How to take your blog post introduction from blah to fantastic
Most people won’t finish reading your blog post. Only 20% of readers are likely to read past the headline and you’ve only got a matter of seconds to convince them to stay. That’s why nailing your blog post introduction is essential to enticing someone to read your content.
Until I entered the newsroom, most of my knowledge around introductions came from academic writing. An essay introduction is a summary and signposts how the piece is structured.
That’s perfect for essays or reports, but it just doesn’t work as well online. With notifications popping up all the time and so many demands on attention, you’ve got to make sure you’re not saving the best until last. If you do? Your ideal reader probably won’t see it.
Getting your introduction just right is one of the easiest ways you can really transform your writing.
Base your blog post introduction on the inverted pyramid
The first writing technique I learned during my journalism degree was the inverted pyramid. It’s also known as front-loading.
Imagine a pyramid, with your ‘once upon a time’ at the top, leading down to your powerful, unforgettable ending. Now turn it upside down. That thing that people won’t be able to stop thinking about from your article? It’s now the first thing they’re going to read.
This is a very traditional style of structuring a newspaper article, usually encompassing answers to who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. It’s direct and can feel a little counterintuitive at first.
The inverted pyramid structure developed as a response to the invention of the telegraph, which revolutionised the news industry but was costly to use.
As Poynter explains, we have the creation of wire reporting services (like Associated Press) to thank for the facts first style now synonymous with newspapers.
This style became an easy way for sub-editors to cut articles from the bottom up, knowing they wouldn’t be chopping any important information already in the introduction.
The inverted pyramid works particularly well for online, SEO-optimised writing. That’s because you’re getting your juicy SEO keywords right up front in an organic way. And you’re telling your readers they just HAVE to keep reading.
SEO tip: if you want to write a more creative introduction and can’t get your keywords in, write an overall SEO-optimised intro, stick a sub-head in and then get into the story.
But how do you write a good introduction?
Introductions are the hardest part of writing for most people. But if there’s anything you need to perfect in your writing, it’s this.
Respected long-time Associated Press editor Jack Cappon described introductions as “the agony of square one”. If you’ve ever felt all creativity drain from you when you open a blank page, cursor blinking, then I’m sure this hits you right in the feels. It does for me!
I always find it particularly difficult to move forward in a story or blog post without first nailing the introduction. For me, the type of introduction I choose will often dictate the flow of the story.
I’ll admit I spend way too long getting the first sentence close to the finished product before moving on. This breaks every rule in the book about writing and editing, but it’s how my creative process seems to work.
In five years as a journalist, while blogging on the side, I’ve written over 4000 introductions. Yes there were some gems in there, but quite a few were fairly average. The only way to improve your introductions is to get writing and, of course, to read the work of others.
There are, however, some essential tips to set you up for success.
Keep it active
Active voice keeps your writing punchy and impactful. So it’s not really surprising that’s the voice you in blog post introductions.
Active voice is easier to understand and is preferred for SEO optimisation as it’s usually shorter and more reader-friendly.
Remember in active voice, the emphasis is on the subject carrying out an action. In passive voice, the action is done to the subject.
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Get back to attribution later
You might be riffing on a great quote, or discussing an issue that’s been hotly debated on social media. But leave any attribution to your following paragraphs. This will stop your introduction feeling clunky.
Don’t bury the lead
It might feel like you’re giving too much away, but don’t bury the most important information. You need to hook your audience into your blog post with a really compelling introduction and that means using the best or most emotive information, statistic, or quote.
Remember, we want people to know the most important stuff first with the inverted pyramid. Always think about how you would tell this story to someone in an elevator, and then put that information in your introduction.
Ditch the dictionary definitions
I’m begging you: please do not start your blog post with a dictionary definition. I remember writing introductions this way when I was 14 and if I read it on blogs it takes me straight back to high school.
Introductions based on definitions are boring and cliched. That’s not the first impression you want to give your audience. If you need to define something in your article, go for it. But don’t do it in the introduction.
Think short and punchy
If your first paragraph looks like something out of a 19th Century novel, I’m out. Your blog post introduction should be short, but emotive.
The golden rule for newspaper journalists is to use no more than 25 or 30 words in an introduction. I’m not kidding when I tell you I would count the words in my introduction every day at work.
Since you’re not writing for a newspaper on your blog, you can use more than one sentence as your introduction but try to stick to three at most. And keep those short.
Avoid cliches like the plague
Would it be a chat about cliches if I didn’t include a cliche? It’s best practice to avoid cliches in all your writing (unless it’s irony), but it’s especially important in your introduction.
Cliches are overused, predictable, and eye-roll inducing. Your introduction is the place where you want your writing to shine, so why rely on a phrase everyone’s heard over and over?
Which of these tips are you going to implement first? Let me know in the comments or tag me in a post where you’ve improved your introductions with this advice. You can also get in touch on Twitter or Instagram.