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11 Ways to Open a Post and Get Reader Engagement

‘Hi Michael, it’s nice to meet you’

These were the first words my wife spoke to me.

Not the most spectacular start to a relationship…. considering my name is Darren.

Opening lines matter – particularly when it comes to blogging. If you don’t get them right your posts will go largely unread.

Do you want to discover how to make opening lines effective?

In my last post in this ‘how to craft a blog post’ series I identified your blog’s title/headline as the most important words that you’ll write in a blog post and I said that the purpose of the title is to get people to read your opening line.

The second most important words in your blog post are those that follow the title – your opening line. Their purpose is to get people to read the next line – to draw people deep within your post.

11 Techniques for Opening Lines

So how does one craft an opening line to a post that effectively engages readers and stimulates enough interest to get them to read your blog post? Here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful.

1. Identify a Need

Sound familiar? It should – I’ve talked about reader needs and problems in my post about choosing a topic and crafting your post title.

If you haven’t got it by now you should be starting to see that I place a lot of importance on identifying a reader’s need and solving it as a key to writing successful blog posts. You don’t have to solve the need or problem in the opening line but an effective way to get readers to read deep into your post where you do solve it is to tell them that you will in the opening line.

2. Ask a Question With Only One Answer

This is a technique that copywriters have been using for a long time and it works. To do it, ask a question in the opening of your post which leaves your reader little room to answer anything but ‘yes’. I did it in line three of this post (‘Do you want to discover how to make opening lines effective’) but it could also effectively be used as the very opening to this post.

Asking this type of question does a couple of things. For starters you’re communicating what the post is about and the need that it will fulfill in the reader – but secondly (and more importantly) you’re drawing out a response in your reader and one which puts the need that your post will solve squarely in their mind. Anyone reading and answering ‘yes’ to my question above enters into this post having just said that they want to discover how to write engaging opening lines – this ‘buy in’ helps in the communication process that follows.

Asking ‘yes’ questions can actually be something you use more than once in a post. Ask a series of them scattered through your post and you can actually take your reader on a journey that leads them to your call to action.

3. Ask an Intriguing Question

Another type of question that is effective at getting readers interested in reading further into a post is one that leaves them hanging and wanting to know the answer.

‘What does Bill Gates and Martha Stewart have in common?’ – ‘How did I take my RSS subscriber numbers from 0 to 51,346?’ – ‘Is the Nikon D700 the best Digital SLR Camera Ever Invented?’

All of these questions will appeal differently to different audiences – but all leave readers wondering what the answer will be and give them a reason to read on further into a post.

4. Say Something Unexpected

The opening line of this post (where I tell about my wife getting my name wrong when we first met) breaks most of the techniques that I’ve stated above – but attempts to do something a little ‘different’ or ‘surprising’ to grab readers attention by sharing something personal and at a first glance ‘off topic’.

I don’t talk about my family often on ProBlogger – so this opening line is designed to break the pattern and encourage readers to take a second look.

I find that when I do this it seems to ‘snap’ readers out of the way that they normally approach your blog and take a little extra notice for a moment or two (which can be enough to hook them into reading your post).

Of course – the unexpected opening line should relate to your post’s topic on some level.

5. Tell a Story or Share an Analogy

Building on my last point – I find that telling ‘stories’ to open posts can be one way of snapping people out of their ‘ho hum’, ‘eyes glazed over’ state that many of us have while surfing the web. This is particularly true on a blog that is more serious or formal in nature – to share a story means you’re switching genre’s for a moment or two which can be enough to grab your readers attention for at least a moment or two.

Stories can be short (a one liner like I did above) or longer (although you probably won’t want to go too long). They can be your own personal stories or stories of someone else. They can be true or even fiction.

I’ve often open posts here on ProBlogger with ‘tangents’ – analogies or stories from my life that are a little off topic – but which go on to help illustrate a principle. I find that these types of openings often draw in a new type of reader and get more reader engagement with others. Perhaps it’s just a refreshing change from the normal type of posts or perhaps it shows a more personal side that appeals to some.

For example (titles and opening lines):

6. Make a Claim or Promise

Sometimes a simple but bold claim is the most effective way to get people to read deeper into a post.

‘Today I will teach you how to give up smoking.’ – ‘In this post you’ll discover the secrets to taking the perfect portrait.’

These sorts of openings simply tell your reader what they’ll get if they read on. They are short, sharp, to the point and effective.

Alternatively you can make a claim about your own achievement. I still remember the impact that this post had on establishing ProBlogger as an authority site. The opening line was:

‘It just hit me – like a truck – that I’ve just become six figure blogger.’

The only thing I’d say is that you better be able to back up the claim or promise in the post itself or you could have some angry readers on your hands.

7. Make a Controversial Statement

There’s nothing like the hint of controversy to grab people’s attention and cause them to stop in their tracks and take note of what’s going on.

Strongly state your opinion on a company, product or even another person and you’ll find people will want to read on to see why you’ve said it and to let you know if they agree.

8. Paint a Picture

This is a technique that I’ve used a few times in public speaking that I think can translate across into writing effective blog posts. The basics of it are to get your reader using their imagination to picture some kind of scenario.

This can be used in both positive or negative ways:

Positive – get them to imagine a scenario when they achieve some success or overcome some problem.
Negative – alternatively get them to picture the consequences of a problem left unsolved or a failure that they might fear.

Engaging the imagination of your reader is a powerful thing which can evoke emotion, help them to get in touch with fear and feel needs but also give them real motivation to make change.

9. Use Statistics

Using a statistic that packs a punch can effectively communicate a need and grab attention.

Example10 Techniques to Get More Comments on Your Blog – Opening Line – “Only 1 out of every 100 Readers Comment on your Blog”

10. Start with a Quote

This is one that I occasionally do that can be quite effective – if you use the right quote of course.

Using the words of some one other than yourself can bring authority and credibility to your post. It can also grab attention if you choose the right person.

Examples with opening lines:

11. Use an Image

Your opening line need not be a textual one.

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ and used effectively at the opening of your blog posts a compelling image can be instrumental in drawing readers to read your posts.

I have been using images combined with words on almost every post in my photography site for some time now and have long noticed that when I open with an image it tends to draw more readers into a post and can lead to more comments. I’ve even had readers tell me that they only reason they read a post was as a result of seeing the image in their RSS reader.

The key is to find an image that is on topic, that is striking and that readers find compelling or intriguing.

Will You Share Your Best Opening Lines With Us?

The above 10 techniques for opening lines of blog posts are just scratching the surface of the ways that you can grab attention and draw readers into your blog posts. You’re unlikely to use more than two or three of them in any given post and will most likely want to not use the same one in every post that you write (loyal readers ted to become numb to them if you do).

What other techniques do you use to open blog posts?

Read the Full Series

This post is part of a series on how to craft blog posts. It will be all the more powerful if taken in context of the full series which looks at 10 points in the posting process to pause and put extra effort. Start reading this series here.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Sayz Lim says:

    Cool Darren, I was pondering on how to open a post and you post it on the right time.

    I always pay extra attention on how you open a post, most of time I use “question” and “tell what I am doing”, maybe we can open a post by linking to an old post which share the same topic.

  2. Sunil Pathak says:

    Another great article Darren

    and you are damn right your 1st line or paragraph is like pilot of your flight if you fail to carry on the momentum of your killer title in opening rest of your article means nothing to your reader

  3. Another great post with fantastic tips.
    I use a photo opening all my posts. I have many readers that visit my blog only for the purpose of seeing my photos.
    If you visit my blog you can see thousands of nice photos of Spain and Portugal. Those ones are original photos I have been shooting while travelling through Spain and Portugal. I travell a lot during the year and take hotos from all over the places I visit. Most of my photos are taken in small villages.

  4. This is something that I overlook more than I’d like to admit. Good to have this in one spot. Thanks for the info.

  5. writer dad says:

    I start every post different, but almost always in the middle of the action. It helps to immediately draw the reader in. It’s the way we enjoy our literature, why should a post be any different?

  6. Shanel Yang says:

    Sort of similar to telling a story, but starting off with a relevant joke is another great way to do it. Great post, Darren!

  7. L-Jay says:

    Humour is good. I say things like:

    Norwegians love sausages – nearly anything that has meat on it becomes a sausage in Norway. Horse, moose and reindeer can all be found minced, dried and wrapped in plastic.

    or…
    Guess what our farm grows? Marshmallows!

    or…
    Norwegians are known for being rather loud – at least when they are outside the state of Norway and in the state of intoxication.

    (Is is bad to laugh at my own jokes ;-)

  8. Mike Goad says:

    Actually, I kind of like your wife’s opening line. Works with me almost every time anyone uses it…, except telemarketers..

  9. Very great tips. I’ll be sure to try and use some of these at my blog.

    http://www.TheBusinessOfMyBusiness.blogspot.com

  10. I find the best way to get someone’s attention is to ask them a question. I know making a controversial statement will also get people to read your blog posts. I like to make a lot of controversial statements even though I might switch and say that someone else might say that. There are a lot of ways to go about this and this is a great article by problogger to show people what they can do to keep readers intrigued.

  11. Very great tips. I’ll be sure to try some of these on my blog.

    http://www.TheBusinessOfMyBusiness.blogspot.com

  12. Mike Nichols says:

    Darren, it seems like you’ve been reading my mind this week! Almost every post has been on a subject I’ve been thinking about.

    And opening lines are troubling me. I have a double problem here: The “real” opening line, and the words that will get the reader to hit the “click to continue” button. So I have several opening lines that really have to draw them in. I can’t say that I have always been successful!

    But one of my successes was an article that I wrote about the stigmas of mental illness. It started, “Do any of these attitudes seem familiar?” and continued with a bulleted list beginning with, “Nearly 6 of 10 people describe a person with a mental illness as ‘someone who has to be kept in a psychiatric or mental hospital.’” This has been one of my most popular posts!

    Thanks again for this most relevant post.

  13. Lol! Heya Michael (ahem I mean Darren).

    That line sure came to some help as it gave you a cool way to start off this post too right ey? :)

  14. Abbas Shareef – I was just wondering if you realize that you posted the exact same thing twice? I really hope that you aren’t spamming.

  15. Sometimes common sense really does lead to the best advice. Thanks for this post. It’s helped me refocus on why and how I should be blogging. (Dangerously close to that marketing subject that bothers me so, but I guess it comes down to having somethin worthwhile to market.)

  16. Sometimes common sense really does lead to the best advice. Thanks for this post. It’s helped me refocus on why and how I should be blogging. (Dangerously close to that marketing subject that bothers me so, but I guess it comes down to having something worthwhile to market.)

  17. I guess my best one to date is my last one “Things I Wish I Had Never Planted”. You don’t expect a gardener to say that, nor to have SO MANY things they wish they had never planted.

  18. Debo Hobo says:

    After a year one would think I’d be much better at this blogging thing.

    I am working on creating stronger openings and enticing content, your teachings are really helping.

  19. LosingWeight says:

    I’m a new reader of your blog and a long time marketing/advertising guy. I just started my own blog (http://www.paunchiness.com) and have been thankful for your insights.

    I’ll continue to read here for tips.

    -James

  20. Talk about glazed over…. I didn’t realize anything wrong with the opening until you pointed out that your name is Darren.

    I guess after surfing the web long enough, we just tune most things out.

    My Previous comment got lost. Sorry for the double post if the previous comments find its way to the blog.

    Also wanted to mention that the problogger has been unresponsive at times lately. Many page “cannot be displayed” or b5media error pages. Just thought to mention it.

  21. Missy says:

    I have been experimenting as of late with QUOTES, STATS, and PHOTO OPENINGS. The tried and true “question opener” can definitely become stale after a while, plus it shows one is not terribly creative.

    Here are a few other blog post openings that i have used on some of my blogs:

    Poll
    Joke
    Ad
    Quote (from another blog or blogger)
    Article excerpt

    What else? Please share more below, as it is interesting to see the various ideas used.

  22. Sheri says:

    Blogging is relatively new to me. I’ve been learning, but not sure how I’m doing, as traffic is still growing. The first line definitley makes sense, since this is also one of the successful traits of a good article or book. Have to catch the readers attention. Hopefully I will succeed with this.

  23. Every one commenting on this blog is a murderer!

    A murderer of the English language!

    (Hat tip to Truman Capote ;) )

  24. Hi. I am going to start a blog very soon, related to our new business of skin care. In my recent past, I taught writing to community college students. Your points are identical to those I used with beginning writers! It encouraged them to think of ways to interest their readers. Good job :)
    Elaine

  25. This is a great post.

    You took a simple idea, and conveyed it in a very useful way. I appreciate it. To Delicious it will go.

  26. Luis Gross says:

    I completely agree!

    Opening lines and grabbing reader’s attention is something I’m hard at work doing at the moment. Being able to write that great title is what counts best for a first impression if you ask me.

    Second, would be the first words they see when they click on the post and go into the single post pages.

    Having these two main things are essential to getting them to actually begin to read your post. Then, throughout the post, you would have to make it interesting so they won’t fall asleep, and actually finish reading the post.

    Great tips Darren!

  27. Sire says:

    I suppose in essence your opening line is much like a sales pitch. I remember when I was training to be a salesman the first lesson they taught me was to never go up to a customer with, “Hi, can I help you?” as this gave them a way out, “No thanks, just looking.” Best to start up a conversation and subtly get them to tell you exactly what they are looking for.

    I suppose the first lines of a blog post should be the same as it should engage the reader and not give them a way out.

  28. BiteTheDust says:

    G’day Darren,

    “‘Hi Michael, it’s nice to meet you’
    These were the first words my wife spoke to me.”

    It could have been worse. What if she had said that to your yesterday.

    that would have rated highly in Point 4?

    Robbo

  29. Harmony says:

    I never come to this blog without learning something. Thanks Darren!

  30. Syed Balkhi says:

    Wow can’t believe that was the first line that your wife told you :P

    Excellent points Darren.

  31. Brad V. says:

    Great post! Thanks! Opening lines are probably the hardest, as they have to do a lot of “work” for a blog post. A bad opening line can turn readers off and they’ll move onto something else. A good opener, however, can engage the reader and maybe even convert him/her to a subscriber!

    Along with writing post headlines, opening lines are probably the hardest for me to write.

    Great tips!!! Keep up the good work. :-)

  32. JQK says:

    Darren-

    Thanks for the valuable tips! Halfway through your article, I clicked back to my site to spruce up my last post with an introductory question followed by a bold statement! I am convinced that it has raised expectations and increased reader appeal.

    Old intro-

    Table of Contents:

    1. Fast Track to Panning
    2. Behind the Scenes
    3. ‘Pick’ a Pan
    4. Panning 101
    5. He Made His Living with a Pan
    6. Tools to Take into the Field

    New intro-

    Would you like to learn about an exhilarating hobby that is loads of fun, gets you outdoors, is undeniably healthy, introduces you to a community of friendly like-minded people, and has been known to pay for itself and even to become a stepping-stone to a new and exciting career? Welcome to the wonderful world of recreational gold panning.

    Caution proceeding beyond this point has infected a high percentage of visitors with gold fever, causing them to drop everything and race for the hills!

    Thanks Darren,

    JQK

  33. Another interesting post, Michael! lol! So who’s Michael anyway?

    Kidding aside, I just finished a post entitled – Are you a born blogger? in which the opening sentence is “Artists are being born, not made. No matter where you studied arts, if you are not a born artist, you will never shine”. Hope this is just fine.

    And yes, we should magnetize our readers at his first glance so he will be thrilled as he is reading the whole post. He might even keep coming back for more.

    For the quote, I am placing them at the end of each post but I make them bold. Mind you, I am spending time to think of one as I do not want my readers say – “Oh well, I already read that before somewhere else”

    For my addition, I think it is good to try reverse psychology. As an active Entrecard member, I made a post entitled Why You Should Leave Entrecard. It made members raise eyebrows but smiled after reading the whole post.

    Thanks for continuously orienting us, Darren!

  34. Evelyn Lim says:

    I don’t always comment on your blog but am prompted to. Reason being that I’ve found that this post very useful and thought that it is important to let you know. I’ve already experimented with some of ideas that you’ve put here and know that they work! You’ve added other ideas which I will try in due course. There’s nothing like adding variety to my writing style!

  35. Scot Duke says:

    There is some good stuff here. I’ll see if I can get some of it to work.

  36. Todd Mintz says:

    I’ve almost always started posts / articles with a quote…getting a good quote tends to focus my thinking on what I’m going to write about. I’ve always hoped that the right quote would draw in the reader…glad to see someone else thinks so :.)

  37. Luca says:

    I love thid Blog. I found it by accident as I was doing research for my new blog. I’ll be coming back often for more tips. Congrats on a great Blog

  38. Loved how you used humour to hook – even if it was somewhat self-deprecating.

    Excellent tips…thanks for taking the time to share.

  39. I like to use opening questions in a different way – to make people sit back and think. Here’s my favourite one I’ve ever written:

    ” * If knowledge is power;
    * If information is knowledge;
    * And if Google is organizing – and, more importantly, distributing – the world’s information;

    Then isn’t Google the single most powerful organization in the world?”

  40. Mel Menzies says:

    Hi Darren,
    It’s obvious from all your posts that you know your stuff. Thank you for your generosity in sharing your expertise. As an author and speaker I do recognise the importance of opening lines but don’t always have time to think them through when blogging.

    Humour’s sometimes good, I’ve found, especially when speaking about something deep or dark. I was speaking recently at a launch of my new book ‘A Painful Post Mortem’ about the effects of drugs. (The book is actually a novel, but its subject is how a family copes with watching the slow self-destruction of a loved member, the victory of recovery, and then the shocking death at someone else’s hand). My speaking slot was after a sumptuous breakfast. I stood up and congratulated the chef, then told everyone that I used to be a Weight Watcher lecturer and had been taking note of all they’d eaten. It broke the ice with a hearty laugh before I launched into the serious stuff. You’re quite right! Connecting with people like that makes them more open to what is to follow.
    Mel Menzies – author of A Painful Post Mortem

  41. Serge says:

    Interesting article, as always!

    Last week I launched a small quiz using a very tempting title “Win eternal fame” which resulted in more comments as usual.

  42. Michael says:

    Your tips remind me of the advice from a great book I’m reading right now called “Made to Stick”. It’s all about what makes ideas stick in people’s minds. I highly recommend it for bloggers.

    Michael

  43. Thanks for the great info Darren. Today I was reading my wife’s most recent post and I think she use step one, “Identify a Need”, wonderfully. What do you think?

    Title: Beach Camping in Carlsbad?
    Opening Line Catcher: (This Post)…shares some valuable and hard-to-come-by information about camping at South Carlsbad State Beach for those of you who are interested.

  44. Bonie says:

    nice tips again from problogger.net :D

    HIGH RECOMMENDED :)