This is a guest contribution from Mike Sowden.
Have you ever taken part in a business presentation that just died on the spot?
Say you’re up there speaking. Nobody is laughing at your jokes. Your throat has dried up. Dark patches of panic-sweat are appearing all over your shirt. You suddenly need the bathroom. What’s the number-one thing on your mind?
Or say you’re cringing in the audience as someone tanks up on stage. It’s awful to behold, it’s making you want to crawl under your seat or fling yourself out the nearest window – but you’re trapped. You have to endure the whole agonising mess. What’s the number-one thing on your mind?
When that happens (and surely it happens to everyone at some point), the number one thing on everyone’s mind in that room is: please let this END.
Endings are supremely powerful ways to motivate people, to build a loyal following, and engineer a lot of sales. Marketers use scarcity tactics to get you caring about endings (“75% off, today only!”). But how can blogs, with their focus on building conversation and community as much as commerce, use endings to hook readers? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Level up
Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness is a self-confessed gaming geek. He knows the irresistible call of the next rung up the ladder to success. It’s hard to make people care about a distant, lofty goal – and much easier to hook people with near-instant progress. (Just look at how levelling-based mobile gaming exploded in recent years.) Bloggers love publishing personal ‘bucket lists’ – but for his site, Kamb went one better and created his ‘Epic Quest For Awesome‘, complete with an experience points rule system. It’s now front and centre (ok, it’s top-right) of his landing page for Nerd Fitness and is clearly part of his strategy for making people care about what he’s doing.
What You Can Do: find a cool, exciting way to show incremental progress towards a clearly-defined set of goals – but also make sure that at least some of those goals serve your site and its readers as much as yourself.
Let’s agree that’s always annoying. Let’s also agree that it usually works – or we wouldn’t be annoyed, right? We’d breeze past without wanting to know more. Instead, we’re momentarily irked because we’re presented with an imperfect view of something potentially interesting, and against our own wishes, we want closure. Maybe we think we don’t care, but we still want to know the facts so we can decide we don’t care.
What You Can Do: lay subtle (or not so subtle) hints about the direction you’re taking your blog, giving the reader a sense that you know way more than you’re telling – which is really useful for those times when you’re making it up as you go along.
3. Attempt the Barely Possible…
There are few things that motivate people quite like a harebrained adventure with an apparently slim chance of success. It may be wise to chase an end goal for your blog that’s modest in scope and entirely achievable – but that’s a really poor way to market it. Make the story of your blog larger than life. Make it so ambitious that you’ll have people questioning your sanity, or at least your sense of proportion. I wonder how many people truly believed Chris Guillebeau would find a way to visit all 193 United Nations member states, an 11-year quest that would end on his 35th birthday? That’s what he achieved – and by making it a hefty challenge for himself, he raised the investment stakes with his readers.
What You Can Do: decide to do something that will appear both meaningful and crazy to your readers – and then announce it, in a serious, credible way. Do it right, and you have yourselves a little movement of people who really believe you can do this…and, of course, a bunch of people who want to see you fall flat on your face. So let’s talk about that right now..
4. …And Fail.
Whenever you and your blog attempt to do something different, you run the risk of failure. If you’re attempting something big, you risk BIG failure. The cataclysmic, huge smoking crater version that you’ll never forget being part of. To fail is to feel bad – there’s absolutely no denying it. But the odd thing about failure is it can be attractive to anyone watching – and that’s not because they’re being mean.
Human beings are drawn to dark and terrible stories. Stories of fear and woe and everything best avoided in real life. Stories of failure. Why? Science writer Jonathan Gottschall reckons it may be because storytelling arose as a way to keep us alive. What happens if I come down out of this tree and stroll past that sabre-toothed tiger? My story says: “you’d have a really bad day.” My story keeps me alive – and now I trust my story, even though it’s a horrible thing that will give me nightmares for the rest of my life. (Thanks, story.)
Similarly, it’s possible the modern appetite for dark, miserable stories is born of a need to avoid those events ourselves – in which case, a story of failure is deeply compelling. What lessons can we learn from someone who did it the wrong way? It’s awesome storytelling. In the words of Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coates: “You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.”
5. Start with the End
A few months back, the TV show Breaking Bad delivered its final few episodes. Its viewing figures went through the roof, up tenfold from its first season premiere. In fact, Breaking Bad‘s popularity rose continuously through its 5-season run. Increasingly and in larger and larger numbers, people really cared.
Why? The writing was amazing, the acting was literally Emmy award-winning, the cinematography was to die for – plenty of creative reasons. But a key part of Breaking Bad‘s appeal was how it used its endings. Its signature opener was a glimpse of things to come later in the episode – often baffling, bizarre, without the context of the story to support it. You didn’t know why mild-mannered Walter White was standing in the road in his underwear, pointing a gun towards approaching police sirens – and you had to keep watching to find out, as the story flashed back to “x hours earlier”. Later episodes would flash forward entire seasons, eventually foreshadowing the finale itself – a place where terrible (but unspecified) things have happened. As the final episodes approaches, audiences knew enough of the ending to be whipped into a frenzy of anticipation and speculation…and the show ended with its highest viewing figures ever.
All because the Breaking Bad team knew exactly what to do with their endings.
What You Can Do: decide where your blog is ultimately going, and start telling that story from the very beginning. You don’t have to give away very much – but unlike the vaguebooking approach above, you’re not showing the journey, you’re showing the destination. Yes, this is tricky, and in the face of great uncertainty, it will probably require a lot of courage and strength of purpose. But the magical thing about foreshadowing is that it works both ways. Your audience will start to care more, because you’ll look like you know where you’re taking them – and you’ll care more as well. The more you communicate that ending, the more of a sense of purpose you’ll feel and the more likely you will be to actually get there. You will truly know why you blog – and isn’t that an end worth chasing?
Mike Sowden is a freelance travel writer and storytelling consultant from the north of England (UK). Find him at Fevered Mutterings – or maybe walking across some lonely, rain-lashed British hillside with a backpack, having “fun”.
Great stuff Mike! I’m going to start experimenting with starting with the end!
As a new blogger, this info will definitely help me in my journey. Thank you very much!
I have a tendency to ignore vaguebooking, but somehow when a blog does it like: “I have an amazing project that I can’t wait to show you guys… but I can’t tell you more right now” it’s intriguing as hell. Nice catch!
Definitely going to apply this to my own efforts.
I always make interesting, relevant comments on popular blogs. This will spark curiosity about blog, and this way may be able to pull followers.
Thanks for sharing..! Actually, my post not so catch readers’s eyes and make them care about my articles. I tried to added value by added more photo and video. the time make me sense about this
Failing makes readers care. They see that you are human, and vulnerable, and care that much more about you, and your brand, and your dreams, so they buy in big time.
Yeah, I guess having the strategy cleared and setting up achievable goals is the only way to go. I doubt that there can be any backup systems when things start failing, but I am know that every blogger lose the path sometimes.
Hey, some nice tips.. rather I should say a new and refreshing way of looking at how to build interest and audience..
While the tricks you have mentioned is something to ponder about.. I somehow feel that not all blogs can implement the strategy.. On second thought I also feel that yet other blogs will have to invest some time to figure out how to implement this strategy.
Something great you have shared today Mike! Getting you readers care will definitely increases your chances of building huge reader base that converts….
Nowadays, many webmasters who have recently started blogging don’t try new things because they are too scared to fail.
I personally believe that failure is just a “stop” you need to take on the way of success. So, don’t be afraid of trying new things and implementing new strategies.
Great article, by the way.
When you give helpful information all readers care about it and start share your post and leave helpful comments too.
These were awesome and made me smile. Actually, I used a lot of these tactics to keep my seniors interested in English class (and falsely assuming I knew where I was sailing that sad ship!).
Vaguebooking point attracted me more because it’s happening everywhere. Simply i can say that all the Bloggers or webmasters who wish to engage their readers they do.
But according to me the Readers Care about those who provides them something real experienced advices or share all the important and actual thoughts (we can say scene behind the Blogging).
last point “Start with the End” is really a great explanation. I loved it :)
Good stuff Mike! Your title is attention grabbing and your tips are insightful and brings something new to the table. It got me thinking too. A lot of online tips tell us that from the introduction itself, we’d want to make the audience care enough to read through the whole thing. Interestingly enough, you focused on the ending, the end goal, the destination…which I can understand. This is a different way of looking at it. But maybe, your point is more about getting people to care for your blog as a whole, in a long-term perspective; not just getting them to finish a piece of content on the site. Thanks for this!
Great job! O_O
I will definitely bookmark this page.
So much to learn, such little time.
Excellent thoughts. Your tips are good and I agree with all you have said. It is a must to look into these aspects when you need use it.
Thanks offering an outstanding content.
thanks for shearing these wonderful tips, after implementing your tips and ideas the bounce rate of my decreases very fast and this help me making more money.
Great article. Readers tend to lose interest really fast. All 5 tips are really worthy!
Yup, somewhere i agree..Readers are important, thanks for these tips Mike.
If your website has unique article it’s the great way to make more readers.
It’s all about the readers. They care about things they care. All we need to find out what they like.
Very very good tips, thank you.
thanks for sharing these awesome tips, after implementing your tips and ideas the bounce rate of my decreases very fast and this help me making more money.and thanks a lot for sharing this to us and keep doing this for motivate us.
Thanks for sharing such a knowledgeable article with all of us After going through this artice and implemeting the points you mentioned above the money I make from my blog increases up to an extent as the bounce rate of the blog decreases.
Thanks for such an astonishing article.
This article is worth reading as I read out this article a week ago and is now back just to appriciate the work and points that you mentioned here. As I got huge response in getting the bounce rate decrease to almost 40% and earning increased up to 30%
Thanks for the article