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The Second Best Way to Keep Readers Reading

Written By: Margit Streifeneder in Strategies for Business Growth | August 25, 2017

The Second Best Way to Keep Readers Reading

The best way is to write an irresistible headline. But you knew that already, right?

A “hooky” headline, like the one above, pulls you into the article…

  • You want to discover the second best way to keep your readers reading.
  • Heck, you want to find out what the first best way is!
  • And there’s a clear benefit – who does NOT want a more engaged audience?

So What’s the Second Best Way?

Write a short first sentence.

Here’s why…

The sole job of the headline is to get readers to read the first sentence. The sole job of the first sentence? Yup, it’s to get visitors to read the second sentence. And on and on it goes…

The deeper that visitors get, the more engaged they become, the less likely they are to seek something else to read.

But when they’re at the very beginning? They’re teetering. You’ve hooked them with your headline (nice job!).  But they aren’t committed yet.

You’ll scare them off if you use one of those long opening sentences, the kind that’s full of clauses and subordinate clauses, like this, and that meanders all over the place without getting to the point!

What Should You Do Instead?

Kick off with one crisp sentence. The shorter, the better.

Avoid commas. Definitely don’t start with a run-on sentence.

Stuck with an opener that you just can’t tame? Kill it. Or preface it with something punchier. For example, a hack from earlier in the week originally started like this.

Once upon a time, on a remote island called Anguilla, a successful solopreneur noticed that she was following two accounts that she didn’t know.

That’s not terrible. But it does require reading. There’s a danger that a fast-scanning reader will trip over it. So we prefaced it all with this…

A modern-day fairy tale…

Once upon a time, on a remote island called Anguilla, a successful solopreneur noticed that she was following two accounts that she didn’t know.

More engaging, fun even. And everyone wants to know how a fairy tale ends.

Bottom Line Takeaway?

Writing stand-out content isn’t enough. If you don’t grab the reader’s attention immediately, you’re in trouble. They won’t get to discover how outstanding your content is if they click the back button.

So get off to a strong start with a headline that hooks and a short first sentence. It’s the ante that gets your content into the game.

Now that you’ve learned the secret to keep your readers reading, the pressure is on to continue creating great headlines. Use these 12 Tips For Writing Headlines That Work for a win-win article writing combo!

Margit Streifeneder
Margit Streifeneder is the Communications Manager at SiteSell. She handles the Editorial Calendar, coordinates marketing initiatives and is renowned for her organisational skills. She's passionate about helping solopreneurs achieve success, and enjoys interviewing SBI! members about their achievements. Her personal goal is "never being cold again," so she chose to settle in Nicaragua, for now.
  • Excellent article, but I’m always torn between writing interesting copy and satisfying the requirements of Analyze It! Do you have any tips for getting round this? I’ve even thought of making my catchy, gripping first sentence into an image, so that I can follow up with a line which will contain the keyword I’m writing for. Any other bright ideas, SBIers?

    • Margit Streifeneder

      Hi William. Glad you liked the article.

      As for your question about satisfying the requirements of Analyze It!:

      While your goal is to pass Analyze It!, it’s not important to pass every recommendation. The SEs have become smarter, so some on-page criteria aren’t as important as they were.

      For example, it’s still essential that you use your Specific Keyword in the Title, and important that you include it in the Description of your page (or a variant if the exact usage is awkward). And put it in the file name and in the H1 headline to help the engines determine what your page is about.

      Also sprinkle the Specific Keyword in the main body copy of the page itself (discussed above). But having your keyword in the first 90 characters of text isn’t essential for a good ranking. And having the keyword present an exact number of times on the page isn’t important.

      Analyze It! will still point these out, but don’t jump linguistic hoops to “get it right” if the content of the page becomes awkward. Your human visitor is always more important!

      To sum it up… having a catchy, short first sentence to pull your reader in is more important than having your specific keyword in those first 90 characters.

      Hope that helps!

      • William John

        Thanks for your comments Margit. Perhaps the SBI team could include this relative importance advice on the Analyze It response page? It’s hard not to meet all the criteria, when you’re told they’re important!

        • Margit Streifeneder

          You are welcome William.

          What I wrote above is directly taken from the Analyze It! help.

          And when you use Analyze It!, and don’t have the specific keyword in the first 90 characters, you’ll see this message:

          “Your Specific Keyword does not appear in the first 90 visible characters of your BODY copy.

          It’s good practice (but not critical) to include your Specific Keyword as early as possible in the BODY copy. If you can move it closer to the start of the first paragraph without making the page read awkwardly, do so. If not, use your Specific Keyword as soon as it fits.

          There is no need to jump through linguisitic hoops to “pass” this rule. We use 90 characters simply to reinforce the point that “earlier is better.” If your first use of the Specific Keyword is in the first 200 characters, say, and there is no way to use it sooner without sounding “clunky”… that’s fine.”

          Do you feel this makes it clear enough that this really is no “must have” requirement? Or should we word it differently?

  • Interesting.. I’ve been thinking about adding a sub-heading to our site, which I guess would accomplish the same thing. What do you think about that versus just using a short first sentence?

    • Margit Streifeneder

      Using a sub-heading and a short first sentence aren’t mutually exclusive. I think you can do both. With the main headline you grab a reader’s attention, and with the sub-heading and punchy first sentence you pull them in deeper into your article.

      Here’s a good article about how to effectively use a headline – subheadline combo:

  • Both on page and off page seo are important

  • Philip Bourdon

    As intriguing a headline as the one above is, what keywords are in there? If it is just a catchy title that is not a real example, then it’s just a tease to read this (as I assume it is). Please provide some real examples with keywords; that makes this idea a bit more challenging.

    • Margit Streifeneder

      Hi Philip,

      This article focuses on writing a short, catchy first sentence to pull the reader into your article. That’s why there are no examples for headlines in it.

      And yes, you are right that the headline wasn’t created around a keyword. It’s job was to be intriguing enough for the searcher or blog subscriber to check out the article.

      More about keywords in headlines in my other reply to you.

  • Philip Bourdon

    Great subtitle article link. But, it appears that keywords are not used. I feel as if the KWs can limit creativity in headlines. Any thoughts?

    • Margit Streifeneder

      The ideal case is that you craft an irresistable headline with your article’s focus keyword in it, if possible close to the beginning of the headline.

      However, as with all content writing, humans come first. Never just write for the search engines. So, if the headline reads awkward with the specific keyword in it, and you have a great idea for a compelling headline without the keyword, then go for it.

      You may like this article with 5 Headline Writing Tips:


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