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Weekend Project: Write Posts that Hold Readers to the End, Part 2

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:

  1. meet expectations
  2. 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.

Meet expectations

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.

The expectations range from the actual value you provide to the way in which it’s delivered. For example, 5 Simple Ways to Discover What People are Dying to Read promises simple ideas you can use immediately, but it also promises clear and easy-to-follow advice (no “set up a pop-up poll with JavaScript that you introduce to repeat visitors when they scroll to the 8/9 part of a page, after reading for at least three and a half minutes, but only if they’re from Timbuktu…”).

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?

Create suspense

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:

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:

  1. The headline isn’t weird enough or it’s not weird in the right way, so it doesn’t capture attention or create fascination.
  2. 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.

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Comments

  1. Scott Mandel says:

    “So, how do you keep readers reading, then?”… Create Suspense. Well done!

    • Hi Scott,

      Didn’t think of that like that… :)

      Kind of like the old joke, “How do you create suspense?” … “I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  2. Great advice Peter! It’s a little like watching your favorite show on TV. They tease with the intro, and build up and build up, so much so that you can’t break away. Even during commercials. BTW: How To Seduce a Goldfish would make for a killer niche info product! ;-)

    • Hi Ralph,

      That’s true; teasers create suspense.

      I’ll have to consider turning it into an eBook… I’ll just have to find gold fishes who are willing to pay for it. Or people with some really weird interests :D

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  3. Great advice. I’ve been following and reading all your weekend posts to help me write better posts and hold my readers better. As with all the other posts, this is another great post, so thank you for taking the time to write it, it is very useful.

    • Hi Cameron,

      Thank you for your kind words :)

      Have you checked the eBook mentioned in the byline? If you liked the posts, you’ll probably enjoy it too.

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  4. Kristine says:

    The awkward moment when you realize no one is reading your posts! I have been freelancing online and am now trying to grow my business. It seems social media and blogs are the way to get the word out. This article has some great advice, I’ve been using Bitrix24 software to keep track of tasks and my employees in real time. My employees are hired from online sites just like I am and this is a way for us to communicate quickly.

    • Hi Kristine,

      I think we’ve all had the feeling of being invisible with our first attempt on building a business :)

      Don’t really see the connection to communicating with employees…

      -Peter

  5. Hmmmm. writing weird headlines… I don’t know if I can do that :-) One thing that gets people reading to the end is to say that you have your most prized tip somewhere in the article. If you haven’t embolden or italicized it, they’ll look for it.

    Another thing that works is the basic 4 or 5 point article that keeps a couple of the more important tips for the end. I know many people say you have to put your most important one at the top. But I think count downs work better than count ups. By this I mean starting at point ten, and counting down to point one.

    Of course, people could just skip down to the bottom, but they’re curious enough to know why the number 10 is placed there and why it wasn’t rated higher etc.

    • Hi Anne,

      Good tips, thank you :)

      I think almost anyone can write weird headlines that work. Check my eBook if you want some ideas for that ;)

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  6. Rajib Kumar says:

    I think 100% expectations can’t be fulfill by a single post. But, we should try. I also enjoy your “Suspense in headlines” idea. Great!! Thanks for share.

    • Hi Rajib,

      I agree; it’s impossible to meet 100% of expectations, but I don’t know if you should even try. You should meet the expectations that are important and use the suspense to build a strong call to action…

      -Peter

  7. You almost lost me several times in this post…

    There were some great linked headlines that I was tempted to click on (but I did want to make it to the end of the post too…)

    So with each headline I wanted to click, but didn’t, a few more brain cells got distracted and by the end I wasn’t paying that much attention because I was thinking about 3-4 other articles I wanted to read and trying to decide where to start.

    • Hi Karen,

      Interesting. Haven’t thought about that…

      The headlines are there to give examples and I do think it’s better than not to have them there. Or was it so distracting that you would’ve preferred no real examples?

      Did you decide on one? :)

      -Peter

  8. Great information, creating suspense is something that we all must work on. I think the key to effective blog writing starts with understanding your audience.

    If you understand your audience then you can craft your posts to keep them engaged.

    I notice that a lot of bloggers have excellent headlines, content, etc yet the basics do not captivate the audience.

    The basics include short and concise sentences, identifying a problem and then offering up a solution, bolded words or phrases, white space (this relates to short and concise sentences), and more.

    A blogger can create suspense by posing a question in the beginning of an article and reintroducing that same question later. Suspense can be created via the layout of a blog. Suspense can be created through storytelling.

    At the end of the day we have to know our audience before we can get their attention.

    Thank you for the excellent post,
    Patrick

    • Hi Patrick,

      Thanks for good pointers :)

      Understanding your audience is always the starting point of effective marketing (whether you have a blog or a business).

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  9. Hey Peter,

    It’s really nice for me to read the part 2 of the weekend project. I liked all the tips you shared in this post.
    Now I think I can do better to make my readers to read the full post.

  10. Well to be honest, I didn’t actually read your post. This is because it was too long. In this busy world, nobody really has the time to read an essay!! Keep your points short and arrange them in points. No need of writing a big dictionary of words.

    Thats, they key to a well written blogpost. Hello, this is Rohan from, Evocative Teens!

    • Hi Rohan,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, though I’m sorry to hear you didn’t find the post worth reading to the end.

      Shorter is often better, as long as it doesn’t mean poorly explained. Sure, I could’ve shortened the post, but I felt it would make it less valuable.

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  11. Charles says:

    Good stuff. I’m not a great writer, but I recently have been writing blogs. Your post is solid advice.