2 Keys to Writing a GREAT First Paragraph to Every Blog Post You Ever Write

by Marcus Sheridan

photo of blog writing

Over the past 18 months, I’ve been heavily involved in helping companies with multiple employees utilize insourcing as a means to produce large amounts of powerful content amongst their staff and team members. During this time, I have found there are two main elements that deter employees from writing and participating in the company blog, which are:

1. They aren’t sure what to write about.

2. They aren’t sure how to get their article started, beating themselves up over the “right” first paragraph.

The solution to #1 is very simple—You take it out of their hands. In other words, employee teams should brainstorm the questions they get every day, at which point that list becomes blog titles, and then those very titles get assigned an employee name and date from the company’s content editor/officer. Although the idea of “just let the employees write about whatever they’d like” may sound nice, it doesn’t work. Trust me, I’ve tried it enough times now to know this, and these days when my clients push for this “open” editorial approach I immediately shut the idea down. Editorial calendars are simply a must in every great content marketing campaign that involves multiple participants.

Once #1 is resolved and the employee is given an article to write, their next “hold up” can often times be the first paragraph. The thing about this is, if they are able to finish the first paragraph, their ability to finish the rest of the article increases drastically. (Think for a second about doing the chores or working out—getting started can be the tough part, but once you’re going, it’s much easier.)

Over the few months, I’ve spent a lot more time working with clients on how to systematize this first paragraph writing style in a way that is not only easy for the writer to produce, but also easy for readers to understand and appreciate.

The 2 core elements of a great opening paragraph for a business blog are quite simple to remember: Expertise and Empathy.

To help you see exactly how to use these two elements, I’m going to write a few example posts and show you how the structure, style, and voice is almost exactly the same every time, no matter the subject or question. Here goes:

Blog Title: Mac vs. PC: Which Lasts Longer?

Opening Paragraph:

Customer’s often come to us here at Lion’s Tech Services and ask us a simple question: Will a Mac or PC last longer? Ahh yes, a very good question indeed and an important one too for anyone that is looking to purchase a quality computer that will stand the test of time. And because we get this question so very much, today we decided to write an article explaining to you the potential pros and cons of each one of these computer systems.

Blog Title: What is the Most Energy Efficient Clothes Dryer on the Market?

Opening Paragraph:

A few days ago a customer came into our store here at Lion’s Appliances and had one goal in mind—she was looking for the most energy efficient dryer on the marketing today. Considering “green” has been such a hot topic lately, this is a question we’re fielding more and more lately and it’s a great one to ask if you’re trying to conserve as well. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the industry’s most prominent models and show you the efficiency numbers for each.

Blog Title: What are the Best Ways to Save for College?

Opening Paragraph:

With the constant escalation of college tuition, more and more of our clients here at Lion Financial have been coming to us looking for the best ways to save for college and help their children get the education they deserve. As consultants that have worked with literally thousands of clients in helping make this dream a reality, we are passionate about this subject, and have come up with the following 5 keys to helping you prepare for such an important endeavor.

Hopefully you’re starting to see a pattern here. The structure of each one of the paragraphs is the same:

1. Expertise:  Mention that people come to you with a problem/or concern (Note** This concern is the subject/title of the blog post). You can do this by saying phrases such as, “Customers come to us all the time…”or “Recently, a client asked me the following question…” By doing this, you’re making it clear you/your company are an expert in solving this problem, which is critical to your subtle selling success as a content marketer.

2. Empathy: No one wants to feel alone in their problems. They want to feel understood. This is a deep psychological need we all have, which is why simply adding phrases such as, “we can relate” or “we appreciate” or “this is understandable” will go a long way in helping the reader view you as someone that is not only trustworthy, but “gets” them—opening up the doors for a potentially great working relationship moving forward.

Another very simple way to look at this first paragraph structure is as follows:

1. People come to us with ____________ problem.

2. We understand and empathize with this problem.

3. Here is the answer to your problem.

Hopefully you see not only just how easy this method is, but also how it applies to any type of business—big , small, B2B, B2C,etc.—it doesn’t make a difference, and it’s certainly a style that any employee, no matter what their writing abilities are, can relate to and benefit from.

Your Turn

What are your thoughts on this method? Also, what have you done to help employees “get going” with their content marketing efforts?  As always, your opinion and questions matter, and I’d love to know what you think.

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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

Wade Harman May 9, 2013 at

The opening paragraph has to have impact and hit the reader with some type of emotion I believe. You need to connect with the reader in the first paragraph.

Placing an image in the top of the post is also a good way to help the reader because short text makes people feel that they are accomplishing something in the post.

Make big promises and deliver on those promises in the post!

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Steve Dorfman May 9, 2013 at

Great stuff, Marcus. I’ll be sure to try this one on for sure. I’ve often wondered what has certain posts become more popular than others — this may be a big part of it. Thanks!

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Mike Brooks May 9, 2013 at

Great post. And great comments by Wade and Steve.

I really like the question Steve raised wondering why certain posts are more popular than others. Someone who can understand this will be able to make every post pop.

There’s probably a lot to this. Certain topics are just going to be more interesting than others. A topic may be hot at that moment because of current events. Someone with a big audience may talk about it.

I am going to have to pay closer attention and collect some data on this. Would love to hear what others think on this.

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becky May 10, 2013 at

Excellent people love to be emppathised with but they want to trust you know what you are wrting about too…really useful

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Julia Stewart May 10, 2013 at

Well done and very useful, Marcus. Thanks so much for this. Some weeks I have trouble getting started with my blog and remembering this will help.

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Kathleen May 10, 2013 at

Fix the wayward apostrophe in “customers” and your point gets even stronger!

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Mark Dwight May 10, 2013 at

Excellent practical advice, as usual. I’m a new fan of TSL, having just read your eBook (all 292 pages!) — loved it. This post made me think, “write like you read”. When I read a newspaper, magazine or blog, I scan the headlines first for things that might interest me, and then I read the first few sentences (the “lead”, as journalists call it) — if that doesn’t capture my imagination (with the “hook”), I’m done and back to scanning headlines. I like your idea of setting the hook with empathy and expertise (versus the traditional “5 W’s” — who, what, when, where and why). Cheers!

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Antonia Albany May 10, 2013 at

I’m a newbie in the blog world, so I appreciate this excellent advice. I bet using the empathy and/or expertise ‘formula’ will also help me avoid that first sentence writer’s block.

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Robin May 10, 2013 at

Great post Marcus – so many hours spent coming up with that “headliner”! Having a solid “methodology” to follow will help shorten the time from creation to publishing. Good stuff…

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Mike Kawula May 10, 2013 at

Read this and just redid the intro to a post I was just about to hit publish on!

Made the change and done.

Thanks, made a lot of sense as always.

Hope your Ted talk went awesome last weekend!

Mike

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Andrea T.H.W. May 11, 2013 at

We shouldn’t judge a book from its cover but we all do. It’s human nature. Then we can chenge our opinion after having read a bit of it but the first impression is always about the cover.

Same things for articles or posts. I’ve already begun to be more careful about Titles and descriptions, now I can work on the first paragraph so maybe my content will beread but also shared more.

Clearly there is still the fact that being Italian my copywrighting skills are what they are but at least I’ll improve my chances which is anyway an inprovement.

Have a great weekend Marcus!

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Antal May 11, 2013 at

Hi Marcus,

A very good and useful article. In my opinion, the introduction is very important. If you do not write a very interesting introduction (and title), chances are the readers will abandon reading the rest of the article.

Great post,
Antal

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Marshall Ponzi May 11, 2013 at

Great help. Will definitely start using and sharing this.

Thank you, Marcus!

Marshall

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Eddie Gear May 12, 2013 at

Hi Marcus,

A very insightful article. The introduction or the overview to the article is the most important. The more interesting your introduction is the better are the chances that readers will continue reading the rest of the article.

- Eddie

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Michael Neuendorff May 12, 2013 at

Marcus,
Thanks for sharing this simple formula. I can definitely see how a resistant client would feel a little better once they saw this process laid out to them. I totally agree with the idea that once you get off on the right foot it’s always easier to get the job done. I’ll be holding on to this formula for the law firm I’m trying to get started with content marketing. They are dragging!

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Breavely Diamond May 12, 2013 at

This is a very good and useful site which includes best content as for as my opinion says,The Introduction is very important,if you can’t write a very interesting introduction (Title of the Page) then chances is very low to get reader or readers will abandon reading the rest of the Article.I am very happy for sharing my idea with this site.Thanks a lot…..

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blog post writing May 13, 2013 at

These two keys will definitely useful for writing blog post. Thanks for sharing this information. And you suggest some title and paragraph are also very useful.

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Marcus Sheridan May 13, 2013 at

Glad it helped :-)

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Laurence Hansen May 13, 2013 at

Simply brilliant and brilliantly simple advice. As little as I’ve blogged, in looking back I realize that some of my easiest posts started by unconsciously following your advice (or something close to it.)
Thanks for the tips.

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Marcus Sheridan May 14, 2013 at

Laurence, thrilled you found this useful. Good luck with your blog!!

Marcus

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Sani May 14, 2013 at

These are great tips! As I write a lot of blogs I understand that those first few words are always the hardest to get out, but once you have them writing the rest is easy! Thanks for sharing

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Sebastian Aiden Daniels May 14, 2013 at

This was a very useful post. I am glad that I was connected to this site from your post at The Change Blog. : D

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Marcus Sheridan May 14, 2013 at

Glad it helped Sebastian :)

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LeadGenix May 14, 2013 at

Great article to help with the hardest part of writing – the beginning. A helpful resource for anyone in charge of a blog. Thanks for sharing!

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Pavan Lipare May 15, 2013 at

I am agree with you. The first paragraph of our article should be interesting & should give information about our article. If first paragraph is good then it will create interest into readers.

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Karen May 16, 2013 at

Nice and definitely useful tips are here.It will help to increase the quality of writing article. I will definitely want to check this out.
Thanks for shearing.

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Kathleen May 16, 2013 at

Thanks for the tips! (And thanks to Amy Lynn Andrews for sharing it on google+)!

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Osmaan May 17, 2013 at

I reckon, title should be eye catching, first para should summarize. Starting from background to arguments and then conclusion. Moreover, rebuttal approach inspires me in writing blogs and articles.

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Dennis Kjærgaard May 18, 2013 at

Thanks Marcus!
That is a awesome tip and a easy way to get started next time i’m blogging.

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Mark Reutzel May 19, 2013 at

Loving this! Help your customers feel your passion, build trust, present the message, then ask for the commitment and follow up. Keep up the great work, Marcus!

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Kumar Gauraw May 19, 2013 at

The title of the post combined with a properly structured opening paragraph can be the most important part of the blog as far as the content is concerned.
First paragraph is what readers read in most cases and decide if the rest of the blog is worth reading or not.

I’ve learnt from Michael Hyatt that placing an image in the beginning of the post had a great impact on the attention of the reader and since I started to follow that principle, I saw my bounce rate drop.
Thank you for this insightful post. Really enjoyed leaving comment here.
Regards,
Kumar

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Marcus Sheridan May 21, 2013 at

So glad you liked it Kumar, keep up the great work!!! :-)

Marcus

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Dennis May 20, 2013 at

You nailed it right on the head for, “what do I write about?” If I am going to take the time to write a blog post, who should I write it for, who cares, what should I write about, is it worth the time are all questions I ask myself. Your article is great, hopefully this will get me past some of my past stumbling blocks!

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Marcus Sheridan May 21, 2013 at

Appreciate that Dennis, and I certainly hope it helps :-)
Marcus

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Jeanette Benway May 20, 2013 at
Marcus Sheridan May 21, 2013 at

Nice job!!! :-)

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Donna May 20, 2013 at

And the gold keeps coming from the Sales Lion! Thanks Marcus – brilliant post and this is exactly what I was looking for to show a couple of clients and great timing because this was the type of intro we used with one of them today in a post about the cost of a Home Birth, so glad we were on the right track (now if it was “How Much Does a Birthing Pool Cost?” instead, that might sound strangely familar…but not….ha ha). Thanks for sharing this – very helpful!

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Donna May 20, 2013 at

PS Loved your presentation at SMMW. Awesome stuff.

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Marcus Sheridan May 21, 2013 at

You’re too kind Donna, thank you :-) And I can’t wait to hear about how those cost articles go for you…Good luck!!!! :-)

Marcus

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Donna May 24, 2013 at

Absolutely – Page 1 of Google, moving on up for “How Much Does a Homebirth Cost” and 15x spike in visitors to their website over a period of a few days. That’s the power of a single blog post. But you already knew that….ha ha. Thanks Marcus. Oh and they are so excited they asked for a content strategy meeting so we can brain dump for posts for the rest of the year. Don’t you love it? Actually, you don’t need to answer that – I have seen you speak. I KNOW you love it.

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Marcus Sheridan May 28, 2013 at

Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-)

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rakesh kumar May 22, 2013 at

opening paragraph is the most important part of any blog post. Most of the time i do paste the pictures and fact sheet of my blog to woo my readers. Thanks dear for this insightful article.

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Michael May 24, 2013 at

Asserting yourself as an expert without actually saying you’re an expert is an excellent tactic. I’ve tried using similar verbage such as: “many of our clients have been concerned with…”, or “customers have asked our advice on…” Great tips!

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Jane Bussenschutt May 29, 2013 at

Hello Marcus,

You definitely nailed this one! First paragraph is very important and it needs to capture your reader’s attention in one glance. Usually I start my post with a question or a quote. I haven’t tried this technique yet but I would love to do it next time I write to position myself as an expert.

Thanks so much for sharing

Warmly,

Jane Bussenschutt

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Marcus Sheridan May 30, 2013 at

Jane, so glad you liked this post, really appreciate the kind words and I wish you luck with the implementation!!

Big smiles,

Marcus

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Tom Horn May 30, 2013 at

Great and easy to follow method Marcus! I’m going to use it on my very next post. Thanks!

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Marcus Sheridan May 30, 2013 at

Thrilled to hear it Tom :-)

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Freek Janssen May 30, 2013 at

Great read, Marcus! There might be a small cultural difference here, though. In Europe (at least the mainland) it not very common to emphasize that people come to you with a certain issue – this can be considered as tapping yourself on the shoulder. Instead, you’d rather use a phrase like ‘many people seem to struggle with…’

Maybe a small difference, but noteworthy!

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Former Sleeping American June 19, 2013 at

“Some even believe we (the Rockefeller family) are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as ‘internationalists’ and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure—one world, if you will. If that’s the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it.”

–David Rockefeller, Memoirs, page 405

“We are grateful to The Washington Post, The New York Times, Time magazine, and other great publications whose directors have attended our meetings and respected their promise of discretion for almost forty years. It would have been impossible for us to develop our plan for the world if we had been subject to the bright lights of publicity during those years. But the world is now more sophisticated and prepared to march towards a world government. The super-national sovereignty of an intellectual elite and world bankers is surely preferable to the national auto-determination practiced in past centuries.”

—David Rockefeller, at a 1991 Bilderberger meeting

“We are on the verge of a global transformation. All we need is the right major crisis and the nations will accept the New World Order.”

—David Rockefeller

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Sue Surdam June 25, 2013 at

Your formula certainly has helped me in getting over the initial writers block of the blank piece of “paper”. Thinking through that first paragraph as you outlined makes it so much easier for me to get started with an article, which for me is the hardest part.

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Marcus Sheridan June 26, 2013 at

Thrilled it helped Sue!!!!

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Pre Anu July 8, 2013 at

You are just awesome writer. thanks for this nice blog that you share. I really love your blog. It help me very best.

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