Copywriting is like dominos.
Not like the pizza. Or the game you play with Grammy Jan at the beach. It’s like the kind that you stack and knock over.
Because it has to happen sequentially.
You might have the coolest, most intricate domino sequence known to man in the middle of the path. But if the first dominos don’t topple, the world will never get to see the magical middle section come to life.
With dominos — as with writing — everything hinges on the start.
That first domino? It’s your opening line.
Domino numero uno needs to pull readers in, piquing their interest juuuuust enough to keep their eyes moving down the page.
So how do you knock that domino over?
Keep on reading, bud! I’ve got seven ninja copywriting tricks to grab a reader’s attention with your opening line. And they’re way easier than you think.
The subtle art of chute-greasing
Ever been on a dry slip ‘n’ slide?
As this exact scenario played out numerous times in the Ryan backyard growing up, I can personally report that it’s an awfully painful experience.
Not only do you get skid burns from here to the French Riviera (and in extreme cases, lose your bathing suit bottoms)…
You also stay stuck at the top, before the good stuff hits.
Getting stuck at the top means you never enjoy the bliss that is whooshing down that blue, plastic-y river of fun feeling like the graceful lovechild of Aquaman and Ariel.
…And that’s the real travesty.
When it comes to your emails, you need to help readers get to the slippin’-and-slidin’ oblivion of your epic content.
To do that, you need a little grease…
You need to bust out the dish detergent and garden hose and get your opening line niiiiiice and slippery, so that readers can let momentum take over and glide right into your content.
7 ways to “grease the chute” with your opening line
1. Short ‘n’ sweet and good to eat
I love me some long, flowery, detail-drenched prose. But your opening line usually isn’t the best place for it.
It’s far more effective to start your email with a short, simple sentence. Short sentences are easy to read and feel like less of a commitment, so readers are more likely to start reading.
Copywriting legend Joseph Sugarman actually advises to only include one-syllable words in your opening line. Par exemple:
– Life is hard.
– Ron lost his rat.
– I need you to write.
– Want to learn golf?
…You get the idea.
You can hack this tip by making your opening line (and whole introduction, really) visually short. Mark Manson does this below, by making the first paragraph of his writing in a larger font so it appears shorter.
(Sidenote: The above image links to one of my favorite blog posts of all time. If you’re not turned off by the f-word, I highly recommend giving it a read!)
Making your first sentence look simple, it makes it easy for a reader to start slippin’ and slidin’ down that greasy chute.
2. Channel your inner J.Law
The reason America became obsessed with Jennifer Lawrence when she fell down in her pretty gown at the Oscars? Because she was #sorelatable.
Whether pounding shots to calm her nerves or freaking out over meeting Jack Nicholson, she acted like we would, in her shoes. (Celebrities, they’re just like us!)
As humans, we like people and ideas that conform with what we believe, with our “worldview,” as Seth Godin calls it.
Tap into that with your introduction and open with a strong statement your readers will agree with.
Like The grocery store on a Sunday afternoon is my personal circle of hell.
Or Ever been afraid you’re the un-coolest person in the room?
Or…Checking email sucks.
They’d catch your attention, right? You got that right, Whit. What do you have to say about it?
And just like magic, you’ve got the reader continuing down the page.
3. Questions: The Ol’ Classic
Ah, questions. The classic standby from your high school English paper days. Hello, old friend!
But it’s a classic for a reason.
What color was your first car?
Ever tasted octopus?
Is Jude Law too handsome to play young Dumbledore?
The human brain loves completeness and it has a natural tendency to answer questions. So I bet you’re thinking of your first car, octopus, or Jude Law right now. Am I right?
By asking a question in your intro, readers will answer to themselves, even if they’re not aware they’re doing it. (I know. Psychology is freaky stuff.)
Use a question to get readers engaged with your intro. Open by asking something they’ll agree with, disagree with, or be downright intrigued by to keep your chute nice and greasy.
And if you’re saying, “C’mon, Whit. Questions are so overplayed. I want something more original.” I hear ya. But honestly, sometimes a simple question is all you really need.
To quote the ever-luminous Frankie Bergstein, “We’re not reinventing the wheel here…unless, of course, you have a great new wheel idea.”
4. Make like the Housewives
To quote every Real Housewife ever, “I hate drama.”
And to quote every person who ever responded to that Real Housewife, “Oh please. You LOVE drama.”
Spoiler alert: humans love drama. All of us. Our brains are wired to seek out potentially harmful or dangerous information, so we get a little jolt when our drama sensors go off.
Drama is inherently intriguing. So it can be a captivating way to kick off your piece.
Paint a bleak picture. Tease your controversial view on a topic. Tap into something negative.
There’s a silent plague affecting entrepreneurs.
I know I’ll get flack for saying this, but…
I still can’t wrap my head around what went down.
These lines are catchy because of their smidge of darkness. They build up the drama to encourage readers to keep reading.
5. Quotes: The other classic
Oh, hey, other English paper standby! You’re perfect. I love you. Now change. (Just a tidge.)
Opening with an interesting quote is a tried-and-true way to catch reader attention. In this upgraded version, though, you want to quote someone your reader knows, likes, and/or trusts.
The power of this technique is two-fold:
1. Your reader will be interested in the familiar name you dropped. If you’re seated next to a stranger at a dinner party, it’s a lot easier to get talking when you find a common interest. Same thing with your intro!
2. Aligning yourself with a trusted source taps into the idea of borrowed credibility. If I quote someone really smart, some of their smartness rubs off on me. (Though the phrase “some of their smartness rubs off on me” might counteract any borrowed intelligence I just gained.)
You essentially ride on the speaker’s coattails by aligning your writing with him/her. Nice little bonus to catching attention, no?
6. Get your numbers running
98.6% of people say they “are freaking obsessed with” whitneyryan.com.*
*Not an actual fact. But it snagged your attention, right?
People. Love. Stats. It’s not the most exciting of realities, but it’s true.
We trust numbers and stats are a compelling way to make people care. If a number surprises them, if it supports their pre-existing belief, or if it alerts them to a new possibility, it intrigues them to keep reading.
So if you have a particularly shocking or persuasive stat that pertains to what you’re writing about, go ahead and open with it!
7. Make it about THEM
Call your reader out on something. Not necessarily in a negative way! But point out a particular behavior / feeling / activity / viewpoint that you suspect is occurring.
Be honest — you don’t blog when you say you will.
You’ve tried couples counseling but nothing changed.
Double meat Chipotle burrito? You can house that puppy in four minutes flat.
We only read pieces that add value to our lives in some way. So we look for clues early on that something will matter TO US and be worth our time.
This introduction technique makes readers say “yup, nailed it” and gives them a clear sense that you get them, which is the secret sauce to encourage them to keep reading.
There are loads of ways to grease the chute and keep a reader moving down the page. This is far from an exhaustive list but it’s a great place to start!
Stick these slippery seven in your back pocket and pull ‘em out when you need a little extra dish detergent for your slip ‘n’ slide.
join the convo
How do you grease the chute with your introduction?
What techniques are your fave?
Which of these seven tricks do you gravitate to most, as a reader?