How to write a ‘lead’ for your blog
(like newspapers do)

Get skim-readers to pay attention to your blog posts.  How?  Start using a ‘lead’, like newspapers do.  This post will tell you why & show you how.

What is a ‘lead’?

A lead is the one-paragraph explanation at the top of an article.  I’ve crafted one at the top of this blog post, in italics, as an example.  (Though it’s not perfect – I’m still learning too!)

The term ‘lead’ comes from the newspaper industry, where a lead is used as a micro-story under the headline to emphasise what made the story ‘newsworthy’ in the first place.  In your blog post, you should use a lead to emphasise what made your story bloggable. Aim to write a short, focused summary that highlights the point of your blog post AND encourages people to read on.

Why you should use a lead:

Newspaper leadYou’ve probably heard time and time again that Internet users have a short attention span, right? Oh, and don’t forget nobody reads anything  anymore – it’s all about skim reading.

So, use a lead to capture attention, to hook users in.

Using a lead will draw in passive skim-readers.  It will encourage people to give your article their full attention.   It will tell people WHY it’s worth reading (i.e. why it was bloggable, or newsworthy in the first place) and why it’s worth their time and effort.

Examples of leads:

Here are some examples of leads from today’s news:

Newspaper lead example Newspaper lead example 2 Newspaper lead example 3

(Click to view the news item on its original site – in a new window)

As you’ll notice, under each headline is a small summary of the story.  The Guardian uses bullet points on its website, which I think is a fantastic idea!

What to put in your lead:

Here are a few basic tips to get you started:

  • Talk about the actor and the action:
    • Who did what?
  • Make sure you include the main event:
    • Hook people in by explaining specifically what is going on where…
  • Tell people what made this worth blogging:
    • Was there unexpected conflict?
    • Were the ‘elite’ involved?  (For example, Google, a footballer or just somebody well known in your niche).
    • What’s the value, is there something in it for people? (E.g. a freebie or a new tip to help make people more money)

EXAMPLE:  Joe Bloggs explains his suprising reasons for cancelling 2011 SEO conference talk in London, just hours before taking to the stage.

We can pretend that, in this example,  Joe Bloggs is an elite character in the industry.  The fact that his reasons are ‘suprising’ and he let people down just ‘hours before taking to the stage’ makes this story newsworthy.  We’re setting the context by including “who, what, where”.

TIP: Pay attention to the leads used in newspapers (or on news websites) to get a sense for what draws you in.  Try and replicate these in your own blog post leads.

TIP: Writing a really lead will come with experience and tweaking.  If you have the time and resources, try running an A/B split test to see if particular leads result in a lower bounce/exit rate and a higher average time on page value.  Then, note which are more successful and work out why.

How to write a good lead for your blog:

  • Make sure it’s packed with information
  • But keep it short – aim for one short paragraph
  • Ensure it’s clear, concise, focused and to the point
  • Emphasise what made the story worth blogging in the first place

QUESTION:  How long should my lead be?

Try and stick to about 30 words.  You have very limited time to capture potential readers’ attention, so help them grasp the meaning very quickly, pulling them in to read the rest of your blog post.

A few weeks ago I was in my news-making class learning about newspaper leads and why they’re important . I thought “we should really apply this to blogging too” so I wrote this post to share with you all.  The ideas come from a chapter in this book: “The Language of News Media (Language in Society)” by Allan Bell, which we read in preparation for the class.

How to write awesome articles
(when you haven’t a clue what you’re writing about)

Want to write REALLY AWESOME articles when you haven’t a clue what to write about? Of course you do…  Help yourself to my article writing tips:

Love it or loathe it, article writing can be hard if you’re clueless about the topic.  It’s difficult to educate people on a product or service if you’ve never used it!  Yet article writing is an integral part of SEO and we all have to do it.

So, if you’re in the latter category and you loathe article writing, here are a few REALLY QUICK tips that will help you learn to love it:

Finding a topic to write about:Google Wonder Wheel for Article Writing

The Google Wonder Wheel:
Struggling to find a good topic for your article? Meet the Google Wonder Wheel.

(Never heard of it? This video explains all!)

Simply type your search term into the Wonder Wheel and click through the various topics.  Note down interesting topics, for example, if you’re keyword is ‘cake decorating’ and you saw the topic ‘basketball cake,’ it could prompt you to write several articles on cake decorating ideas for various sports.

Amazon’s Look Inside Feature:Amazon's look inside feature for article writing
Try searching through Amazon’s books.  Find a book with the ‘look inside’ facility and sneak a peak at the chapter breakdown.  Try researching one or more of the chapters for your article!

Forming a good title for your article:Google 'More' Q&A

Just like I mentioned before, using other people’s experiences can really help you write good copy.  It can help you form great titles for your articles too:

Question and Answer Websites:
Visit Google, type in your topic and then hit the ‘More’ button on the left.  Once the menu drops down, click ‘Discussions’ and then ‘Q&A’ (just like in the image on the right!)

You should now have access to hundreds of questions, which people have asked about your topic.  Go and answer all of those questions in your articles!
Ask Jeeves a question and on the right-hand side he’ll give you a whole selection of other questions too.  Often these make fantastic article titles!

Researching your article:

Now begins the hard part, right?  Wikipedia is obviously a first choice for many, but why regurgitate the same content that hundreds of other webmasters have paraphrased too?

Instead, write something useful by searching for new content in the following places:

  • Google books: Flick through the books in Google’s index to find great material to write about.
  • Google scholar: Find great articles, legal documents and patents from a search.   Dig into this material for interesting facts or points of view to write about!
  • Your local library: If you have the time, go and explore books that your competitors are too lazy to go and find!

Writing your article:Writing your article

Ah, now the even harder part.

Don’t even think about writing your article until you’ve drafted a structure.

Throw a couple of headings down on a piece of paper and work out where all your research fits into these headings.  I like to scribble my research onto paper and then cross them off my notepad as I type up my article.  It’s very satisfying!

Finally, if you’d like to write your article quicker, try this article from Copyblogger: How to write an article in 20 minutes. Enjoy!!!

I hope these quick tips have helped you, let me know in the comments!  And, if you have any tips to share just let me know!