The Ultimate Guide to Good (And Bad) Blog Introductions
Making the first impression is essential.
But, unlike popular opinion, it's not the most essential ingredient to a quality blog.
Getting your foot in the door is necessary, but it isn't significant if the door isn't then opened for you. If your target jabs your foot with a broom and slams the door in your face, it doesn't matter how strong your opening line was.
In this metaphor, the "foot in the door" is your headline, the H1 title in Google search, and anywhere your content is posted.
The key isn't that title, though it's essential. The key is your opening lines. Your title draws people in; your intro has to grab the reader's attention and let them know they're in the right place.
How to Craft a Compelling Introduction
A good blog introduction is unique in content writing. Yet, the concept isn't.
Consider every book – especially fiction – that you've ever read. The first sentence doesn't need to be ripe with meaning; it needs to catch your attention. The entire purpose of the first sentence is to get you to read the second. The goal of the second sentence is to get you to finish the paragraph, and the purpose of the paragraph is to get you to complete the page. The author can only assume that you're invested and start to get into details.
This phenomenon is why many books start in media res, that is, in the middle of the action. It's more compelling than starting with pages of descriptions of a city from above or someone doing something mundane. That's not to say those kinds of intros don't exist – they do, and they can be compelling in a way – but it's a technique that has to be done correctly to work.
"It was a dark and stormy night."
You know this famous intro, but do you know the second line or which book it comes from? It's from Paul Clifford, a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, published in 1830.
The entire line is actually:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
It's memorable, but it's so bad that it has been used as an example of bad introductions for nearly 200 years. Ouch.
Contrast this with an academic paper. Academic writing starts with advice you probably remember from grade school essay writing. "Tell them what you're going to tell them." If you look at research papers in journals, you see this as the "Abstract," the introductory paragraph summarizing the whole study.
Blog posts are unique because they target a specific kind of audience, engage with them directly, and have a potential expectation of a conversation. A book? The author might expect to have conversations about the book, but it's not like the book has a comments section. A blog post does.
There's no such thing as a single good introduction. If there were, everyone would use it, and then it wouldn't be good anymore.
Scroll back up to the top of this post. Look at the first two sentences in my article. The first one tells you something you already know or think you do. The second refutes that and implicitly promises to give you more profound knowledge about the subject. I don't have to tell you that I'm going to discuss the subject of introductions (since you already know from the post title), but I promise detail if you only read on to find it.
What are some other examples of good blog post intros, and bad ones? Let's analyze the world around us, and hopefully we can learn something to improve our own blogs.
And, hey, before I get too deep in the weeds: do you have a favorite blog post intro? Either one you wrote or one you read? Please post it in the comments and tell me why you like it.
This first example comes from a Neil Patel article:
Here's the intro:
"What first attracts people to your content or blog entry?
It's the title (aka "the headline").
The title is the first thing people will see on a page. It's your first impression on readers.
Copyblogger estimated that 8 out of 10 people read the title. However, the title doesn't keep them reading through your blog content."
Let's start with a contentious one right out of the gate.
He does this a lot. He starts with a question, elaborates on it, and then cites why the topic is essential.
Here's another one from his post on SMS marketing:
The article starts off by saying:
"Did you know the average person checks their phone 344 times a day?
This statistic is just one of the reasons SMS marketing no longer sucks.
Seventy-one percent of people say they check their phones within 10 minutes of getting out of bed.
The point is that people keep their phones handy and are always ready to use them to find information or check the latest social media updates.
Plus, open rates for texts vastly surpass email—98 percent versus just 20 percent for email."
He used short sentences, punchy statistics, and a question. If you aren't already interested in the subject, the article draws you in and gives you data to back up why it's essential to care about it. He also suggests that you may want to focus on it more than your email list, since the open rate is five times better.
Are they the best possible introductions? Maybe, maybe not. Neil has refined his content production process down to a science, and he happily shares his expertise.
The trouble, I think, is that he doesn't need to win people over. He's already a hugely trusted name in blogging. His introduction doesn't need to convince someone to read on because his reputation already has.
In that first post about blog introductions (guess how I found that post?) Neil specifies that a blog introduction needs three elements to be a success. They are:
- The Hook. A brief, specific, exciting line catches the eye and makes the reader want to read more, even if it's just the second sentence. Often, it can even end up being a single word.
- The Transition. This bridge connects the hook, which can be abstract, to the premise, which is more concrete. The first line is the hook in the SMS example above, and the second/third lines are the transition.
- The Thesis. The thesis is the statement in the introduction of what the post will be about, and it dispenses with the metaphor and gets down to details. Often, it reflects the title of the post.
So, keeping that in mind, let's look at a few more blog introductions.
This next example is from a post on SmartBlogger:
The article starts off with:
"What does life look like without knowing your target audience?
It's like going to the grocery store without a shopping list.
You spend money on food you don't need or come home empty-handed.
And yet, that's what you do by making assumptions about who your customers are and what they want.
Businesses and marketers miss many potential customers because they are, in effect, not checking their pantries.
Billions are wasted in ad spending from advertisements that fail to engage the target audience every year.
We know you don't want to waste that kind of money, and that's why this post will walk you through six simple steps to define your target audience."
This introduction has all three elements. It has the hook, in the form of the initial question and the metaphor for shopping, which makes you think about how the two topics are the same. It has the transition in the form of talking about why defining your target audience is essential. And finally, it has the thesis, which comes out and tells you what the rest of the post will report to you.
If you'll remember that advice, this is how you do it right.
We create blog content that converts - not just for ourselves, but for our clients, too.
We pick blog topics like hedge funds pick stocks. Then, we create articles that are 10x better to earn the top spot.
Content marketing has two ingredients - content and marketing. We've earned our black belts in both.
What's interesting to me is that this post can appeal to all kinds of target audiences. It's a "simple steps" guide, which means it's aimed at beginners and people who need a cheat sheet or "easy mode" for a topic. Yet, it makes a slightly more advanced argument as to why it's necessary to target a more advanced audience. Overall, I like it.
Content Marketing Institute
I have two examples to discuss from CMI. Here's the first one:
It starts off with:
"Content marketers at technology companies have a good handle on content marketing, according to our latest research. They've got a strategy, and they know if it's working because they measure and report results. And most expect more budget to work with this year.
Does that mean tech company marketers avoid the challenges and growing pains that keep their colleagues in other industries up at night?
To find out the challenges tech companies face (as well as they're planning to invest), let's examine the findings in CMI's Technology Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends with Insights for 2022 sponsored by Foundry. The report reflects responses from 216 content marketers at for-profit technology companies who participated in the 12th annual Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs survey in July 2021."
First up is this post. I'm highlighting it because I think the introduction isn't very good.
First up, look at the headline. It has the hallmarks of a compelling title in that it poses a situation that should attract attention, but it's a little too stilted and awkward. To me, it reads more like a press release.
Then you get into the introduction itself. "Content marketers are good at content marketing" is meaningless, and that's their opening sentence. The hook isn't there. Again, it reads more like a press release than a valuable blog post. The closest thing to a hook this intro has is the second paragraph, with the question. The last section, though, loses me. I get that they want to showcase their research studies, but I don't want to read academic citations as part of the introduction in the first place. It's not drawing me into the rest of the post.
The worst part is, the study itself is fascinating! There's some compelling information and some excellent digital marketing statistics, but you would never know it from the intro.
Now, look at this second example by CMI:
It starts with:
'Why didn't I think of that?'
The best content marketing examples inspire other marketers. All content marketers want to produce content so good that it sparks joy in its intended audience – and performs well. It doesn't hurt if it earns a little envy from peers.
"Unicorn" content initiatives don't appear out of thin air. It takes work to come up with fresh ideas, align them to your strategic goals and audience interests, and support them with a thoughtful distribution and promotion plan.
No one else's map will get you there, but you can find inspiration for your map. Our latest collection of the best content marketing – 35 Examples of Brands That Are Winning With Content – shows leading B2B and B2C companies that exceeded audience expectations – and their marketing goals – with novel content approaches and creative executions.
Here's a peek at eight of my favorite initiatives and the lessons they teach:"
It has the hook. It draws you in between the title, the opening question, and the immediate first substantive paragraph.
It has a transition. It's slightly different from my other examples because the purpose is different; it's a teaser for a more profound piece of content, an eBook, that they're using as a lead generation tool. But that's the point: this post is valuable because it gives you a substantial, useful hint at a larger, better piece of content. It's not worthless on its own – quite the opposite – but it also promises more.
And, of course, it has the thesis. This strategy tells you what the article will give you – in this case, eight examples and the lessons they teach – and then it immediately launches into the rest of your content.
Search Engine Journal
SEJ is an excellent example to study because it focuses on a different writing kind. Since they're a rapid-fire blog covering search engine optimization news and development, a lot of their content has to be very brief and punchy. It's time-sensitive, so it has to get to you right away.
This Search Engine Journal example is from this post:
The article starts off with this paragraph:
"Google's use of alt text as a ranking factor is limited to image search. It does not add value for regular web search.
This is explained by Google's Search Advocate John Mueller during the Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout recorded on March 18.
Mueller fields several questions related to alt text, resulting in a number of takeaways about the impact it has on SEO."
The full text of the post goes into more resounding advice about alt text, but most of it is stuff you probably already know. The key, and the most critical revelation, is right there in the intro. If you're an experienced SEO, you probably don't even need to read more. But you can, and the full Mueller talk is available as well.
SEJ has plenty of more in-depth content, and their intros are more standard. I just wanted to call out what a more time-sensitive, news-focused, "get the value and move on" introduction might look like.
HubSpot is another massive blog with a ton of value, so you would expect them to be experts in the introduction. Do they?
The HubSpot example we're using is:
It starts with:
"If you've ever read a blog post, you've consumed content from a thought leader an expert in their industry. Chances are if the blog post was written effectively, you came away with helpful knowledge and a positive opinion about the writer or brand that produced the content.
Anyone can connect with their audience through blogging and enjoy the myriad benefits that blogging provides: organic traffic from search engines, promotional content for social media, and recognition from a new audience you haven't tapped into yet.
If you've heard about blogging but are a beginner and don't know where to start, the time for excuses is over because we'll cover how to write and manage your business's blog as well as provide helpful templates to simplify your blogging efforts."
As I mentioned above, this falls into the same kind of trap as some of Neil's writing. HubSpot is an industry leader, and their content like this is so deep and so valuable that the introduction almost doesn't matter. Anyone reading this already knows they're getting something good and don't need a hook to finish the rest of the article.
First, it starts on a false premise. I've read plenty of blog posts from people who aren't thought leaders and are often amateurs. I've read plenty of content written ineffectively. I know what they're trying to get at, but their framing isn't the best.
This introduction does have a Thesis, which is excellent. It's also more than a simple blog post. It's a mega-guide; the webmaster's "time to read" is set to 30 minutes, and it's absolutely packed with helpful value. The introduction, to be honest, doesn't matter nearly as much.
Still, I think they could probably improve it. The thing is, I don't believe that improving it would matter all that much.
Here's the post we used for the Backlinko example:
It begins with:
"We analyzed 3.6 billion articles to better understand evergreen content.
Specifically, we looked at a number of different factors (including content formats and promotional channels) that may lead to a higher chance of publishing evergreen content.
With the help of our data partner BuzzSumo, we learned a lot about why certain content continues to get shares and links over time.
Let's get right into the data."
Now, this example is what I'm talking about.
The post has a hook. Plenty of case studies present data, but to analyze billions of articles on their rankings, link building efforts, industry, and title? That's insane. Very few bloggers have the resources to do it, and Brian Dean is one of them. I'm already interested, and the hook hasn't told me why I should be yet.
The transition is there. The hook leads seamlessly into talk of what the reader looked for and where the data came from.
The thesis is there too. It's not just about how evergreen content works; it's about why it works. And that, my friends, is the profound lore I'm interested in learning.
I'm going to read the post now. I think you've gotten the picture of what I'm trying to say.
If not, why not leave your intro in the comments and let me critique it? I'm always happy to offer my advice and perspective.