Have you ever tried fishing without bait?
Yeah, it doesn’t work out so well. (The fish aren’t convinced, and now your feet are probably wet.)
The same goes for content without a solid hook (minus the wet feet).
A lot of content out there doesn’t have strong hooks. And you know what happens? A lot of people aren’t convinced they should bother reading anything other than the first sentence.
So how do you prevent readers from bouncing at the get-go? You toss a sweet hook at them and reel them in.
A hook is the initial sentence (or a word) that grabs the attention of readers and entices them to keep reading. It’s the first necessary step after an attention-grabbing title.
Yet, so many people seem to neglect the essential hook. Instead, they start off their articles with bland statements. Yawn.
I get it. It’s not easy to know where to begin an article. You probably want to just get into the meat of your message. The problem is, your readers won’t even get to that point if that bounce after the first boring sentence.
I’m guilty of doing it too. When you’re working under a deadline and you need to crank out a piece quickly, it’s easy to throw in a generic opening line and get on with it.
But the effort you put into creating an enticing hook will likely be the difference between an article that gets read and an article that gets swallowed up by the content flood. In fact, hooks are so important, Ann Handley has devoted an entire chapter to them in her Everybody Writes!
Here are six ways you can approach writing a tantalizing hook.
1. Ask an engaging question
If someone asks you a question, it’s rude to ignore it.
OK, so maybe that’s not why questions draw people in. But they certainly do pique curiosity.
The first step is to address the reader directly (“you”) and then to leave them wondering what could possibly be coming next.
The key here is to not ask an obvious question. Don’t ask your reader something like “do you want your content to perform better?” The answer is obvious.
Instead, ask them a question that will give them pause.
Barry Feldman asked a controversial question at beginning of his article about modern B2B marketing: “Are we in the Dark Ages of Content Marketing? Wait… What? Isn’t the future of content marketing bright?”
Now that’s something to consider. Many people would probably say that we’ve got content marketing pretty figured out, even though it’s a frequently shifting field. But his opening makes readers pause and consider whether we may not know as much as we think we do.
2. Make a relatable statement
It feels good to know you’re not alone in your troubles.
Offer readers something that they can relate to, so that they know your content will be relevant to them.
For example, Nadya Khoja opens her article about how to increase blog traffic by sharing a struggle of her own: “Anyone can build a blog. It’s easy. Heck, I’ve got two blogs—both about completely different things. The struggle I face is not so much running the blog, or creating content for the blog, but rather getting high-value traffic to it. Can you relate? I thought so.”
It’s gratifying to see that your problems are shared by others. So, sharing your human struggles with readers will show them that you’re all in this together.
3. Call the reader out
This is a tricky one, but when used tactfully it can be very effective. Call the reader out for an assumption they have probably made, or something they’re probably doing wrong.
Now, you need to be careful. Though asking the reader to confront an issue or roadblock they’re having may get them on board to listen, attacking them will probably repel them. Or spur them to leave a nasty comment.
Gary Vaynerchuk is notorious for calling out his audience as a means of motivating them to work harder and try new tactics. Take this sobering hook he uses in an article about personal branding: “If you want people to start listening to you, you have to show up. What I mean by this is there are a lot of you out there who aren’t producing enough articles or videos or pieces of content that you should be produced to build your influence.”
Well, fair enough.
4. Tell readers what they’re going to get
Sometimes, the best place to start is at the end.
If you let readers know, up front, what they’re going to get, they may be more likely to consider your content worth their time.
Brian Dean’s blog has become a standard for examples of engaging content that keeps readers on the page. Many of his posts start by telling readers what they’re going to get from reading the article.
With promises like those, why wouldn’t you stick around to at least skim the posts?
5. Introduce a metaphor or simile
Even if you’re writing about a topic that has been covered before, you can still reframe it in a unique way.
Opening with a metaphor or a simile captures the attention of readers and makes them reconsider a topic they may already be familiar with.
For example, Larry Kim compares leading a company to raising a child in his article about how to be a good leader: “I have a 2-year-old boy. It’s incredibly exciting experience being part of his journey — teaching him new things and trying to be the best role model I can be as he grows.
“I also have an 8-year-old ‘child’ — the company I founded in 2008, WordStream.”
That comparison will probably ring true to a lot of business owners who put so much time and care into their business.
6. Present a shocking statistic
If you’ve got a particularly surprising statistic in your arsenal, why not use that to get readers to stop and take notice?
Readers will get new value from your article that they won’t get in other, similar articles.
Lindsay Kolowich open an article about blog design with a surprising finding: “According to a recent UK survey, bloggers have ranked as the third most trustworthy source of information, following only friends and family. That’s right—bloggers are trusted more than celebrities, journalists, brands, and politicians.”
I’m sure that’s something bloggers will be happy to learn!
It’s time to go fishing!
If you’ve gotten this far into my article, then my hook worked.
Hopefully, now you will have a better understanding of some of the ways you can grab the attention of readers with a hook.
And if you follow your hook with some seriously helpful information, then you’ve got a winning piece of content.