More and more marketers are focusing on unique content to promote their websites. Social Media Examiner's 2014 Social Media Marketing Industry Report indicates that 58% of marketing professionals feel that original written content is vital to their social media marketing efforts. Add those statistics to the fact that search engine rankings, visitor engagement and frequency of visits all factor into whether or not your site produces original content.
However, writing all that content can be a challenge on the best of days. And, if the content is not exciting, visitors won't hang around to finish more than a sentence of two. Fortunately, there are some age-old writing principles website owners can use to hook readers and keep them reading. Whether you are the one the writing the content for your own site, or you've grown to the size that you can hire other writers, you should insist upon hooks and hangers in every piece of writing that goes up on your website.
You may have heard the term “hooking the reader” before from an English literature class or when reading about how to write online. However, knowing what the term means and knowing how to add it into your own writing are two very different things.
What Is a Hook?
A “hook” is simply a device used to grab the reader and make her want to read on. You will see this used in novels, short stories and articles of all types. It is your engaging opening line. It can be about anything as long as it is interesting, unique and makes the reader a bit curious. This is the type of engaging reading that you can't look away from. Someone might call your name and you don't even hear them, because you are absorbed in reading the article that has hooked you and reeled you in.
Methods for Hooking
There are many different types of hooks, but some of the most common include:
Sharing a particularly interesting fact.
Using statistics or information from a source.
Using a quote that meshes up with your topic. You can use a quote from a famous person or a quote you get from a source you interview.
Painting a picture for the reader that is vivid and personal.
Posing a question to the reader that she really wants answered.
Shocking the reader.
Making the reader laugh.
Examples of Hook
One of the best ways to learn how to write an excellent opening hook is to study what other people have written.
In the above example, the writer uses statistics to pull the reader in. He also uses the bandwagon method of “everyone is doing it.”
People shopping for their first web host are undoubtedly assaulted with flashy offers and inexplicable features from a barrage of providers – sorting through all of the options and terms can be overwhelming, nevermind frustrating. – Don’t Buy Hosting Before Debunking These 5 Hosting Myths by Jerry Low, WHSR
The writer states an interesting fact that pulls the reader in. In addition, the reader can relate to what he is saying, because we've all had to deal with those options and flashy offers.
In the above example, I use a question that is interesting to try to draw the reader into the article. Even though people my already be aware that most hate promotions on social media, the reader will hopefully read on to get statistics and find out how to combat this.
Painting a picture
When the wind howls the way it's likely to at Royal Liverpool later this week, if you can't lower your ball flight when needed, you're going to have issues. – Tip of the Week: Learn to lower your ball flight, Golf Channel Digital
In this example, the reader paints an interesting picture for the reader. You can almost hear the wind howling. At the same time, he presents a solution (lowering the ball flight) and the unspoken promise that he'll give you a tip on how to achieve this.
In this example, the reader states a fact to draw you in. Again, she uses an unspoken promise that she is going to solve your shopping problems for you.
As you can see, there are a lot of ways you can grab the reader and make her want to read more.
Keep in mind that you have about three seconds to grab the reader's interest. Today's average person is extremely busy. He may have work, a family, coach a softball team at night, elderly parents who need care, extended family who'd like to see him from time to time and friends to keep up with. On top of that, if he has a hobby that can pull him away from reading your blog as well. That is why it is so vital to hook your reader from that very first line and get him engaged in your blog post. Otherwise, you risk losing him to the many competing activities he has available both online and offline.
Hanging On for the Next Article
Even if you manage to hook your reader, retaining her attention can be tough. She may not save your site or remember that she really enjoyed an article there. You have to do everything you can to make her stick around or come back, especially if you are working on a series of articles on a particular topic. Fortunately, you can take a page out of novel writers' handbook and hang onto the reader.
What is a Hanger?
Novel writers have long used hangers at the end of a chapter to keep the reader engaged and wanting to know what happens in the next chapter. This makes the book a page-turner. The reader will then tell her friends that she simply couldn't put the book down. What she may not realize is that the reader created this feeling in her with intent by using hangers.
The hanger is essentially a promise of what is to come next. It often plants a question in the reader's mind. In one of my novels, I end a chapter with:
What she said or didn’t say could mean the difference between life and death.
The reader is left wondering what the heroine will say. Will she speak the truth and take the consequences or will she be deceptive to save her own life? This is the unspoken question that I hope the reader wants to know the answer to and will thus turn the page and keep reading.
Articles for your blog are the same way. If it is a series, you want the reader to read the next in the series, so you should end on a question and let the reader know the question will be answered with the next article in the series.
If the article is not a series, then add in features that offer similar articles that the reader can read to answer any additional questions she might have. Adding a simple feature that highlights similar or related articles is a form of a hanger and will go a long way toward readers hanging around your site and continuing to learn from you.
Examples of Hangers
Just as with hooks, there are many different ways you can encourage readers to stick around or come back for more reading. I've selected a few examples for you to give you an idea, but get creative with how you get readers to come back for more.
For Tuesday, I’ll find some books that are more self-assured. – Really Good Books Part I by David Brooks, New York Times
The writer of this article promises that on Tuesday he is going to bring you a specific type of book. This promise of future reward will encourage the reader to come back for more.
Have a must-know tip for SEO? Please share it below – with the ever-changing rules of SEO, we’re all in this together. – SEO 101 for First Time Bloggers by Jerry Low, WHSR
WHSR's Jerry Low uses engagement to keep readers around. Instead of writing a second part to this article, he encourages readers to become engaged and share their own tips. This also gets readers interacting with one another which can keep them coming back to your site.
Even then, as he lay in the dark listening to the cacophony of voices around him, Michael felt that he would be vindicated someday. He just didn’t know how or when that day would come. – by Pamela Colloff, Texas Monthly
Ms. Colloff uses the promise of future vindication for this man to encourage the reader to go on to Part II.
We will explore this story, which is now entering its end-game phase, in Part II. – Entrepreneurs Are the New Labor: Part I by Venkatesh Rao, Forbes
Mr. Rao simply states that there is more to come. This is a simple approach but works effectively when you've already engaged the reader with excellent content as this writer does.
There is no amount of promotion or offers you can utilize for your website that will ever trump good writing and regular content. There is little point in building a fan base if you just lose them again because you aren't giving them some literary meat to chew on about your topic of choice. Using hooks and hangers will keep your readers on your site and keep them coming back for more, but you'll also need to make sure all the content in the middle follows good writing principals.
About Lori Soard
Lori Soard has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 1996. She has a bachelor's in English Education and a PhD in Journalism. Her articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines, online and she's had several books published. Since 1997, she has worked as a web designer and promoter for authors and small businesses. She even worked for a short time ranking websites for a popular search engine and studying in-depth SEO tactics for a number of clients. She enjoys hearing from her readers.