How to Write a Compelling Lead Paragraph

by Tracy Mallette  |  Published 9:00 AM, Wed April 23, 2014

You’ve mastered the irresistible headline.

You’re driving visits!

But that’s not enough.

You need conversions. You don’t make the sale on brilliant headlines alone.

That’s where the lead paragraph (“lede paragraph” to you journos out there) comes in. You must craft a first paragraph that compels readers to continue.

That’s the only way to get them to take the next step and make a purchase.

How do you write the perfect lead?

Here are examples of leads using techniques you can tailor to your audience.

Get Right to the Point

Selling a big-ticket item that’s not fun to read about? Get right to a cost-saving benefit statement, like GE does on its washing machine category page:

GE-washer-lead

GE knows its customers are most concerned with money, so they’re nipping those concerns in the bud before moving on to any other points.

Now cost-concerned customers can read on without worry.

Intrigue Them

James Altucher is a master of intrigue. Here’s the lead of a recent LinkedIn article he wrote:

james-altucher-lead

I dare you not to go read that article! :-)

Leading with something that piques curiosity almost forces prospects to keep reading. If you pull this tactic, just make sure you make it worth their time and suspense (of course, as an ISOOSI reader, you already know that).

Give ‘em an Ego Boost

See what I did up there?! I made an important point, but didn’t insult your intelligence. You also know that when giving an ego boost, it should be genuine. You really do know not to pull a bait-and-switch with your content. I wouldn’t just say that to make you feel good.

Here’s an example from Roger Dooley’s Neuromarketing blog:

Neuromarketing-blog-post

John Carvalho acknowledges the knowledge of the readers of this site. If he were writing this post on any other marketing site, he probably wouldn’t lead with that statement because those readers really wouldn’t be familiar with the idea of fluency, and he might offend them. Used here, it’s a nod to the readers’ psychology smarts.

Get in their head

How?

Ask a question, then answer it (Oh snap, I just did it!)

One writing technique that Joe Vitale teaches in Hypnotic Writing is to anticipate a question your readers might have—at the exact moment they’re thinking it. Then answer that question. It’s a hypnotic suggestion that builds trust.

Here’s an example from Jaguar’s British Villains campaign:

Jaguar-copy

They start off with an irresistible headline, then ask, “Now, do we have your full attention?”

As you’re thinking, “Yes,” you see they reply, “Excellent.”

You’re like, “Whoa!” and continue reading.

This works well when writing product copy.

After writing the basic copy, reread it and note where you’d have a question if you were reading this as a customer. Then add that question to the copy. Then address that question.

Make a Statement

You know your readers. Let them know that you know what they’re going through.

State the very problem that led them to read your copy.

ISOOSI does a great job of this on its homepage.

ISOOSI-copy

ISOOSI knows what its customers want. You’re constantly browsing the web and need a faster and easier way to find what you’re looking for. ISOOSI gets it. ISOOSI gets you.

With that understanding established, you’ve bonded with the company and are more likely to read on and use the research engine.

Give a Command

There are hypnotic words. They include, “discover,” “imagine” and “because,” among many others.

If your copy can get someone to take action early, that person is more likely to take further action.

Leading off with a command is powerful.

Here’s an example from a post by Heather Lloyd-Martin on the SEO Copywriting Blog. (Bias alert! I’m the blog editor over there.)

SEO-copywriting-post

For a freelance writer, that’s a pretty scary thought.

It makes you think of your biggest client, then imagine that client leaving. It makes you wonder what would happen to your business and you start to develop feelings around that thought.

You realize that what she has to say is important and you’d better keep reading.

Those are my top tips for how to write a lead paragraph that compels your potential customers toward the end goal.

Now, go forth, write leads, create and convert!

What are some other compelling lead writing tactics? Share ‘em in the comments below!

About 

Tracy Mallette is editor for the SuccessWorks SEO Copywriting blog. A journalist turned Internet marketer, her skills include SEO, copywriting, content strategy, email, social media, blogging and more content marketing methods. Visit Tracy’s website, and connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Comments
  • http://passionfruitcreativegroup.com/ Michelle Lowery

    I love this post, Tracy! Excellent examples, and you made me laugh a few times, which is always nice and too rare when reading marketing posts! :-)

  • ronellsmith

    Tracy, I love this post. I’m a former journo who has never cottoned to the idea that headlines rule. I know they are important. But the web is littered with masters of the headline, many of whom leave us disappointed once we look closer.

    For my money, the lede has always been the priority, if solid writing and meaningful content is the goal.

    I liken it to the late-1990s, when headline writers made hay with tech industry news in mags like Fast Company, Business 2.0 and the like. The stories were fine. The meatiest content was still being produced by newspapers–WSJ, NYT, WP–and these entities placed greater focus on the lede, not the headline.

    I like to say that good writing does not need the salty, thick gravy of purloined headlines.

    RS

  • http://www.nomorepencils.com/ David Bennett

    Tracy,

    What’s your opinion of the downside of asking a question? (Haha)

    It has been said that asking a question is just begging for someone to say ‘no’ – as in the Get In Their Head lede/lead paragraph:

    “Now, do we have your full attention?”

    Answer – No

    … and then stop reading.

    And yet, …

  • http://seocopywriting.com/ Tracy Mallette

    Glad you like the post, everyone! I especially love making people laugh, so I’m thrilled about that, Michelle. :)

    You always need a compelling headline to get readers to your content, but, as you mention, RS, that content can’t fall flat once the reader clicks. The lede is important, too, but so is the next sentence – and the next. You want readers tripping over themselves to continue reading your content. It should be that compelling. The lede should propel readers to the next paragraph, which should compel them to the next and so on until they complete the task that the content aims to achieve. All of the elements have to come together to create one irresistible piece of art.

    You’re right, David, some readers might not respond to your question the way you hope, so you have to be very strategic about using that tactic. What’s brilliant about the Jaguar piece is they make an unexpected statement. You’re compelled to know what they say next, which asks if they have your full attention and by then they have captured your attention. If they hadn’t, you wouldn’t have read beyond “It’s good to be bad,” in which case the question wouldn’t apply to you. In that way, they’ve almost guaranteed that your answer to that question is “yes.” Another way to make sure you’re using the question tactic correctly is to know your intended audience extremely well. Always do your persona homework before creating content that they’re supposed to want to read. Know your target audience so well that you can relate to them and the concerns that led them to your content. Your content is ideally solving some pain point for your customers or potential customers. Understand the emotions involved when they’re dealing with that pain point, and you should be able to formulate questions they’re having about your product or service. Read through your content, or have someone with a fresh perspective read through it, and find any holes that leave room for excuses not to purchase your product or service. If there are obvious places, insert the question they might have and answer it right then. I hope that helps, David. Let me know if you have anymore questions.

    Thanks for the great discussion, everyone!