The Art Of The Lede
You hear it everywhere: if you want a successful blog – write short, pithy posts. Nonsense.
Length is irrelevant – just craft a strong lede. If your writing is good, smart people will read the whole thing, I promise. But you have to entice them.
…people don’t read every word anymore. They skim – and most people don’t even do that.” The same behavior applies to social media, especially where Twitter has users trained on 140 character sound bites.
He’s got a point – both mass and social media are guilty of infecting hordes of people with attention deficit disorder. Look at any story on CNN.com, you get something at the top like this:
(from A blogger’s inauguration)
They’re basically encouraging you to skip the story and read just the bullet points. There’s even a link guiding you to the next article in the section. No denying it, the web is a fast-paced medium where many people, even those who are extremely smart end up skimming.
Here is your challenge: slow them down when they get to your writing.
How you begin your writing sets the pace for not only if someone will skim versus read your content, but whether they will read it at all.
It doesn’t matter if your post has bullet points, is cleanly formatted, in list format, or broken up with headings. All of those things make content on an LCD screen easier on your eyes, but are irrelevant for getting people to actually read your work carefully. The secret is the lede (or lead) is all that matters.
Unfortunately, I can’t teach you how to write great ledes. No one can, it is an art form learned through trail and error, experimentation and experience.
That is why it kills me that every marketer, PR professional and journalist doesn’t blog. Never before have communications professionals had unrestricted freedom to test their ideas in the wild, free, whenever they want. You can see how all your content does, what people actually click on, how deep the interactions are, if readers share it, and use this information to polish your writing and your ledes.
Learning by getting feedback from others is nice, but you’re missing half the picture when you can now actually get raw data on your writing at your fingertips. Data is unbiased. You have a real opportunity here to learn and grow.
I don’t mind sharing a sample of something I wrote with a lede I particularly liked and the numbers along with it.
This is some of the data from my article titled: Your Resume Is Meaningless (And Building Career Security, Not Job Security)
Out of a more than 1K unique pageviews during the month of August, the average time spent on this page was a bit over 5 minutes. So I know that most people read the entire piece. I’d attribute the average time spent on that story entirely to the lede.
I know I said above I can’t show you how to write great ledes. I wish it was that easy, it’s a fluid process like anything else, and I’m learning just like you are. But I can share what has been successful for me personally:
Keep it simple at the start
We are all busy, and busy people are daunted by huge blocks of text. You can get into more details as you delve in further, but if you want people to get that far you need to make the first part easily consumable. Ease people into deeper content by starting them off with something simple. Just as good music builds as a progression, so does writing.
Your lede needs to hook people. Be mysterious, be assertive, be counter-intuitive, be inquisitive, be hyper-logical or equally illogical. I know this is journalism 101 to most of you, but it is worth repeating. You can lead them down the intellectual path shortly thereafter, they will be primed for it. It’s basic psychology to make inroads emotionally with someone to reach them intellectually.
Challenge things everyone believes
Really. Go against the herd, balk at conventional wisdom. Tell people that their view of the world is wrong in the first sentence. Then explain why. Many things everyone believes are wrong, so this is actually not hard to do.
Play to an audience
Tell an inside joke in the beginning and don’t bother to explain it. People who are into it will get it – if you do this right everyone else should be intrigued enough to Google it and catch up.
Get under their skin
If you’re savvy in your subject matter, use what you know to your advantage. Alternatively do some research to find something which you know will get under the skin of a certain group. This is also a strategy to get comments.
Take your time
Never rush your lede. Even more importantly, don’t force the lede. Seriously, don’t even write it if you have to force it. At that point you are writing just to write. Good ledes are products of a flow experience.
There are no longer editors, space limits and or hard and fast rules for writing ledes. You can play with formats, images, video, copy, animations – anything you want – the key is to be unafraid to try things out. Break any and all traditional rules, you may find something that works for you which is unique and breaks through the clutter. Experiment and play are encouraged – don’t be constrained by anything.
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