“HOW THE F**K DO I START THIS F*****G ARTICLE!!!!” – Every writer since the dawn of time.
Don’t worry, I only need 10 minutes to show you the secret of how to write killer article intros that hook, compel, and sell on ANY TOPIC. It’s a lot easier than you think. This guide includes:
- Screenshots of F*****G AMAZING intros you can copy
- Screenshots of horrible intros so you can NOT COPY THEM
- My 3 go-to intro tactics that HOOK
- Intro mistakes that INSTANTLY make clients think you’re a bad writer (READ: Won’t pay you good money)
- Actionable tips you can apply in your introductions to improve readability and engagement
Let’s DO IT!!!!!
Image courtesy of Nielsen Norman Group
Read this quote. Then reread. Then reread it again.
“Users often leave Web pages in 10–20 seconds, but pages with a clear value proposition can hold people’s attention for much longer. To gain several minutes of user attention, you must clearly communicate your value proposition within 10 seconds.”
Your intros are life or death. If you don’t hook a reader’s attention, you will lose them. All of that work you put into writing great content? Lost.
The cool thing is that once you have a reader’s attention, it gets really easy to keep it.
First, I’m going to cover some tips for starting your articles based on 5 years of hard work, results, and feedback (Plus studies from trustworthy sources around the web). Then I’ll cover my intro writing process and provide examples of how to start an article.
Ⅰ: How to Start an Article: Tips, Hacks, Emotions, Etc.
Start Your Articles Off With a Bang!
It’s not easy to cut through a human head with a hacksaw.
Did that get your attention?
I hope, because you have a millisecond or less to capture your reader’s attention and make them want to stay on your page.
Those first 15-20 words matter more than any other in your article. If you’re just starting as a freelance writer, I recommend practicing this first.
It’s actually pretty easy to start an article with a killer first sentence. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned:
Say something crazy
The more energetic the better, so long as it’s related to the article. My intro to this article was “How the F***CK do I start this F*****G article?!”. It works.
Start off with a complete 180
This is an intro to an article about screenwriting rules. The first sentence does a total 180. Instead of a boring “screenwriting rules are important” first sentence, this guy made me question everything. I was HOOKED.
Notice the narrative he sets up here, too. “I hated rules. I was always the guy that hated them. Until one day…”
Which brings me to my next “trick”.
Tell a story
Humans love stories.
In fact, storytelling is what makes us human.
It’s the vehicle through which we teach social norms and raise our children. It’s evolutionarily hardwired into our brains.
I love this intro to a blog about freelance writing niches.
The story instantly made me want to keep reading. That’s because storytelling IGNITES the release of dopamine and activates parts of our brain that let us turn the story into our own experience. Readers will want to scroll down to keep playing the narrative in their minds.
Check out this awesome infographic about how our brains light up when we hear a story. It makes us feel the same emotions that the characters experience. Cool stuff!
Ask a question in your intro
Interesting/funny questions spark our curiosity and activate the brain’s limbic system.
And no, I don’t mean your average “Are you look for xyz? You’ve found the right post.” introductions.
Starting your article off with a fun question instantly ignites a reader’s imagination, and if you’re good enough, makes them want to read on to scratch their curiosity itch.
Benefits. Benefits. Benefits
I like this approach with how-to articles.
And I highly recommend it for more serious/professional topics where you can’t use humor or tell a story since you’re acting as a business.
Readers looking for solutions want to know they’ve found the right article for their problem. They want to know what’s in it for them. Check out this intro from a Russian visa website. It’s borderline perfect (Sans the typo “seems”).
They instantly introduce the topic I’m looking for (How to get a Russian visa), and tell me how I benefit (Everything in less than an hour and cheap). By the way, saving time and saving money are the two main benefits all customers want. Well done, comrade.
Pro Tip: Conveying benefits is one of the most important aspects of content/copywriting. It’s one of the main content writing skills you have to master to get high-paying gigs.
Use The Intro to Trigger Strong Emotions: Trust, Fear, Humor
These 3 emotions sell the shit out of everything.
If you want to sell more of something, trigger them (#TRIGGER!).
You are the expert. You’ve got the knowledge. You’ve scanned the market for everything. Not the other schmuck.
“50 new tantric yoga mind meld studios open every week in Canggu, Bali.
We’ve tried them all, and these 5 are the best. By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly which studio exploits your lack of direction in life best and exactly how much money they’ll con out of you before you realize this whole industry is a scam”
I love Bali though…
Nothing motivates like fear.
The fear of failure. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of missing out. The fear of getting ripped off.
I stole this from Matt Diggity. If they don’t read your blog, something bad could happen.
“These 5 keto-friendly snacks are perfect for anyone on the go. Just be careful. Even the slightest misstep will throw you out of ketosis and could ruin all of the hard work you’ve put in so far. Read carefully!”
My favorite emotion is humor. Sorry, but seeing a bear vacuum up a man’s face is hysterical.
I always try to trigger the laughing bug in my pieces.
And actually, a study conducted by Diggity Marketing showed making your audience laugh leads to the most engagement.
Version 1 is humor and version 2 is fear.
Kevin, How do I Know When to Use These Different Approaches?
That’s a good question. I’m glad you asked. Here are my preferences:
- Super serious topics: Trust. Keep it professional.
- Light topics: Humor!
- Selling products: Fear (If they don’t take your advice they’ll get ripped off).
Ⅱ: Article Introduction Tips
Get to the point (Do not write misaligned intros)
Imagine your best friend is choking on a chicken bone and you google “how to dislodge a chicken bone from my friend’s throat”, then the article starts like this:
“Chicken bones are the structure of a chicken. These bones hold the muscles, organs, and tissue in place. If they’re stuck in your friends throat…”
Oops, your friend is dead before you finish the intro.
Enjoy years of therapy trying to cope with your hatred of bad content.
I call this “introduction misalignment”. Essentially, this means your intro doesn’t align with what your reader is looking for/how well they know the topic.
Let me explain…
Think about what your reader already knows and what they are after when writing an intro…
To write a perfect intro that hooks your reader, you have to understand how well your reader knows the topic already/what they are after.
An example of what they are after
For example, someone searching for “how to dislodge a chicken bone from my friend’s throat” is looking for steps to remove a chicken bone RIGHT NOW. They don’t need to be educated on the physiological aspects of a bone.
The same could also be said of most “best” keywords. Someone searching for the “best laptops under $200” has $200 or so in hand and wants the best laptop for their budget. They don’t need to be told how cool of an invention laptops are.
Since they already have a budget in mind and are on the hunt, it’s safe to assume they are aware of this fact.
This “best laptops” website clearly doesn’t get it:
An example of what they already know
Imagine you and your best buds want to go fishing in the backwater of America’s favorite half-North/half-South/half-Caribbean/half-TheSouthWillRiseAgain peninsula, Florida. So you go to Google to find some inspiration. What might you Google? “Best fishing locations in Florida”?
Do you need to be convinced that Florida is a good place to go fishing? NO. You’ve already decided that. Now you just want to know WHERE in Florida to go.
Yet, most articles still start like this:
This ENTIRE introduction does nothing except explain things the reader already knows. They want to know WHERE IN FLORIDA TO GO not WHY GO TO FLORIDA FOR FISHING.
Here’s one that does it right.
Do not repeat the title (With few exceptions)
This is the #2 mistake writers make when starting their articles. #1 is coming up next.
There’s 0 reason to repeat the title except in extremely rare cases. Personally, I do repeat the title in articles like “The best laptops of 2019”. I might say something like “welcome to my best laptops of 2019 review!”
But for the most part, this is not necessary. Instead, use this opportunity to reinforce the title or trigger the emotions I gave you before.
DO NOT STATE USELESS BULLSHIT – #1 Mistake
If a client sees this, they will instantly think you’re a bad writer.
When a new writer applies to work with me, I trash their application when I see this. The majority of content out there starts off like this:
How to solo with the major scale over minor chords
The guitar is the instrument that drives modern music. And with a guitar, you can do a guitar solo
This type of article intro is more boring than a Neil Young guitar solo (I love Old Man and Heart of Gold though).
Starting your articles with a basic fact is lazy, fluffy, and totally useless to the reader. I once read an article about air purifiers that started like this:
“An air purifier is a combination of the words air and purify. So you know that an air purifier purifies the air”.
I felt numb. I felt helpless. I spend the next 3 hours huddled over the toilet vomiting.
Speak directly to your reader
Your reader is who matters in all of this. It doesn’t matter what you want.
Speak directly to them using “you”, “you’re”, and similar words.
“I’m going to show you” is much better than “we’ll explain”. “You’re about to find out how…” is much better than “This article will cover”. There are exceptions and you can combine both approaches, but the former > latter.
One trick I use is introducing the article by directly addressing the reader like this:
Hey [type of person you are/want to be], [solution/benefit]”.
So if this were an article about best testosterone boosting supplements, I’d do something like this:
“Hey Mr. Universe 2021, I’m about to show you how to get leaner, stronger, and more confident with almost no extra work”!
Summary of Compelling Intros Tips/Mistakes
- Get to the point
- Address the reader directly
- Ignite emotions like fear, laughter, or trust
- Focus on benefits/solutions
- Repeat the title
- State useless facts
- Educate the reader on things they already know
Ⅲ: Examples of Awesome Article Introductions
I want to share some of my favorite introductions with a few quick reasons why I love them.
- How to Get a Russian Visa
I covered this already, but I’ll add it here. This intro is perfect.
- It gets right to the point
- It conveys benefits in detail
- It explains EXACTLY what to expect and it’s EXACTLY what the reader is looking for
- It sounds very professional despite the typo
- It assuages a fear (It’s not hard!)
My Advice: Use this kind of intro for “how-to” and process-oriented posts.
2. How to Stop Wasting Time on the Internet (Funny, Perfectly Aligned, Thought Provoking, and Engaging)
This intro kicks ass. This intro is baller. If introductions were martial arts movies, this one would be Blood Sport and Enter the Dragon combined into one. Here’s why:
- It follows directly from the title without a single wasted word
- It asks a fun, thought provoking, and engaging question
- It makes the reader identify with him (We all waste time on the internet)
- It’s funny as hell
- It lets the reader know they are in the right place WITHOUT repeating the title or saying something robotic like “this is how to not waste time on the internet”
This is the excellence of execution.
My Advice: Think outside the box. Try to imagine ways to introduce your article without restating the title or using cliches. And, as always, try to have the intro lead naturally from the title. If the title introduces an idea, don’t repeat that idea in the intro.
3. The 5 Best Basketball Drills to Improve Conditioning
Short, simple, sweet_nobody ever said intro has to be long. This does the trick succinctly. Just get straight to the point.
Nothing else to say about that.
4. The Best Gaming Laptops for 2019
PCmag generally has solid intros. This is a keyword with clear buying intent. This searcher knows he needs a gaming laptop and is ready to buy. All you’ve got to do is tell him which one is the best bang for his buck.
This intro is good, but not perfect. It does establish trust (lab-tested picks) and it does offer some hope (You don’t need to buy a big desktop rig). But if it were my choice, I’d add some fear about getting ripped off or wasting $1,000 when you could get the same power for half the price.
- To the point
- Targeted perfectly to the reader
- Establishes trust
- Visualizes details (maxed out detail levels and resolution)
- More important than what this intro does is what it DOESN’T DO – Waste time
My Advice: When you have buy-now keywords or “emergency room” keywords like “how do I unclog my toilet”, then GET STRAIGHT TO THE POINT. Also, with buy-now keywords, establish trust! Let them know it’s a good idea to trust your recommendation!
5. The 7 Best Magnesium Supplements – The Definitive Guide
Whoever this writer is must be a genius. Why? Because he only needs one sentence to convey the entire value of the article AND show that he’s a Lord of the Rings nerd.
But seriously, the title of this article does all the work. The reader knows exactly what to expect. There’s no reason to go into mega detail on the intro. Just get into the meat of things.
My Advice: When the title is this clear, you might not even need an intro.
Learning how to start an article by writing a kick ass introduction is one of the most important skills to master as a writer.
If you don’t, you will lose readers before you ever get the chance to sell them anything. Keeping readers on page longer increases your Google ranking AND funnels readers toward your on-page CTA’s. If you get good at this, your clients will start paying you hundreds of dollars for a single blog.
With this guide to writing compelling introductions that dish and swish, you’ll never be lacking in inspiration!