How to write the perfect lead

The headline is still the king of content. It's what draws your reader in. Gets them to actually read the article. But it isn’t what keeps them there. That’s the job of the lead.

What is a content lead?

Put simply, it is the introduction to your article. Yet thinking of it like that is one of the more common mistakes rookie content marketers make. Instead of treating that opening paragraph as an introduction to the topic, you need to treat it as a call to action to actually read the article.

So a lead needs more thought than an overview would. After all, it is the 3rd thing your potential audience will see after the headline and hero image. And these three things together are they keys to your content’s success.

How do you write a lead?

To get to the bottom of a great lead, you need to first understand what it is that your audience is looking for in your content.

And this is where simple psychology comes in.

We’re not going into any real depth here, this is not an article about the psychology of content marketing. But once your audience has reached your article, once they've already been engaged by your headline, how do you keep them on your page?

Give your audience what they want

In the simplest terms available, your lead has to give your audience exactly what they want.

Don’t beat about the bush. Don’t hide things. Don’t promise that if they read this article to the end they will discover the meaning of life.

Just give them what they came for in those first 2 to 3 sentences.

Won’t that defeat the purpose of your article, though?

The short answer is: No.

The long answer is: Not if that’s what they wanted.

Take, for instance a common issue on a computer. Say your MacBook suddenly fails to find the WiFi. Your phone finds it perfectly fine, but your $2,000 laptop is unable to locate your router.

Your lead can tell your reader:

So your MacBook Pro cannot find your Wifi? The answer could be as simple as just renewing your DHCP lease.

Great! You’ve just told your reader the answer. But if they’re not technically minded, they still need to be walked through the solution. Which is where the rest of your article comes in.

And are those technical experts really your target audience?

A lead can act as a filter

When that technical expert reads your lead and drops out, you could see it as losing a potential reader. Or you could see it as losing someone who would never be your customer.

Targeting your content doesn’t stop at your placement or keywords, it continues through the piece itself, and that couldn’t be more true than the lead.

The lead can be a great tool to filter out people who could never be real prospects.

Instead, it helps you qualify your potential audience in their first visit to your blog. Which is great! By qualifying that early, it can drastically increase the effectiveness of your marketing funnel. And it must be remembered that content marketing is just one part of a successful marketing funnel.

By reading your article, watching your video or listening to your podcast, your target audience should be moving from a cold prospect into a warm lead, someone who can be turned into a hot lead in the future. By removing those who could never be hot leads in the very first sentences of your article, you’re increasing the efficiency of turning prospects into hot leads, and eventually sales.

Just enough intrigue and not a dash more

One of the most common traps many content marketers fall into is trying to make their title, lead and opening words as chock full of intrigue as possible. They want their readers to go

Wow, that’s incredible, I wonder what that means?

And that does seem like a great direction to take. After all, if people see a new idea, they’re going to read all about it, aren’t they?

The Secret of Trump

Without going into whether you agree with him or not, there is something to be learned from Trump’s win. Namely something about human psychology.

People do not want new.

Trump’s slogan was not “Let’s Build Something New”. It was not “A New Beginning” or “A Fresh Start”. It was “Make America Great AGAIN”.

In the UK, Leave won the EU referendum not with a “Build a Better Tomorrow” slogan but with “Take BACK Control”.

And when companies launch new formulas of old favourites, they get a backlash. Just look what happened when Procter & Gamble relaunched classic Downy with a new formula:

Negative Downy Reviews

Oh, and there’s a nice parallel further down the page

Let's make Downy great again!

The truth is, people don't want new. They want to hear things that conform to what they already know. When people share those “15 things you didn’t know about Geminis” on Facebook, they comment with

OMG, #7 is soooo true!

So how does that translate into writing your lead?

Remember our example from above?

So your MacBook Pro cannot find your Wifi? The answer could be as simple as just renewing your DHCP lease.

Do you see any intrigue in there?

Well, if you’re anything like me, you don’t know what a DHCP lease is, and now your MacBook cannot find your WiFi you kind of need that info.

So while the game has been given away, so to speak, by giving the answer in the lead, the intrigue is how to actually get to the answer.

What is too much intrigue?

Well, to use the same example, let’s say you open the exact same article like this:

Sometimes MacBooks just do not want to find your WiFi, even when all your other devices can. Luckily, the solution is as simple as can be.

I'm looking for a solution. If I open this, I will either click away or scroll through. I’m not going to be engaged in the article. As it doesn't give me what I'm looking for

And too much intrigue leads to clickbait.

How does clickbait actually perform?

Sure, we’re straying into headlines here, but as we said at the beginning, leads, headlines and hero images work together.

Clickbait DOES work. There’s no denying that. It gets clicks, which is the entire point. But that is not the basis of a content marketing strategy. At least not for a company who are selling an actual product or service.

As Content Marketer Henry Elliss said in this article:

Unlike more traditional forms of digital marketing, the aim of sites like Buzzfeed isn't to sell you a product or service, to push an opinion or a view. Their purpose is to generate page views, which in turn generates ad revenue.

For a company actively looking to sell a product or service, the number of views you have is nothing but a vanity metric. In reality, you need to keep those viewers on site, get them to give you their email, and eventually buy your product. Clickbait is all about ad revenue alone.

What are our Lead Writing Takeaways?

  1. Give away the answer
  2. Keep it short and to the point
  3. Look backwards, not forwards
  4. Add intrigue…
  5. But not too much

And of course:

6. If you feel your lead would perform better by breaking any of these takeaways, break them.

For more like this, try subscribing to our newsletter below. There, you can receive all the updates from our blog, every week.