used this technique many times in my posts. Simply take a question that a reader has asked in a blog comment, in an email, or on Twitter and put it at the top of your post (I always ask those who asked the question for permission first if it was asked via email or in some other private setting).
Taking this approach shows your readers that you’re interested in hearing questions. It also shows that what you are writing about is relevant, and emerging out of the real needs that your readership has.
Example: “Help me – I’m photographing my first Wedding!… Help me with some Wedding Photography Tips Please!“—from 21 Tips for Amateur Wedding Photographers.
5. Start with a quote
Introducing a post with the words of another person can also be an effective way of starting off. This effectively takes the focus away from you, but if you choose a quote from someone with authority and/or familiarity to your readers, it can actually add more punch to your article and make readers take notice of what’s to follow.
6. Communicate the benefit of reading the post
In this post I’ll share ten ways for opening blog posts that will ensure you’ll never be stuck for an opening again.
Start with the end in mind. By doing so, you’re communicating to your reader what they’ll get if they read on.
7. Make a claim
This post will make you filthy rich!
You need to be able to back it up, but opening with a claim about what your post will achieve can be an effective way of getting attention.
Claims need not be promises of benefits, though—they might also be personal claims of achievement. One that worked for me in the early days of ProBlogger was in this post, where I opened with the words, “It just hit me—like a truck—that I’ve just become a six-figure blogger.”
Example: “I have earned $119,725.45 from Amazon Associates Program since I began using it as a way to make money online late in 2003. Around half of that amount was made within the last 12 months.”—from 11 Lessons I Learned Earning $119,725.45 from Amazon Associates Program.
Note that not all “claim”-style openings have to be about money!
8. Tell a story
Everyone loves a story, and to kick off with a post with one can be a very effective way of drawing readers into your blog (for many reasons).
One example that comes to mind of this was a post I wrote on dPS. I kicked off the post with a story of taking photos a George Michael concert.
Example: Last night my wife came home with a book and started a conversation on a topic which I’d been dreading a little since the time we first found out that we were expecting a baby later in the year. The book was called something along the line of “Names for your Baby”—from: Choosing the Domain Name for Your Blog
9. Start with a controversial statement
Controversy can be similar to a big claim, in that it is one great way of getting attention—but also can open up problems if you aren’t careful. Use with care!
10. Go for a punchy opening
One of the opening lines that I’ve had the most feedback on was this:
“It hits you like a TON of BRICKS! It’s an idea for that KILLER blog post that is just bound to bring you all the traffic that you’ve ever dreamed of…” (from How to Craft a Blog Post).
The post went on to paint a picture (and tell a made up story) of a scenario that many bloggers face. It worked partly because it was a story of sorts, but also because I used formatting to emphasize words and aimed to make the opening quite “punchy.”
These are my favorite ways to open blog posts. What are yours?