This guest post is by Peter Sandeen of Affect Selling.
In yesterday’s post, you learned how to get people to start reading your posts. So, if you haven’t already checked that out, do so now!
But do you want your visitors to increase your page view count by one, before leaving for good? Or do you want them to read what you have to say? Great headlines will get you the latter benefit, through Twitter and the merry company of social media sites.
But getting those visitors to read to the end is a different goal. And something most bloggers get really wrong.
The content that comes after the headline has to accomplish two things:
- meet expectations
- create and intensify suspense.
And when it does those things, readers read to the end.
What I’m about to say next will sound a bit like a wine review. You know, like, “The softness of this metallic wine makes your mouth as dry as the sea.” But here it is:
You must give your readers what they want without giving them what they want.
Again that’s simple, but not necessarily easy. But keep reading and you’ll write posts that every visitor wants to finish.
The headline sets expectations. If you don’t meet those expectations, visitors will leave after the first few sentences—regardless of your post’s quality and content.
Another example is 3 Strategies for Email Marketing and How to Succeed with Each. Headlines that have two parts, like this one, create even more expectations. In this case, you’re not promising that the reader will get a good understanding about email marketing. Instead you’re promising that in an easy-to-understand form that gives practical steps for getting real results.
On one hand, specific headlines usually capture attention better than vague ones. On the other hand, it’s more difficult to meet the expectations they set if you don’t understand headlines really well.
After you’ve created certain expectations, there’s no going back (unless you rewrite the headline); the beginning of the post has to reassure the reader that they’ll get what they came for. If you promised simple steps, but your first paragraphs don’t meet or reinforce that expectation, readers will leave and maybe never come back.
Likewise, if your headline promises entertaining content, but your first paragraph feels like it’s copied from “The 1001 Traditional Oven Mittens”, your visitors won’t risk reading more.
But now the wine review part: You shouldn’t give them what they came for…
Don’t share your goodies
If you’ve read a lot of blogs, you’ve probably noticed how you often lose focus right before the final call to action (comment, share, read more…).
Have you noticed why that happens? And if you have, then do you write in a way that keeps readers reading to the end?
The reason you lose focus is that you got what you came for. In other words, you don’t expect to get any more value from the post if you keep reading it. That doesn’t mean you could hold all the value to the end of your post; no one will get there unless the post is useful from the start.
So, how do you keep readers reading, then?
Great headlines create suspense. Great first paragraphs add more suspense. Great content keeps adding suspense while providing value.
Suspense is a blogger’s best friend. Without it, your blog has a squirrel’s chance on a 16-lane highway to succeed: suspense is the reason why anyone reads anything you ever write.
So, how do you create suspense?
Suspense in headlines
Your headline should always promise clear value. It can do that in countless ways:
- A Better Starting Point for Choosing a Niche gives you the promise of finding a great niche for your blog. It’s a very specific promise and anyone looking for information about niche selection will be interested.
- How to Sell More in 5 Steps – The Essential Guide to Marketing promises a comprehensive understanding of how marketing works and actionable steps you can take to sell more immediately.
- Your headline can also promise entertainment, excitement (sex, violence, action), or anything else that the reader is currently in the mood for (note the news anchor example in yesterday’s post).
But as your headline cannot (and shouldn’t try to) make multiple promises, it’s not enough to keep readers reading to the end.
If you’re deprived of the promised value for long enough, you skip straight to the end—or you leave. So, your content has to play its part in suspense-creation.
A hunger that grows as you eat
Your content has to create more and more suspense, but it also has to offer value.
Suspense doesn’t last forever; you’ll forget the promises at some point and your interest will be gone as well. You could remind the reader about the original promise, but if you constantly go back to that, it starts to feel like annoying hype…
Instead of going back to the original promises, make new ones and deliver what you promised before.
But there’s a big “but” to this approach: people came to read your post because of the headline, and they kept reading because of the first paragraphs. So, if you deliver the promises you made there, you lose most of the suspense.
The solution? Make smaller promises along the way that move the reader towards the main promises that you’ll deliver at the end.
Sub-headlines are maybe the easiest way to make more promises. For example “Suspense in Headlines” promises to explain how to create suspense in headlines. Deliver those promises in the following paragraphs and make promises about what’s to come to create more suspense.
And now I’ll finally deliver what I promised in yesterday’s post: what to do if you write about a general topic, or about something that your audience has already read a lot about.
Be weird or be square
Let’s say you write a post about healthy foods. Odds are your audience has already read a post or two (or 100) about the same topic.
You could be more specific and write about the health benefits spirulina has. But maybe you want to write about healthy foods in general and you know your post is the greatest article ever written about it.
Well, none of your readers care to read more about that … unless you frame your message the right way.
How do you frame something ordinary as something new and interesting? You do something unexpected, or weird.
How interesting is “How to Eat Healthy”? Compare that to: “How Not to Eat Yourself to Early Death,” “How to Be as Green as a Gorilla,” or “Are You Killing Your Children with Food?” Any one of these headlines will most definitely get more people to read your post than the original one.
But it’s not quite that simple. Most people make two mistakes with being weird:
- The headline isn’t weird enough or it’s not weird in the right way, so it doesn’t capture attention or create fascination.
- The content loses the fascination the headline created.
The first problem isn’t so difficult to solve. Just think of something so freaky that you’d skip your trip to the Moon to read what it’s about.
The second challenge is what most bloggers get so wrong. When you start with a weird headline, you promise weird (that is, entertaining) content. And most importantly you promise your content to stick to the weirdness of the headline; if you just explain what the headline means in the first paragraph, readers will probably leave.
So, if your headline is, How to Seduce a Goldfish, you’d better write about seducing goldfishes…
Can you write a post that gets read to the end?
Have you written a post that gets visitors to read to the end? Why not share it in the comments below?
101 Headline Formulas is a FREE eBook that’s Not Just a Swipe File; it also explains what should come after each headline to keep readers reading to the end. To learn Persuasive Copywriting, building High-Conversion Landing Pages, and the Real Principles of Effective Marketing, check out Affect Selling by Peter Sandeen.