How to Attract and Convert Readers by Burying the Lede

How to Attract and Convert Readers by Burying the Lede

Today, one of the best ways to make a living by the word is copywriting … but so many people do it “wrong,” by approaching copy the same way they would a hard news piece and not burying the lede.

Now, before we go any further, let’s take a moment to think through this phrase. In a nutshell, “burying the lede” means putting the main point of the article beyond the first sentence – or at most, beyond the first paragraph – of a news item. (“Lede” is just a weird, newsroom-specific spelling of “lead.” Don’t know why.)

In journalism, this makes sense. We scan headlines. We want to know what happened. We want the cold, hard facts … and once we have them, we can decide whether we want to read on.

Cat caught in tree! Do we care whose cat it is? We’ll decide then.

People murdered on subway! Do we care which subway, why or what the perp looks like? We’ll see.

First place awarded for Best Pear Clafoutie in Chicago! Clafouties are delicious, obviously, so we’ll probably find out more … but we have the option not to. Because no one buried the lede.

See how that works? In hard news: good move.

… In copywriting: biiiiiig mistake.

Burying the Lede: Not a Good Copywriting Move

Wait, you’re thinking. But aren’t copywriting and journalism both nonfiction? Doesn’t that make them pretty similar?

This is a common error for new writers, especially those trained as reporters, like myself. The comparison holds true in the sense that you’re telling a story in each case. But journalism throws the main point (the lede) at you upfront: A store has been robbed! Cats can now be dyed purple!!! (What’s with me and cats today?)

People want that info first. So in J-school, we’re taught that the cardinal sin is “burying the lede” – sharing less important information before getting to the main point.

Unfortunately, this has been taken too much to heart in modern copywriting and marketing. After all, what good story do YOU know of that begins with the punchline? With the big reveal? With the gotcha moment?

Ummmm, none. Because in copywriting, you need to spin that story out.

Your goal is to keep people on the page. How often do you, after all, read a full news article? You usually glean the meaning from the first sentence or two, then bounce. That’s why burying the lede is a bad thing in hard journalism.

Uh oh. When this happens in copywriting, readers usually don’t have time to get to the actual sale.

No Bueno.

Spin Out That Story

So how do you keep them on the page? By burying the lede.

Remember, the lede is your main point. It’s what’s interesting; it’s why they’re there.

This is tricky, because you don’t want to lose them in the meantime, which is no better than giving the main point away up front. You want to keep them engaged in every sentence, hunting for that golden nugget by giving them little sprinkles of fairy dust along the way.

… My kids just watched Peter Pan. So sue me. (By the way, does anyone else think the Disney movie is wildly racist? I’m not letting them watch it again.)

Point being, you want to keep their interest glued to your writing, build up excitement for what’s coming and prep them to be truly wowed by the time they get there.

Burying the Lede Is GOOD

One of the main services I offer for my clients is writing entertaining copy that builds relationship with prospects before getting to the main point. If you can get people laughing, nodding their heads in agreement or waiting with bated breath to see how an anecdote ends, then by the time you pitch your product or service, you’re golden.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that these are some of the best ways to keep readers interest. First, laughter.

Laughter Is the Best Medicine (But Like, Actually)

This is easier said than done, and humor is definitely a skill that improves with time. However, being funny isn’t rocket science. You can learn to use humor with serious topics. Obviously, you can also use it with light topics, and it’s one of the best ways to relate to an audience, even if you don’t normally have much in common. That’s because humor crosses all boundaries. Yay!

Relate to Your Peeps

Next up, tell a story that people just plain agree with. Maybe it’s a tale of woe about a bad first (and only) date. Perhaps it’s a story about that time you caught your fear by the horns and did something bold … and it worked. Or maybe, plain and simple, it’s a bit of bellyaching about how much [insert life hardship here] sucks. These are all totally acceptable ways to get people on your page.

Just Tell a Damn Good Story

And sometimes, you shouldn’t try to be funny or relatable. You should just wow.

Not everyone can relate to an entrepreneur who went from four to six figures in less than a year, but they sure as hell want to read about it. And other people love hearing about stars, about athletes, about artists. Us hoi polloi don’t know fame and fortune personally, but we understand them, and we want to be a part of the story.

Grab Someone Else’s Story

No, I’m not saying you should coopt someone else’s life or tales wholesale. But the news of the day, a fun piece of trivia or a “story about my friend this one time” are all totally acceptable ways to open a blog post, article or email newsletter. These can hit any of the three notes – funny, suspenseful or relatable – or even a combination.

The point is to engage your reader in the pure enjoyment of your words before moving on to your real point. Do it, and once you get to your real point, your readers will be much readier to give you their business, their email addresses and their trust.

It works, people.

Now, how about you? What have you found to be the best ways to get people interested in what you do, and to trust you? We want to know down in the comments!
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